Listening to British Muslims: policing, extremism and Prevent

Report authors: Jon Clements, Development Director | Dan Forman, Senior Associate | Manon Roberts, Senior Analyst Monday 2 March 2020


REPORT (PDF): Listening to British Muslims: policing, extremism and Prevent
EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Listening to British Muslims: policing, extremism and Prevent
DATASET: Listening to British Muslims: policing, extremism and Prevent

Homegrown terrorism inspired by Islamist and far right extremism continues to pose a severe threat to Britain and its population.

There is widespread agreement that stopping people becoming radicalised or engaged in extremism is critical to reducing this threat and that building support for this activity among sections of the population most at risk is essential.


With Islamist terrorism posing the largest overall threat, support for counter-extremism from British Muslims is particularly important. Despite this, surprisingly little publicly available research is available on British Muslim attitudes to policing and to counter-extremism efforts.


Based on focus groups with British Muslim men and women in eight towns and cities across Britain, and a representative poll of 1,000 British Muslims and of 1,000 adults in the general population, this report offers new evidence of what British Muslims think about policing, extremism and efforts to tackle it and the Prevent programme in particular.



Findings

Narratives commonly applied by some politicians, media and campaign groups to British Muslims about these sensitive issues are fundamentally flawed. There is little or no evidence to support claims that British Muslims do not recognise the threat posed by Islamist extremism nor to support the argument that the Prevent programme is a toxic brand which has alienated them.


In contrast, our research, supported by an an advisory group of experts drawn from academia and civil society with relevant knowledge of integration, identity and Muslim community relations, found that majorities of British Muslims trust the police, are concerned about Islamist extremism, support the aims of the Prevent programme and would refer someone to it if they suspected that they were being radicalised.


Findings from our representative Savanta ComRes poll include that:


  • 63% of British Muslims said they were worried about Islamist extremism, compared to 67% of the general population.

  • 55% of British Muslims and 68% of the general population said they had not heard of the Prevent programme.

  • 36% of British Muslims said they supported the principle of Prevent being focussed in large part on Muslims communities due to the threat of extreme Islamist terrorism. A further 38% said that while they also supported this principle, they had some concerns about it.

  • In comparison, 43% of the general population said they supported this principle while 42% of the general population said they supported this principle but had some concerns about it.

  • 64% of British Muslims said they trusted the police, compared to 71% of the general population.


Overall, the report found levels of support for policing and counter-extremism work among British Muslims were similar to those of the population as a whole. These findings contradict common polarising narratives which claim either that British Muslims do not accept that Islamist extremism is a serious threat and are “in denial” or that argue Prevent is “toxic” to British Muslims and has “alienated” them.


However, it found strong evidence of the need for more and better engagement with all sections of the population at risk of radicalisation, Muslim and non-Muslim, by the police and other agencies, and it identified serious concerns among British Muslims about Islamophobia, their representation in the media, and about the conflation of Islam with terrorism.



Conclusion/next steps

This is independent research. It has been funded by a charitable trust and carried out by a non-partisan consultancy. We recognise that our findings may be a surprise to many and be challenging for some to accept. However, we hope all those with an interest in the experience of Muslims who live in Britain, and in their views on policing and counter-extremism work will consider them carefully.


In particular, we recommend that the Independent Review of Prevent, announced by the Home Office in February 2019, undertakes direct structured engagement with British Muslims and non-Muslims alongside consultation with practitioners, policymakers, civil society groups and other interested parties.


If you are interested in the research or in understanding how Crest could help you obtain better evidence of what particular audiences or groups think about policing, extremism and other crime and justice issues, please email contact@crestadvisory.com.



Akeela Ahmed MBE said:

Akeela Ahmed MBE

"This research provides important learning points for policymakers and practitioners working within Prevent, indicating that far more needs to be done to communicate about it with grassroots communities. It also underscores the urgent need to improve consultation with communities most affected by counter-terrorism and counter-extremism policies in general.


“As an activist and equalities campaigner, I was personally unsurprised by the finding that most British Muslims have not even heard of the Prevent programme. Yet, while this was not news to me, it is likely to be surprising to many who have come to assume the contrary.


“The authors have taken great care to ensure that under-represented voices in what can often be a loud and divisive debate are heard. They also went to great lengths to ensure that the research was carried out in a way that avoids bias or weighting in particular directions.


“Due to the rigour and integrity of this approach, I believe that the findings of this report are significant and provide a sound evidence base by which to bring fact and balance to a debate that has been raging for a number of years.”



Acknowledgements

The authors would like to thank all those who contributed to this report:


Sunder Katwala

Akeela Ahmed MBE

Dr Qari Asim

Dilwar Hussain

James Stott

Callyane Desroches

Callum Tipple

Ellie Covell

Molly Corlett

Savanta ComRes

Agroni Research

Made in Studios

Taylor McKenzie Research and Marketing


In addition, the authors would like to express particular gratitude to the many British Muslim men and women who shared their views on policing, extremism, the Prevent programme, and life in Britain more generally. This report would not have been possible without their openness and honesty.

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