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The Problem With Prevent

4 min read

As human rights groups call for an overhaul of the government’s flagship Prevent counter-radicalisation strategy, what might we see in the Home Office’s long-awaited publication of the independent review into the scheme’s effectiveness?

More than three years after it was commissioned, and with multiple reporting deadlines missed, the Home Office has finally received Sir William Shawcross’s Independent Review of Prevent, the programme designed to tackle terrorism by enabling public bodies to identify people deemed at risk of radicalisation. But while ministers have committed to publishing both the review and its own response, no date has been agreed beyond “in due course”.

The review was commissioned in 2019, in part to look at how effectively Prevent worked within communities, following criticism it created divisions and perpetuated damaging stereotypes about Muslims. It has since ignited a debate around whether the programme should target far right and Islamist extremism equally.

We need policies that respect human rights and bring communities together, which Prevent simply does not do.

It immediately proved controversial, with a coalition of human rights organisations and community groups including Amnesty International and Liberty boycotting it over Sir William’s appointment over comments he made when director of the Henry Jackson Society think tank, in which he said: “Europe and Islam is one of the greatest, most terrifying problems of our future. I think all European countries have vastly, very quickly growing Islamic populations.”

Sam Grant, advocacy director at human rights organisation Liberty, said Shawcross’s appointment suggested the government was trying to “whitewash” the review and had prevented any meaningful engagement with Muslim communities.

“We need policies that respect human rights and bring communities together, which Prevent simply does not do. The Prevent duty must be repealed, and the wider strategy completely rethought,” he told The House.

Since 2015 Prevent has worked by placing a duty on authorities, including schools, social services, universities, and local government, to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”.

The most recent available statistics show the most common referral into the programme related to potential “extreme right wing” radicalisation (46 per cent), followed by concerns about those with a mixed, unstable, or unclear ideology (30 per cent), and Islamist radicalisation (22 per cent).

The data appears to chime with recent warnings from the Intelligence and Security Committee that extreme right-wing terrorism is on an “upward trajectory”.

Those concerns were given added weight when Counter Terrorism Policing South East said evidence suggested there was “an extreme right wing motivation behind the attack” on a migrant centre in Dover on Oct 30 involving incendiary devices.

However, despite the lower referral rates into Prevent, Islamist terrorism accounts for the majority of terrorism-related convictions, with 68 per cent of prisoners in custody for terrorism identifying as Muslim.

This has fuelled concerns that some Muslim organisations and communities may not be cooperating with the Prevent programme, or that the strategy as a whole is not functioning properly.

The Muslim Council of Britain, the United Kingdom’s largest Muslim organisation, has stressed the importance of Muslims having confidence in the programme to meaningfully engage. 

“While it is quite clear that communities have no truck with extremism and are willing to report criminal behaviour, there is mounting evidence that Prevent lacks the same confidence. The failings of Prevent are well known, and it disproportionally affects Muslim communities when in fact extremism transcends all communities,” an MCB spokesperson told The House.

In particular, many Muslim groups raise concerns that Prevent leads to their communities being seen only through a security lens, and could lead to the policing of culturally conservative views or political opinions.

A leaked report in The Guardian reported in May suggested that the Shawcross review would warn that the Prevent programme was too focused on right-wing extremism and should now crack down on Islamist extremism.

The Home Office said Prevent would remain a vital tool for safeguarding against radicalisation.

“It has already changed and saved the lives of individuals from all walks of life, with over 3,000 people supported through the Channel programme and will continue to build on this success going forwards,” a spokesperson said.

Laura Hutchinson is Head of Dods Political Intelligence, UK. To find out more about Dods Politicial Intelligence, please click here.


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