“If the idea was to understand the roots of extremism, the roots of radicalisation, by putting a magnifying glass across the Muslim communities of Great Britain, what has happened is that has widened the schism between the ‘Muslim’ us and the British ‘other’.” – Aminul Hoque, a Lecturer at the University of London.
Following the initiation of the War on Terror, waves of counter-terrorism legislation has been introduced to combat the perceived threat of Islamic terrorism. One of the key questions which underpins a variety of this legislation is how do we prevent radicalisation and how do we stop people from becoming terrorists or terrorist sympathisers? It is within the UK Government’s “Prevent” strategy which these questions are addressed. For those who are unfamiliar, “Prevent” is one of the four elements of “Contest”, the UK Government’s counter-terrorism strategy. The Prevent strategy constitutes a particular approach to combating terrorism which seeks to address and respond to the “risk” of radicalisation as a means to reduce the threat from terrorism. Involving the Home Office, schools, local authorities, and community organisations (to name but a few), ‘Prevent’ offers a vehicle through which practical support, advice and training can be disseminated to those who are perceived to be at risk of supporting terrorism and extremism. The aim is to identify at-risk individuals (through intelligence in local communities) who are prone to supporting extremist views and to refer them to the ‘Prevent’ strategy where they can be dissuaded from radicalisation and reintegrated into mainstream society. It is hoped that this response will aid in the building of relations between “Muslims” and the wider “mainstream society” and prevent the adoption of extremist views (Allen, 2010). However, as a strategy, ‘Prevent’ is deeply contested; the strategy effectively frames terrorism as a distinctly Muslim problem and consequently demonises all Muslims whilst ignoring other sources of terrorism. In many communities, ‘Prevent’ is known as a toxic program which smears the reputation of Muslim communities. This article will reflect on some of the effects which this policy has had and highlight some of the theoretical fallacies which underpin it.
One of the largest criticisms which ‘Prevent’ has received is associated with its causal analysis and underlying theory which many argue to be fundamentally flawed. The strategy is largely concerned with Islamic extremism, although this is not explicitly stated for discriminatory reasons. Whilst the strategy conflates defeating terrorism with ideology, Cage (2013) argues that it is fundamentally flawed to consider the infliction of politically motivated violence as an ideology as opposed to a methodology. Whilst the use of terror is underpinned by a particular motive or ideology, it is ultimately a political response which stems from a political struggle as opposed to an ideology in itself (Cage, 2013). As such, ‘Prevent’ is argued to suffer from a drawback as it does not address the causes of political struggle but alternatively addresses ideology and theology. This is problematic as Islamist extremists are argued to base their ideology on a “distorted interpretation of Islam” which determines Western intervention in Muslim countries as a war against Islam (Cage, 2013: 6). In line with the goals of Daesh (the Islamic State), Islamist extremists seek to implement a caliphate, a political state which is based on Shari’ah law which rejects values such as liberty and democracy (Cage, 2013). This caliphate is to be implemented initially in Iraq and Syria, followed by all Arab states and subsequently the rest of the world. It is this political struggle which is argued to be the driver of extremism and radicalisation, as opposed to Islam itself, an important distinction which is argued to have been sidelined in the ‘Prevent’ strategy (Cage, 2013).
Underpinning ‘Prevent’ is the theoretical ‘radicalisation’ discourse which suggests that terrorism can be pre-emptively knowable and thus governable (Heath-Kelly, 2013). By understanding the theoretical ‘factors’ which lead to extremism and terrorism, the theory implies that the future is knowable and can thus be pre-emptively responded to (Heath-Kelly, 2013). Through the identification of a set of “risk factors”, “at risk” individuals or populations can be identified and responded to which will theoretically reduce the number of terrorist incidents which will occur in the future (Heath-Kelly, 2013). The issue with these “risk factors” is the consequent framing of certain traits or “vulnerability indicators” as risky, vulnerable and therefore dangerous (Heath-Kelly, 2013). This describes one of the effects of ‘Prevent’ is that it defines Muslims as a “risky, suspect population” in policy; whilst the Home Office have argued that this policy is not targeted at Muslims this has been the effect of the strategy (Mythen, Walklate and Khan, 2009). The stigmatisation of British Muslims through the construction of an “at-risk population” tells a story of discrimination, racism and victimisation. Whilst ‘Prevent’ may seek to curb radicalisation and re-integrate a marginalised population into mainstream society, it has had the effect of isolating the Muslim community and has had the disastrous consequence of reinforcing wider fears and anxieties surrounding Muslim culture (Allen, 2010). A variety of social research evidences the unjust treatment which Muslims receive, such as the 700% increase in the number of Asian people stopped and searched by the police in the United Kingdom in the wake of the 7/7 attacks (Mythen, Walklate and Khan, 2009). This treatment has created the feeling amongst Muslim communities that they are subject to a form of state victimisation because of being disproportionately scrutinised by police forces and security services (Doolin and Child, 2011). Far from repairing a perceived breakdown of barriers between the ‘Muslim community’ and ‘wider mainstream society’, this policy along with wider counter-terrorism legislation has the converse effect of introducing racism and discrimination into counter-terrorism policy and the wider social dynamic, ostracising a community which ‘Prevent’ conversely seeks to integrate into mainstream society (Heath-Kelly, 2013). Consequently, this in itself is argued to have the potential to bring about more radicalisation through the unjust treatment which Muslims receive through counter-terrorism policies (Allen, 2010).
These policies have the distinct effect of creating an “other” in society, a community or group of individuals who are marginalised and alienated. This marginalisation of British Muslims is not unique to counter-terrorism policies or negative images diffused by the media in the wake of the War on Terror but has had severe repercussions for the social domain. This has included a distinct rise in hate crime directed towards Muslims due to the perceived threat which they are seen to represent to the social fabric of white British culture via alternate dress codes, religious beliefs and perceived religious extremity (Mythen, Walklate and Khan, 2009). Whilst ‘Prevent’ may attempt to repair perceived relations between Muslims and the wider mainstream society, the increasing attention Muslims receive as a perceived “high-risk” group means they are subject to contradictory pressures to integrate into British society whilst being ostracised throughout their daily, lived experience (Mythen, Walklate and Khan, 2009). This has the ultimate effect of marginalising the Muslim community further to the peripherals of mainstream society through flawed policies and unjust social treatment.
This article has aimed to give a brief overview of the ‘Prevent’ counter-terrorism strategy and outline some of the theoretical pitfalls and repercussions which the strategy has. As highlighted above, the counter-terrorism strategy rests on a series of theoretical fallacies which when embedded into policy have the unjust social repercussion of ostracising the Muslim community through unjust state and social treatment.
“For those of you who are tired of hearing about racism, imagine how much more tired we are of constantly experiencing it” – Barbara Smith.
Allen, C. (2010). Islamophobia. Abingdon: Routledge.
Cage. (2013). The Prevent Strategy. A Cradle to Grave Police-State. [Online]. Available at: https://cage.ngo/wp-content/uploads/A4_PREVENT_CAGE_REPORT_WEB.pdf (Accessed 24th June 2017).
Doolin, K. and Child, J. (2011). Whose Criminal Justice?: State or Community?. Birmingham: The University of Birmingham Community and Criminal Justice Group.
Heath-Kelly, C. (2013). ‘Counter-Terrorism and the Counterfactual: Producing the ‘Radicalisation’ Discourse and the UK PREVENT Strategy’. The British Journal of Politics and International Relations. 15 (3), pp. 394-415.
Mythen, G., Walklate, S. and Khan, F. (2009). ‘‘I’m a Muslim, but I’m not a terrorist’: Victimisation, Risky Identities and the Performance of Safety’. British Journal of Criminology. 49 (1), pp. 736-754.
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