Issue 266, Friday 24 June 2011 - 22 Rajab 1432
New Prevent strategy will increase marginalisation of young Muslims
The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have little in common, but one area they agreed to cooperate in their coalition agreement was to “implement a full programme of measures to reverse the substantial erosion of civil liberties under the Labour Government and roll back state intrusion.”
This included safeguards against the misuse of anti-terrorism legislation because of the Orwellian nature of measures brought in under the previous Government.
However, it was not to be. Even though Home Secretary, Theresa May, acknowledged that the discredited Prevent Violent Extremism strategy was “flawed” and “confused”, her new policy is disappointing.
Ahead of the publication of the delayed Prevent review, the Sunday Express set the scene by peddling a front-page scoop, claiming “experts in Islamic extremism have been drafted in by Education Secretary Michael Gove to identify dangerous radicals in schools” as part of the new Prevent strategy. The so-called counter-intelligence advisers, who worked for many years at the Home Office, have the “most detailed knowledge of terror networks around the globe and their affiliates in the UK.” They will work with a new government unit to prevent extremism and will “hunt down Muslim radicals hijacking learning and grooming school pupils from primary level onwards to create the terrorists of the future.”
The new strategy published on June 7, is a continuation of the previous one with a few changes. It has widened its remit to include non-violent extremists. The policy is based upon a simplistic “conveyor belt” theory of radicalisation, that starts off with disillusioned and angry individuals, gradually becoming more religious and politicised, who then turn to violence and terror. This runs counter to all the evidence. A leaked memo prepared by officials for the Cabinet’s Home Affairs Subcommittee in July 2010 concluded it was wrong “to regard radicalisation in this country as a linear ‘conveyor belt’ moving from grievance, through radicalisation, to violence…This thesis seems to both misread the radicalisation process and to give undue weight to ideological factors.” The conveyor belt theory also runs contrary to an MI5 study in 2008 that concluded that there is no easy way to identify those who become involved in terrorism in Britain and that there was no single pathway to violent extremism.
Another difference is that the Prevent, “whose aim is to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism”, will be dealt with the Home Office and the policy and programmes to deal with “extremism” and with “extremist” organisations are not part of Prevent and will be coordinated from the Department for Communities and Local Government.
Like the misguided mistakes made by Labour, it focuses on challenging the ‘ideology’ of the terrorists to give them a clear religious identity and so gives the Government an excuse to include non-violent extremists in its range of fire.
The new Prevent Strategy has also extended its reach to include the NHS. Doctors, nurses and other medical staff will be asked to identify patients at risk of being drawn into radicalisation. The current policy already targets schools, colleges, universities, sport centres, mosques, imams and madrasahs. What is of concern is that the previous Government and the current one are targeting areas which involve trust and confidence. Young children put trust in their teachers and if teachers misuse their position by spying on their Muslim pupils then these children will lose trust in the Government and other sections of the establishment. Similarly, Muslim patients will lose trust and confidence in their doctors and nurses who are now asked to identify patients at risk of being drawn into radicalisation.
Foreign policy seems to be sidelined in the Prevent strategy by both the Labour and Tory governments who are instead focussing on religion. As we have argued in the past this is a mistaken view. In July 2010 at the Chilcot Inquiry MI5 head, Eliza Manningham-Buller, said the invasion of Iraq had radicalised young Muslims. Similarly, another MI5 head, Stella Remington said the same thing. In October 2008, when asked what impact the war had on the terrorist threat, she said: “I think all one can do is look at what those people who’ve been arrested or have left suicide videos say about their motivation. And most of them, as far as I’m aware, say that the war in Iraq played a significant part in persuading them that this is the right course of action to take.”
The dangers of how the Prevent strategy is impacting innocent Muslims, is underlined by the extent staff at Nottingham University has gone to monitor and film Muslim students attending meetings on issues like Middle Easter arts and Palestine.
The new Prevent strategy will make young Muslims feel marginalised, excluded and targeted and the danger is that an increasing number may end up in the violent extremist camps.