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Muslim boy, 4, referred to anti-terrorism programme after talking about video game

26th Feb 2021
Muslim boy, 4, referred to anti-terrorism programme after talking about video game

(Photo credit: Amrothman/Pixabay

Nadine Osman

A four-year-old Muslim boy from the West Midlands was referred to the Government’s anti-extremism programme Prevent after he spoke about a video game at an after-school club. The child said his dad had “guns and bombs in his shed” during a conversation with a club worker about the video game Fortnite, which has characters collecting guns and bombs.

Prevent is the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy that tries to “prevent radicalisation and stop would-be terrorists from committing mass murder”. Frontline workers in public bodies, including schools and nurseries, are obligated to report anyone they suspect could be at risk of radicalisation.

This little boy was referred in September 2019 before the police arrived at the family’s home at 10.30 pm to question his parents. The child’s mother told The Guardian, “He’s just a little boy with an imagination. The teachers should know in this setting that [children] have imagination. They know exactly what kids are like, and what young boys are like. I do think that if it was a white boy, they wouldn’t have gone to that extreme of referring him to the Prevent scheme”.

Transcripts showed the child mentioned guns and bombs just before he told the club worker that his cousin had been playing Fortnite at his dad’s house the night before.

The boy is among 624 children under six who were referred to Prevent between 2016 and 2019. Figures also show that 1,405 children aged between six and nine were referred during the same three-year period. Any referrals that are thought to hold merit and pose a real risk are escalated to the Channel programme for counter-terrorism police to deal with. Between 2017 and 2019, only 42 of the 624 under-6s that were referred to Prevent were considered a risk worth stepping up to Channel.

High profile cases of wrongful referrals include a Muslim schoolboy who was wrongly suspected of being radicalised and reported to Prevent won a High Court fight against the Metropolitan Police on September 24 to have his data deleted.

Most referrals are about far-right extremism, according to the latest Home Office figures.
The child’s mum said, “Prevent gives a bad image of Islam. For people who don’t know much about Islam and Muslims, they just believe what they hear in the media, it is all very negative.”

The former head of the Charity Commission, William Shawcross, was appointed to lead a long-awaited review into the Prevent scheme. There was significant controversy over the appointment as critics have argued Shawcross’s previous comments about Islam mean it will not be an unbiased independent review. “Europe and Islam is one of the greatest, most terrifying problems of our future,” said Shawcross.

Shawcross made the comments a decade ago as head of the conservative thinktank, the Henry Jackson Society.
Instead of a review, Prevent Watch wants to abolish Prevent ‘with the overwhelming evidence that shows the damage it has across communities and wider society.’

Dr Layla Aitlhadj, Director at Prevent Watch told The Muslim News, “The so-called ‘review’ should no longer be called a review as the objective for this charade has been made clear – it is only going to look at how to improve Prevent. The tax-payer is essentially paying for the Government to give itself a pat on the back for discriminating against Muslims and traumatising the individuals referred to Prevent as well as the wider community. We call on the Muslim community and wider civil society to boycott the Review, as partaking in the review only helps legitimise it.”

She added, “As surprising as this case is, it is not the first of its kind. This 4-year-old child is only one of hundreds of similar cases that occur year on year as a result of the UK Government’s flawed Prevent duty. Prevent Watch has been highlighting such cases for over 5 years and we will continue to do so for as long as this toxic policy is alive. Each person that comes forward to document their story and expose Prevent contributes to the power that we have as a people to demand that Prevent is abolished before it causes even more harm than it already has.”

The Home Office, which cannot discuss individual cases, said that Prevent, is about “safeguarding”. A spokesperson said, “Where someone is concerned a child may have been deliberately exposed to harmful terrorist narratives, it is right that they refer them to the necessary authorities. Prevent is first and foremost about safeguarding, and through this referral, the child will be able to receive the vital support they need. If a vulnerable child is found to not be at risk of radicalisation, they may be referred to other appropriate safeguarding services”.

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Over 120 people attended a landmark conference on the media reporting of Islam and Muslims. It was held jointly by The Muslim News and Society of Editors in London on September 15.

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