Islamist terror in Paris, Islamist terror in London, and there are many factors driving the violence. Theresa May has chosen to tackle the issue with a consciously narrow programme called the Prevent Strategy. The government has considered certain factors, but others are not up for discussion. The result has been a decontextualized debate, and a Conservative victory in the polls in June will have implications for communities across the country concerned about the pull of terrorism.
Basic info on Prevent: http://www.ltai.info/what-is-prevent/
It does not take forensic analysis to know that foreign policy, economics, family breakdown and the housing crisis are among the drivers of the political violence that has taken place in European cities.
Another key factor is that an individual or group eventually decides to commit a violent act. And this is the level at which the Prevent Strategy tackles the issue. As Home Secretary, Prime Minister May oversaw the implementation of Prevent, which provides training to public sector workers on how to spot signs of vulnerability to extremism, works with individuals at risk and provides a counter-narrative to nihilistic, hateful and violent philosophies.
Prevent is also very aware of its own vulnerability to criticism, and is keen to have respected Muslim community figures on its side. Systematic promotion, branding and getting out key messages are prevalent at their events and training courses. There is a Prevent message, and little space for manoeuvre around it. One community leader told me that when they raised foreign policy concerns with Prevent officers from the Home Office, they were met with the message “‘your point is noted’. But there is never a suggestion of anything changing. There is never any acknowledgement of Britain’s foreign policy mistakes”.
The Muslim Council of Britain is critical of Prevent, as it says the strategy only coordinates with groups willing to bite their tongues over UK foreign policy. The MCB has claimed that it will set up a parallel anti-terror programme carrying a simpler message: all violence is wrong. But only the government has adequate resources to tackle the very real problem of British people travelling to Syria to fight.
The community leader told me: “Prevent is like a budget overhead, there’s a sense that Prevent is where the money is to deliver community programmes, so let’s go with that”. Community groups receive help with their websites and social media and some funding for projects, in return Prevent has access to the grassroots and can engage with them on getting the Prevent agenda out to communities.
In some areas Prevent is seen as benevolent, in others it is seen as a hostile monitoring network keeping tabs on Muslims, harassing and stigmatising people and removing children from schools unnecessarily. Prevent has listed “empathy” with the Palestinians, criticism of foreign policy in the Middle East and criticism of Prevent itself as issues that needed to be “risk-assessed and managed” and that “may be regarded as extremist but are not illegal”. The scope for abuse of this power is broad.
Islamic extremism is the “main threat” identified by the Home Office and while Prevent officers are at pains to point out that they also take on far-right extremism, they do not acknowledge that takes place in a society in which the political and media establishment are anti-Muslim, and vilification of Muslims is a tool for power for Le Pen, Trump, May, Natanyahu and others. Theresa May being in ideological lock step with President Donald Trump, with his bombs, travel bans and racist rhetoric is the tip of a huge iceberg, but this is not on the agenda at Prevent meetings.
As well as not addressing many of the issues head on, the Prevent Strategy has the potential to be used to subdue communities and groups who have genuine grievances
Former Conservative Cabinet Minister Sayeeda Warsi has criticised Prevent and its narrow focus on ideology and Jeremy Corbyn called it “often counter-productive”. Under Labour it might change. Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the government needed “to sell it to communities”.
The problem is that all the government does is “sell it”, a salesperson with an inferior product becoming yet more passionate about its virtue for fear of a serious, in-depth debate and the whole façade crumbling.
Theresa May will double down on Prevent if she wins the upcoming election. A strategy that is the equivalent of a plastic mouse trap placed next to a large, overflowing rubbish bin. It’s good to catch a few mice, but the wider problem is ignored.
As well as not addressing many of the issues head on, the Prevent Strategy has the potential to be used to subdue communities and groups who have genuine grievances. In this way, class is the issue. Foreign policy isn’t carried out to benefit the poor, but the oil and arms companies. The housing crisis and austerity impoverish and trap the poor, but they cannot be discussed in the mainstream because this would question the framework of the class-based system.
Islam itself offers an alternative way of thinking about human experience and dominant economic system and cultures in a continent in which many never enjoy the benefits of liberty and freedom.
The result of a narrow focus on immediate causes is a missed opportunity to really confront a terrorism that is growing and spreading across the planet. And the victims include innocent British citizens, in London, in Paris and beyond. The government doesn’t want this, but it is unable or unwilling to broaden its approach to tackle the deeper issues.
By Tom Charles