Is there a need for an “alternative” to Prevent?

Prevent is causing huge concern among British Muslim communities


Ibtihal Bsis is a barrister with extensive experience in advising the Muslim community on anti-terrorism laws and the prevent policy.


Barrister Ibtihal Bsis questions whether there is a “need” for an alternative strategy to the UK Government’s Prevent policy. 

The “Prevent Strategy” has become synonymous with another two words: “toxic brand,” and that is exactly what it has proved itself to be.

Before and after the statutory duty came along in July 2015, whereby all service providers were required to report children showing so-called signs of radicalisation , there has been a number of academics, groups, respected scholars, professionals, that have lined up to demonstrate the flaws in a strategy that effectively targets and criminalises Muslim children.

The list of those that oppose the strategy is by no means exhaustive and includes those that understand only too well the impact of this strategy.

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The voices of children have been largely missing in this entire debate, for obvious reasons. It must be right, however, that they should be heard whenever possible since they bear the brunt of this strategy. Having had the opportunity to speak to children and their parents directly impacted by Prevent, it is all the more necessary for those that have reservations about Prevent to voice their concerns out loud.

PREVENTI spoke to a mother and her four-year-old that had suffered three consecutive nights of nightmares following a worrying discussion with a Prevent Officer. One of the teachers that reported the child expressed dismay at the officer’s dealings with the child, explaining that the child was asked inappropriate questions that led them to sound the alarm on the officer! The school has since signed up to the anti-Prevent movement.

Or the teenager that lost a very close member of his family and became what can only be described as grief ridden. Searching for solace in the Qur’an, this child was reported to the Prevent team, instead of the Welfare Guidance Officer at the school. Prevent began to attend the child’s home on a regular basis, playing some worrying psychological mind games with the entire family that led them to believe that they were being watched and were likely to be raided at any time.

Or the child that is now too afraid to tell people he is Muslim after some harrowing incidents with Prevent Officers at the house. The mother suffers from a terminal illness and the child was blamed for her ill health by one the officers. He is now regularly abusing drugs and suffers from paranoia and fear of being in or out of the house.

What is the answer to these worrying trends? Better training, Prevent advocates argue. So now instead of prevent officers advising teachers that “they will get a feel for the signs” or “that they should follow their instinct”, the training needs to more focused and streamlined, they say.

The Prevent agenda has been rolled out in schools
The Prevent agenda has been rolled out in schools

But better trained according to which criteria? The recent CAGE report entitled, “The Science of Pre-Crime”, points to the ERG22+ set of 22 “radicalisation” factors based on a very limited study of offenders.

This is alarming in itself but not altogether surprising in view of the cases that have come to light. The “radicalisation” test is, at best, a crude tick box exercise and at worst, a subjective instinct.

Since there is a general consensus, on both sides of the fence, that Prevent is not working, we certainly do not need a rebrand or alternative of a bad product.

This further extenuates the largest pitfall of the failing Prevent Strategy: that Muslims have a problem with terrorism. No, we do not and neither does Islam incidentally. I need not only mention the statistics but how often Prevent officers get it wrong.

Whether a prevent officer is likely to visit or not, the perception that s/he is a few steps away from knocking on the door, or worse raiding homes is all too real for Muslims in the UK.

How will radicalisation or extremism be defined? The government has so far failed to present a legal definition. What so called science will be relied on?

Many of us have been criticised for failing to present an alternative strategy, choosing only to pick holes and point to problems. The answer to that is simple: why would we take on such a task? Prevent has been imposed upon and continues to stigmatise and victimise Muslims, and we are asked to prepare an alternative, how is that not insane?

It’s tantamount to asking innocent prison inmates to devise a new security system that will keep them monitored and under constant surveillance; the inmates are entitled to their liberty, not an “alternative” security scheme.

Ultimately, what is often forgotten is that Muslims are the biggest casualties in places of violent terror, whether it be in Iraq and Syria, and are also the predominant victims in the so-called war on terror in the West, and beyond. The Prevent Strategy is one of those tools that is beginning to crumble because it is based around a fundamental untruth, that Muslims have a problem with terrorism. Any alternative will tragically further entrench that untruth.

You can follow Ibtihal on Twitter @UmmHarith

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