An independent committee has called for a review and rebrand of the UK Government’s flagship counter-terrorism Prevent programme.
The Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) recommended an independent review and subsequent rebranding of the Prevent strategy, describing it as “toxic” and discriminatory towards Muslims.
Prevent makes it mandatory for public sector staff to report individuals to authorities who they deem to display “extreme” attitudes or behaviour which could lead to terrorism.
In a report compiled over several months, and evidence gathered from individuals and groups affected by or involved with Prevent, the HASC suggested several changes to the government’s process of tackling “radicalization”.
As well as a name change from Prevent to “Engage”, the committee recommends giving social media, internet companies and small community organisations more power to take down material deemed to be “extremist”.
However, the report acknowledges the government has no clear definition for “extremism behaviour”. Advocacy group CAGE believes the government will use this recommendation to work with organisations it is already allied with politically and ideologically.
The role the media plays in marginalising Muslims is acknowledged. The report suggests referring to “Islamic State” as Daesh -and describing them as un-Islamic- will supposedly counter this.
Greater security measures have also been recommended, specifically a “high-tech, state of the art, round-the-clock central operational hub” that will bring together security services and tech companies. Chair of the committee Keith Vaz MP thinks the internet is the “lifeblood of Daesh”.
Though the report states there is no single path to “radicalisation”, it regards grievances towards British foreign policy as “perceived” rather than real.
The report has received a mixed response from different Muslim groups. The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) said: “The focus of the [Prevent] strategy should be around building a real partnership between community groups and the state.
“For too long, successive governments have failed to work in partnership with a wide cross section of the Muslim community, as equal stakeholders in the fight against terrorism.”
CAGE were more critical. Spokesperson Ibrahim Mohamoud told Middle East Eye: “The Select Committee claims there have been too many counter-terrorism laws yet they welcome the proposed Counter Terrorism and Safeguarding Bill. It is hard to understand how further legislation piled onto already existing failing legislation will rectify the situation.”
Islamic political party, Hizb ut-Tahrir were even more scathing. Media representative Taji Mustapha states the report contains, “omissions, inconsistencies and contradictions.”
He explains: “On radicalisation, the report says: there is no evidence that shows a single path or one single event which draws a young person to the scourge of extremism: every case is different. Yet they did not go on to expose the fallacies in this most basic premise (alongside the absence of definitions of ‘radicalisation’ and ‘extremism’) have underpinned all counter-extremism policy in the UK and Europe. To have realised this and yet not made it clear – and then not denounced all policy that is built upon it is a basic flaw in the report.”
Speaking to to 5 Pillars, Michael Lavalette, a member of Stop the War, campaigner for Stand Up To Racism and Professor at Liverpool Hope University, said: “They can change the name as much as they want but if they don’t change the underlying philosophy then we’re in the same position where what will happen is overwhelmingly young Muslim men and women will be targeted by security services, and them and their families subjected to all sorts of harassment.”
Unpacking the argument that foreign policy grievances are simply “perceived” Professor Lavalette added: “First of all the way which those definitions of international conflicts are perceived by the British state is not neutral.
“The obvious example is the question of Palestine. It continues to be, under Prevent, if you support Palestine, that is an indicator as far as the British government is concerned of potential radicalisation. So when it comes to foreign wars or intervention the British state is not neutral and its perspective is one many of us have fundamental disagreements with.
“The second thing is, as Britain seeks to protect its interests around the world , whether that’s in Iraq or Syria, there are people who object, and if you criminalise that objection there is the potential you will push some people into the hands of some of the more extreme groups because you tar them all with the same brush- but there are lots of legitimate criticisms of Britain’s involvement in Iraq, Palestine and Syria which don’t lean in that direction; so I think the British government’s position can be a self-fulfilling prophecy because of their imperial interests around these things.”