Adam converted to Islam at age 19. In 2014, he was taken on by a "de-radicalisation" program. What happened next raises questions about how we approach extremism—and what we can really do for angry young menby Nabeelah Jaffer / June 20, 2018 / Leave a comment
Published in July 2018 issue of Prospect Magazine
When I met Adam in early 2016, he told me that he wanted to join the “Muslim army.” He had been watching videos of jihadists training and said that if he didn’t find a job he might sign up. “If I go fight at least I have a life,” he said. “What am I gonna do here?”
Adam had gained notoriety in 2015, when he went on the BBC2 Victoria Derbyshire programme. A young Polish convert to Islam, he appeared with his former mentor, Hanif Qadir, head of the Active Change Foundation (ACF), one of several organisations the government has used to de-radicalise suspected extremists.
Qadir told the show that Adam was “on a path to terror,” until he got involved. He said he had taught Adam that he was following the wrong kind of Islam. “We’ve pulled him back from the edge, let’s say,” claimed Qadir, in what was a broadcast-ready advertisement for the government’s approach.
The ACF was employed by the government as part of its Channel programme. Channel is paired with the controversial Prevent strategy, which requires teachers, doctors and social workers to report anyone showing signs of radicalisation.
But while Prevent casts a wide speculative net, Channel is supposed to stop genuinely threatening individuals from wanting to commit violence in the first place.
This is crucial: time and again the perpetrators of terrorist attacks are later found to have been on such watch-lists. Channel’s task is to intervene before it’s too late.
The government is confident it’s on the right track. Sajid Javid, the new Home Secretary, published a report in June that reaffirmed his commitment to providing “theological and ideological advice” to anyone drawn to terrorism—a form of faith-based reprogramming Qadir specialised in at the ACF, designed to challenge what Theresa May calls “non-violent extremism.”
No one doubts it’s a serious problem: last year, the UK suffered four terrorist attacks, three jihadist and one far-right, which between them killed dozens. A proper de-radicalisation programme could make a real difference. But as I discovered over a year with Adam and Qadir, the BBC show didn’t tell the full story.