Challenging the bases of PREVENT: The Letter

This Friday (10th) a letter was published in the Independent newspaper, and signed by hundreds of leading academics and activists to express their objections to the assumptions, contents and impacts of the UK government's policies on counter-terrorism. Its a simple seven paragraph affair, which moves a consensus view which is becoming increasingly common sensical to people who think about these matters. The Paper Bird blog has a neat analysis of some early responses to it and you can sign the statement at Protecting Thought here.

It is great to see so many names behind this, which comes towards the end of Ramadhan, as Preventitude is being nationalised by an Act of Parliament, the school summer holidays are in view and the 20th anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre is being performed.

The text is a good primer for anyone wishing to orientated themselves around the core of whats the matter here. It has already provided sufficient discomfort for Birmingham City Council's Muslim PREVENT manager to offer a very lengthy facebook response that ran to 1909 words. It included such gems that even his wife doesn't support his PREVENT work, communities distrust him and his employers are too austeritied out to help him much. The Independent letter reproduced below is only 464 words.

"We, the undersigned, take issue with the government’s PREVENT strategy and its statutory implementation through the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 for the following reasons: 
1. The latest addition to the United Kingdom’s counter-terrorism framework comes in the form of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTS Act). The CTS Act has placed PREVENT on a statutory footing for public bodies to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism by tackling what is claimed to be ‘extremist ideology’. In practice, this will mean that individuals working within statutory organisations must report individuals suspected of being ‘potential terrorists’ to external bodies for ‘de-radicalisation’. 
2. The way that PREVENT conceptualises ‘radicalisation’ and ‘extremism’is based on the unsubstantiated view that religious ideology is the primary driving factor for terrorism. Academic research suggests that social, economic and political factors, as well as social exclusion, play a more central role in driving political violence than ideology. Indeed, ideology only becomes appealing when social, economic and political grievances give it legitimacy. Therefore, addressing these issues would lessen the appeal of ideology. 
3. However, PREVENT remains fixated on ideology as the primary driver of terrorism. Inevitably, this has meant a focus on religious interaction and Islamic symbolism to assess radicalisation. For example, growing a beard, wearing a hijab or mixing with those who believe Islam has a comprehensive political philosophy are key markers used to identify ‘potential’ terrorism. This serves to reinforce a prejudicial world view that perceives Islam to be a retrograde and oppressive religion that threatens the West. PREVENT reinforces an ‘us’ and ‘them’ view of the world, divides communities, and sows mistrust of Muslims. 
4. While much of the PREVENT policy is aimed at those suspected of ‘Islamist extremism’ and far-right activity, there is genuine concern that other groups will also be affected by such policies, such as anti-austerity and environmental campaigners – largely those engaged in political dissent. 
5. Without due reconsideration of PREVENT’s poor reputation, the police and government have attempted to give the programme a veneer of legitimacy by expressing it in the language of ‘safeguarding’. Not only does this depoliticise the issue of radicalisation, it shifts attention away from grievances that drive individuals towards an ideology that legitimises political violence. 
6. PREVENT will have a chilling effect on open debate, free speech and political dissent. It will create an environment in which political change can no longer be discussed openly, and will withdraw to unsupervised spaces. Therefore, PREVENT will make us less safe
7. We believe that PREVENT has failed not only as a strategy but also the very communities it seeks to protect. Instead of blindly attempting to strengthen this project, we call on the government to end its ineffective PREVENT policy and rather adopt an approach that is based on dialogue and openness."

We live in interesting times, under an appalling freshly elected government willing and able to cause great havoc with impunity courtesy of House Muslims, white supremacists and confused people. So I welcome and feel encouraged by the letter and look forward to further challenges and adjustments as the summers rolls on.

Conservative Party Muslim Mohammed Amin has done his party duty to defend the policy with a post on Conservative Home on Sunday (12/07). Unfortunately, it seems preoccupied with sounding like an establishment guffaw,  and he doesn't appear to understand very much of what was written. His ill-advised launch into a discourse on logic is one for the archives though.  Lets call that one logicwash.

Amin chooses to dismiss the academic-and-activist letter as offering no constructive inputs, which is his political duty. However, in my reading, the letter offers several take homes for securocrats. I have coded the most obvious in green above, and that excludes the idea that saying something is wrong is also a positive contribution to the dialogical process.