New CAGE report debunks the science behind Prevent

Prevent is causing huge concern among British Muslim communities

Advocacy group CAGE has released a report debunking the government’s system for spotting the signs of radicalisation.

The “science” of pre-crime: The secret “radicalisation” study underpinning Prevent says the government uses a system of 22 factors that has been developed to train public sector employees in spotting signs of vulnerability. Some of these factors include “over identification with a group, cause or ideology” and “them and us” thinking.

The report says the government produced these factors in secret, and subsequently relied on an evidence base that was not only unproven, but extended far beyond its original remit. Key among the findings is the admission by those who wrote the study that they did not factor “political grievance” into the modelling, a fact they say was “perhaps an omission.”

The government’s study also states that only trained professionals should be using these factors, and yet they have been rolled out nationally under a statutory duty imposed under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015.

In July 2015, the UK government introduced a statutory duty on all public sector workers to spot the signs of “radicalization” in order to stop people being “drawn into terrorism.” The move caused great disquiet among Muslims and public sector workers who felt they were effectively being asked to spy on the community.

CAGE say they hope the report will give communities a resource to challenge Prevent scientifically and intellectually, rather than only relying on anecdotal bad cases of Prevent application.

In a preface to the report Professor Arun Kundnani of New York University said: “Over the last fifteen years, millions of dollars, pounds, and euros have been spent on research that tries to identify some set of radicalization factors that can predict who is going to be a terrorist.

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“University departments, think-tanks, and national security agencies have all tried to discover a profile that can be applied to what law enforcement agencies call the ‘pre-criminal space’ – the period before an individual begins terrorist activity. No profile that stands up to scholarly scrutiny has ever been discovered. But that has not stopped a proliferation of bogus ‘radicalization models’ in policy-making.

“How has this happened? The answer lies in the way that ‘knowledge’ in the field of radicalization studies has been constrained and circumscribed by states. National security agencies have constituted the field, defined the object of knowledge, and set the questions to be studied. Thus, rather than ask what are the social, political, and historical causes of terrorism, radicalization studies ask what leads an individual to adopt an extremist ideology assumed (incorrectly) to be correlated with terrorism.

“In taking this approach, the political solutions we need are neglected and instead we get a rationale for surveillance that leads to suspicion falling upon thousands of law-abiding individuals.”


And Bath University’s Professor David Miller commented: “With hundreds of thousands of public sector workers in Britain now required to absorb the government’s Extremist Risk Guidance and apply it in their work, the dangers of this research have never been greater. This report’s cataloguing of the intellectual flaws and damaging implications of the official radicalization model is therefore of crucial importance.

“This report raises far-reaching questions about evidence base and credibility of the government’s counter terrorism strategy and specifically the idea that ‘signs’ of ‘extremism’ can be listed and categorised. The most important question raised in this report is about the secrecy and lack of proper scrutiny of the study that posits 22 signs of vulnerability to extremism.

“The original study has never been published and it has – as a result – not been available for proper scrutiny by scholars and scientists. This is a fundamental violation of the principles on which any scientific endeavour rests. The full study and supporting data should now be made publicly available along with information about the role of government officials in the creation, execution, writing and publication of the study…

“The report argues that a key limitation of the study is its failure to properly examine the fact that ‘political context’ is a key factor in ‘extremism’. This seems to me to be correct – a view widely supported in the serious scientific literature. But perhaps we can go further and raise fundamental questions about the very concept of extremism and indeed ‘radicalisation’.

“Though they have been widely criticized in the academic literature, some scholars still defend these terms as having its uses. This defence is undermined by the fact that the concepts as used by the security and intelligence nexus has no scientific basis. It is well known, and even admitted by orthodox scholars, that the idea of radicalisation came not from academia and science but from the very security and intelligence agencies that use it so relentlessly.

“This report further undermines such concepts, leaving them looking increasingly threadbare. If the UK government and the intelligence and security agencies were interested in evidence-based policy, they would take immediate steps to dismantle the legislation they have erected on the basis of research that is inadequate by virtue of being secret, of poor quality, and even, in its own terms.”

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