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Review calls for swift dismantlement of UK's Prevent law

People-led review calls for swift dismantlement of UK's Prevent strategy
5 min read
15 February, 2022
People's Review of Prevent have released a report berating the British government over its counter-terrorism policy of Prevent, a policy which has become a highly intrusive, oppressive instrument of surveillance against the British Muslim community.
The return of The Trojan Horse Scandal into the public consciousness has reminded many British Muslims of Prevent's disastrous legacy [Getty Images]

A new report published by the People's Review of Prevent has called for the dismantling of the UK's government's Prevent Duty; a law it said was "instrumental" in enshrining surveillance against British Muslim communities under the guise of counter-terrorism legislation. 

Released on Tuesday, the People's Review of Prevent report is an alternative to the government-led Shawcross Review which, since its announcement, has been widely condemned and boycotted by human rights groups and Muslim activists as "biased, divisive and serving partisan electoral aims".

Sir William Shawcross, currently leading the government-endorsed review, was caught on record defending the worst ideals of the War on Terror, and had stated that Europe and Islam were "incompatible".

Tuesday's report, authored by Director of Prevent Watch Layla Aitlhadj and Professor John Holmwood, Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Nottingham, gives voice to those directly affected by Prevent by: examining its role in pathologising religious and political expression, securitising communities and individuals, and the prevention of rights in the United Kingdom. 

Prevent is one of four constituent parts of the UK's counter terrorism strategy. It's specifically concerned with a "pre-criminal space", where offences are yet to be committed.

Launched in 2007 in response to the July 7th bombings across London, it sought to achieve three strategic objectives.

Firstly, it sought to respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism and the threat faced from those who promote it.

Secondly, to aimed to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism and ensure they are given appropriate advice and support.

Finally, it intended to work with sectors and institutions where there were risks of radicalisation that need to be addressed. 

Prevent has disproportionately targeted and placed at risk a number of Muslim communities in the UK [Getty Images]

However, as the report makes clear, Prevent was instead used to enforce opaque ideals, such as the the promotion of "British values" - initially applied to practitioners in the education sector, later extrapolated into the wider public sphere as a whole.

As a result, teachers and doctors were mandated to seek out "vulnerable" children, young people and adults that might be at risk of "radicalisation", with an individual's subjective feelings towards someone a valid source of criminal interrogation.

Due to Prevent, public sector workers now operate as quasi-informants, with welfare now viewed through the lens of national security imperatives. 

In reality, Prevent's lack of apparatus to deal within public institutions has meant that it operates from a distance from any level of terroristic activity, according to a statement given by Professor John Holmwood to The New Arab's correspondent at the press conference launch of the report.

There was no evidence that Prevent diminishes the rate of terrorism, and so places British Muslims under unwarranted levels of suspicion, the statement said.

Two examples of this in action were the Prevent's 'priority areas' and the number of referred to Channel - a targeted programme aimed at those drawn into activities relating to terror.

In reference to the former, while 1/3rd of UK citizens live within a Prevent 'priority area', this statistic rose to 3/4ths for British Muslims.

In reference to the latter, of all those referred to Prevent, only 5 percent were deemed to be appropriate for Channel. 

With that being said, the report's conclusions were stark. Prevent Duty was "necessarily discriminatory" and "represents a surveillance and pre-emptive intervention - a comprehensive system of stop and search", which depends on profiling, with an overwhelming number of its subjects Muslim.

As such, the Prevent Duty law both "reinforces and perpetuates a broader institutional Islamophobia" whilst evading any level of legislative scrutiny or public accountability.

The refusal of the relevant watchdog, the Equality and Human Rights Commission, to respond to criticisms of Prevent is testament to the fact. Conversely, the endorsement of the UN Special Rapporteur of Human Rights of the People's Review of Prevent gives valuable credence to the report's findings. 

The timeliness of the report's publication has no doubt been enhanced by the success of The New York Times and Serial Productions' "The Trojan Horse Affair", a podcast which investigated the failings of the Birmingham city council and the UK Home Office to uncover a hoax to "Islamise" schools across the United Kingdom.

Despite being proven false, the hoax served as a pretext for much of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act of 2015, contributed to an aggravated atmosphere of mistrust within the British Muslim and British Pakistani community, broke down commendable education practices and careers, and fundamentally changed citizenship participation within East Birmingham. The Trojan Horse Affair remains a archetypical case of Prevent's legacy. 

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For the international audience, the publication of the People's Review of Prevent remains relevant due to Sir William Shawcross, his predecessor Lord Carlisle and the UK Government's willingness to export the methods of Prevent abroad.

As stated by Professor John Holmwood and Layla Aitlhadj, "there seems to be reciprocal validation of authoritarianism taking place between the UK and oppressive regimes", with the sharing of strategies a means to give justification for the policy, with cases in India and China apt examples. 

It is widely believed that the Shawcross Review will increase Prevent's reach throughout the UK, with UK Home Office statistics stating that in 2019 1,000,000 public sector workers had been given Prevent training. This number will have increased since then.

There were also fears that the review will recommend increased integration with the security services.

Professor John Holmwood told The New Arab that the report's findings are important for us all. 

"We must seriously interrogate how these strategies are being used in order to find ways to support others, and be conscious of any policy that curtails freedom of expression," he said.

Benjamin Ashraf is a visiting research fellow at the University of Jordan's Center for Strategic Studies. He is also part of The New Arab's Editorial Team. 

Follow him on Instagram: @_ashrafzeneca