The latest Times piece on Prevent seriously misinterprets the Prevent strategy, writes Prof. John Holmwood.
Times columnist, James Forsyth (‘Islamism is a greater threat than the far right’, June 16) seriously misrepresents the government’s Prevent strategy and its relation to counter-terrorism.
He writes in anticipation of the publication of the much-delayed Shawcross Report which makes his piece troubling.
Violent terrorist offences are, mercifully, very rare. But in no way is Prevent implicated in them. The Prevent strategy addresses views and extra-parliamentary actions that are deemed to be extreme, but are not illegal. Participation in Prevent is voluntary because no offence has been committed.
James Forsyth believes that the number of far right referrals is disproportionate to the risk when compared with those who have committed terrorist offences. This is factually incorrect, in 2021, out of 186 actual terrorism arrests, over 40% were related to suspected right wing terrorism.
Despite the statistics of actual terror offences showing a problem of far-right in terms of actual suspected offences, Prevent still focuses on Muslims. Three quarters of Muslims in England and Wales live within Prevent Priority Areas (there are 44 of them) compared with a third of the population as a whole. Muslims make up 5% of the population of England and Wales, but 22% of all referrals.
Your columnist is wrong to think that ‘ideology’ is not being assessed; it is. So, too, are the religious beliefs of Muslims and they are consequently eight times more likely to be referred to Prevent than non-Muslims.
Worryingly, James Forsyth thinks that the language of ‘safeguarding’ is a problem. Indeed this language was introduced several years after Prevent’s inception to provide the strategy with a veneer of respectability.
Now, even the veneer of respectability has dropped and Forsyth suggests that the motivation should be ‘public safety’ and that it should be directed at Muslim citizens.
The Times earned its nickname the ‘Thunderer’ in defence of individual liberties. It now raises its voice against them.