20/09/17 ‘A discussion with the Muslim community - developing community led approach to issues facing the community’

 This workshop led by Dr Therese O’Toole (University of Bristol) who has researched and written extensively on radicalisation was an outcome of our ongoing effort to improve relations between the police and local Black and Minority Ethnic communities. Dr. O’Toole shared key findings from her most recent research before the attendees broke into groups for a discussion that focuses on identifying the three greatest challenges the muslim community is currently facing, and what possible community-led approaches could be successful in tackling them. This event was attended by approximately 20 members of the local muslim community, teachers, parents and public sector workers.


Sado Jirde, Director of Black South West Network
There is a need for this consultation in light of the recent attacks and the attitudes that have arisen as part of the impact of extremism, to speak to the community about what could be done to help the community recognise and tackle extremism, and how to encourage community-led initiatives to tackle extremism from within. 

Moestak Hussein, Community engagement at Bristol City Council
My role as the Community coordinator for counter extremism is to help identify drivers for extremism and addressing the impact of extremism in Bristol, locally and what it means nationally. Extremism is fluid, and broad and constantly changing as an entity, irregardless of the official definition by the Home Office - the whole spectrum of extremism - far right, far left, faith-based extremism and hate crime. It is different from Prevent but compliments it, though my approach is more community led and directed by the needs of the local community. 

Dr.Therese O’Toole, University of Bristol
When Prevent launched in 2007, it had emphasis on the government working with the local communities, however was rejected by the community as since it was introduced as part of counter terrorism efforts, the community disapproved of the government dealing with the community as suspects instead of citizens. 

Some local authorities were very successful in implementation of prevent due to a lot of leeway and ability to work with the community the way they saw best, however that was not the case in Bristol. 

In 2014, Therese was involved in study of Building Bridge (BB) and compared its efficiency with other places around UK. Bristol achieved a great level of local ownership and that’s why it was also renamed, based on the feedback around the negative connotation. So after consultation, the implementation was distinctive, especially by setting up BB as a forum. The framework which included the forum having to be led by a member of muslim community as well, allowed for a more successful steering and greater impact. 

Examples of other approached to Prevent implementation in England: 

Leicester - very successful based on multi-faith approach and built on strong existing frameworks 

Tower Hamlets - local authority had a close relationship with the East London mosque and great impact in community

Birmingham - nearly entirely led by police and more conflicted, less successful

There were many changes introduced based on the wide-spread criticism of Prevent in 2010. Prevent and cohesion policies became separate, as well as the budgets that funded it. The new prevent strategy shifted radically from muslim community engagement and towards individuals in public sector that were to report on incidents of extremism. It has a much broader understanding of extremism. In terms of implementation, it is now statutory, and has a far reaching training strategy. By definition it also now encompasses non-violent forms of extremism as well, which has gathered both support and criticism. Making it statutory has raised some tensions in places where it clashes with previously existing policies and approaches. Universities also highlight that after these changes were made, tensions between protecting freedom of speech and implementing Prevent measures arose. Furthermore, healthcare professionals highlighted the tension between implementing Prevent training and preserving patient confidentiality. 

There is a need for consideration for the following points in order to improve engagement of local communities with the authorities: 

  1. The value of locally led approaches - the balance has shifted from local approaches to the general Home Office approach and it needs to return back to communities and local solutions
  2. Need for more civic reengagement with Muslims on both national and local level - should be scope for local authorities to build local engagement with constructively critical voices
  3. Engagement should go beyond narrow focus of counter extremism and Prevent - the most successful areas engaged effectively with the community because they engaged on a wide range of issues (housing, employment, need for role models for young people), not just narrowly focusing on extremism

Q: If a child was to say a comment that triggered a suspicion in the school setting, what would practically happen to that child and family? What is the process of working with that family? 

What teachers would like to see is more understanding of how to open up those safe spaces but it’s difficult for people to see it as anything other than something threatening and catastrophic. The schools should be better prepared for these instances and have better judgement on whether it is something they can deal with safely and openly with the child and the family, instead of making a referral to other agencies. 

There is a lack of training for teachers, so they may find themselves in a place where they won’t be able to identify radicalisation correctly.

Q: The programme started positively but it became a threat to the community instead, and disconnected from the grassroots level. Don’t we need to bring it back to the community, as they are the ones who are facing the biggest threat of it?

There are Prevent officers that are available to go to communities and speak to them about what Prevent is, because there are a lot of misconceptions about what it entails and what the processes are, so it would be great to do some myth-busting. 

Workshop feedback

Table A


  1. Creating safe spaces
  2. Need for counter-narratives 
  3. Need for Myth-busting within the community 


  1. Learning - local approach benefits from good practices and sharing what is already happening in terms of training programs and how to connect it and take it down to the community 
  2. Safe spaces - the need for children and young people to have safe spaces to talk about Islam and difficult and confidential issues, and building confidence to talk about issues to deal with them constructively (conflicts, identity struggles) 
  3. Physical spaces - need to be dotted around the city, not just in certain locations, to make it more accessible. Also move it online to a forum led by the community
  4. More specialist mental health and support services available not just in a response to events but preventatively 
  5. Muslim community-led responses - community taking responsibility to be a part of solution and to be across different areas in the city (improving communication between police and community, interventions around extremism and FGM) 

Table B

Challenges and solutions: 

  1. Top-down approach issues - lack of diversity in workforce, lack of engagement with communities and experts in islam such as scholars or Imams, lack of targeted muslim community policies and lack of representation and participation in making those policies 
  2. Bottom-up approach issues - more engagement from community, communities need to be up-skilled and empowered, more civic engagement, building bridges between statutory and community bodies, need for myth-busting in the community, access to balanced programs for young people 

Table C


  1. Perceptions and stereotyping - need for myth-busting
  2. Lack of active engagement with local communities - police and statutory 
  3. Trust - lack of trust between the community and the statutory organs 


  1. Better collaboration with the Police from the local community - sharing of information and more effective joint response and prevention
  2. Youth led platform - engaging with mosques, higher education platforms, how do we connect with other communities around the country with national initiatives 
  3. Lack of trust - short-term contracts for community workers, no connection with the community and lack of solid relationships due to staff turn around
  4. Critical thinking - teachers need to be involved in the process of empowering young people to think more critically