THE Prevent strategy - a key plank of the UK government's counter terrorism policy now being rolled out across Scotland - should be scrapped as it risks further radicalising potential extremists, according to the organisers of a Scottish conference on Islamophobia.

Richard Haley, chair of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, and Abed Choudhury, head of advocacy for the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) - joint organisers of the Edinburgh Islamophobia Conference 2015 which is also holding events in London, Paris, Brussels and Madrid this weekend - called on the Scottish Government to call a halt to Prevent, describing it as a "state sponsored Islamophobia".

The Prevent strategy defines extremism as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values” and states that being drawn into terrorism includes not just taking part in violent extremism but also being involved in non-violent extremism "which can create an atmosphere conducive to terrorism and can popularise views which terrorists exploit".

More than 4,200 public sector workers in Scotland have undergone training as part of the Prevent strategy to spot 'extremists'. Those who have been trained included workers in prisons, councils, universities, the NHS and the fire and rescue services.

Anti-nuclear, environmental and animal rights activists have also reportedly been highlighted as potential extremists, alongside perpetrators of terrorist attacks inspired by far-right and Islamist ideologies.

Richard Haley, chair of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, said Prevent should be scrapped "because it targets a whole community rather than criminal elements in it.

"For some staff undergoing this training it may be the first time they have any information about the Muslim community and that is hugely worrying; it's cultivating a sense of suspicion. Those who do the training are asked not to discuss it with others, which means they are not able to get a proper context around it."

He claimed Prevent was a cornerstone of "state sponsored Islamophobia" and was likely to contribute to the radicalisation of some individuals.

"It gives people a sense that the world is against them and its exactly that kind of outlook that breeds terrorism. It is likely to drive people more deeply into a corner and drive the type of terrorism we are seeing."

Abed Choudhury, head of advocacy for the London-based Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) also blamed the policy for contributing to the rise in Islamophobia. "This is coming from an institutional level. Muslims are constantly presented as a threat, as the "other" and that creates an environment of hate. It's top down.

"It is still in the early stages in Scotland, which is why it's important it makes a push. It's a toxic brand."

He called on council, medical and teaching staff to "make it unworkable" and think of sector appropriate interventions that didn't included reporting through Prevent. "The unions need to be at the forefront of this, and be seen to support their workers," he added.

Zareen Taj of the Muslim Women's Association said she was deeply concerned about the effect that the use of Prevent would have if introduced in Scottish schools. "It's undermining children and the free space that they have in school to feel safe to explore ideas," she said. "We are mums and we are very concerned about our children. We are Scottish citizens and we feel our civil and human rights are being eroded."

Earlier this week it emerged that two schools had cancelled visits to the Edinburgh Central Mosque, organised by volunteers from the Muslim Women's Association Edinburgh, due to security concerns which was described as "very disappointing".

After Edinburgh council intervened, one school re-arranged its visit and politicians, including local Green councillor Melanie Main, will be attending the Mosque in a show of support next week.

Helen Martin, STUC Assistant Secretary, also raised fears. She said: “The STUC is concerned that the Prevent strategy places an undue burden on staff working in public services, and distorts the role that staff working in these areas play on the frontline.

"In Higher Education, for example this policy may disrupt relationships between learners and teachers and it has a detrimental effect on academic freedom and the openness of debate that higher education institutions need to have in order to function effectively. We will therefore continue to raise issues with Government around the functioning of this policy.”

Dr Stefano Bonino, lecturer in Criminology at Northumbria University who has written about Islamophobia in Scotland, agreed that counter-terrorism measures under Prevent should be considerably reworked.

However he claimed the Islamophobia conference which has former Guantanamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg as its plenary speaker, should instead have featured more neutral figures from organisations such as Amnesty International and the Dialogue Society rather than those with an "ideological agenda in mind rather than the well being of Muslims."

"Serious issues such as anti-Muslim discrimination need to be discussed by politically neutral groups and genuine individuals," he added.

UK Security Minister John Hayes said: “Protecting those who are vulnerable and at risk is a job for all of us, and we have seen all too tragically the devastating impact radicalisation can have on individuals, families and communities.

“Prevent, and the Prevent duty, tackle all forms of terrorism and non-violent extremism threatening the UK, including far right wing and Islamist extremism. This work is complex and vitally important, and it is disappointing to see simplistic and inaccurate claims undermine that good work.

“We fundamentally revised the Prevent strategy in 2011. More recently we worked closely with the Scottish Government to produce joint guidance for institutions in Scotland which are affected by the Prevent Duty.”

Humza Yousaf, Scottish minister for international development, said: "I think Prevent is done very differently in Scotland and there is much more emphasis on working with community police. We see them in and out of our Mosques and in the community.

"Certainly when it comes to counter terrorism legislation we would want to make sure that if Muslims had fears about what how [counter terrorism measures] were operating they would be able to raise them."