19 Jul 2008

Britain unveils plans to counter Islamist extremism

2:09 pm on 19 July 2008

Young British Muslims are to be taught citizenship in mosque schools to prevent them from being influenced by Islamist extremism, the government has announced.

The new lessons will be trialled from the new term in September in London and other areas with high Muslim populations, like Birmingham and Leicester in central England and Oldham, Rochdale and Bradford in northern England.

The initiative is part of a package of measures, including a new board of academics, theologians and community leaders to advise on responses to tackling extremism, to show there is no conflict between being Muslim and British.

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said there was a need to equip young people from Britain's 1.6-million-strong Muslim population with the skills to stand up to extremists.

"We need to encourage and create safe places for sensible debate around issues that extremists can seek to exploit and make sure that young British Muslims recognise their faith teaches shared citizenship values," she said.

Britain has sought to engage more with Muslim communities since the suicide bomb attacks on London in 2005, which saw four British nationals blow themselves up on the city's transport network, killing 52 others.

Particular focus has been given to encouraging a shared sense of national identity to combat the Islamist argument of a "clash of civilisations" between East and West, particularly after the divisive war in Iraq.

In July, the government published a "de-radicalisation" program, including advice to local authorities to map their areas by religion, to ensure systems were in place to remove funding or support from inappropriate groups.