This week, UK Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham used his platform to wrongly attack the Government’s Prevent strategy, and even prescribed that Muslims should be allowed to bypass the police in the reporting of hate crimes.
In today’s climate of ‘post-truth politics’ it is important that we understand Prevent a little bit better to avoid proposing counter beneficial policies. In fact the Prevent strategy is grounded on the evidences of leading specialists, teachers and practitioners around the country and such facts are much more inclined in Prevents favour than Andy’s short time meetings and analysis.
Andy has badly misunderstood Prevent and ends up conflating it with hate crimes, yet reporting hate crimes, and preventing violent extremism are two separate things. While the first is a crime, where one has actually broken the law, Prevent only works within the pre-criminal space and safeguarding vulnerable individuals against violent extremism. The two are not even connected within the same strategy.
Born out of a lack of understanding has come an even more ludicrous statement, that Muslims should be able to bypass the police. By referring to a Muslim sentiment of “don’t trust the Police, they are not here to protect you” Burnham drives an even bigger wedge between the Muslim communities and the police. These sentiments only help to aid growing conspiracies that the police works on a racially discriminative and almost apartheid basis.
Andy then falls into the same trap that many have on this discussion – all problems and no solutions. He poses two challenges to the Prevent agenda. Firstly he puts forward that Prevent focuses on only one broader community, namely Muslims. This is simply false. Prevent tackles all forms of extremism disregarding faith, culture and/ or ethnicity; in fact only around 1/2 of Prevent referrals are Islamists related.
The second challenge he poses is that prevent acts to monitor Muslims, which is another falsehood. In reality Prevent only monitors cases of those found vulnerable to radicalisation, persons who have begun to adopt an extremist ideology and growing intent and capabilities to cause harm. It monitors their progress away from the path of radicalisation and monitors no-one who does not meet said threshold.
When solutions are posed, they bizarrely reflect a current Prevent practice that sadly highlights the continuing ignorance of the anti-Prevent lobby. Solutions such as engaging with communities; providing grass roots critical thinking skills to young people; building trust with safeguarding practitioners; tackling all forms of extremism and ensuring data protection legislation is followed. Yet, these are all key elements of the current strategy.
It is a common sense approach. If a teacher is looking out for indicators and intervening in the safeguarding of students being sexually groomed, why shouldn’t they do the same for students being groomed to ISIS? The problem is Andy has seemingly got stuck into an Anti-Prevent crowd that is so thin-skinned on the issue of tackling anti-Muslim discrimination (blaming Brexit, cartoons and the recession as primary drivers), yet so blaze’ and naive to organisations and speakers that prescribe the death penalty for blasphemy and apostasy. It comes as no surprise that such an anti-Prevent agenda exists, as it only sees anti-Muslim ideas as a problem, and certain Islamist narratives as a solution.
Andy has used his platform to demonise a preventative strategy that tackles all forms of extremism and a local civil society approach to safeguarding. By drumming up such conspiracies that the strategy is somehow “Anti-Muslim” – even though it clearly states don’t refer anyone on the outward devotion of faith (page 14) – this has tarnished any progressive step forward to counter illiberalism, intolerance and hatred brewing within the UK.
What we need is more nuanced conversations on the Prevent strategy and a better understanding of it. Only through these discussions can we optimise a crucial counter-extremism strategy that focuses on the prevention of violent extremism/terrorism. Bad recommendations such as bypassing the police, or scrapping the Prevent policy, will see us regress to the days when non-violent extremist narratives were apologised for and worked with.