County Durham man launches counter-extremism educational programme

The Harmony Initiative Credit: ITV News

By Kris Jepson

A County Durham man has launched The Harmony Initiative programme, which is aimed at educating people about Islam in order to fight extremism.

Ifty Rafiq, 36, says his family have independently funded the programme, which includes educational videos, booklets and lesson plans for schools and businesses, in order to complement the Government's Prevent strategy.

Watch @krisjepson's report here:

During an event hosted by the Jamia Masjid Al-Madina Mosque in Middlesbrough, Mr Rafiq and the Imam, Naveed Saddique, signed a pledge to "eliminate intolerance, promote community cohesion and tackle extremism".

Mr Rafiq told ITV News the educational videos would help dispel myths about Islam and Muslims. He said these misconceptions cause community tensions, which are then exploited by extremists who target vulnerable young people to radicalise.

Mr Rafiq said he hopes to roll out the programme to institutions across the region and ultimately the UK.

We're aiming the training programme at professionals. The idea is to empower them. We also want students to take the training. We all have a vested interest in living in a country that's peaceful, but as the radical elements of the Muslim community might be wanting to plant a seed of hatred in the minds of younger Muslims, we want to plant a seed of love. >

Ifty Rafiq, The Harmony Initiative

The Harmony Initiative is still in its infancy, but organisations like Middlesbrough based Media Cultured, run by Amjid Khazir, have been running similar projects for several years.

The "pioneering" and "innovative" methods used by Media Cultured have been recognised internationally and endorsed by the former independent terrorism legislation reviewer, Lord Carlile.

Media Cultured session Credit: ITV News

At a session last year, supported by Cleveland Police and Crime Commissioner, Barry Coppinger, Mr Khazir showed ITV News how his sessions work.

During that particular session, teachers learned how to arm pupils with strong theoretical arguments in order to challenge extremist ideology that may come their way.

Professor Matthew Feldman, an extremism expert, attended the session last July and told ITV News:

Many of these programmes haven’t had very long, so we don’t know in terms of intermediate and longer term how successful they are, but I think some of the proof is in the pudding. It's talking to real people on the ground that can make grass roots changes. This is dealing with people at the coalface and saying these are the skills and some of the understandings that you might need to challenge racism, bigotry and radicalisation, and I’d like to believe that people from all across the country can turn around and endorse that and say we want to reject extremism, from wherever it comes from.

Prof. Matthew Feldman