“New Prevent”: Different Is Not Necessarily Better

Derek McGhee

The Prevent Strategy of 2011 is dedicated to identifying the mistakes of the previous Prevent strategy introduced under the Labour Government. Many projects previously funded under Prevent are categorized here as being ineffective in countering extremism and preventing radicalization because they adopted “integration” and “community cohesion” approaches. Under the Prevent Strategy 2011 projects that have taken this approach are to be excluded in order to make room for Prevent projects which are “purer” in that they deliver “Prevent” rather than “integration” or “cohesion” objectives.

According to the 2011 strategy the linking of Prevent funding to wider integration and community cohesion projects has been the source of concern that has led to the creation of the impression of the “securitising of integration” amongst local communities in the UK. Obviously the “securitising of integration” has a longer history than Prevent and is associated with a number of discourses and policies introduced under the Labour Government which started in response to the disturbances in Bradford, Oldham and Burnley in 2001, some of which have been perpetuated by the Coalition Government, for example, the backlash against multiculturalism, managed migration policies and the discourse of “shared British values”.

There are very good reasons why projects under the previous Prevent funding were rather “wider” in terms of remit than the narrow intelligence gathering counter-terrorism objectives of the Prevent strategy. For example:

(a) As noted in the Prevent Strategy 2011 report, Prevent funding was obtained by local groups because sometimes it was the only funding available for local cohesion and faith-based integration projects in the context of the restrictions on single-group funding as recommended in the Cantle report in 2001 and in the Community Cohesion and Integration Commission’s report in 2007;

(b) Staff in local Police Forces and in Local Authorities, again, as noted in the Prevent Strategy 2011, who were given responsibilities for promoting and setting up Prevent projects, usually also had to deliver “good community relations”, community cohesion and “diversity awareness” programmes too. For this reason, in many cases, wider “integration” and “cohesion” objectives became blurred with what the Home Office see as the ‘purer’ counter-terrorism objectives of Prevent;

(c) Part of the reason for the “convergence” between counter-terrorism and integration and community cohesion strategies in previous Prevent projects could be explained in ‘discursive terms’. The Prevent programme and these strategies, as introduced in wave after wave of Labour Government Policies and reports, share a similar discursive register and collection of alleged “causes”, including: poor integration, split loyalties, weak sense of citizenship and belonging, inability to share and accept “British values”; all of which lead to fears with regards to the young people from particular communities and their alleged susceptibility to disorder, malcontent and “radicalization” through being seduced by extremist influences.

In the Prevent strategy 2011, the Home Office are trying to draw a line under the potential for blurring between counter-terrorism and “integration” or “cohesion” projects and they are attempting to do this through clarifying for those charged with delivering “New Prevent” as to the specific objectives of the strategy which they list as: the ideological challenge; preventing people from being drawn into terrorism; and, working closely with particular sectors and institutions (eg. Prison, health and education).

However, New Prevent is awash with contradictions. For example, according to the Home Office:

(a) New Prevent must be “uncoupled” from integration strategies, yet the Home Office admits that ‘Prevent depends on a successful integration strategy’;

(b) New Prevent is a component of the Coalition Government’s commitment to “localism”, however, the Home Office states that ‘Prevent needs to be developed in very close conjunction with Central Departments’;

(c) under New Prevent the Home Office is attempting to get away from the impression ‘that Muslim communities as a whole are more “vulnerable” to radicalisation than other faith or ethnic groups’, yet the 25 priority Prevent areas are still selected on the basis of “Muslim” demographics (the Home Office concede that ‘we expect these areas to change over time’);

Furthermore (d) the Home Office are trying to distance Prevent from Policing (in order to enhance confidence in the programme at the level of local communities), yet “Policing” remains one of the three main areas of Prevent funding;

Finally, (e) the Home Office, in the Prevent Strategy 2011 are at pains to create distance from allegation that the previous Prevent programmes were driven by “covert spying” and internal Muslim community surveillance; yet in the very next sentence they call, as noted above, for a closer working relationship between local projects and ‘Central Departments’ – Prevent is after all a component of CONTEST, which is an intelligence driven programme which includes other components: Pursue, protect, Prepare.

It seems that New Prevent will be based on building trust and confidence in local communities (through uncoupling “cohesion” from counter-terrorism projects), yet many of those on the frontline of delivering Prevent programmes and projects have actively “coupled” Prevent with local community cohesion and integration projects. I have much sympathy for the Police Officers and Local Authority workers who were saddled with co-ordinating Prevent projects in their local areas. Many Police Officers and Local Authority workers “coupled” or “converged” Prevent projects with “cohesion” and “integration” projects precisely to maintain the trust and confidence they had built up with local communities. It was through the tactic of aligning Prevent with “integration” and “cohesion” projects that in many cases they were able to make Prevent more palatable to communities who at the time were (and continue to be) subjected to considerable suspicion and scrutiny.

In summary the Prevent Strategy 2011 is a patchwork of contradictions. It is possible, however, to isolate one overall message. That is: the Home Office under the Coalition Government are going to “do” Prevent different to the previous Labour Government. Yet, different does not necessarily mean better. The major difference seems to be that New Prevent is to dedicated to “purer” and by implication “hard-edged”, multi-agency intelligence driven, targeted identification and de-radicalization programmes which are not to be diluted or distracted by wider integration and cohesion projects which, according to the Home Office in this report ‘have much wider social objectives’.

Derek McGhee is Professor of Sociology at the University of Southampton. His most recent publications include Security, Citizenship & Human Rights – Shared Values in Uncertain Times (Palgrave, 2010) and The End of Multiculturalism? Terrorism, Integration and Human Rights (Open University Press, 2008).