- Joint statement by academics and public figures on the government’s implementation of PREVENT through the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015
The latest addition to the United Kingdom’s counter-terrorism framework comes in the form of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTS Act). The CTS Act has placed PREVENT on a statutory footing for public bodies to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism by tackling what is claimed to be ‘extremist ideology’. In practice, this will mean that individuals working within statutory organisations must report individuals suspected of being ‘potential terrorists’ to external bodies for ‘de-radicalisation’.
The way which PREVENT conceptualises ‘radicalisation’ and ‘extremism’ is based on the unsubstantiated view that religious ideology is the primary driving factor for terrorism. Academic research suggests that social, economic and political factors, as well as social exclusion, play a more central role in driving political violence than ideology. Indeed, ideology only becomes appealing when social, economic and political grievances give it legitimacy. Therefore, addressing these issues would lessen the appeal of ideology.
However, PREVENT remains fixated on ideology as the primary driver of terrorism. Inevitably, this has meant a focus on religious interaction and Islamic symbolism to assess radicalisation. For example, growing a beard, wearing a hijab or mixing with those who believe Islam has a comprehensive political philosophy are key markers used to identify ‘potential’ terrorism. This serves to reinforce a prejudicial world view which perceives Islam to be a retrograde and oppressive religion that threatens the West. PREVENT reinforces an ‘us’ and ‘them’ view of the world, divides communities, and sows mistrust of Muslims.
While much of the PREVENT policy is aimed at those suspected of ‘Islamist extremism’ and far-right activity, there is genuine concern that other groups will also be affected by such policies, such as anti-austerity and environmental campaigners – largely those engaged in political dissent.
Without due reconsideration of PREVENT’s poor reputation, the police and government have attempted to give the programme a veneer of legitimacy by expressing it in the language of ‘safeguarding’. Not only does this depoliticise the issue of radicalisation, it shifts attention away from grievances that drive individuals towards an ideology that legitimises political violence.
PREVENT will have a chilling effect on open debate, free speech and political dissent. It will create an environment in which meaningful change in policy can only be sought outside the system. Therefore, PREVENT will make us less safe.
We believe that PREVENT has failed not only as a strategy but also the very communities it seeks to protect. Instead of blindly attempting to strengthen this project, we call on the government to end its ineffective PREVENT policy and rather adopt an approach that is based on dialogue and openness.
Signing with institution name is for identification purposes and not for institutional endorsement.
Prof. David Miller University of Bath
Dr Tarak Barkawi London School of Economics and Political Science
Abdoolkarim Vakil King’s College London
Dr Salman Sayyid University of Leeds
Asim Qureshi CAGE
Yahya Birt University of Leeds
Dr Sadek Hamid Liverpool Hope University
Prof. Tariq Modood University of Bristol
Dr Fauzia Ahmad University of Bristol
Bill Bolloten Teacher and education consultant
Dr Katy Sian University of Manchester
Dr Charlotte Heath-Kelly University of Warwick
Dr Narzanin Massoumi University of Bath
Dr Tom Mills University of Sussex
Dr Vian Bakir Bangor University
Dr Justin Cruickshank University of Birmingham
Dr Peter Kennedy Glasgow School of Business for Society
Robin Richardson Instead Consultancy
John Grayson South Yorkshire Migration and Asylum Action Group
Batur Talu Independent researcher on social science