That the new Prevent strategy offers little in relation to tackling violent extremism from the far right is disappointing although it is not entirely unexpected. From the very beginning Prevent has been concerned with tackling extremism within Britain’s Muslim communities and since violent Islamism remains the greatest threat to national security, preventing Muslims from joining or supporting Al Qa’ida, its affiliates or related groups, is still the priority. Nonetheless, on the positive side, there is at least some recognition that the revised Prevent strategy must apply to all terrorist threats, ‘including in particular from extreme right-wing terrorism’ (pp. 40/41). There are, as the new Prevent strategy reveals, 17 people currently serving prison sentences for extreme-right terrorism-related offences, a figure that includes one person (Terence Gavan) convicted of 22 offences relating to the manufacture and possession of the largest cache of improvised explosives, firearms and ammunition discovered in Britain in recent years (p.15).
Prospect's 'Rethinking Race' in fact brings little to the current debate on race and multiculturalism. What it does do, is reinforce a political position on race and multiculturalism. The ideas it gives voice to go back to before the race riots of 2001, to the populist backlash against race and multiculturalism in the UK and the US which Roger Hewitt described in White Backlash (2005).
What I find most intriguing about the Prospect dossier, from where I stand, is the collective amnesia at work in the articles. There are no references to Counter terrorism or Prevent two of the most important drivers that in one form or another have shaped the lives and experience of Muslims and the Muslim community in the UK for a decade. There is no reference or critical awareness as to the ways in which the logic of Prevent permeates schooling, for example, and other public services and policies.
I also find the public policy ramification of the logic in the Prospect issue to be rather worrying. It reminds me of the bitter debates that we use to have during our school governors' meetings in Oldham, in which the school would try to blame the 'cultural practices' of the Asians for their education failures. What is important, I feel, is not only the public discourse on race and multiculturalism but also the ways in which these discourses shape and inform public policy practice. It is now an established fact that in Oldham and other towns and cities the discourse on community cohesion did result in closure of many projects that were working on single equality strands such as race.
Whilst political pundits may find many flaws with multiculturalism, on the basis of over a decade spent working in a voluntary capacity with young people, I think it is worth point out multiculturalism acts as a normalizing presence for most young people, particularly in the way in which urban space is perceived.
In light of the work done by Ludi Simpson, Nissa Finney, and others, moreover, I find the framing of Oldham and other towns through the prism of segregation and 'self-segregation' most perverse. In fact, if anything, evidence from the Westwood area in Oldham demonstrates a growing trend amongst Muslim parents of sending their children to mixed schools as opposed to local mono-cultural schools.
Shamim Miah is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Community and International Education at Huddersfield University, and has over ten years experience of work in youth and community projects. He was born in Oldham, and has lived there all of his life.