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Stifling freedom of expression, curtailing political activism

Stifling freedom of expression, curtailing political activism

Categories: Latest News

Friday July 24 2015

Simon Hooper on Al Jazeera English reports on the harassment experienced by a Muslim pupil who found himself questioned by a Prevent officer and considered for referral to the Channel programme, designed to intervene in cases of young people deemed vulnerable to radicalisation, because he took leaflets urging boycott, divestment and sanctions on Israel to school.

The boy who is 16 and who recently left school, told Al Jazeera English that his encounters with the school authorities began when with his “taking leaflets into school promoting a boycott of Israel.”

He was told that the “Free Palestine” badges he wore were “extremist” and was asked by a Prevent officer stationed at the school what he thought of the leaflet saying he had been brought into the school to “deal with this sort of extremism”.

“I explained to him my views about freedom and justice and that I supported Palestine. I said I thought Israel should have tough sanctions put upon it and he said these could be radical beliefs,” the boy explained.

According to the teenager the officer told him “these are terrorist-like beliefs that you have” and explicitly told the boy that “you cannot speak about this conflict at school with your friends,” according to Al Jazeera.

The boy was also singled out by other staff at the school after “a dinner lady reported him to teachers for inquiring whether any food in the canteen was produced in Israel.”

Al Jazeera report that “A teacher also spoke to his 14-year-old brother, who attended the same school and was told, “Your brother has radical ideas. You advise your brother to stop or we will report him to the intelligence agencies”.”

Speaking to Al Jazeera, Alex Kenny of the National Union of Teachers said: “We’ve heard of the police going into schools to talk about Prevent to teachers and saying things like, ‘If a kid thinks the West is at war with Islam it might be a cause for concern.’ Or if a child goes on a demonstration against the bombing of Gaza, ‘Keep an eye on him”.”

The report reinforces the warning sounded by Bradford Labour MP, Naz Shah, who cautioned about the impact of the new Prevent statutory duty in schools stating:

“Some children refuse to eat at McDonalds because they have researched its links to Israel’s illegal settlements. Does that mean they are going to be extremists?

“Other families won’t buy any goods that have are sourced from those Israeli settlements, but that doesn’t make them anti-Israeli – just pro-Palestinian.”

Prime Minister David Cameron, in his speech on Monday, made a point of refuting fears about “spying” on children saying, “Our new Prevent duty for schools is not about criminalising or spying on Muslim children. This is paranoia in the extreme.”

But the allegations contained in the Al Jazeera report, and cases of Muslim schoolchildren being profiled in schools or being subjected to data collection of a disturbing nature, such as the questionnaire on religious attitudes found circulating in a Waltham Forest school earlier this year, are unlikely to quell the widespread disquiet about schools being turned into arenas for fishing expeditions of suspected “extremists” because of views espoused on domestic or international politics.

Indeed, from the tenor of the speech delivered by the PM on Monday and his assertion about supporting “moderate voices” the attempted depoliticisation of British Muslims that began under Hazel Blears’ looks to be progressing anew under the Conservatives.

Ismail Patel, commenting on the story of the teenager who was subjected to an intervention on account of his pro-Palestinian support, told Al Jazeera, “People are scared to talk about Palestine. A lot of mosques now will not put posters up. There is fear in the community so there is self-censorship and self-policing.”

With a leaflet produced for public sector workers suggesting that talk about “Palestine and other international conflicts” could be deemed indicators of “extremism”, it will be for the Prime Minister to prove that “paranoia” in Muslim communities about being “criminalised” for views on social justice, human rights and the rule of law is unwarranted.

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