The government’s flagship counter-extremism Prevent strategy is failing to engage with Muslim communities, a government adviser has said.
Dame Sara Khan said a “vacuum” of information about its purpose had been left by the government, which was then being filled by Islamists.
She added the government must address the concerns of Muslim communities.
Dame Sara also said fears of racism accusations made some local authorities uncomfortable with tackling extremism.
The controversial Prevent scheme was launched in 2007 and was designed to stop people becoming terrorists and to reduce the terror threat to the UK by stopping people from being drawn into terrorism.
In the year to March 2020, just over 6,000 people were referred to the Prevent scheme in England and Wales, because of concerns they were at risk of radicalisation.
However, it has long been criticised by some Muslim groups for what they see as an unfair focus on their communities.
Speaking on the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast, Dame Sara said the government had failed to explain what the counter-terror strategy is to Muslim communities, which “in essence… left a vacuum” about the purpose of the scheme to be “dominated” by Islamists.
“So those types of challenges have continued and I think continuing to engage with communities, explaining what the programme is, addressing concerns – that’s got to continue in a much better way than we’ve seen previously,” she added.
Dame Sara – a human rights campaigner who advises the government on social cohesion – has been a vocal supporter of Prevent, but has faced previous allegations of being too close to the Home Office.
This intervention, from an adviser admired by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, comes as ministers are preparing to publish a review into how effective the strategy is.
Dame Sara, who now advises levelling up secretary Michael Gove on how local communities can counter extremism, also claimed that some groups have used accusations of Islamophobia as a cover for extremist practices.
She said she had seen examples of local councillors who felt unable to push back against the radicalisation of young Muslims.
Dame Sara is not the only Conservative critic of the scheme, with former justice secretary Robert Buckland arguing last year that it needs urgent work and a more “joined up” approach, following the killing of Sir David Amess.
It later emerged that the man suspected of killing Sir David had been referred to Prevent in the past.
You can listen to Political Thinking: The Sara Khan One on BBC Sounds