What’s the alternative to Prevent?
The alternative rests in the realm of ideas and their healthy expression, writes Prof. John Holmwood.
In the People’s Review of Prevent, we showed that Prevent is not working, but also that it couldn’t work. What, then, is its purpose?
Why do some people continue to advocate for it and in terms that involve the hostile name-calling of Prevent’s critics, including that they are extremists and enabling terrorism?
The answer is that it serves an ideological and populist purpose by scapegoating minority communities.
Stopping terrorism is a good thing, but Prevent isn’t designed to do that. It is one of four streams in the Government’s counter terrorism strategy, Contest.
When references are made to foiling terrorist plots, these success stories are not attributed to Prevent, but to another stream of the counter-terrorism strategy called Pursue.
Prevent is about something called the ‘pre-crime’ space and it is based upon a flawed theory that some ideas lead to violence.
The ‘pre-crime space’ is a somewhat dystopian idea that potential perpetrators of criminal offences could be identified in advance and stopped before a crime has taken place.
But what then are they guilty of? And how could it be shown that ‘potential offenders’ have been diverted from a path toward a criminal offence with politicising the process?
Technically and logically, there is neither intention nor preparation of an act to be foiled if we are in the pre-crime, Prevent space.
Given that Prevent is based on policing thoughts and ideas, the alternative rests in the realm of ideas and their healthy expression.
The advocates of Prevent fear the expression of critical public opinions and seek to restrict and manage them. However, diverse debate has benefits for everyone; it allows resentments and what Theresa May had previously called ‘burning injustices’ to be expressed and articulated within the public sphere.
This in itself has a tendency to mitigate genuinely ‘extremist’ and ‘violent’ views, since safe dialogue allows individuals to moderate one another in a healthy manner and can even build bridges of trust. It is also more suited to the current fabric of British society.
Currently, the labelling of democratically expressed ideas as ‘extremist’ facilitates multiple attacks upon self-organised civil society organisations within Muslim communities. It also pathologises religious expression, both in appearance and in ideas.
Additionally, in its targeting of certain types of activism, instead of drawing young people into healthy political action and dialogue, Prevent is diverting them from it.
Prevent has pushed people away from political involvement in protests, for example, but also from even more mundane organised political and community action. It has also had a negative impact on the expression of ideas in the classroom, something that is a fundamental part of education.
It is in these spaces where people learn how to interact and act justly together with others, moderate their opinions and develop their ideas within a common cause.
Schools should be able to address what teachers may feel to be problematic opinions, but they must be able to do so without placing pupils under the lens of national security; this can be done within ordinary bullying procedures.
Troubled youngsters can be identified for appropriate intervention by social services, not the security services; they are not trained in child interventions, nor are they suited to them.
For all this to happen there must be the belief that increasing the political and civic participation of all communities is a public good. It is necessary for a safer society, since safety hinges upon trust, justice and a recognition of our combined human potential.
This article appeared initially in a longer version in The Middle East Eye.