Online extremism – saving the next generation, by Nazir Afzal OBE
By Nazir Afzal OBE
Empowering women to be active members of society is essential to building resilient communities. By unleashing the potential marginalised women can offer through education and training we can ensure women are integrated and valued members of society.
In my own career as a prosecutor, I have spent decades working to defend women from violence and injustice, giving me insight into the vast range of difficulties faced by women, and the best strategies to tackle them.
In the aftermath of four horrifying terror attacks in quick succession, the UK needs to do all it can to tackle extremism from its roots. One of the best ways to do this is by putting women at the heart of counter-terrorism.
As anchors within the family, mothers have a unique insight into the activities of their family members, and therefore the ability to safeguard their children and protect them from the dangers of online radicalisation.
Too many families have been torn apart through extremism. The pain of those who have lost loved ones in terrorist incidents, including the families of attackers, is immeasurable.
Collina, mother of Youssef Zaghba, one of the London Bridge attackers, expressed her sadness and regret that she had not been able to do more to prevent his radicalisation.
In an interview with Italy’s L’Espresso magazine she said that she “always kept track of his friends and made sure he didn’t fall in with the wrong people, but he had Internet and that’s where everything comes from”. She added he tried to go to Syria after being fed a “fantasy that was transmitted by the internet”.
This shows us the vital need for the mothers to be educated on how to combat the signs of online radicalisation. The work of JAN Trust’s unique Web Guardians™ programme, educates and empowers mothers to prevent and tackle extremism and online radicalisation effectively protecting them from this issue. It has been exceptional in tapping into the potential of mothers.
Before the launch of their programme in 2010, JAN Trust’s consultation within the community unveiled that 93% of Muslim women lacked IT skills and 92% did not know what online radicalisation was.
During my career I have learned that government counter radicalisation programmes, such as Prevent, can prove successful, but only to an extent. Community schemes get the best results, as they develop using community consultation, building trust, and have the ability to adapt strategies to the specific needs of an area. Therefore, it is essential that we work with the Muslim community to tackle radicalisation, rather than against them.
JAN Trust, who have been working from within the Muslim community for decades, have delivered their Web Guardians™ programme near to a thousand Muslim women, but at present do not have funding to continue and expand this much needed programme.
Without the programme being delivered, children will remain vulnerable to being radicalised online. I hope the government recognises the individual approach of JAN Trust and the successes of its work.