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Muslim groups hit back at counter-terror police chief over extremism speech

Mark Rowley, UK's top counter-terrorism officer, said Mend and Cage were attempting to 'create and exploit grievances and isolation'
Mark Rowley addresses the media outside New Scotland Yard following last March's Westminster attack (AFP)

Muslim community groups have chided a senior outgoing counter-terrorism police chief for claiming that they “create and exploit grievances and isolation”.

Mark Rowley, in his outgoing speech as the national lead for counter-terrorism policing and an assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, launched an extraordinary attack against Muslim community groups Cage and Mend, which he described as "so-called representative bodies".

Rowley said the threat from militant attacks would only subside once a "whole society response" to extremism was adopted but warned about the increasing threat of far-right extremism. Police have foiled four attempted far-right attacks since the Westminster attack in March, he said.

Rowley also praised senior government appointees, including the heads of the schools and charities regulators for their role in combating the “chronic threat” of extremism, as they continue to face criticism for singling out Muslims.

And he proposed measures "to confront the twin challenges of terrorism and extremism", including the suggestion that children of people convicted of terrorism-related offences should be taken into care.

"I wonder if we need more parity between protecting children from paedophile and terrorist parents," he said. 

In a speech to the right-wing Policy Exchange think tank on Monday evening, Rowley said that “the days of securocrats alone successfully addressing our national security challenges are history".

The days of securocrats alone successfully addressing our national security challenges are history

Mark Rowley, outgoing national lead for counter-terrorism policing

“My key premise is that the acute threat from terrorism will only be tackled when the whole of society can respond to the chronic threat we face from extremism,” he said, adding that the media, local councils and the private sector all had a part to play.

"A deeply concerning characteristic is how both far right and also Islamist terrorism are growing allowing each side to reaffirm their grievances and justify their actions."

Rowley criticised Mend, the anti-Islamophobia organisation, for “seeking to undermine the state’s considerable efforts to tackle all hate crime” and blamed Cage for characterising the Prevent counter-terrorism policy as an “attack on Islam.”

Mend said they were “deeply disappointed” with Rowley’s comments before mounting a defence of their record.

“We wholeheartedly refute this allegation and find it deeply troubling and inaccurate,” Mend CEO Shazad Amin said in a statement.

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“We worked tirelessly with police forces in order to successfully get Islamophobic crimes recorded as a separate category of crime by around 20 police forces.

“We have worked to empower communities to report Islamophobia to the police, ensuring that crime is recorded correctly and justice is served through the criminal justice system.”

In a statement, Cage said that Rowley's speech amounted to a "tired rehash of tried and failed models".

"The fact that a police officer addressed a right-wing organisation connected to the Henry Jackson Society and the broader Islamophobia network casts doubt on the impartiality of the police and does little for their credibility and legitimacy," Cage said in a statement.

Asim Qureshi, Cage's research director, said Rowley was "profoundly confused".

The comments by Mark Rowley feels like an audition for the right-wing hatemongers..

Azad Ali, Cage's community relations director

“Rowley’s first duty should be to respect the rule of law and ensure professional competence of his staff for the safety and security of all, rather than fanning the flames of fear to justify, among other disturbing ideas, the targeting of families and children,” he said.

'Impressive leaders' confronting extremism

Rowley reserved special praise for Amanda Spielman, the head of school’s regulator Ofsted, and William Shawcross, the outgoing charity commission chief, hailing them as “impressive leaders stepping forward to confront these issues” of extremism.

Azad Ali, a former Mend executive who was recently appointed as Cage's community relations director, hit back at Rowley who singled him out for comments made in relation to British soldiers fighting in Iraq.

“The comments by Mark Rowley feel like an audition for the right-wing hatemongers, being dismissive of the rise of Islamophobia whilst at the same time promoting those that are pushing the structural forms of oppression against Muslims like Shawcross, Spielman and others,” Ali said.

In November, over 1,000 teachers academics and faith leaders wrote to Spielman and said that a move she announced to question young girls who wore the hijab was “dangerous” and “institutionally racist”.

Speilman had claimed that the wearing of the hijab “could be interpreted as sexualisation”.

Earlier this month, Spielman was ordered to appear in front of a parliament committee after giving her “full support” to a school that sought to ban the hijab for some children but was forced to backtrack after complaints from parents.

Meanwhile, Shawcross, a former journalist who in the past has defended torture and Guantánamo Bay, has faced ongoing criticism for his scrutiny of Muslim charities since he was appointed head of the charity commission in 2012, with Baroness Warsi in November accusing the commission of exercising a “disproportionate focus on Muslim charities”.

Shawcross has faced renewed criticism amid the Oxfam sex abuse scandal, with a senior voluntary-sector figure claiming that the commission’s focus on Muslim charities meant that “resources were in the wrong place”.

Speaking on Channel 4 news in the wake of the Oxfam scandal, Sir Stephen Bubb, former chief of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations (ACEVO) said there were a “huge number of investigations into Muslim charities” which meant “they were not putting enough resource into safeguarding and whistleblowing”.

Rowley also praised Sara Khan, whose appointment as head of the government’s new commission on countering extremism was resisted by large sections of the community, as well as Louise Casey, whose work spearheadiing an integration review earned her a nomination for an "Islamophobe of the year" award.

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