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MP calls for PREVENT programme to target anti-racism

MP calls for PREVENT programme to target anti-racism

Categories: Latest News

Tuesday November 09 2021

Tory MP, Jonathan Gullis, has said during a fringe meeting at the party’s conference last month that anyone using the term ‘white privilege’ should be reported to the UK Government’s controversial counterterror programme, PREVENT. He then added that teachers who criticise the Conservative party should be sacked. The Independent obtained a record in which he says: ‘The term white privilege… is an extremist term, it should be reported to PREVENT, because it is an extreme ideology’, as he accused ‘woke teachers’ of infiltrating classrooms with political ideologies.

Strategies for combating radicalisation and extremism have become a ubiquitous feature of national strategies in several areas of society, including education. Yet the term has no legal standing and the UK Government’s counterterrorism and counter-extremism strategies continue to be mired in controversy. It is therefore greatly concerning see that ‘extremism’ is being used as a blanket term to attack critics of the Government and anti-racist discussion.

As it stands, there is no single profile to describe extremism and there are no boundaries to this terminology – this is evidenced by the lack of a universal definition. In the UK, the Government’s Counter-Extremism Strategy 2015 describes extremism ‘the vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’. This definition suffers from ambiguity; it isn’t clear what ‘British values’ consist of nor does give it rationale for what ‘opposition’ may mean. In the past, lists of domestic extremists issued by the police in the past have included legally-operating activist groups, including Animal Aid and Extinction Rebellion. This definition, therefore, seems to potentially problematise any individual or group who actively oppose elements of Governmental policy, with the UK extending its security agenda into the civil society realms of care, social work and education.

The definition of extremism – along with the security strategies upon which they are founded – has also been shown to reinforce Islamophobic tropes through the religious profiling of Muslims. Research reveals that PREVENT reinforces negative stereotypes of Islam and Muslims: 20% of university students believe that Islam is not compatible with British values; among those supportive of Prevent, this figure rises to 35%. Inevitably, such a policy proves to be damaging to Muslims by treating them as a ‘suspect group’, resulting in the over and wrongful referral of Muslims to PREVENT.

The legal duty of PREVENT impacts children and young people aged 20 and under, with the highest number of referrals coming from education workers. In the year 2020, almost 1,559 children under the age of 15 were referred formally through schools, amongst which 30% were suspected as being linked to ‘Islamist extremism’. The most recent referral of an 11-year-old school pupil, after a teacher mistook the word ‘alms’ for ‘arms’, attests the fact that PREVENT injects suspicion and discrimination into the imagination of frontline workers to the detriment of Muslims.

As such MEND is of firm belief that the PREVENT duty should be repealed, and welcomes the independent review of PREVENT and all counter-terrorism legislation since its enactment in 2000. In doing so, MEND urges that the definition of extremism be reviewed with a view to curbing the encroachment of counter-terrorism policies on civil liberties.

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