Since the 11 September, a spotlight has been shone on the security of what we might term the “soft spots” of our society and the risk that extremism presents to them. The educational environment is one of these soft spots. For many years, the focus has been on Universities and their campuses, and their vulnerability to exploitation by groups and individuals who preach and spread the ideas that underpin religious political extremism. In particular, they have been a prime target of those who glorify and spread extremism and who themselves take care to avoid involvement in terrorism or violence. In the last few years the schools have been dragged into various debates at the soft end of extremism. Many of these disputes relate to issues of integration and religious practice: the wearing of the hijab by female pupils, fasting in the Holy month of Ramadan by under-aged children and other similar religious practices. Are our schools safe from extremism? To answer this question I established a project which was designed to follow, observe and monitor the risk of extremism in a few schools in North London between 2016 and 2018. The research samples were teenagers from the ages of 16 to 18. The audience for the conclusions of this research are public officials, in particular education departments, Local Authorities and other key decision makers. I have divided the results into three separate parts.

  • Key fundamental indicators of extremism
  • The 25 main themes that emerged as discussion points during the course of the project
  • Recommendations.

Part One: The research identified a number of signals which we might term ‘indicators’. Those indicators were narrowed down to a series of key factors which suggest the highest potential of becoming an extremist.

  • Delegitimation of well established Scholars, who are accused of apostasy.
  • Veneration of certain so-called Scholars of Jihad. These extremists are treated as sources of knowledge, fatwa and guidance.
  • Glorification of acts of terror worldwide, regarding terror attacks against civilians in the West as religiously sanctioned acts of Jihad.
  • Frequently labelling Muslims who disagree with their arguments as apostates.
  • Expressing the view that all governments of Muslim countries are all apostates and are enemies of Islam and are participants in a conspiracy led by the West and Israel against Muslims.
  • Labelling all intelligent and security apparatus, military forces and police forces in Muslim countries as apostates, and arguing that to fight against them is an Islamic duty.
  • Stripping women of full rights as within society: they have no place but the home and the kitchen.
  • Rejecting the possibility of being both Muslim and British, and arguing that to be a Muslim while describing yourself as British is a corruption of your faith. If you are Muslim then you can not and must not also say you are British.
  • Supporting violent extremist groups fighting in any hot spot in the world including Iraq and Syria as a religious duty: whether being involved by physically going to fight or by engaging in remote logistical work from outside the country in which conflict is taking place.

These indicators have emerged from my experience in monitoring and observing the student subjects during the course of two years of research. As mentioned before, there were many more indicators other than those listed above. However, these are the indicators which most commonly arose.

Part Two: The themes set out below constitute the environment and framework of the debates and discussions which took place between the student subjects. Students who participated in these discussions played a part in formulating these themes. The decision to take this approach was premised upon the following rationale:

  • To make sure that the students agree about the 25 themes, so that they reflects the realities of their conversations.
  • To ensure that the recipients of this report become familiar with the terms, vocabulary and, more widely, the cultural context of the conversations.
  • The involvement of the student subjects in formulating these themes allows them to be treated as a ‘document’, for research purposes.

I list below a number of common beliefs that arose in the context of face-to-face meetings or online. Not all extremists will share these views.

  • Jihad may only be carried out physically (e.g. in the context of war, fighting, killing and so on) and has no other forms or applications.
  • Anybody can form a group and perform offensive Jihad.
  • Offensive Jihad is a goal in itself: i.e. it is done just for the sake of doing it.
  • Islam was spread only because of Jihad, carried out in the manner described above.
  • Islam can only be spread by this species of Jihad.
  • A Muslim’s only goal should be establishing a Caliphate that imposes Shariah law.
  • Irrespective of their reason, if a Muslim does not think that establishing a Caliphate and Shariah law is the main goal and purpose, then he is an apostate, a hypocrite or is not Muslim in the first place.
  • Every Muslim should go to Syria, Iraq and other countries struggling with oppression and or war, and fight there.
  • Irrespective of their reason, if a Muslim does not want to go to Syria, Iraq and or other countries struggling with war, then he is a coward, an apostate, a hypocrite or is not Muslim in the first place.
  • If a Muslim does not have the same opinion or view as them, then he is an apostate, a hypocrite or is not Muslim.
  • Shariah punishments can be practised in lands where it isn’t established by law or imposed by the state.
  • We should not abide by any laws except Shariah even though there is no country that applies Shariah law correctly, and we are forced to follow laws other than the Shariah.
  • Every non-Muslim is an active enemy of Islam and is trying to destroy it.
  • Enjoying yourself or having fun is not allowed because Muslims in other countries are suffering.
  • If a Muslim enjoys himself or has fun then he is an apostate, a hypocrite or is not Muslim at all.
  • The only important beliefs are: the oneness of Allah; Al-Walaa wal-Baraa (association with Muslims and disassociation from non-Muslims and Kufr) bit-Taaghuut (disbelief in anything worshipped other than Allah). Any other belief is not important or relevant. I note here that, although these doctrines are present within Islamic literature, this understanding of these principles does not follow the teachings of the early generation of Scholars of Islam
  • If a Muslim is unaware of a concept such as Kufr bit-Taaghuut, then he is not a Muslim in the first place.
  • Ignorance is not an excuse in relation to of aqeedah (creed, doctrine)
  • All Arabian governments are kuffaar (disbelievers) and apostates because they rule by other than what Allah has revealed.
  • All the Scholars in Saudi Arabia are apostates, hypocrites or were never Muslim in the first place: this perspective includes well known Scholars such as Ibn Uthaymeen, Bin Baaz, Saaliah al-Fawzaan and Al-Albaani.
  • All the Scholars in Saudi Arabia are on payrolls from the government to conceal the truth.
  • Saudi Arabia has allied with the West, therefore they are disbelievers (they do not clarify what they mean by ‘allied’, they all have different opinions of what it means).
  • Takfiri and Islamist theologians, such as Abu Haleema, Anwaar al-Awlaaki and Sayyid Qutb are respected as important religious authorities.
  • Women’s rights is a Western secular belief and Muslims should not accept it.
  • There is a conflict between being Muslim and being British.

Part Three: The conclusions of the study are as follows.

  1. The roots of the problem that we face lie in education, integration, identity and culture. It would be counterproductive if we conclude that the solution is “securitization”. It follows that law enforcement agencies and the security services should acknowledge that the task of addressing these causes falls outside their job description.
  2. The solution to these issues requires practical policy, not legislation.
  3. Consultancy centres should be created in order to address the needs of certain metropolitan boroughs which are more likely to be facing the problem of extremism in their schools. These centres should provide the services of specialists and experts in extremism, violent extremist groups and radical Islam.
  4. Good use should be made of parent governors in schools. I was a parent governor in two different schools, and believe that this resource could provide a useful tool in addressing some of the problems described in the report.
  5. Youth centres, properly utilised, could provide a supportive environment for teenagers who are at risk of being influenced by extremism
  6. Caution is always appropriate. Do not rush to conclusions when seeing a student who fits the ‘profile’. Further investigation is always required, and it is worth bearing in mind that a student who appears to be impacted by extremist politics may not have fully internalised them.