A social cohesion think-tank has called on the government to put an end to its Prevent counter-terrorism strategy.
Claystone, which aims to foster social cohesion with British Muslims, says the government’s strategy of aggressively promoting “British values” and attempting to ideologically transform Islam is misplaced.
In a report by Professor Arun Kundnani entitled “Rethinking Radicalisation and Extremism”, Claystone says that counter-terror policy is currently far too broad-brush and radical religious ideology doesn’t automatically lead to acts of violence.
Instead, Professor Kundnani argues, counter-terror policy should be much more focused on individuals who can reasonably be suspected of intending to engage in a terrorist plot, finance terrorism or incite it.
Claystone also says that the best way of preventing terrorist violence is by actually widening the range of opinions that can be expressed, not restricting them.
The Claystone report, which was launched in the House of Commons on Tuesday, comes after a year when counter-terrorism was once again a major focus of national attention.
In 2014 a raft of new initiatives were announced by government ministers while journalists and commentators placed the issues of radicalisation and extremism firmly on the media agenda.
At the centre of this was the fear that foreign fighters returning from Syria and Iraq might engage in terrorist violence within the UK.
Moreover, in recent years a wide range of controversial domestic counter-terror policies have been introduced.
• Surveillance of the political and religious lives of Muslims to identify indicators of radicalisation, for example through Schedule 7 stops at airports;
• Requiring teachers, youth workers and health workers who work with Muslims to share information on perceived risks with police counter-terrorism units;
• Using powers under anti-terrorist legislation, such as the glorification of terrorism clause in the Terrorism Act 2006, to criminalise individuals for expressing extremist opinions;
• Aggressive removal and denial of entry to foreign nationals thought to be a radicalising influence;
• Funding selected Muslim leaders to promote an ideological message against extremism on behalf of the government;
• Requiring suspected extremist individuals to undergo “de-radicalisation” programmes;
• Removing online content deemed extremist;
• Financial restrictions on Muslim individuals and charities thought to be involved in extremism;
• Public pressure on Muslims to declare their allegiance to British values.
But Claystone says: “Advocacy of the official narrative on the causes of terrorism has had a significant polarising effect on public discourse in Britain, contributing to a climate of systematic hostility to Muslims.
“This has happened in two main ways: The term ‘extremism’ is used selectively and inconsistently to construct Muslims as a suspect community and to discourage the expression of radical opinions.
“And the debate on multiculturalism is securitised so that a series of distinct issues involving Muslims in public life are interpreted through the lens of clashes over identity that can only be remedied by demands for assimilation.”
At the end of its report Claystone makes a number of recommendations.
• End the Prevent policy in light of a more authoritative understanding of radicalisation.
• Focus the government resources available to counter-terrorism on investigating individuals who can reasonably be suspected of intent to commit acts of terrorism, incite it or finance it.
• Publicly defend freedom of religion, even for individuals who choose to adopt religious beliefs deemed extremist.
• Publicly acknowledge that British identity is continually reshaped by those who reside in the UK and that all sections of society have an equal right to contribute to that process.
• Publicly acknowledge that foreign policy decisions are a significant factor in creating political contexts within which terrorism becomes more or less likely.
• Enable spaces for wide-ranging discussions of religious ideology, identity and foreign policy, particularly among young people who feel excluded from mainstream politics.
• Fund independent research to present an objective picture of the experiences of foreign fighters in conflict zones such as Somalia, Syria and Iraq. This is likely to be a far more effective way of discouraging young people from engaging in such activities.