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“Full steam ahead”: Government ignores criticism of Prevent and launches new CONTEST strategy

“Full steam ahead”: Government ignores criticism of Prevent and launches new CONTEST strategy

Categories: Latest News

Tuesday June 05 2018

On the 4th June 2018, the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, set out the UK’s updated Counter-Terror strategy: “CONTEST: the United Kingdom’s Strategy for Countering Terrorism”.  The report outlines changes to be made to the UK’s current counter-extremism strategy, CONTEST in an effort to “update” and “strengthen” it.

MEND would like to set out some initial concerns about this strategy, pending a more in-depth analysis;

  • The Government stated this new strategy was as a result of an “in-depth review”, and that it would “ prioritise strengthening the resilience of local communities to terrorism as they are at the forefront of our response”. However it does not explain why local stakeholders and Muslim communities were not consulted in its review and the construction of its recommendations? In 2016 the Citizens UK report called for the Government to mend the “broken relationship” with Muslim communities and to end its “boycott of certain organisations”. It seems the Government has no interest in even acknowledging that relationship, as can be seen by its failure to tackle Islamophobia in the Conservative Party and refusal to engage with the Muslim Council of Britain.
  • The big ‘new idea’ trumpeted in the Press was that MI5 and Counter-Terror Police agencies would “share more information” with Local Government about known suspects. We must question how passing the responsibility from such highly trained qualified professionals centrally to unqualified professionals locally, such as council workers, teachers and social workers, will make a positive difference. How will these already overstretched local professionals be in a better position to manage the risk?
  • The strategy states at paragraph 75, “We judge that communities which do not or cannot participate in civic society are more likely to be vulnerable to radicalisation”. We agree and reflect that since groups such as MEND exist to promote engagement of Muslims in civic society, working with us would reduce the vulnerability of communities towards being radicalised. So why does the Government maintain its disengagement policy and refuse to engage with organisations like MEND and the MCB – we are part of the solution, not part of the problem.
  • Also at paragraph 75, it states “A successful integration strategy is therefore important to counter-terrorism. We published our new Integrated Communities Strategy for consultation in March 2018.”. Indeed, the Integrated Communities Green Paper is littered with references and allusions reminiscent of counter-terror strategies that have previously been condemned as hugely damaging to cohesion and inclusion of minorities. This fear has been heightened with the publication of this updated counter-terror strategy, which explicitly references the Green Paper in outlining its vision. It is imperative that strategies of community integration and of counter-terror are not conflated, as this can only result in the further securitisation and stigmatisation of vulnerable minority communities. We believe that communities should be encouraged to integrate for positive reasons not simply as a means of making them ‘less dangerous’.
  • The report rightly points to threats from Daesh, however, aside from a couple of passing comments on the far-right, there is a stark imbalance in the focus of this strategy. Indeed, there are only a few paragraphs on right wing terrorism despite this being described as a “growing threat”.
  • There is no acknowledgement of the criticisms of Prevent, which is a remarkable omission when one considers the numbers of people and organisation that have criticised it including UN Special Rapporteurs, NUT, Rights Watch UK, Royal College of Psychiatrists and countless politicians and academics. This suggests the Government is not prepared to engage in critical analysis and legitimate concerns about the Prevent programme, ignoring the valid criticisms of the very communities it seeks to partner with.
  • The Government states that the Prevent programme has been developed in conjunction with “academics and leading experts” and is “based on the best available evidence” (paragraph 105). If so, then we call upon the Government to publish this evidence and question why then is there much resistance from the Government to commit to an independent review of Prevent that many have called for?
  • In the analysis of “terrorist ideology”, there is no acknowledgement of the role of international politics and foreign policy. Meanwhile, religious ideology is seen as the main driver, e.g. at paragraph 39 ” Although individuals may also be attracted to terrorist groups for social, cultural, material, psychological and other reasons, ideology remains a strong driver.” Furthermore paragraph 103 of the report accepts there is no single pathway or ‘conveyor belt’ theory and acknowledges, “few of those who are drawn into terrorism have a deep knowledge of faith”. So therefore we must ask why is religious ideology still being viewed as a ’strong driver’?

Responding to the report Dr Shazad Amin, CEO of MEND stated, This is a real missed opportunity by the Government to acknowledge the valid evidence based criticisms of Prevent and review its counter-terrorism strategy by engaging with grassroots Muslim organisations and listening to their concerns.”

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