The UK's Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, has been actively working to educate parents and educators about radicalisation and extremism in the hopes of protecting children in a campaign entitled "educate.against.hate". This comes in tandem with the Home Office's guidance on "Protecting Children From Radicalisation" and "The Prevent Duty" (2015), the document outlining advices for schools and childcare providers. I found out about these campaigns quite by accident, while searching for a childminder for my daughter when I came across a document from the Tower Hamlets, "Advice to Parents and Carers: Keeping Children and Young People Safe Against Radicalisation and Extremism" (2015).
Reading this document alarmed me for a number of reasons, not least of which because this document relies on intuition rather than a clearly stated mandate. And here is the paradox: in none of these documents is mentioned the word Islam, yet anyone reading these documents is quite aware to whom the government and its agencies are referring. The words "risk" and "extremism," are mentioned dozens of times throughout these information sites, but nowhere is it clarified from where the risk come, what precisely is the form of extremism to be avoided. Let's remember that during the heigh of the IRA no similar document was issued in hopes of keeping anyone radicalising in North Ireland.
All this because in the framework of core British values, it would be frowned upon to pigeonhole any one faith. Yet, the government wants to do its due diligence and warn people about radicalisation within the Islamic faith while conterminously not naming the "what exactly" which needs forewarning, mostly because it is quite clear from the documentation that people writing these documents have no idea of the culture to which they are referring.
In February, 2015, Shamima Begum, 16, Kadiza Sultana, 17, and Amira Abase, 16, left their families in Tower Hamlets to Raqqa to join ISIS. This act has been cause for concern by the government such that programs like Prevent have been created and bolstered as a means of counter-terror propaganda. However, Prevent has been viewed suspiciously by many in the Muslim community, not least of which are lawyers warning fellow Muslims to distrust this program. Regardless of any one attorney or government official coming down against or in favour of the Prevent strategy, these documents are troublingly dangerous in their vagueness regarding the potential harm to the Muslim community in the UK in an era where well-documented anti-Muslim sentiment is not uncommon.
Tower Hamlets has the highest percentage of Muslim residents in England and Wales (38 per cent compared with a national average of 5 per cent). Recently, I spoke with Alison Langley, Communications Advisor of London Borough of Tower Hamlets about their document published last year for parents and carers. Langley informed me that this document was "drawn up locally by officers in Tower Hamlets, in the week following the departure for Syria of three local schoolgirls, and was an emergency response to the specific and actual threat that more children might follow them." She furthermore communicated that the aim of this document was to raise awareness about the potential risk to their children "and that the signs to this threat might be very general and non-specific." But if signs of radicalisation can be general or non-specific, how can such publications produce anything meaningful that does not set up these communities as targets, once again? It is clear is that the documentation as well as the ethos behind the drawing up of this documentation is rather vague in its mission which unnecessarily sets up the Muslim community as a target, if not as a field of profiling and surveillance.
While Langley informed me that the information was produced "in response to a specific threat of online grooming activity, supported by an extreme and violent interpretation of Islam" there is no clear understanding of what this extremist ideology consists except that of a different ideology of UK propaganda which pits those individuals over there as dangerous. When I asked Langley if this pamphlet was designed with the Muslim subject in mind she responded: "The pamphlet was targeted at the Muslim community by distribution through the mosques, but this is an issue that goes beyond an ISIS / Syria threat and could equally apply to other extremist groups trying to recruit young people to a cause with an extreme and violent agenda." Ultimately it would seem that Muslims and their lawyers have reason to be worry about targeting of their community since effectively that is what is going on without any clear ethos aside from some Muslims are terrorists. While the three girls who left to join ISIS last year is a tragedy for their communities, and moreso for their families, we must question if it is acceptable that their lives serve the political currency of examples as what "bad girls do" when they run off to join ISIS. As I had asked Langley if there was a similar pamphlet to ware off the 50% of Jewish sixteen-year-olds who go to Israel from the UK every year? Or the many Brits who fight for the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) either as dual Israeli-British citizens or as British citizens serving in the IDF Mahal?
Recently it was announced that the National Union of Teachers will hold a conference in Brighton to challenge the counter-radicalisation policies that "are having the unintended consequence of stopping teachers talking about "challenging ideas" with their pupils" and that such measures "close down space for open discussion in a safe and secure environment." Government programs like Prevent and educate.against.hate are simply not working to accomplish their desired effect and are, in the process, proving frightening and alienating to Muslim students across the United Kingdom.
The fact is that teenagers around the world engage in all sorts of crazy and reckless things--from drugs, to sex, to car theft, and yeah, some even join ISIS or the UK military. All are heartbreaking acts to parents for various reasons. What should be more important to us as a society over the pigeonholing a sector of society is nurturing in our youth a sense of belonging and cultural accommodation. Such programs that seek to alarm and target the Muslim youth do anything but.