The horrific attack in Christchurch is a stark and tragic reminder of the worldwide threat of terrorism and the increasing danger of extreme right wing violence. I attended a vigil outside Leicester’s largest mosque, Masjid Umar, in the wake of the atrocity and whilst the solidarity and sympathy expressed by people from all faiths and backgrounds was humbling, it was clear that even though Christchurch is on the other side of the world, the horror and sense of loss has been keenly felt by local communities here in the UK.
Sadly, terrorism is rarely out of the news. The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) assesses that the current threat in the UK is “severe,” meaning that a terrorist attack is “highly likely.” Numerous terrorist plots have been thwarted in recent years. And whilst around 80% of the 700 live terrorist investigations taking place right now relate to Islamist-inspired violence, other forms of extremism are growing, as evidenced by a 36% spike in radical right-related referrals to Prevent, the safeguarding duty that protects vulnerable individuals from radicalisation.
Against this backdrop it is incumbent upon us to do what we can to safeguard our children and young people from extremism. We may live in one of the safest countries in the world and it may seem that terrorism is a distant threat, far removed from our schools, but we cannot be complacent, and it is helpful to consider an attitude of “it can happen here.” I say this because we needn’t look far to find chilling examples of how our youngest and most vulnerable can be at risk.
Consider the extremist who attempted to create a “child army” of terrorists by attempting to groom over one hundred children aged between 11 and 14. Or the pharmacist sentenced to prison for showing ISIS/Daesh beheading videos to children of primary school age. The UK’s Counter Extremism Commissioner notes that many young children are spouting far-right, racist, xenophobic points of view, often coming from their parents.
As a practitioner who has worked in Prevent since 2013, I have personally dealt with many cases of young people who were at risk of extremism and who received support and intervention that guided them to safety. I recall a 15 year old who threatened violence and spoke openly about his racist views, stating that white people were a 100% pure master race, and that a race war was on the horizon. I worked with a teenager who stated that he felt obliged to travel to Syria and fight because it was his religious duty. He said that one of the killers of Fusillier Lee Rigby in Woolwich was his “brother in Islam.”
What would you do if you heard those views within your setting?
Since 2015 schools and childcare providers have had a legal duty to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into extremism. But I passionately believe that we also have a moral duty to protect our children. That is why I have helped to create a Prevent CPD with Gooseberry Planet. Based on my practical experience and expertise we have developed an accessible programme that will empower education professionals with the confidence and knowledge to approach radicalisation and extremism in an effective and responsible way.
The education sector is the biggest source of referrals to Prevent and there is widespread acceptance that it should be understood as part of wider safeguarding responsibilities. It is vital that we all play out part in keeping our children and communities safe.