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The Question Now Is Not If, But When, Prevent Will Be Repealed

25/07/2016 17:04 | Updated 25 July 2016
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In just two weeks of Theresa May's premiership, as many reports have been released criticising the Prevent Duty - a policy she saw implemented as Home Secretary. Pressure to scrap the counter-terrorism strategy is mounting from across the political spectrum.

Yesterday the Joint Committee of Human Rights, made up of MPs and peers, published a report calling for a review into the counter-terrorism initiative. It recommends 'an independent review of the Prevent Strategy to provide evidence as to what works and what simply drives wedges between the authorities and communities'.

This follows Rights Watch UK's report, released last week, advising Government to conduct an 'urgent review' as well as to abandon the policy in schools altogether.

Pressure to comply and supply information to Prevent officers has been unprecedented. The Government is now relying on teachers, lecturers - and in some cases universities have even mandated sports team captains - to monitor students for signs of radicalisation. With it now a legal duty, public sector workers are fearful that failure to pass on even the slightest concern could result in disciplinary. For students, the consequence of this has been catastrophic.

In total, almost 4,000 referrals of alleged radicalisation were made in 2015 - more than twice as many as the previous year. Of them, more than half involved under-18s, and the youngest referral was a four-year-old toddler. Student activists have been referred for promoting legitimate campaigns, while Students' Unions have raised concerns about the monitoring of online content and prayer room activity.

Even before the duty even came into effect, community groups have been raising concerns, with counter-terrorism policy and policing experts later weighing in. My own union, the National Union of Students, was one of the first to make our criticisms known - and to refuse Prevent funding. We know that our members' experience is in most cases one of isolation, confusion and discrimination when dealing with Prevent. Other unions in the education sector have taken a similar stance, with academics even being supplied with the guidance to respond to Prevent with industrial action. Our position has been clear: if the Government continues to enforce this policy on our members, we will do everything in our power to make it unworkable.

One of our main concerns is the way in which Prevent relies on racial profiling and legitimises Islamophobia. More than one third of those referred last year identified as Muslim, which comes as no surprise to anyone who has seen the training content supplied to teachers and lecturers. On the 'Educate Against Hate' website, a list of specific Arabic words are identified as signs of potential ISIS recruitment, while stricter adherence to faith has also been identified as a sign of radicalisation.

When wearing a badge, reading a book or mispronouncing the name of a vegetable are grounds for referral, the strategy would be a laughing stock were it not posing such a serious threat to countering terrorism itself. Many have pointed to Prevent as a policy causing isolation amongst the very communities it seeks to work with. Nils Muiznieks, the Council of Europe's commissioner for human rights, said Prevent "runs the risk of isolating the very communities whose cooperation is most needed to fight violent extremism." The policy is now not only regarded as toxic, but as a cause, rather than a cure, of radicalisation.

The evidence is clear: Prevent is an untenable infringement. The only people still defending the policy are May and her Government, in defiance of the experts. The question now is not if, but when Prevent will be repealed; and how those violated by it will be vindicated.

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