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Time for PREVENT to be Scrapped

Time for PREVENT to be Scrapped

Categories: Latest News

Tuesday July 13 2021

The recent referral of an 11 year-old Muslim school pupil to PREVENT, after a teacher mistook the word “alms” for “arms” during a classroom discussion, has thrown further light on the problems within the UK’s counterterror programme. Such enforcement of PREVENT does significant damage to young people in what should be a safe, educational environment.

With the ‘PREVENT Duty’ requiring teachers to report any signs of ‘extremism’, educators have been forced to draw on stereotypes and prejudice when making referrals – many transpiring to be based on a misunderstood word or phrase. In the subsequent legal action being taken against the school by the parents of the child in question, it is argued that the teacher applied a “stereotype about his racial and religious background”. The student, as detailed in The Guardian’s report, was misunderstood as stating he would give “arms to the oppressed” when in fact, during a discussion of what students would do with a lot of money, he stated he would give “alms”. The police concluded that there was “no substance to [the referral], no sign of radicalisation, extremist views or any threat to national security” and closed the case.

Despite this, there is wide-spread concern that such referrals negatively impact on student records and wellbeing. If PREVENT is prone to such mistakes, it brings into question the effectiveness of such measures – especially considering that, overwhelmingly, no evidence of ‘radicalisation’ is found in such referrals. With PREVENT referrals left to the discretion of schoolteachers, social workers or healthcare providers, vulnerable individuals from BAME backgrounds – and in particular, children – risk feeling the brunt of the Government’s PREVENT programme.

This is not an isolated incident, instead forming a network of similar referrals made by teachers based on similar misunderstandings. A four-year-old Muslim child was referred after having been accused of drawing his father with a “cooker bomb” when it was, in fact, a cucumber; while a 10-year-old was referred after misspelling the word “terraced” as “terrorist” in describing his home.

The repeated number of mistakes in these referrals highlights the absolute lack of robustness within the PREVENT scheme, which is utilised in school settings where on-going language and personal developments may prevent them from adequately articulating their thoughts or certain cultural nuances. It also highlights that Muslims are being specifically singled out for referrals. Therefore, it is not just an issue of PREVENT’s ‘robustness’ but of a programme which specifically securitises Muslims as a potential threat or as inherently vulnerable to extremism. There is a lack of validity in the PREVENT scheme, and this is particularly evident in its interaction with Muslim and BAME communities.

In response to the alarming rise of PREVENT referrals in the context of recent pro-Palestinian activism, MEND organised a workshop entitled “PREVENT: In Schools”, with speakers Huda Osman of the IRU and MEND, Azad Ali of CAGE, Dr Rob Faure Walker of SOAS, Dr Layla Aitlhadj of PREVENT Watch and Professor John Holmwood of Nottingham University. The discussion centred around the implications of PREVENT on democratic student activism and the disproportionate numbers of PREVENT referrals on pro-Palestine activism.

Dr Faure Walker, drawing on his previous experience as a headteacher, confirmed that Muslim children are viewed through a lens of suspicion, as being vulnerable to extremism. He found that his fellow teachers had considered Muslim students to be “extremists for collecting money for Islamic relief on behalf of Indian refugees”.

Dr Aitlhadj noted that PREVENT “has become embedded into… all walks of life of the public sector”, creating an environment whereby teachers are looking at their students as potential criminals.

Azad Ali also discussed his experiences of PREVENT as an institutionalised form of Islamophobia, with academic research suggesting that the policy has been “premised against the Muslim community to create a suspect community; to look at the Muslim community and engage with them through the lens of security and policing.”

Professor Holmwood’s analysis of the current, controversial PREVENT Review by the Government demonstrates why PREVENT should be scrapped, stating that the Government is simply “going through the motions”, with no real meaning being attached to the Review.

It is discussions like this that continue to show that PREVENT is inherently racist and Islamophobic, both in its construction and articulation. This has been even more evident in UK schools, following the linking of students engaging in pro-Palestinian activism with ‘extremism’ by the PREVENT programme and other authorities.

MEND urges schools to be spaces that nurture healthy democratic expressions and encourages teachers to practice extreme caution when discharging their PREVENT Duty. We also urge policymakers to urgently reconsider the continuation of PREVENT – more so in light of recent events.


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