A report published today by the Institute of Race Relations finds that the government’s Prevent programme for tackling extremism fosters division, mistrust and alienation.
Entitled Spooked: how not to prevent violent extremism, the report suggests that the Prevent programme has been used to establish one of the most elaborate systems of surveillance ever seen in Britain.
Moreover, there are strong reasons for thinking that the Prevent progamme, in effect, constructs the Muslim population as a ‘suspect community’, fosters social divisions among Muslims themselves and between Muslims and others, encourages tokenism, facilitates violations of privacy and professional norms of confidentiality, discourages local democracy and is counter-productive in reducing the risk of political violence.
The result of a six-month research project funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, the report draws on existing policy and academic work, freedom of information requests, a roundtable discussion and thirty-two interviews with Prevent programme workers and managers in local authorities, members of local Prevent boards, voluntary sector workers engaged in Prevent work and community workers familiar with local Prevent work.
The government describes its Preventing Violent Extremism programme (known simply as ‘Prevent’) as ‘a community-led approach to tackling violent extremism’. It believes that by selectively directing resources at ‘moderate’ Muslim organisations to carry out community development and ‘anti-radicalisation’ work, it can empower them to unite around ‘shared British values’ to isolate the ‘extremists’. With hundreds of millions of pounds of funding, the Prevent programme has come to redefine the relationship between government and around two million British citizens who are Muslim.
The report’s key findings are that:
- Prevent-funded voluntary sector organisations and workers in local authorities are becoming increasingly wary of the expectations on them to provide the police with information on young Muslims and their religious and political opinions.
- The atmosphere promoted by Prevent is one in which to make radical criticisms of the government is to risk losing funding and facing isolation as an ‘extremist’, while those organisations which support the government are rewarded.
- Local authorities have been pressured to accept Prevent funding in direct proportion to the numbers of Muslims in their area – in effect, constructing the Muslim population as a ‘suspect community’.
- Prevent decision-making lacks transparency and local accountability.
- Prevent has undermined progressive elements within the earlier community cohesion agenda and absorbed from it those parts which are most problematic.
- The current emphasis of Prevent on depoliticising young people and restricting radical dissent is actually counter-productive because it strengthens the hands of those who say democracy is pointless.
Author of the report, Arun Kundnani, says that: ‘The stated aim of the government’s counter-terrorist strategy is to enable people to “go about their lives freely and with confidence”. The question we pose in this report is whether freedom and confidence for the majority can be enabled by imposing a lack of freedom and confidence on a minority – in this case, the Muslim population of Britain.’
Free download of Spooked: how not to prevent violent extremism (pdf file, 1.2Mb)