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Parliamentary committee inquiry says Prevent strategy 'alienates' Muslims

Parliamentary committee inquiry says Prevent strategy 'alienates' Muslims

Categories: Latest News

Tuesday March 30 2010

  The Communities and Local Government select committee (chair, Dr Phyllis Starkey, pictured)  has today released its report into Prevent. Following a call for evidence last year and oral evidence sessions held earlier this year, the committee has produced its report into the Prevent stream of the Government’s counter-terrorism strategy.

Among important critiques of the strategy contained in the report are questions over the allegations of ‘spying’ on Muslims, the problem of housing Prevent under the Communities and Local Government umbrella on social cohesion, the discriminatory and stigmatizing impact of Prevent – with its heavy focus on Muslims, the government’s pre-occupation with theological factors influencing radicalization over the more apposite effects of political, policy and socio-economic factors. And, as well argued elsewhere, the report acknowledges the widespread perception in Muslim communities that ‘Government has sought to engineer a ‘moderate’ form of Islam, promoting and funding only those groups which conform to this model’.

The report in summary states:

‘Our inquiry has shown that the current overall approach to Prevent is contentious and unlikely ever to be fully accepted in its existing form by those it is most important to engage. The current breadth of focus of Prevent—from community work to crime prevention—sits uncomfortably within a counter-terrorism strategy.

‘We also strongly support the need for a clear national strategy which deals with the specific threat from al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism. However, we question the appropriateness of the Department of Communities and Local Government—a Government department which has responsibility for promoting cohesive communities—taking a leading role in counter-terrorism initiatives. We agree with the majority of our witnesses that Prevent risks undermining positive cross-cultural work on cohesion and capacity building to combat exclusion and alienation in many communities. We see a very important role for CLG in continuing such work and acknowledge its contribution to the aims of Prevent. However, we believe that this work can be successful only if untainted by the negative association with a counter-terrorism agenda.

‘The single focus on Muslims in Prevent has been unhelpful. We conclude that any programme which focuses solely on one section of a community is stigmatising, potentially alienating, and fails to address the fact that that no section of a population exists in isolation from others. The need to address extremism of all kinds on a cross-community basis, dependent on assessed local risk, is paramount.

‘We remain concerned by the number of our witnesses who felt that Prevent had been used to ‘spy’ on Muslim communities. Our evidence suggests that differing interpretations of terminology relating to concepts such as ‘intelligence gathering’, ‘spying’ and ‘surveillance’ are posing major challenges to the Prevent agenda. Information collected for the purposes of project monitoring and community mapping—both of which are to be encouraged—are sometimes being confused with the kind of intelligence gathering and surveillance undertaken by the police and security services to combat crime and actively pursue suspects. However, despite rebuttals, the allegations of spying retain widespread credibility within certain sections of the Muslim community. If the Government wants to improve confidence in the Prevent programme, it should commission an independent investigation into the allegations made.

‘Regarding the Government’s analysis of the factors which lead people to become involved in violent extremism, we conclude that there has been a pre-occupation with the theological basis of radicalisation, when the evidence seems to indicate that politics, policy and socio-economics may be more important factors in the process. Consequently, we suggest that attempts to find solutions and engagement with preventative work should primarily address the political challenges.

‘There is a sense that Government has sought to engineer a ‘moderate’ form of Islam, promoting and funding only those groups which conform to this model. We do not think it is the job of Government to intervene in theological matters…’

The ENGAGE submission to the committee can be read here.

See also media coverage today: The Guardian, The Independent and Reuters.

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