The Prevent strategy, initially launched in 2007, was reviewed by the coalition government in 2011.
The strategy claims to seek to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism. It is the preventative strand of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST.
This is a summary of the 2011 Prevent Review Report:
- The coalition government criticised the Prevent strategy they inherited from the previous Labour government, for its tolerance towards alleged non-violent Islamic extremism in the UK and Europe, and thus ordered that the strategy be reviewed. The Prevent Strategy is the report presented to Parliament by the Secretary of State for the Home Department Theresa May on Tuesday 7thJune 2011.
- The revised Prevent strategy is based on the so-called “conveyor belt” theory of radicalisation which Purports that individuals start off disillusioned and angry and join groups that just about manage to stay within the limits of the law. Gradually they become more religious and politicised, and eventually turn to violence and terrorism. This is despite what Robert Mason, a senior official in the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG), had written to Eric Pickles, the Communities Secretary, in a ‘restricted’ memorandum saying that the papers present “a clear assessment that individuals do not progress through non-violent extremist groups to violent groups … Extreme groups may also provide a legal ‘safety valve’ for extreme views.”
- The report renews concerns regarding the very definition of “non-violent extremism” as it lays out the principle of accepting diversity but strictly within the framework of British values, which remain undefined.
- The report argues that “At present the greatest threat to the UK as a whole is from Al Qa’ida and groups and individuals who share the violent Islamist ideology associated with it.” This is despite the fact that the last 5 threats to security in the UK all came from groups in Northern Ireland, and despite the murder of PC Ronan Kerr in April being the sixth attack against national security targets in Northern Ireland this year which had followed 40 attacks in 2010 (there were 22 attacks in 2009 and 15 in 2008).
- Prevent is becoming more police led and intelligence driven with significantly more attention being placed towards the Channel project where people who are believed to be “extreme” are referred to and, either with or without their knowledge “deradicalised”. Each Local Authority in the UK has a multiagency board which consists of representatives from various public services including the local authority, the police force, and probation officers and, where necessary, fully vetted ‘intervention providers’. The boards manage cases referred to them and decide on whether a person referred meets their criteria to be engaged in Channel’s deradicalisation schemes or if the individual should be referred to more appropriate services (e.g. mental health facilities) or have their case dropped completely. The Channel programme is potentially highly problematic as it is based on the subjective assessments of referrals by lecturers, teachers, youth workers, classroom assistants, community support officers etc and involves policing legal (albeit provocative and controversial) views leading to concerns that the police are policing ‘thoughts’. There are also concerns over which agencies have access to the police files of these individuals and risks labelling young people as ‘extremists’ for the rest of their lives.
- Priority areas under the new Prevent strategy include education, faith, health, criminal justice and charities. The internet is also included here as a sector in its own right although delivery ofPrevent programmes through the internet is a theme running through the review and strategy.
Universities and Colleges:
- The report states: “Universities and colleges – and, to some extent, university societies and student groups – have a clear and unambiguous role to play in helping to safeguard vulnerable young people from radicalisation and recruitment by terrorist organisations.”
- It also describes that further education colleges will be addressed as a priority on grounds that “young people at college may be as vulnerable to radicalisation as those attending university and for the same reasons.”
- In 2009, The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) identified about 40 English universities where there may be particular risk of radicalisation or recruitment on campus. BIS invited these universities to assess their ability to manage this risk. Not all of the institutions responded to the request.
- For those universities that did, the assessment looked at their working relationships with key Prevent partners including the police, their internal policies and procedures to identify and manage risk and the training and awareness-raising provision within each institution. Rather dangerously the conclusion of this assessment was that there was a need for sharing of intelligence and training to help faculty and other staff identify the signs of radicalisation. This raises worries that the entire Muslim student population on campus will be viewed through the lens of extremism and will be spied upon and profiled. The report states:“University and college staff should have access to support if they suspect one of their students may be becoming radicalised. We will support the sector to improve their capacity in this area, training staff to recognise the signs of radicalisation and helping them improve their awareness of the help that is available.”
- In 2009, these universities received intelligence briefings and were subsequently offered a small grant for further Prevent work and training. Some of these universities now have a dedicated police officer to advise on these issues.
- The report prompts universities towards managing potentially controversial speakers and recommends that universities should review their arrangements. The reality is that there are already clear legal instruments for dealing with incitement of racial and religious violence and hate. The Prevent policy will only serve to criminalise the Muslim community further, subject it to on-going surveillance and legitimise the far right assault against Islam.
- The report also instructed universities and colleges that no single group should be allowed to control prayer facilities on any campus, putting ISocs’ autonomy as the student society responsible for delivering Friday sermons and maintaining order within the prayer room at risk.
- The Charities Act 2006 requires all student unions to register with the Charity Commission by the end of June 2011 after which student unions in England and Wales are regulated by the Charity Commission and governed by charities legislation.
- Legally, all charities must work for the public benefit and must act to avoid damage to the charity’s reputation, assets and associated individuals.
- The report sets out how higher education institutions and student unions can be challenged on whether they have given due consideration to the public benefit and associated risks notably when they, or one of their affiliated societies, invite controversial or extremist speakers to address students.
- It also instructs that “Student unions and higher education institutions should also take an interest in the activities and views being expressed within affiliated societies to ensure compliance with charities legislation, which includes provisions relating to human rights, equalities and political neutrality.”