Prevent is failing. Any effective strategy must include Muslim communities

Source: The Guardian


There is no doubt that the threat from international terrorism is real and that it requires proportionate and evidence-based strategies to confront it. Muslims in particular are affected twice over: not only as victims of the international attacks, but also by the anxiety that families may be torn apart as a minority fall prey to the lure of terrorist propaganda. But, as the Muslim Council of Britain has said today, the potency of that propaganda must be challenged by affirming that the best way to tackle violent extremists is to demonstrate that British Muslims are part and parcel of British life.

At present, rather than enlist Muslim communities as equal partners in the fight against terrorism, they instead must live under the shadow of the government’s Prevent strategy, which is widely perceived to be a toxic brand. On Wednesday, the Open Society Justice Initiative published a groundbreaking, evidence-based report entitled Eroding Trust, which concluded that “the current Prevent strategy suffers from multiple, mutually reinforcing structural flaws”, adding that there are “serious indications that Prevent is counterproductive”. In the report, the former security official and Prevent strategy’s architect, Sir David Omand, observed: “The key issue is, do most people in the community accept [Prevent] as protective of their rights? If the community sees it as a problem, then you have a problem.”

The concerns are well-founded and cannot be dismissed as mere misunderstandings. Take the government official reported to have told Gavin Robinson MP: “Don’t push the issue too far. It is really a counter-Islamic strategy,” after he asked why Northern Ireland was not included in the counter-extremism strategy. Or when the former education secretary Nicky Morgan on Channel 4 News said that converting to Christianity is “of course not” a sign of radicalisation (while converting to Islam is). Or how about when Ofsted investigated the case of a hidden Qur’an in a child’s bedroom as a sign of radicalisation. Indeed, there are numerous case studies of young children, teachers and health patients being referred to Prevent for spurious reasons, making up 80% of a growing number of referrals.

Rather than detect early signs of radicalisation, Prevent is seen as a government strategy that forces the public sector to make Muslims pass subjective and discriminatory counter-extremism litmus tests. But a poll earlier this year showed that 96% of Britons think that Prevent is not keeping us safe. They are joined bysecurity experts who say Prevent is not working, and rights groups and unionsthat recommend the repeal of Prevent, in particular related to its statutory duty in education and health.

Clearly, Prevent is not fit for purpose, and no amount of rebranding will restore trust. But what are the alternatives?

There is no silver bullet for this problem, and ultimately it is our security services and police who bear the responsibility of keeping our nation safe and secure. Moreover, like any other responsible members of society, Muslims must (and already do) help our law enforcement authorities by reporting any criminal activity, including terrorism, come what may. But at the same time, there is justifiable scepticism at the notion that Muslims must police their own communities and take “ownership” of the problem, when in fact the current terrorist threat often originates on the margins and fringes of British Muslim communities and away from British mosques.

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