LONDON: Britain's most senior Muslim police chief has warned that children as young as five are being influenced by religious propoganda and should be countered with intensified monitoring to detect the earliest signs of anti-western sentiment.
Scotland Yard commander Mak Chishty said children aged five had voiced opposition to marking Christmas, branding it as haram.
He further warned that there was no end in sight to the scores of British Muslims --some 700 so far -- being lured to Syria by the Islamic State (IS).
Chisty, in an interview, said that there was now a need for "a move into the private space" of Muslims to detect views that could show the beginning of radicalisation far earlier.
He said this could be shown by subtle changes in behaviour, such as shunning certain shops, citing the example of Marks & Spencer, which could be because the store is sometimes mistakenly perceived to be Jewish-owned.
He advised that friends and family of youngsters should be intervening much earlier, looking out for subtle changes which could be unexplained. He included examples such as sudden negative attitudes towards alcohol and western clothing.
The police commander asserted that parents should challenge and understand what caused the changes in behaviour and seek help from the police if the need arose.
Read: Two UK teens may have joined IS in Syria: police
Chishty is the most senior Muslim officer in Britain’s police service and is head of community engagement for the Metropolitan police in London.
With IS propaganda being so powerful he said he had to be vigilant about his own children. But some will argue that his ideas walk a fine line between vigilance in the face of potent extremist propaganda and criminalising thought.
Scotland Yard very recently said yhr police were making nearly an arrest a day as they try to counter a severe terrorist threat.
It confirmed that it was investigating the potential grooming and radicalisation of 16-year-old girl from east London, aiming to run away and join her sister to become a "Jihadi bride".
A police estimate revealed that about half the 700 thought to have gone to Syria in support of the IS have returned to Britain since.
"We need to now be less precious about private space. This is not about us invading private thoughts, but acknowledging that it is in these private spaces where this (extremism) first germinates. The purpose of private-space intervention is to engage, explore, explain, educate or eradicate. Hate and extremism is not acceptable in our society, and if people cannot be educated, then hate and harmful extremism must be eradicated through all lawful means," Chishty said.
Commenting on the widespread use of social media by IS recruits to urge people to join the group or stage attacks in their home countries, Chishty said it was a new way to use the internet to spread their message.
When asked to define "private space" the senior police official said it was "anything from walking down the road, looking at a mobile, to someone in a bedroom surfing the net, to someone in a shisha cafe talking about things."
Urging the community to look out for each other he said that friends and family were the best to intervene.
Read: Eight British school girls travel to Syria to become IS brides
Just a few months ago, three teenage girls left their families to travel to Turkey and then into an IS-held territory in Syria.
Although their families said they had no clue, Chishty said that as a parent, there must have been some signs or change in behaviour.
With the IS propoganda being so strong, the officer revealed fears that his own children might be vulnerable.
In a message to Muslim parents, he said "I am not immunised. If I feel the need to be extra vigilant, then I think you need to feel the need to be extra vigilant."
He said he had heard of cases in which children came from stable families in which parents had moderate views but were still able to be influenced.
In the example where primary school children defined Christmas as haram, he insisted this was “factual” and said that while it may not be a police matter, parents and family needed to ask how children as young as five had come to that view.
Despite Muslim communities taking plenty measures to fight extremism, the officer said there was no end in sight to the struggle. An extreme measure of vigilance would be required he added further.
With current strategies not working, he said "We are in unchartered water … We are facing a risk, a threat which is global, which is powerfully driven by social media, reaching you on your own through your mobile phone."
The UK’s counter-radicalisation strategy has been criticised for co-opting those trusted by the young, such as teachers and youth workers, to inform on them to the authorities.
This article originally appeared on The Guardian
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