Officials in Britain have been running a behind-the-scenes campaign to prevent young British Muslims from radicalizing and joining the Islamic State group, but their secretive nature has some advocates balking. The Guardian exclusively revealed Tuesday that the Research, Information and Communications Unit, nicknamed Ricu, has been not only working to protect youth but also to conceal the fact that the government is behind the initiative.
The campaign is set up to cause “attitudinal and behavioral change” among Muslims ages 15-39 in the U.K. who may be considering defecting to Syria. In order to discourage this, Ricu has sent representatives to college fairs to talk about Syrian refugees and gave out more than 760,000 pamphlets through a partnership with public relations group Breakthrough, the Guardian reported. It also allegedly produced a documentary about Muslims competing in the 2012 Olympic Games without letting the journalists behind the film know who was bankrolling it.
The Home Office issued a statement to the Guardian defending its choices, writing that it was “proud of the support Ricu has provided to organizations working on the frontline to challenge the warped ideology of groups such as [the Islamic State group], and to protect communities.”
But though the government’s intentions may be good, the lack of transparency about its involvement in Ricu has left some people criticizing the campaign.
“If the government wants its Muslim citizens to listen to it, it needs to be trusted. And to be trusted, it needs to be honest,” human rights lawyer Imran Khan told the Guardian. “What is happening here is not honest. It’s deeply deceptive.”
Guardian front page, Tuesday 3 May 2016: UK’s covert fight against lure of Isis pic.twitter.com/M0p2rjUSYt
— The Guardian (@guardian) May 2, 2016
More than 1,500 young British Muslims are estimated to have fled Europe to try to join the Islamic State group in recent years, according to the Telegraph. The terror group, also called ISIS, is known for slick propaganda videos and social media techniques that can draw in young people who may be feeling unwanted or figuring out their identities. The extremists also attract women with promises of husbands and comfortable lives, as in the case of the three London schoolgirls who made headlines last year when they took their passports from their parents and traveled to Syria.
Prime Minister David Cameron announced a counterterrorism strategy to combat the trend in October. He planned to investigate Sharia law, prevent certain convicts from working with children and force internet providers to take down extremist content, according to the BBC. “It’s no good leaving this simply to the police or the intelligence services. It's no good simply talking about violent extremism. We need to confront all extremism,” he said at the time.
Meanwhile, British Muslim leaders have said that ISIS “does not represent the mainstream Muslim community and is an illegitimate Islamic state.”