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Terrorism watchdog calls for ‘independent review’ of Prevent strategy

Terrorism watchdog calls for ‘independent review’ of Prevent strategy

Categories: Latest News

Thursday February 04 2016

The Guardian reports that the UK’s terror watchdog has called for an independent review of the government’s Prevent strategy citing concerns that it is spreading mistrust and fear within British Muslim communities.

David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said the Prevent strategy enforced in schools to spot the “signs of radicalisation” in pupils, has become a “significant source of grievance” among British Muslims encouraging “mistrust to spread and to fester”.

In a written submission to the Home Affairs Select Committee’s inquiry on Countering Extremism, Mr Anderson also raised concerns that features of the Prevent strategy were “ineffective or being applied in an insensitive or discriminatory manner”.

He wrote: “It seems to me that Prevent could benefit from independent review. It is perverse that Prevent has become a more significant source of grievance in affected communities than the police and ministerial powers that are exercised … The lack of transparency in the operation of Prevent encourages rumour and mistrust to spread and to fester.”

Anderson’s submission to the committee inquiry on Countering Extremism and his criticism of Prevent follows on from his annual report on the operation of terrorism legislation in the UK in 2014 (published in September 2015) in which the independent reviewer raised related concerns about the Government’s focus on “non-violent extremism” and the impact on Muslim communities of poorly implemented policy guidelines. Mr Anderson noted the impact on Muslim communities of the counter-extremism measures stating, “If the wrong decisions are taken, the new law risks provoking a backlash in affected communities, hardening perceptions of an illiberal or Islamophobic approach, alienating those whose integration into British society is already fragile and playing into the hands of those who, by peddling a grievance agenda, seek to drive people further towards extremism and terrorism.”

Similar inferences about the negative impact of the Prevent strategy were also observed by the Communities and Local Government Select Committee in an inquiry report on Prevent published in2009. The Committee stated that the Prevent strategy was “alienating Muslims” adding 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.”

In a report published by the Home Affairs Select Committee in 2012, doubts and concerns surrounding the Prevent strategy prevalent within Muslim communities were raised again with the committee observing that “Despite the Government’s efforts to remedy this perception, there is a lingering suspicion about the Prevent Strategy amongst Muslim communities, many of whom continue to believe that it is essentially a tool for intelligence-gathering or spying.”

The committee recommended that the Government “be even more open and transparent about whom it engages within the UK’s varied Muslim communities and should seek to engage more widely. Only through engagement will the Government be able to get communities on their side and really prevent radicalisation.”

In December last year, there were growing concerns among local Muslim groups that the government’s Prevent programme in schools was alienating Muslim children. This was compounded by reports that a large number of children were being referred to the government’s Channel programme, despite reports that only 1 in 5 cases required “supportive interventions”.

A number of student bodies, including the National Union of Students have launched workshops around the country highlighting the detrimental impact of Prevent on academic freedom and freedom of speech on university campuses and the effect on Muslim students of the new statutory duty on universities to safeguard young people from being drawn to radicalisation.

Only last year, Mr Anderson warned the government about Theresa May’s plans to curb “extremist speech” as part of the new Extremism Bill. Anderson warned of the risk of extending the “surveillance state” too far and reiterated concerns that the new counter-extremism proposals, with their focus on “non violent extremism” could put “all sorts of people under suspicion”.

Having largely ignored the concerns voiced by Muslims about the counter-productive nature of the Prevent strategy and the counsel of academics protesting its negative impact on universities, one can only hope the government is moved to consider the good counsel of the independent reviewer.

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