Every single school in Birmingham now has staff trained on the UK Government’s controversial Prevent strategy, the city council’s counter-extremism boss has said.
Birmingham’s Prevent lead, Waqar Ahmed, told councillors that a recent Home Office review found the city council to be a “national leader” on promoting the policy in schools.
There are now a total of 680 Home Office accredited “Prevent trainers” in Birmingham’s 464 schools.
The Prevent strategy is perceived with widespread suspicion by Birmingham’s Muslim community after the Trojan Horse scandal was exposed, which claimed that there was an “Islamist plot” to take over state schools.
Conservative Councillor for Edgbaston, Matt Bennett, told Birmingham Mail: “There has been negative publicity about Prevent and that narrative does exist within Muslim communities.
“There are groups who have said it is a Government conspiracy to spy on Muslims.”
But Mr Ahmed said that there has been negativity, not only from Muslim communities, but also organisations like the National Union of Teachers (NUT) which raised legitimate concerns about staff becoming surveillance agents to target children.
He said: “What we tried to do is engage with these bodies, we had robust conversations with the teaching unions, social workers and even the Royal College of Psychology who raised concerns.”
However, the Prevent strategy is still perceived with much distrust within Muslim communities across the Britain for being a draconian policy aimed at indiscriminately targeting Muslims, as well as policing thoughts and silencing political dissent.
In September 2016, it was revealed that the pre-crime study of ERG22+ which underpins the Prevent strategy was based on flawed science and was not peer-reviewed to justify a statutory footing under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015.
In response to this, more than 140 academics and psychologists issued an open letter criticising the Prevent strategy.
In addition to the revelations of the flawed scientific basis of the Prevent strategy:
- In January 2016, the former Chairman of Birmingham Central Mosque, Councillor Muhammad Afzal, described Prevent as “racist” and called for its boycott for indiscriminately targeting Muslims.
- In December 2015, Waltham Forest Council of Mosques, which represents more than 70,000 Muslims, vowed to boycott Prevent, and also described it as a “racist policy” which targets Islam and Muslims.
- In March 2015, more than 240 Muslim organisations, scholars, imams, activists, teachers, doctors and journalists issued a joint statementagainst the statutory standing of Prevent under the CTS Bill.
- In July 2015, more than 280 academics and NUS membersissued a public statement against Prevent, stating that it would have a “chilling effect on free and open debate and political dissent”
- In January 2016, the Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University, Professor Louise Richardson, argued that “extremists” should be allowed to speak at universities, and banning them from doing so would be a fundamental impingement of free speech.
- Former Metropolitan chief superintendent Dal Babuhas described Prevent as a “toxic brand”.
- One of Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer, Sir Peter Fahy, has stated that Prevent was hampered from the outset due to the Iraq war, and he argued that defining “extremism” was not the responsibility of the police.
- The ‘Keep Mosques Independent‘ initiative, which is being led by the largest council of mosques from the north of the country, representing hundreds of thousands of British Muslims, issued a statement in 2016 against state interference in madrassas under the Prevent programme.
- Imams in east London backed by non-Muslim teachers, community organisations and student unions, claimed that Prevent was spying on Muslim students, which has led to “increasing division and to a breakdown of trust in schools and colleges”.
- MP for Bradford West, Naz Shah, who was a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee for countering extremism, described in a 2016 statement that Prevent is perceived by many ordinary Muslims as “toxic”.