The Government’s key anti-radicalisation strategy is “discriminatory, disproportionate and counter-productive” and should be subject to an inquiry over its focus on Muslims, a landmark report on Islamophobia has said.
Prevent should be investigated over whether frontline staff’s “existing biases and stereotypes” were contributing to how much more likely Muslims are to be referred to its de-radicalisation programme, race equality think tank The Runnymede Trust has said.
Its findings are a follow-up to its first report on anti-Muslim racism 20 years ago.
Prevent, which places a statutory duty on local councils and public sector bodies to prevent people from becoming radicalised by referring those they suspect are at risk to authorities, has been criticised before for its focus on Muslims.
In the wide-ranging report, the trust said the concepts behind Prevent are vague and “permit varied individual interpretations, including those infected by prejudice”.
“While the guidance states that Prevent is intended to deal with all kinds of terrorist threats, it is difficult not to read into it a clear targeting of Muslims,” authors Barbara Cohen and Waqas Tufail write.
“Noting that ‘terrorists associated with the extreme right also pose a continued threat’, the guidance nevertheless places particular emphasis on the dangerous ideology of Islamist extremists.”
They write that Prevent’s definition of extremism - the “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values” - was “unclear and problematic”.
They note the numbers of Muslims referred to Prevent’s sister “Channel” de-radicalisation programme shows they are “grossly over-represented”.
The report also said the uneven training about Prevent across the public sector was making discrimination and the “over-zealous reporting of supposedly ‘suspicious’ individuals” - for acts as mundane as the book they check out at a university - more likely.
One NHS trust said 94% of its employees had completed Prevent training but this turned out to be an information leaflet followed by a quiz.
Cohen and Tufail write: “There is a public debate that is yet to take place about the fact that the majority of these so-called ‘suspicious’ individuals, behaving perfectly lawfully but deemed vulnerable to radicalization, are Muslim schoolchildren, left traumatised after being wrongly regarded as potential terrorists.”
The Runnymede Trust is calling for an independent inquiry into the Government’s counter-terror strategy, saying it was failing to recognise its statutory equality obligations with its policies.
The think tank said: “There is substantial evidence that among the government’s four counter-terrorism strands, the current Prevent policy is discriminatory, disproportionate and counterproductive.
“Given the mounting evidence, the independent review must answer whether the Prevent strategy should be withdrawn and how to better separate the state’s security apparatus from wider safeguarding or social policy strategies.”
A Home Office Spokesperson said: “Prevent is about safeguarding vulnerable people at risk of being radicalised. It is not discriminatory and it is not concerned with religion or ethnicity.
“As last week’s publication of Prevent data shows, the strategy deals with all forms of terrorism whether Islamist or Far-right. For instance over a quarter of individuals supported on the Channel programme were due to far-right concerns.
“In light of the recent terror attacks in Manchester and London, and the lessons learned, we are reviewing our counter terrorism arrangements. The findings of this review will feed into a new counter terrorism strategy, of which Prevent is a key part.”
American NGO The Open Society Justice Initiative called Prevent “badly flawed” last year and noted one example where information was apparently gathered from Muslim primary school children without their parent’s consent during an art workshop.
Responding to that report, security minister Ben Wallace told The Guardian: “The threat from radicalisation, both Islamist and extreme rightwing, is very real.
“Helping to protect those vulnerable to radicalisation is challenging but absolutely necessary work. It is disappointing to see conclusions that risk damaging work that is essential to keeping vulnerable people safe from extremism and terrorism.”