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Muslim communities are failing to help the police identify radical preachers promoting militancy and young people who are vulnerable to extremism, according to the most senior Muslim police officer.
Assistant commissioner Tarique Ghaffur of the Metropolitan police, who is responsible for community policing in London, predicted it would take “several years” for Muslim communities to become engaged in wider British society.
He acknowledged Muslim communities were becoming concerned with police stop-and-search techniques, but denied there was active racial profiling taking place and defended the power as “an operational tactic”.
He also wanted powers to close down mosques known to be promoting militancy. Mr Ghaffur said although Muslim communities had been virulent in condemning the July 7 and July 21 London bombings, they had not responded to police appeals for intelligence.
In the aftermath of the July 7 attacks, Sir Ian Blair, the Met’s commissioner, called on Muslims to “find ways of identifying those preachers of hate and who they’re talking to”.
But in an interview with the Financial Times, Mr Ghaffur said: “It’s not happening.” He identified three reasons. First, communities did not know in practical terms how to help the police. Second, they were in retreat from the “hysterical and hostile” public reaction to the bombings. The third reason, Mr Ghaffur said, was that Muslim communities were unable to identify “the tipping point between right and wrong, where hate becomes a criminal offence”.
Mr Ghaffur said he was not suggesting the lack of information from Muslim communities had slowed police investigations into the London attacks. “It is the wider fear – who are the preachers of hate? Who is distributing the hate material? Who are the people who are radicalised?”
Since September 11 2001, British mosques had undergone much soul-searching about “preachers of hate”, leading to what Mr Ghaffur said was a prevailing mood of moderation.
But he added: “We need to look at how influential mosques actually are in promoting extremism.” He preferred mosques to undergo a form of self-regulation with rules of engagement, such as the promotion of imams born and educated in the UK, who understood the context of Muslims in British secular society.
He also wanted mosques to engage more widely with Muslim communities, similar to the way temples of other religions were focal points of other communities.
But he was not averse to clamping down on mosques if they proved to be centres for preaching subversion and illegal activity. “Some of the back-street mosques, yes,” he said, when asked if he would like the power to close them down.
Mosques were the magnet for communities in London largely left to their own devices. “The Somali community, frankly they have got no established roots, no sense of citizenship, no active youth diversion.”
Mr Ghaffur is advocating a blend of hard and soft approaches to community policing, “where we have hard-nosed intelligence-led enforcement backed up by strong confidence-building measures, and wrapping partnerships around it.”
Out-and-out enforcement would merely end up criminalising people and make integration difficult. “We will get the majority engaged and deal with the minority with a strong enforcement approach.”
But stop-and-search techniques, although fraught with risks, were essential for the police, he said. “As an operational tool, it’s the right thing. What you also say [to officers] is, please don’t stop people randomly, have some information or intelligence, or have reasonable suspicion, and having stopped them, treat people with respect and dignity, and do it professionally.”
Mr Ghaffur accepted that there had been some disproportionate stop-and-searching of Muslims in the aftermath of the London attacks, but the police had to be able to take a pragmatic and uncomplicated approach to the tactic. Muslim acceptance of the use of stop-and-search would last “as long as the threat is there”.
He added: “This is a testing time for us, there will be proportionality issues.”
Mr Ghaffur is consulting Muslim leaders on a three-point “community engagement” plan. He intends to set up ways for communities to police themselves under a safety and security organisation, encourage young people into community activities and help identify problems, with active participation of the police.
Mr Ghaffur said understanding the communities fully could take several years. “The reason is I don’t think we’ve ever really reached out to these communities, to engage them previously. They are retreating into themselves in the face of hysterical and hostile public reaction, which has stigmatised communities. Many Muslims are proud to be British but many Muslims don’t know how to deal with perceptions and procedures.”
The London bombings, said Mr Ghaffur, were a tragedy for lots of people, not just the victims and their families but for London and British communities. The police were the recipients of considerable anger, some of which had nothing to do with policing and the force had to be aware of the context. “But I’m not interested in political, social or religious engineering, I’m interested in community safety.”