In have not been void of concern and criticism

In the wake
of the September 11 attacks and the 7/7 bombings, western states have become
much more punitive and extreme in their fight against terrorism. Terrorism is
now considered the primary threat against western security; specifically in the
UK, where preventing terrorism has become the duty of all members of society;
from education sectors to CJ, to health
sectors (Norris, 2016). However, these
measures have not been void of concern and criticism for many. This essay will
examine UK’s Prevent strategy in countering terrorism during the labour government in 2005, as well as the
revised reintroduction of this strategy in 2011 under the Tory government. By adopting a postcolonial approach, this essay
will examine the flaws within the definition of the strategy, to then
understand the implications and ineffectiveness of the program. Furthermore, using the securitisation thesis, it will explore how the implementation
domestic CT policies such as the ‘prevent strategy’ has unfairly targeted
minority groups, in particular, the
Muslim community.

Following the
London bombings in 2005, the labour
government introduced Prevent as part of UK’s CT strategy CONTEST which was
first introduced in 2003. During this time, in the UK Prevent was solely concerned
with preventing violent extremism linked with an Islamist ideology, as the
biggest threat to the UK at that time came from groups such as Al-Qaida and
others associated with Islam (Malik, 2008). However, the EU commission attempted
to develop some consistency among different states by stating that Prevent strategies should not focus on particular religious beliefs, as ideologies
were varied and extremism came in various forms; violent and nonviolent (EUC, 2005). It was further emphasised that by focusing solely on one religion,
the policy would create a division within society. As a result, Muslim
communities were unfairly targeted, alienated and criminalised by the media (HM, 2008). Similar to the Irish
community between 1968-1997, being subjected to increased scrutiny led many
Muslims to reject the legitimacy of this strategy and rather than effectively
deterring people from being drawn to radicalisation and diminishing the threat
of terrorism, the Prevent strategy created a division in the UK which
ultimately led the Muslim community to be deemed the ‘enemy within’ (Qureshi, 2015).

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In recent
years, the government’s aim to prevent terrorism and radicalisation has become sharper through the reintroduction of the
Prevent strategy in 2011. Prevent now
aims to stop people from supporting terrorism or becoming terrorists by
objectively challenging any ideologies which support or promote terrorism, supporting
institutions fight and report signs of radicalisation
and essentially protect people that may be vulnerable or considered at risk of
becoming radicalised (HM GOV, 2011). With
a stricter focus, Prevent now makes it a legal obligation for institutions such
as schools and health sectors to engage with this agenda and report any signs
of violent or non-violent extremism that may ‘create
an atmosphere conducive to terrorism and popularise views which terrorists
exploit’ (The Guardian, 2015). However, in the context of counter-terrorism, there is still a major flaw
in defining extremism and radicalisation. In 2010, when the coalition
government revised the Prevent strategy,
they defined extremism as ‘vocal or active opposition to fundamental British
values including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual
respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs’ (Prevent Duty Guidance,
2015). Furthermore, the government describes radicalisation
as ‘the process by which a person comes to support terrorism and forms of
extremism leading to terrorism’ (HM Government, 2011).

According to
Lowe (2016), the phrases used to define extremism and radicalisation are rather subjective and therefore opaque. He
argues that there is great uncertainty as
to what behaviour or talk is considered
extreme and should be reported. There is no clear guideline or understanding of
these concepts, to then let relevant public bodies apply these definitions to a
person’s conduct. Furthermore, this difficulty in defining what is and is not
considered extreme means that there is a real concern that the prevent duty not
only compromises ones freedom of expression but it
also threatens academic freedom (Crammer, 2017). Arguably, this results
in students not being able to communicate ideas which do not reflect mainstream
or western views and furthermore impacting open debates as well as political
dissent.  

Due to these
definitions being so abroad, it has allowed room for self-interpretation of these
terms for public bodies that are obliged to carry out Prevent, thus, resulting
in unfair referrals of students as young as 4 years old. For instance, a recent
example includes the story of a 10-year-old
Muslim boy from Lancashire who misspelled
the word ‘terraced’ and instead wrote that he lived in a ‘terrorist’ house, for
which he was reported to Prevent (BBC,
2016). Similarly, a 4-year-old nursery boy was referred to the de-radicalisation programme after
mispronouncing the word ‘cucumber’ as ‘cooker bomb’ (BBC, 2016). In both cases, the parents expressed their concern and
claimed that their children had been left scared to now use their imagination
and openly express themselves. Moreover, Macdonald (2016), argues that ‘the
Prevent duty goes far beyond existing constraints’ for higher education
institutes, and whilst it is fair to ask these institutes to work with the
governments agenda to ‘curb attempts to radicalise or recruit students’, it is
highly likely that this strategy could be abused by silencing legal debates
(cited in The Guardian, 2016). Due to Prevent being a key strategy in
countering terrorism in the UK, it is more so important that there is a precise
and clear definition of what extremist behaviour
is, how it can be understood and the cause. Yet, there is a continued lack of
definition which has made it unable to set a benchmark that will guide all work
and agents under this program.

The Justice
Initiative report in 2016, released a statement claiming that the Prevent
strategy was at a serious risk of breaching human rights. This statement was
released after one of the most serious allegations
made against the Prevent strategy claiming that, the government had been using
the program to spy on certain groups and communities within society. Although
the Home Office dismissed any claims of Prevent
involving covert surveillance, according to Chakrabarti (2009), gathering
covert data and spying on certain communities is not due to any real threat or
criminal risky behaviour, rather, it is
because of religion being the primary target (cited in The Guardian, 2009).
Hence why, many academics, youth workers, and
various Islamic organisations have raised
concerns over Muslims being unfairly targeted through Prevent. One of the many
examples of covert surveillance of Muslim communities includes ‘operation champion’. This project was created by the
local police for the purpose of spying on two predominantly Muslim populated
areas in Birmingham, by installing over 200 CCTV cameras. Initially, the police claimed that the purpose
of this project was to prevent crime, however, in 2010, The Guardian carried
out an investigation and uncovered that
the project was not only funded by the Terrorism allied fund but was also CT
initiated (Awan, 2013). This agenda for spying was heavily criticised and the
revised version of Prevent 2011 stated that it would not involve any sort of
covert activity (HM, 2015). However, it could very well be argued that, by
making teachers and health professionals report information about patients and
students, it is causing the suspicion of spying to resurface within these
institutions. This has led the National Union of Students to
release a statement claiming that they ‘fundamentally believe that universities
and colleges are places for education, not surveillance’ (NUS, 2016). In an
interview with Metro (2016), Stallabrass (professor at the Courtauld Institute
of Art) stated that Prevent obliges teachers to spy on their students thus,
polluting the relationship they have. This demonstrates the extent to which
trust is damaged within such institutions, resulting in a weakened relationship
between Muslim communities and various public bodies such as the police and
teachers.

 

Further concerns have also been
raised regarding the Prevent strategy.
For instance, according to Kundnani (2010), the Prevent
strategy is given much more funds in areas that have a larger Muslim
population. At least 30 areas in England and Wales were reported to have
received unnecessary funding based on their Muslim population and were
considered priority areas which entitled them to get this funding (Quinn,
2015). Spalek (2011) argues that this
link between funding based on population is a clear indication that the
governments CT strategy continues to target Muslim communities and without a doubt, they are deemed the primary suspects in
the war of terror.

Arguably,
this could also be the reason for why the referral rate for Muslims is
predominantly higher compared to non-Muslims. Since Prevent was first launched
in 2005, figures show that 67% of people referred to prevent were Muslims and
750 of them being children (Whitehead, 2013). This being much
higher compared to the 14% referrals made of far-right
supporters, despite the fact that there is an increase in threat from these
groups (Whitehead,
2013). However, a report released by the Police (2014) stated that from all the referrals made only 20% of
the people were actually believed to be a risk of committing violent extremist
acts. Having an error rate of 80% surely indicates that there is an issue with
the government’s agenda on countering terrorism, further supporting the
argument that Muslims are unfairly targeted by the government, creating a
divide between Muslims and non-Muslims as well as an atmosphere of risk and
threat. Furthermore, The Justice
Initiative report (2016) pointed out that, the disproportionate targeting of
Muslims is raising questions about identity and belonging of Muslims in the UK. This only fuels the
stereotype that terrorism and extremism is an Islamic issue and therefore Muslims
should be considered a risk; creating the notion of suspect community.

The word
‘suspect community’ dates back to 1993 from the work of Paddy Hillyard. Hillyard’s
(1993) explanation emerged after the Northern-Irish conflicts, where the Irish
communities faced a violation of their civil liberties and human rights, as
well as an increase in anti-Irish racism. He argued that, when people are dealt
with under the CT legislation such as the
prevention of terrorism act, they are not considered suspects due to any wrongdoing; rather, they are targeted because
of their presumed belonging to a specific sub-group. According to Smyth (2014),
the term can be used to understand how the Muslim community has come to be regarded as a suspect community.
She argues that a suspect community is
constructed and established through the various different state and national
security policies, which are then reproduced and strengthened through societal
response and practice. This is not a result of only legal policies rather; it
is constructed by this ‘securitised
imagination’ through a range of practices including CT legislation (Anderson,
1991).

By this
criteria, examining the contemporary state of the Muslim communities in the UK,
it can be argued that CT policies including the Prevent
strategy have created a suspect
community. The contribution in the creation of a new suspect community can be
evident through the various language training programs and courses that are run
under the prevent agenda 2011, within mosques all across Britain. The aim of
these courses is to work with local imams and community leaders to tackle
extremism by engaging the community. By extension, the focus is evidently on
reaching out to communities and institutions which are considered to be at a
greater risk of extremism. By primarily engaging with the Muslim communities,
the issue of community relations and trust manifests into a much bigger issue
by creating a climate of fear for Muslims and against Muslims (Awan, 2013). The
Prevent strategy then not only raises suspicion for CT policies but also overlooks
distinguishing between law-abiding Muslims that widely contribute to society
and ‘extremists’ who may also be actively engaged within the community (Awan,
2013). By trying to ‘engage’ the Muslim community and teach them to ‘value’ the
western way of life, the government believes it will reduce the risk of home-grown
extremism and terrorism. This is expressed through the definition of extremism
which reverts to having fundamental British values. However, not only is term
regarded as purely subjective but it also excludes Northern Ireland which makes
up the United Kingdom. Lowe (2016) argues that what amounts to British values
will differ based various factors such as socio-economic conditions and one’s
location. The diversity of the population in the UK is such that nearly every community will have their own British
values because of the diversity of opinions. By emphasising
British values as something that is uniquely British will lead to the
disassociation of Britishness for some communities. The term itself is divisive
where some views are not considered British enough; for instance, being critical
of the UK’s foreign policy (specifically towards the Middle-East) could be
perceived as challenging these values that make us British.  Sedgewick (2010) argues that this one phrase
‘has the potential to undo both the Prevent strategy’s and the Counter-Extremism
Strategy’s primary objective’ because even though the meaning remains unclear,
it is deeply instilled within Counter-radicalisation policy such as the Prevent
program and education sectors (p.922).

However, this
issue not only damages trust but also blurs the main aims of the strategy by
drawing links between CT and community cohesion and development. Pantazis and
Pemberton (2011) argue that, Prevent aids the process of constructing the
Muslim community as a suspect by making them responsible for speaking up and taking action against
Muslim extremist. Failing to do so would imply acceptance and possibly even
support for terrorism. Additionally, the process of responsibilisation of a whole community is understood to not only
lead to discrimination but also demonization of its members; thus, suspectifying them.

By
constituting the Muslim community as suspects, Prevent and various other CT
policies have led to the securitisation
of Muslims. According to Hussain and Bagguley (2012), the securitisation framework ‘analyses the process
by which an issue or group comes to be defined as a security threat so that
governmental and societal resources can be mobilized to counter it’ (p.716). Counter-terrorism
policies and objectives similar to the Prevent
strategy’s; can be considered as particular methods and approaches of reasoning
based on suspicion as well as prediction. Furthermore, according to Raggazi (2016), it is argued that social policy is securitised through a ‘racialised filter’ as counter-terrorism is exercised through the
policing of minorities; the consequences of such securitisation results in ‘re-colonisation
of social policy’ for minorities that are racialised,
through security logic (p.170). O’Donnell (2016) argues that vulnerability is
perceived as ‘reminiscent of colonial discourses’ that serve the purpose of
othering certain populations (p.58). She explains that the concept of
vulnerability in CT is used as a synonym for individuals that are categorised as potentially dangerous, further
suggesting that this is problematic to an individual’s identity and can be
overcome through resilience.

This argument
is supported by the postcolonial thesis, where CT and national security
practices and policies are highly
criticised. The postcolonial study focuses on ‘forces of oppression and
coercive domination that cooperate in the contemporary world: the politics of
anti-colonialism and neo-colonialism, race, gender, nationalism, class, and ethnicities define its terrain’; therefore
expressing and emphasising the necessity to have equal rights regardless of the
historical realities (Young, 2001. p.69). This perspective argues that by labeling people and communities as suspects,
one is not able to prevent terrorism, extremism, and radicalisation; in order
to prevent terrorism is it important to understand the root causes that lead to these ideas. Shilliam (2011) argues that it is crucial to understand and acknowledge
international relation and the influence of the western states in shaping
violence, as the oppression of many based on religion ethnicity and race by the
west cannot be denied.

Taking into
account such oppression by the west, it is argued that CT legislations including
Prevent have created fear and othered
groups in society, which has led to action ‘even though the results are a
displaced action tethered to present subjectivities’ (Sciullo, 2011. P.11). By linking terrorism and extremism with
Islam, the Muslim community has come to be perceived as a threat and a
potential enemy of the west.  By
implication, such a perception of the Muslims being the ‘other’ in a security
framework means that the lives of
ordinary Muslims living in the UK are securitised
in every aspect; from education and employment to their family life and public
interactions. This constructs an atmosphere of us and them through which the
concept of securitisation manifests. Sciullo
(2011) argues that national security policies specifically those related to CT
has portrayed and promoted this brown and black other ‘as an absent other,
never present in immediacy, but omnipresent in doubt’ (p.11). Hence, viewing
Muslims as a security threat results in negative repercussions, by legitimising
the undermining of civil liberties for Muslims through the politics of
exception (Brown, 2008). This demonstrates that
despite the revision and introduction of Prevent
in 2011, the government was not able to separate integration policies towards
Muslim communities regardless of their declaration to do so.

To conclude,
the UK government’s CT Prevent strategy
has attempted to prevent extremism and radicalisation
at the early stages. However, since its inception in 2005 under the labor government, it has alienated and racialised the Muslim community, demonstrating
that despite the UK being a country that is understanding of citizenship; it
continues to discriminate against its own citizens based on ideology. The
reintroduction of prevent in 2011 by the
Tory government also maintained its focus on linking violent extremism to Islam
despite its claim to focus on all forms of extremism. This has been further
evidenced by Prevent’s violation of human
rights, as allegations were made against
the agenda claiming that it was used for spying on Muslim communities. The main
issue with the Prevent strategy is the
lack of precision in its definition of extremism and radicalisation. It is vital that relevant public bodies are able to
differentiate between non-violent extremism and non-violent activism, as this
will ensure that freedom of speech is not compromised especially in schools and
universities and moreover, allow further acceptance for opposing beliefs and
values in this liberal democracy. This essay has argued that the government’s Prevent
strategy is ineffective as it has racialised
minority communities in the UK since its first introduction and continues to do
so. Furthermore, it has created a divide in society by securitising Muslims and constructing them as the enemy within,
which has led many to question their identity and belonging in the UK.