Journalist, Producer & Researcher

Sunday, 13 February 2011

David Cameron’s speech at the Munich Security Conference- What does it mean for the future of Prevent?

Last Saturday, David Cameron, in his speech at the Munich Security Conference, prompted a nationwide debate on multiculturalism, terrorism and Islam. Many individuals have criticised his speech as counter-productive, an attack on Muslim communities and fuelling right-wing extremism.

No doubt, this speech is almost the introduction to what is to be laid out in the new Preventing violent extremism (Prevent) agenda out very soon. While the PM made some interesting points, he also set out some disturbing strategies to the approach that the coalition government intends to take on tackling violent extremism.

David Cameron was right to indicate that Islam and Islamist ideology are ‘‘two different things,’’ that getting to the root of the problem is the only way to stop radicalisation and that defining ‘moderate’ Muslims in counter-terrorism policy is unacceptable. Like many, I also welcomed the decision to tackle all forms of extremism, whether it being right-wing, Islamist or Irish-related and that terrorism is not linked to a particular religion or ethnic group.

However, Cameron also made some worrying points that are most likely to appear in the revised Prevent strategy. The issue of the current Prevent agenda was that of lumping cohesion and preventing violent extremism work under a counter-terrorism framework. While community cohesion and community development are vital factors in the fight against terrorism, the initiatives under the Prevent agenda that have been successful in leading individuals to reject violent extremism, have mainly been as a result of cohesion work, which many argue could equally be achieved if placed under a cohesion agenda. This was outlined in numerous research studies and it was expected that the coalition government would have separated the two, placing cohesion work under a cohesion framework and focusing Prevent work directly relating to extremism. However, in his address in Munich, Cameron appears to have merged the two together, insisting that identity and cohesion are integral components in preventing violent extremism.

The PM also failed to mention the good work that many organisations with the help of Prevent money have been able to achieve, particularly the significant partnerships established between local institutions and communities. Instead, he emphasised that allocating large sums of money at Muslim communities to address grievances and tackle poverty was not the solution to violent extremism and that ideology and integration were the issues that needed to be addressed.

Another disturbing factor is the decision to completely alienate non-violent extremists and only engage with those organisations that fully adhere to ‘British’ values and support the ‘war on terror.’ Working with non-violent extremists is extremely important, not only to national security, but also for open dialogue and trust to be established between the police and communities. One of the criticisms of the current Prevent agenda was that individuals wanting funding for a project could only do so if they were willing to sign up to a counter-terrorism agenda. Under the PM’s vision, nothing will change as only those who adhere to British values and support counter-terrorism policies can only receive public funding for any kind of project, whether it being cohesion related or directly linked to extremism.

This approach will only drive these movements further underground and create further distrust and alienation of Muslim communities. The most effective way to tackle non-violent views is to openly challenge them in a robust and aggressive way. Alienating non-violent extremists is a dangerous policy and will only serve as a strong recruitment tool for extremist groups, like Al-Qaeda. This is supported in a number of studies including a report published by Demos, which argues that banning non-violent views is counter-productive.

Cameron strongly highlighted that it ‘‘it was time to turn the page on the failed policies of the past.’’ The current Prevent agenda has been critcised as alienating Muslim communities through its focus on Muslim communities, integration and Islam. From this speech, it appears once again, that this new government is taking a similar approach and that Prevent will again mainly focus on these areas with a much more emphasis on Muslims individuals needing to become more ‘British.’ This can only be seen as a step backwards in trying to counter violent extremism.

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