Muslim women are to be sent on leadership and assertiveness courses to help to prevent Islamic extremism.
In an attempt to stop young Muslims being seduced by Al-Qaeda, women will be sent on training courses designed for FTSE 100 managers to give them the skills and confidence to confront fanatics.
Amid fears that extremists are becoming more sophisticated in their recruitment, Hazel Blears, the communities secretary, has concluded that a key way to stop extremist ideas further permeating Muslim communities is to give "the silent majority" a stronger voice.
She is to publish a good practice guidance document which will say that "resilient communities can only exist where women are playing a full and active part".
Blears will tell local authorities to use part of a ?70m government fund set up to combat extremism to pay for the courses in confidence building, communication and mediation skills.
Muslim women will be offered work placements with business leaders and top athletes to imbue assertiveness and leadership and help them to advance their careers. Funding will be available to set up local Muslim women's groups to provide a "safe space" where they can discuss their concerns. The plan is likely to attract criticism from some Muslim men who will see it as a threat to cultural traditions about the role of women in society.
Blears believes that Muslim women have "untapped potential" to become a voice of moderation in communities targeted by fanatics. Half of all Muslim women have never worked and the government believes that improving their educational and job prospects will boost their influence.
A Whitehall source said: "Muslim women can have a unique moral authority at the heart of families as sisters, mothers and friends and must be supported to play a greater role in tackling extremist ideology."
The plans have already provoked a mixed response among Muslims. The Muslim Council of Britain accused the government of trying to turn women into government spies. "The government at first wanted our imams to act as spies on young British Muslims and now they seem to want Muslim women to do the same," said Inayat Bunglawala, the council's assistant secretary-general.
Shaista Gohir, chief executive of the Muslim Women's Network, said: "It's not about Muslim women becoming investigators, it's about giving them a greater role in Muslim public life."
Professional motivational firms will run role-play courses in which Muslim women will learn how to confront fanatics. Some of the courses will be run by actors who are expected to pose as radicals espousing violent jihadist arguments, whom the women will be taught to challenge effectively. Mothers will also be offered confidence-building courses to help them speak out if they see their children being wooed by extremist preachers.
The courses will help young women to have the confidence to challenge young radical men in debate.
The Home Office estimates between 10,000 and 15,000 British Muslims support Al-Qaeda or other terrorist groups. The document, to be published this month, will express concern that extremists are targeting young people aged between 16 and 35.
"Extremists' operation methods and use of technology are becoming ever more sophisticated. They are exploiting ungoverned spaces such as the internet, bookshops and cafes and using new media to put across slick and seductive messages," a draft of the paper says.
"This is about giving the silent majority a stronger voice in their communities and equipping people with the skills and strength to withstand the messages of extremists preaching division and hatred."
Muslims have three times the unemployment rate of the general population, with more than half economically inactive. ( Times )