Journalist, Producer & Researcher

Saturday, 25 June 2011

Britain’s new Preventing Extremism strategy…. will it work the second time around?

Britain's new Preventing violent Extremism policy fails to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim community...again.

Earlier this month, the coalition government published the long-awaited overhaul of the Prevent policy aimed at combating home-grown terrorism.

Developed in the wake of the 7/7 bombings, Prevent is one of the four strands of the British government’s counter-terrorism policy known as CONTEST. Under the Prevent scheme, over £80m has been distributed to local authorities, police, community organizations and youth groups to tackle radicalization, mainly amongst Muslim women and youth.

Despite some of its successes, the policy has been criticized as alienating Muslim communities through its focus on integration and cohesion. Upon taking office in 2010, the coalition government ordered an immediate review into Prevent.

While this new government had the opportunity to act upon the mistakes of the previous Prevent policy, it appears once again the revised anti-terror policy will also alienate those most needed to engage in the fight against extremism.

The Revised Prevent Policy

The Prevent strategy has now been broken down into three objectives:

  1. respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism
  2. prevent people from being drawn into terrorism and ensure that they are given appropriate advice and support; and
  3. work with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalization.
The Highlights of the Prevent Review

  • Community cohesion activities and work surrounding extremism will be separated, the former overseen by the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG).
  • Funding will be prioritized according to risk rather than demographics. 25 local authorities have already been identified as high risk areas. However while this is an improvement, a more realistic approach would be to have local authorities identify their own threat and risk.
  • Prevent will tackle both violent and non-violent extremists. The government is only committed to working with those organizations that support mainstream British values. These being values of universal human rights, equality before the law, democracy and full participation in British society.
  • Prevent has been expanded to tackle all forms of extremism such as right-wing. This will be modified as the threat changes. However, as al-Qaeda inspired terrorism is still the greatest threat to national security, this form of extremism will have top priority at present.
  • Police-community work will be enhanced in terms of security. The previous Prevent strategy has been successful in building policy-community relationships. Whether this should be carried out through a counter-terrorism framework rather than a community cohesion agenda is questionable.
  • Channel Project will remain. The Channel project has been successful in identifying vulnerable individuals and driving them away from extremist views.
  • The concept of integration and ‘Britishness’ will once again be a focus for Prevent, but not the sole objective.
  • Government is committed to working with key sectors such as charities, health centers and social services to support vulnerable individuals. This will involve asking doctors and teachers to covertly ‘spy’ on patients and students to identify those vulnerable to fall into extremist ideology.
  • Harsher measures to combat radicalization via the internet. This will involve identifying and getting rid of materials which are considered ‘extreme.’
  • The issues of foreign policy have been sidelined.
  • More research into radicalization is to be carried out overseas. While this has its benefits, research carried out inside Britain’s communities would be more beneficial to assessing home-grown radicalization.
  • Evaluation procedures into Prevent projects and funding will be enhanced.
Winning the Hearts and Minds of Britain’s Muslims

While some positive things have come out of this 116 page review, David Cameron has missed his opportunity to win the hearts and minds of the Muslim community.

Under the revised Prevent, there is muddled thinking about those who have ‘Islamist’ views and politically active Muslims who are inspired by Islam.

Should individuals whose ideas are extreme but not illegal be alienated? Should Muslims who believe in Sharia law be considered potential extremists? As believing in Sharia law is an obligation in Islam, would that leave the entire Muslim population to be non-violent extremists?

This leaves the policy of categorizing moderate Muslims from those who hold extreme views to continue as Britain tries to instill a moderate version of Islam within Muslim communities.

There are also numerous projects which have been able to help combat terrorism whose funding has been axed because they do not uphold mainstream British values. Such examples include the STREET project which has been successful at keeping vulnerable Muslim youth away from terrorism.

The Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), an umbrella organization for student Islamic societies, has been singled out as an organization which supports extremism. This is very hypocritical considering FOSIS have been at the forefront of confronting Islamist extremism in the form of lectures and debates, one which was recently held at the University College London and attended by many individuals who are involved in the delivery and implementation of Prevent.

Even though the coalition government has indicated its opposition to spying on Muslim communities, under this new Prevent, local institutions would be asked to identify those most at risk of posing a threat. And since the greatest threat at present to British national security is al-Qaeda inspired terrorism, Muslim individuals will be targeted.

The Reactions to the Prevent Review

No surprise, in the days following the review, many organizations and individuals has condemned this new strategy to be a total failure and a further alienation of Muslim communities.

It appears that once again government has not widely consulted with those who seek the knowledge and expertise to effectively offer a more realistic approach to combat extremism.

While the revised strategy has made some general improvements, such as separating mainstream community cohesion work from preventing extremism work and continuing funding for successful projects, its integration approach to ‘Britishness’ and expanding and targeting non-violent extremists is counter-productive.

Looking to the future for Cameron and Clegg

In the months ahead, the coalition government will have to carefully outline how Prevent will be delivered and implemented in order for it to be somewhat of a success. The issue at stake is how to successfully deliver this strategy without stigmatizing Muslim individuals. This will be difficult to establish considering the focus remains on Muslim individuals.

Home Secretary Theresa May indicated that ‘‘the Prevent policy inherited from the previous government was flawed’’ The revised Prevent policy has told us nothing new. It is just as confusing and unclear on how to combat extremism.

It appears that David Cameron has won this battle in Whitehall with his vision of tackling terrorism at the forefront of this revised policy. One has to wonder though, where is Nick Clegg in all of this?

First Published by Suite101. Copyright Reyhana Patel. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

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