Prevent and the racist state targeting of Muslim families

Prevent: Muslim children and families are paying the heaviest price for this state racism
6 min read

Mariya bint Rehan

16 November, 2022
Islamophobia Awareness Month: Mariya bint Rehan writes about the tragic impact of Prevent on Muslim families, especially children who have been disproportionately targeted by the duty. Their trauma continues to be ignored.
The Muslim parent that is both engaging in subterfuge and psyops, yet too intellectually infantile to make legitimate decisions for their offspring, writes Mariya bint Rehan. [GETTY]

Protecting parental rights, and the sacred institution of the home, we are told, is the ideological foundation on which democratic societies are built. Policy wars have been fought on the basis that legislature should protect and empower the inviolable family. However, in the British context, there is a populist blindspot in its application to Muslim homes and families.

We know, for these reasons, all of societies’ most acute fears play themselves out in the language of the family and home. And so, concerns around Muslims; fifth-pillar conspiracies, and the tellingly named ‘they will replace us’ paranoia, means that even the iron clad principles of parental supremacy are bent.

As Muslims are presented as a threat to democracy, and its constituting features - the family itself- there is a real cognitive dissonance when it comes to how they are represented and perceived in society and law. The Muslim family is presented as an aberration.

This paradoxical position gives birth to many other ironies; compromising on the rights and protection of the Muslim family to protect the British family; the Muslim parent that is both engaging in subterfuge and psyops, yet too intellectually infantile to make legitimate decisions for their offspring; the Muslim child that is at once more psychologically vulnerable and deserving of increased safeguarding measures, yet is adultified due to the perceived threat it poses to society as potential suspect. The cultural notions of family, parenthood and childhood are not conceptually big enough to accommodate Muslims, who are often presented as inverted truths of all three.

Muslims are thus subject to interventionist policies based on a faulty, speculative and unethical ‘pre-crime’ ethos. The Prevent duty, one strand of the broader counter-terror strategy CONTEST, places a legal duty on public sector institutions to report cases of potential extremism, and therefore has a much deeper reach into society and subsequently the unsacred Muslim home. By 2019 over a million front line workers had been trained through Prevent.

Prevent, with its nebulous and unevidenced definition of, and approach to ‘extremism’, is the subject of international and community criticism. It is widely understood to be policy-based evidence, and not evidence-based policy. It is effectively racist assumptions enshrined in law, and is arrogantly self-referential. Despite its claim to reinforce and protect all, in true twisted counter-terror logic, it is corrosive and warping to society, our institutions and the Muslim parent and child.

In our institutions, Prevent promotes a false behavioural science that suggests that it may be possible to identify those with a propensity to act dangerously based on racist assumptions and profiling – praying five times a day and refraining from celebrating other religious holidays are all apparently indicators of potential extremism according to Prevent logic.

Most often this presents itself as institutional surveillance of children in its duty on schools, which includes teaching fundamental British values including mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. All the while Islam is denigrated through its application, education is reduced to a security agenda and schools are hostile sites for Muslims, all in the name of inclusion.


In projecting a legal obligation on school staff, it expands their responsibility and expertise beyond the welfare of the individual to that of the wider public. And while teachers who aren’t trained in national security are forced to make that a primary consideration, once Muslim children are referred to counter-terror professionals who have no safeguarding training, law-enforcement is charged with the duty of care. Case studies paint a harrowing picture of how this duty is constantly neglected.

And this all to create a more cohesive, integrated and safer society, apparently.

What emerges most damaged is the well-being and sense of belonging of Muslims in particular, because the wider culture that Prevent promotes causes further disenfranchisement. It also breeds suspicion within wider society, and breaks down dialogue and understanding.

A Freedom of Information act by the People’s Review of Prevent exposed that the programme’s funding is largely allocated to Muslim majority areas. This approach to community cohesion effectively identifies the Muslim as the perennial problem. Even the right-wing extremism that Prevent ostensibly claims to surveil is seemingly explored in localities with high numbers of Muslims. The onus therefore remains on Muslims as the cause of dissension, legitimising right-wing racism.

The greatest victim to this orchestrated culture of fear is undoubtedly the Muslim child. Prevent creates a false dichotomy between Britishness and Muslimness, problematising and criminalising the Islamic faith. The natural protective instinct of a parent, therefore, takes on a new shape for Muslim families, who have to learn to attune themselves to the Islamophobia that hangs low and heavy in the air.

The Muslim child is powerfully vulnerable, and simultaneously requires to be saved. In 2017-18, children under 15 made up 27% of all referrals, but just 5.6% of those referred proceeded on to Channel - a multi-agency programme that ‘supports’ individuals at risk of being drawn into terrorism. Young people aged 15-20 made up 29% of all referrals, and just 7% proceeded on to Channel. These figures are only the tip of an alarming iceberg, and represent a whole sea of cases that did not make it to the referral phase but would’ve included intrusion and subsequent trauma, for which statistics are not available.

This is all the more ominous when we consider that those who are referred, through twisted irony, are not considered as having committed an ‘offence’, and therefore can be interviewed by the police and counter-terrorism officers without any protections such as having a parent present. Symbolically, they demonstrate how the individual liberty, safeguarding and welfare of the Muslim child is sacrificed for the apparent safety of society at large.

This is despite the fact that terrorism offences are committed by individuals, mostly men, between the ages of 18-30.

While looking at the logic and cold hard stats of Prevent unearths vast contradictions and issues, it doesn’t speak of the personal tragedy and trauma caused to Muslim families who are denied their rights. While this Islamophobia Awareness Month the government doubles down on its effort to erase the notion of that injustice by scrapping efforts to define this form of racism, Muslim children and their families continue to bear the heaviest burden of this perversion.

Mariya bint Rehan is a writer and illustrator from London, with a background in Policy and Research and Development in the voluntary sector. She has written and illustrated a children’s book titled The Best Dua which is available internationally. 

Follow her on Twitter: @ummkhadijah13  

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Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.