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Prevent's "chilling effect" on free thinking and political dissent

Prevent's "chilling effect" on free thinking and political dissent

Categories: Latest News

Monday July 13 2015

The Independent on Saturday published an open letter signed by hundreds of academics warning that the new Prevent guidance published in accordance with the statutory duty introduced in the Counter Terrorism and Security Act will have a “chilling effect” on academic freedom and risks criminalising Muslims for displaying outward signs of religiosity such as “growing a beard or wearing a hijab“.

The letter warns that the updated Prevent guidance, which came into operation on schools, councils, hospitals, prisons on 1 July, excluding the higher education sector, is counter-productive and further entrenches the Prevent strategy despite its resounding failure and counter-intuitive status.

The letter calls on the Government to “end its ineffective PREVENT policy and rather adopt an approach that is based on dialogue and openness.”

The open letter follows a warning fired during the passage of the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill when over 500 academics signed an open letter criticising the Government’s plans to encroach upon academic freedom on campus and diminish the one vital instrument in countering radicalisation: critical thinking.

Professor Louise Richardson, vice chancellor of Oxford University, put forward this same argument some weeks ago defending the significance and vigour of critical thinking skills in challenging extremist ideas and discourses.

Academics have been resolute in resisting any infringement on academic freedom and earning derogation in the Counter Terrorism and Security Act which places an onus on protecting academic freedom in light of the duty introduced to protect individuals from radicalisation.

The revised Prevent guidance which came into force on 1 July imposing a new statutory duty on a range of public sector institutions is a deepening of the earlier policy which proceeded on a voluntary basis. The policy has been branded “toxic” by the former Commissioner for Harrow Police, Dal Babu, and has been heavily criticised for placing the wider Muslim community under intense and unwarranted scrutiny, as brilliantly captured in analyses by Professor Arun Kundnani. Baroness Sayeeda Warsi has already warned of the “trust deficit” that has developed between Government, political institutions and Muslim communities. The open letter reiterates the probability of that deficit widening with the silencing of political dissent.

How any public policy that has been so counter-productive in its operation could merit entrenchment is beyond belief but then, as the open letter in Saturday’s Indy exclaims, the Government’s preoccupation with “ideology” has left it unable to see the wood for the trees.

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