Combating the threat of extremism in Birmingham

Pavlo Lapshyn Image copyright West Midlands Police
Image caption Pavlo Lapshyn killed grandfather Mohammed Saleem last April

In the constant struggle to keep the UK safe from what's become known as "home-grown" terrorism, Birmingham is one of Britain's most vulnerable areas.

I think back to a conversation I had a few years ago with a well-placed Home Office source.

Measuring the threat in terms of a thermal image of this country, he told me Birmingham was one of the hottest areas of all.

This made it one of those conversations you don't forget in a hurry.

And it was against this background that West Midlands Police and the city council were forced to abandon Project Champion in the summer of 2010.

They admitted they should have been more open about the £3m scheme to install CCTV cameras in two predominantly Muslim areas as a counterterrorism measure.

Community tensions

The police and council acknowledged this may have "undermined public confidence" in areas where local people clearly did not appreciate being kept under surveillance.

We can assume that the overwhelming majority of law-abiding Muslims in these areas are just as concerned as anyone else about terrorism.

With more than 200,000 Muslims, the city is home to Britain's biggest Islamic community outside London.

As well as a number of high-profile terrorist cases, the West Midlands has also seen serious attacks against local Muslims.

In October, 25 year-old Ukrainian student Pavlo Lapshyn was jailed for a minimum of 40 years for murdering a Muslim grandfather on his way home from a mosque and for planting bombs capable of killing or maiming people near three West Midlands mosques in what police called "a racist terror campaign".

Image caption More than 300 people attended a public meeting in Birmingham after the cameras were installed in 2010

Community tensions have come into sharp focus following the murder near Woolwich Barracks last May of soldier Lee Rigby by two British-born extremists.

'Tarnishing everyone'

The Home Secretary Theresa May promptly set up a task force, promising to "address the gaps" in the government's policies for confronting extremism.

The task force's recommendations concentrate on schools, prisons, faith institutions and universities.

But could they be construed, or misconstrued, as an attempt to establish a pretext for a drive, in effect, to "police" the mosques or even to westernise Islam?

BBC Midlands Special Correspondent Peter Wilson has taken a close interest in these questions over many years.

He tells me: "The Muslim community often feels demonised because of the actions of a tiny minority of terrorists tarnishing everyone else.

"One mosque in the centre of what has been seen in the past as Birmingham's extremist heartlands has opened its doors to discuss what the government should be doing."

This week's Sunday Politics Midlands, will show Peter's exclusive report from the Hazrat Sultan Bahu Islamijah mosque at Balsall Heath in Birmingham.

We will see how religious training programmes for Imams aim to counteract extremist ideologies. Peter will also talk to young Muslims about their thoughts on extremism and ask them just how British they feel.

Sunday Politics starts at 11:00 on BBC One Midlands on Sunday 19 January.