The Prevent Strategy: Nagging Dilemmas

18 Apr

Schools have been bombarded with advice on how to deal with preventing the growth of terrorism as part of their Safeguarding duties. This advice has come on the heels of the publication of the Prevent Strategy in 2011.  

However, the strategy has been subject to criticism from several quarters, not least from moderate Muslim leaders.

Dal Babu, chief superintendent of the Metropolitan Police before his retirement in 2013, is on record as stating that many Muslims see the scheme as spying and many involved in promoting it do not understand the communities the strategy is meant to serve.  Having acknowledged that it started off as “a good idea”, Dal Babu remarked that it had become less and less trusted.

Some have criticised Prevent as being counter-productive and promoting unfair discrimination against the rank-and-file of Muslims – and others observed that there was no clear way of measuring how effective it was.

However, Sir Peter Fahy, former Chief Constable of Greater Manchester, disagreed.  While admitting that it was hampered by the Iraq war, he told the BBC: “What you’ve got to do is make sure this is about safeguarding more in general.  There is a danger in saying this is just about the Muslim community because I think all parents agonise about how you get the right balance between allowing your children some freedom and trying to protect them, particularly when you got all this material on social media.

“The prime responsibility for stopping young people going to Syria and being attracted by Isis has to lie with parents. If there’s one thing possibly to have made a mistake in Prevent is if we have created the impression that somehow it is the job of the police.”

Others from the Muslim community have also disagreed with Dal Babu.  Asid Sadiq, president of the National Association of Muslim Police, is one.  He told The Guardian: “Prevent has moved on a lot.  Initially there were some teething problems, but it is now moving in the right direction.  I think Prevent is working quite well….”

Readers working in the field of education, may wish to take issue with Fahy.  It is the job of the police (apart parents), but not solely the job of the police to promote the strategyWe are repeatedly told that teachers must take measures to root out the seeds of extremism in their classes.   This is in addition to ensuring that their children do well academically, develop socially, spiritually, physically, protecting them from abuses – sexual, physical and emotional – and ensuring that their families don’t neglect them: a tall order for the pedagogues.

Free Speech based on independent thinking

However, in trying to secure a broad and balanced curriculum as well as develop young people’s independence of thought, schools are faced with profound dilemmas when it comes to administering Prevent.

To what extent are teachers to be allowed to encourage pupils/students to engage in free speech and to what extent are they to curb pupils from articulating their thoughts deemed by Prevent to be of a toxic nature. And when pupils/students do express extremist views in the classrooms, are teachers to challenge or report them?   Prevent gives little guidance on this score.

About 500 years ago, Erasmus wrote: “In a free state, tongues too should be free.”   Yet, John Bercow, the Speaker in the House of Commons, called for a ban on President Donald Trump addressing Parliament when visiting the United Kingdom based on the claim that he would incite violence.  So many of our universities are now also banning speakers because their views do not chime in with students’ espousal of varying “isms”.

The website, Spiked, discovered that two-thirds of student unions and 25% of university administrations received a “red” rating over the last year for actively censoring ideas on their campuses.  According to Matt Ridley of The Times, “Oxford’s student union banned a student magazine called No Offence, which was devoted to free speech and the University of East Anglia banned a restaurant from handing out free sombreros lest it offend Mexicans”.

Recently, the students of the University of California who were in the vanguard of the free speech movement in 1964, demanded successfully that the gay, British-born, pro-Trump Milo Yiannopoulos be banned from speaking on their campus.

So, the issue is: “To what extent should we tolerate others’ views and to what extent muzzle those with whom we disagree?  And is there a case for tolerating intolerance with a view to combating it with more potent ideas?”   Isn’t a sore that is exposed so much easier tackle than one buried under the surface?

John Stuart Mills wrote in On Liberty: “The peculiar evil of silencing the expression of an opinion is that it is robbing the human race, posterity as well as the existing generation, those who dissent from the opinion, still more than those who hold it.  If the opinion is right, they are deprived of the opportunity of exchanging error for truth; if wrong, they lose what is almost as great a benefit, the clearer perception and livelier impression of truth, produced by its collision with error.”

There appears to be a bizarre alliance that the left is making with the radical elements in Islam, which is dominated by a conservative stance of discriminating against women and homosexuals.   Left wing students criticise Christianity and Judaism, ridicule the Mormons, and rejoice through a musical in the ridicule of it.  Yet, in 2014, Ms Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a Somali-born champion of women’s rights, who suffered genital mutilation, escaped an arranged marriage by seeking asylum in Holland, left Islam, became a Dutch MP and wrote a film whose director was murdered by an Islamist, was “disinvited” from receiving an honorary degree by Brandeis University in the USA because of pressure brought to bear by the left-wing students.   Few feminist spoke up for her.

Something here is just not adding up!

Dangers of ending Prevent

The dilemma remains.  We need to continue to safeguard our children from radical and extreme elements that can toxify their impressionable minds.  But we also must give them space to think and articulate their thoughts, no matter how radical it may sound.

Bringing matters out in the open will provide schools the opportunities to discuss the case of Azad Ali, the new director of the Muslim Engagement and Development (Mend), a pressure group with influence over parliament and the police. Ali declared his support for the killing of British soldiers and denied that Khalid Masood’s manic journey over Westminster Bridge, killing five people, including PC Keith Palmer, was terrorism, claiming it was a lone-wolf act.

Trying to cover up such a heinous crime has all the making of a criminal way of thought.  If it was a lone-wolf act, it was also an act of terrorism.  Being one does not cancel out being the other.

Ali has objected to ministers seeking help from technology companies after it was reported that Masood used the WhatsApp messaging service two minutes before driving into 50 people on Westminster Bridge, because the government was “trying to invade more of our privacy”.

There was no excuse for the bloodshed that was caused on 23 March 2017, which culminated in the killing of PC Keith Palmer.

Discussing such events in lessons and giving young people the opportunity of expressing their opinions could be a powerful way of promoting Prevent.

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