Back in June 2011, the government presented their policy on counter terrorism- sold to us as the new Prevent strategy (what I call Prevent 2.0)- which supposedly signified a radical shift from Labour's approach to stopping extremism.
Theresa May rightfully pointed out that the previous government's linking of integration projects with counter terrorism sometimes led to more radicalisation and less integration. She suggested that the Labour government "failed to promote integration, and where they did promote it they did so through the narrow prism of counter-terrorism."
Again, back in 2011 many of us interpreted this as a nod toward the decoupling of integration and counter terrorism policies. Oh were we wrong.
The Coalition's new integration policy, announced at the end of February, lays out their five point plan to another failed strategy. Step one: common ground. Step two: responsibility. Step three: social mobility. Step four: participation and empowerment. Step five: tackling intolerance and extremism. Integration done.
Think again. This integration strategy attempts to rebrand Labour's counter terrorism policy (Prevent 1.0) with picnic lunches and curry schools. The problem is that it is still fundamentally wrong: integration and counter terrorism policies cannot be linked without threatening the integrity of both.
Rebranding Prevent doesn't make it better
Prevent 2.0 is careful to theoretically separate prevention of extremism from cohesion projects in order to sidestep the critique that the government is 'securitising integration'. A few pages later, though, it goes back to suggesting that 'Prevent remains distinct from but linked to integration".
The problem with police and counter terrorism officers running integration projects is that no one wants to 'integrate' at the point of a gun, let alone in the lobby of a police station. Integration and adoption of 'common values' means more when it is authentic and organic, not compulsory. Anyone who has taken the Life in the UK test knows that passing requires more memorisation than showing one's commitment to British values.
Another critique of the revised Prevent strategy by Prof. Derek McGhee lays out that prevention is necessarily an intelligence and spying exercise- rebranding it as cohesion misses the point of identifying extremists and stopping them before they do damage to our communities. McGhee also points out the contradiction in the Government's localism agenda and their need for prevention to be planned more centrally.
Going Extreme on Extremism
The fifth pillar of the new integration policy is 'Tackling intolerance and extremism'. On the surface, it discusses a few projects that will address hate crimes and focus teachers' standards, but at its core it is the Prevent strategy.
Here we go again: integration and extremism hand-in-hand.
We know that heavy handed policing like Stop and Search (Section 44 & 60) does not stop violent crimes. We also know that the disproportionate and in some cases unnecessary use of power have contributed to the radicalisation process and a general sense of frustration among many minority communities.
But going extreme on extremism is a difficult line to walk, especially as the Government attempts to dismantle multiculturalism.
Where is the welcoming and tolerant society that made Britain a desirable place to live?
Tolerance and respect come from education at all ages of our community and integration flows from this. Unfortunately this is not the what the Home Office strategy is about.
I am not contesting a strong counter terrorism policy. Do counter terrorism right, just do it independently from integration. The majority of migrants want to integrate so how about an integration strategy for us? A minority of migrants are engaged in extremist activities, and a proportional targeted counter terrorism response is appropriate.
In selling this integration policy to a right-wing press, the government pushed a 'tough on extremism' line. This reveals what migrant communities have known all along: that this Government is suspicious of us. And as badly as the Coalition wants to distance itself from the policies of Labour, their integration and prevention policies are just more of the same.