Survivor of the 7/7 London terrorist attacks and CEO of leading women’s charity, JAN Trust, Sajda Mughal OBE is calling upon the Home Office to urgently commission an independent review to its counter-terrorism strategy, known as Prevent.
Mughal was travelling to work on a Piccadilly line train when a suicide bomber detonated a bomb, killing 26 people and injuring more than 340. She said: “Ten seconds after it left King’s Cross there was a boom. It came to a standstill and lights went out. There was thick smoke filling the carriage. I thought, ‘This is it. This is the day that I die.’” She suffered flashbacks after the attack and needed time off work as head of graduate recruitment at an investment bank. She said she was deeply perturbed that the attacks had been carried out by members of the Muslim community.
This motivated her to join JAN Trust, which encourages integration and educates Muslim mothers to help combat radicalisation. Since 7/7 Mughal has dedicated her life to combatting extremism in her own community. Through the JAN Trust, Mughal has been working with Prevent for the last 13 years, founding Web Guardians™, which works with mothers and women, providing them with the skills, education and confidence to prevent online extremism in their families and community.
Despite this, in June of this year, the Home Office decided to unceremoniously withdraw funding for the project, after months of false promises that funding would continue for this valued programme.
Mughal regards herself a ‘critical friend’ of Prevent and the Home Office, but feels this criticism, has penalised her and the charity, because she challenged, both publicly and privately the processes which have drawn wider criticism, including at a meeting in February last year in which Mughal spoke out about the lack of community relationships of some of the Prevent co-ordinators. Mughal says that she had been warned a number of times after publicly raising concerns that the “drawbridge” could be closed for future funding.
She is now calling for an independent review of the strategy, in light of the major concerns she holds regarding the lack of transparency in the programme. Prevent operates under a suspicious veil of secrecy. They have never published criteria for contractors or benchmarks for success; partnerships are not encouraged, and projects are not disclosed; profit-making companies are ‘parachuted’ into communities which they do not understand, with ‘flash in the pan’ projects rather than long term community solutions. This is at odds with the governments new contest strategy which stresses the need to meet local community needs through civil society organisations.
Furthermore, Mughal notes the unrest and lack of trust for the programme held by the Muslim community, and how the strategy has become a ‘toxic brand’. The programme is alienating Muslim communities, and removing them from the conversation. Mughal has said the Prevent programme is viewed with suspicion and mistrust by Muslim communities, which saddens her because she is a strong supporter of the programme which she considers, has the potential to be a success.
Mughal states there is “push back” in communities against the programme who feel they are being “talked at”. The terror attacks last year in Manchester, London Bridge and Parsons Green show the challenges the programme faces and Mughal believes it is seriously failing. Children are not being encouraged by parents to discuss their views openly in schools because of concerns of getting a “knock on the door” from the authorities and there is mistrust because the Muslim community considers it is being targeted, rather than encouraged to take a more collaborative approach.
Mughal believes the appointment of Sara Khan as head of the Commission for Countering Extremism was counter-productive, because she was viewed as a divisive figure and ‘mouthpiece of the Home Office’. Despite attempts to address these concerns and talk to Sara Khan, including reaching out to her publicly on Social Media on 31st May, she has had no response from the commissioner. Khan hasn’t reached out to Sajda since her introduction to the role at the beginning of this year, even though she knows of her and JAN Trust’s work in countering extremism.
“If Sara is serious in tackling extremism as the commissioner then she would have reached out to me by now. There is no point in her stating in public communication that she will reach out to victims and experts in this field if she is not going to commit to her word and do exactly that. The question is, why has she not reached out to me or my NGO? She has had ample time to do so. Surely in her remit she would welcome discussion and debate?”