Now well documented, the former Prevent policy was widely seen as a failure and waste of public money. After looking at the latest version, I’m left with the same feeling. Riddled with flawed assumptions and contradictions, it doesn’t offer a substantially new vision for addressing the serious issues within its remit. Instead of root and branch re-evaluation, we got Prevent: The Sequel. For me, this revised version bears too many resemblances both in style and content to its predecessor. Examining the central aim of trying to ‘stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism’ (p6), exposes one of the core weakness of the document: the misunderstanding of the relationship between radicalisation and political violence. Quite simply, the latter most often does not follow the former. Despite the growing body of evidence, about the processes of Muslim religious radicalisation and terrorism in Britain we have to admit that there is much that we still do not yet know.
My experience as a researcher and trainer who has engaged in the education of professionals delivering the former Prevent programme, leads me to conclude that most people working on the ground had unrealistic expectations hoisted upon them, and that their efforts were stifled by ambiguously set outcomes and opaque accountability mechanisms. Do the authors of the 2011 Review, still really expect public sector workers to be able to identify potential ‘extremists’ by grasping the distinctions between national resistance movements, nihilistic takfiri Jihadism, and various shades of Islamism? The reality is that there are very few agencies qualified to deal with the issues. Among the handful of organisations that have any effective experience of working with vulnerable young people in this area are organisations such as the Active Change Foundation in Walthamstow, and the Brixton based STREET project (3) – which recently had its funding removed by this government.
Many of the people working in the cash strapped front line services of youth work, teaching, health and the police struggle to appreciate the many ways British Muslim communities have lived through the last few years of negative media scrutiny, anti-terrorism legislation, increased Islamophobia, religious hate crime, and counterproductive policing tactics. As Choudury & Fenwick point out in their recent report (4) on the impact of counter terrorism measures on Muslim communities, most British Muslims have many more pressing everyday issues to deal with such as high levels of unemployment, the proliferation of drugs, gangs and racist violence.
The ConDem coalition could instead have taken up some truly radical ideas: like acknowledging the effect British Foreign Policy has in vindicating the Al-Qaeda narrative of cosmic war between West and Islam; or stop trying to engineer genetically modified moderate Muslims and treat this diverse community as stakeholders rather than just agents of service delivery; attempts at increasing greater community cohesion could be better served by actually addressing its causes, which are rooted in structural disadvantage, prejudice, and social marginalisation among other factors.
But, alas, this too has also been said before. Its dejá vu all over again: with Prevent, and with the critique of Prevent. We've been here before.
Sadek Hamid is a former Youth and Community Development practitioner and is currently a final year PhD candidate at the University of Chester. His research focuses on British Muslim youth and religious activism. He is co-editor (with Brian Belton) of Islam and Youth Work: A Leap of Faith for Young People (Sense Publishers, 2011, in press).