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The PREVENT Policy: a politically motivated programme

Award winning South African journalist Karen Jayes speaks to CAGE’s Research Director Asim Qureshi regarding the discriminatory impact the UK government’s PREVENT policy has had on British Muslims; drawing parallels between PREVENT and the criminalisation of thought in apartheid South Africa. The report referred to in this piece can be viewed here

The UK government’s “anti-terrorism” strategy, known as PREVENT, is cutting into every sector of Muslim life in Britain, resulting in divisions and fear – as well as the arrest of over 700 young Muslims between the ages of 15 and 24 in the past year alone. Independent advocacy organisation CAGE warns that the policy’s wide scope makes legitimate Muslim behaviour and activities unlawful, and bodes a threat not only to Muslims, but to all those concerned with social justice.

Not only that, but through its broad, politically driven and unchallenged definition of “extremism”, PREVENT appears to be an attempt by the UK government to covertly define what constitutes legitimate Islam and what doesn’t.

“This is what PREVENT has always been all about,” says Asim Qureshi, Research Director at CAGE. “It’s always been a social engineering programme to legitimise the government sponsored version of Islam only.”

An Islamic outlook that is concerned with the world and which questions the effectiveness of neo-liberal democracy to deal with our global challenges, is the target.

PREVENT has covertly shut down events organised by mainstream Muslim organisations, where issues like Palestine and Guantanamo Bay have been under discussion.

“Large portions of people in the UK have no idea that PREVENT even exists,” said Qureshi. “Most of these organisations do not want to come out and say that PREVENT officers have stopped us from holding an event, for example. They don’t want the community to feel that there is a policing issue around their organisation.” This makes the policy very difficult to challenge or obstruct.

PREVENT’s broad definition of “extremism” includes indicators including certain expressed opinions, increased religiosity in dress, and support of certain causes. The strategy makes much of the “early detection” of “extremism”, meaning that misconceptions or rejection of UK foreign policy, distrust of Western media, and perceptions that government policy is discriminatory, are all stated indicators in the PREVENT policy that can lead to a Muslim being reported and even arrested for “extremism”.

“The apartheid regime had many similar mechanisms to criminalise thought,” he said. “If you look at the life of someone like Steve Biko, it’s quite obvious that they were using very similar tactics and techniques in order to criminalise descent.”

Qureshi said there was not enough debate on the definition of “extremism” prior to the policy being ratified and implemented. The policy was quickly adopted at a traumatic time for Britons, post 7/7, where a certain accepted narrative around current events was easily posited and accepted.

PREVENT was reinvigorated in 2013, and largely sold to the public by politicians who claimed that Britons going to fight against the regime of Bashar al-Assad in Syria, would be more likely to commit “terrorist attacks” when they returned home – a claim that CAGE has consistently stated to be false based on proof that Britons who fight in Syria do so out of a concern for human rights and social justice, both core elements of their “Britishness”.

PREVENT has also targeted Muslim charities who support the Syrian people.

This approach to Muslims by the UK is unprecedented. “During the conflict with Libya, we didn’t see this same type of rhetoric taking place in terms of a blowback against the UK,” said Qureshi. “In the same way, if we think of British soldiers who are fighting with the IDF in the occupied territories – Jewish British citizens – there’s no debate or discussion about them being involved in war crimes.”

CAGE describes PREVENT as a politically motivated programme and not a counter-terrorism strategy. One of the reasons why it’s succeeded in being implemented is that Muslims themselves have too easily bought into the accepted Western driven narratives that prevail in the “war on terror”.

“We’ve been a bit politically naive,” he said. “We haven’t questioned some of the underlying assumptions about who Muslims are and what they believe in.”

The result, according to the CAGE report entitled The PREVENT Strategy: A Cradle to Grave Police State, is a policy which is no longer about stopping politically motivated violence – which is driven by frustration and anger at Western support of corrupt governments and not ideology – but rather on defeating Islamic ideology itself, by instating an Islam that is neo-liberal friendly, and fragmented.

“They want us to just sit and do thikr in our homes,” he said.

According to the CAGE report, teachers, doctors, police officers, civil servants including firefighters and local government officials are being trained and indoctrinated with a neo-conservative understanding of Islam and Muslim political struggles. This training is ostensibly presented by “experts”.

“It’s almost like we are becoming government informants,” one nurse told Al-Jazeera.

Suspicion has even infected the Muslim community, said Qureshi. “They are putting this fear into the community that if they associate with one another, then somehow that could be a problem, because [there’s an implied message] that you don’t know who another Muslim is really, and so everyone is always potentially a suspect.”

One of the most disturbing aspects of PREVENT is its ability to infiltrate schools and affect the lives of young Muslims. Through its report, CAGE shows how almost 700 young people between the ages of 15 and 24 have been apprehended through PREVENT’s Channel programme, which is the “action” arm of PREVENT. Mothers have been encouraged to report “terrorist” tendencies in their children. A voluntary code of conduct will also be released for madrassas in the UK –which “will be supportive of the government’s preventing-extremism strategy”.

Since the advent of PREVENT, CAGE has heard numerous reports from Muslims that projects, ostensibly commissioned in the interests of the community, but funded by PREVENT, were in fact intelligence gathering exercises for the police.

More haunting have been mapping exercises of Muslim organisations, under the guise of “Muslim needs research”, that were in fact used to profile these groups to fit into notions of Islam put forward by PREVENT.

In one London borough, CAGE reported that citizens working with youth were told to add information to databases and highlight which youths were Muslim – and they were even asked to provide information to police about which streets Muslim youths could be found on. “One youth leader alleges his refusal to provide intelligence led to the police spreading false rumours and trying to smear him and his organisation,” reads the CAGE report.

The mechanics of thinking behind the PREVENT policy itself is shrouded in secrecy with little or no response to emails or questions, said Qureshi. There are no mechanisms to challenge decisions, nor is there a review policy to scrutinise how it is applied.

“Whilst the PREVENT strategy nowhere recognises foreign policy and Western interventions as a motivator or cause of violence, it uses grievance and comments made about injustice, oppression and foreign policy as evidence of a propensity to future violence,” reads the CAGE report. This sets a dangerous and unchallenged precedent for social justice organisations and human rights activists – and threatens one of the core values of Islam, which is social justice. Most importantly, constant harassment of youth and families is divisive and, in some cases, might in fact increase propensity to violence.

“They don’t want Muslims to have that concern and affection for other Muslims who are suffering around the world,” said Qureshi.

PREVENT strikes at the heart of the transnational identity that Muslims have, and confuses or shrouds the core principles of Islam which offer genuine alternatives to an aggressive global neo-liberal system. CAGE has identified PREVENT as the leading blueprint for “counter-terrorism policy” across the world, and it has already been adopted in the United States.

Birmingham resident Mahmood told CAGE: “We’ve seen draconian legislation introduced – and that means we are surrendering our civil liberties. Where will this end? … We are sleep-walking ourselves into very serious times.”

CAGE is building awareness and constantly highlights and challenges PREVENT. Find out more about the PREVENT programme on www.cageuk.org or read the full report here.

Source: www.islam21c.com

Cross-posted from CAGE

This article was first published on 29 July 2014 in the Muslim Views newspaper which is distributed in South Africa. 


Karen Jayes is a an author and journalist in Cape Town, South Africa. She is the recipient of the 2013 Sunday Times Literary Award for Fiction and the 2013 K Sello Duiker Award for her novel, For the Mercy of Water.


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One comment

  1. I know Muslim bashing is the latest craze, but flick through the newspapers or archives, the last 5 threats to security in the UK all came from groups in Northern Ireland. Rather convenient too, that the pipe bomb found at a Belfast University a couple of weeks ago hardly even made the news. The Northern Ireland government also contains ministers who believe that the earth is less than 6000 years old, and that men are divinely ordained to have over lordship over women.

    Islamic Extremism is NOT a problem for the Muslim Community. The Government/media/institutions have just patronised us into thinking it is. What makes people think that Muslim communities aren’t doing anything? It’s just that they are going up against an establishment that helps radicalise Muslims with its actions. Let’s be honest, the biggest recruitment drive for radical Islam was George Bush hiring the Black water Mercenaries. Muslims are people, just like you, but with less irrational hatreds, I suspect. The other fact is that most recent terror attempts in this country – mainland – have come from right-wing extremists associated with the BNP.Our politicians won’t stop invading other countries for resources, won’t stop encouraging violence and war and they also won’t stop demonising minorities in order to pass the blame for their own actions onto their victims. It is borderline racism, bi-partisan and disgusting. All so that our major oil companies can keep on returning big dividend payments to these same thugs and warmongers. Islamist terrorists are inspired by a hate-filled ideology – a perversion of the great faith of Islam.

    The Muslims Are Coming!’ highlights many examples of both the ‘hearts and minds’ and the ‘counterterrorism’ approaches to a problem which might actually be largely illusory or self-created. In the UK since 2008, a Home Office project known as Channel, part of the Preventing Violent Extremism programme PREVENT, has kept thousands of young Muslims under surveillance, keeping tabs through family members, youth clubs and cultural organisations and mosques. Around £20 million a year in Channel money has funded sports and arts facilities around the country, to help provide locations where young Muslims can take part in non-religious activities, but also where it is easier for police and youth workers to keep them under observation. All the data on activities, religious commitment and social networks are fed back to the police, intelligence agencies and MI6

    Schools are referring to the police record numbers of pupils and staff identified as being at risk of radicalisation. I think this is more to do with increasing numbers of public sector officials, in this case teachers, being designated a role in the security state. If you tell more teachers to look out for ‘signs’ of radicalisation, they are sure to find some even if they are not there. Its the security state always needing an enemy, and as we saw yesterday the NHS getting involved in immigration policy here we have schools involved in policing. This is what you call a police state. Most who travel to Syria travel for humanitarian reasons, out of those who fight, most do it for honourable reasons and not for the extremists, and as for those who do fight for those groups not a single one has planned any attack on the UK. Beware the police when they speak to you. It does remind me of reports of young men and women travelling to Spain in the 30’s to fight the fascists – the British government also tried to stop them too. Yes, I would expect a British police officer to be stopping crime rather than investigating people for “radical” political views. Sharia law. Women valued (yes, valued) at one third of a man, stoning is permissible ‘in an ideal state’, honour killings and all the rest of this primitive cult are now wrapped in sympathy by every senior policeman who has ever open her or his mouth on the subject of ‘extremism’. It’s not ‘extremism’ if the majority support it. Those hundreds of thousands who stand by and look on approving are never counted apparently. The open and plural society could never come into existence today since no one would defend it. Being referred to Prevent is a quick way to get on MI5’s list of undesirables and exploitable. MI5 is not much different from the Gestapo.

    During the 40s and 50s in the US, a time period sometimes referred to as the “McCarthy era” a lot of activity took place whereby people who knew someone that was perhaps a competitor or unfriendly would “red bate” them starting roomers about them being communist. This is pretty much the same thing. The UK is seriously under the thrall of a dangerous hysteria gannet up by rulers for their own purposes. Record numbers of pupils and staff identified as being at risk of radicalisation. Great, we have many institutions that seem to be looking for just this. But I doubt they are radical enough for our establishment. You have to know your involved in killing innocents around the world in massive numbers and be ok with it. While going along with mass surveillance and manipulation of the population. Radical, Ha, they don’t know the meaning. ‘We’ funded the real hard line groups, arm the most undemocratic states. One world is a battle ground, one world and we will smash it down. That’s radical.

    What about the far right or those who hold views that are not in tune with a multi-cultural society/inter-connected world in the 21st century? Are they going to go those schools/areas or those homes to stop racist ideas/views that are harmful to society? This radicalisation is so exaggerated it is beyond belief! They are pressing matters such NSA, harmful capitalism, debt, environmental issues, Pro-Zionist influences in Western politics/governments… Have a look at how many far right bomb plots and actual murders by the far right have happened in the UK the past few years. I’ll give you a clue, its more than any other terrorist threat.

    Muslim immigrants in the non-Muslim countries, are often targeted for their looks, dressing, and in some cases—these lads become victim of bully and torture for the infamous incident of 9/11 — so what happens, they really want to turn, what they’ve been stereotyped in the west usually. “The problem is that the indicators used to identify what the government calls extremism are often opinions or beliefs held by the vast majority of practising Muslims in this country.” Yes, that is a problem. What if ‘opinions held by the vast majority of practising Muslims in this country’ are seen as extremism by the vast majority of non-Muslims in this country? What then? That is the real tragedy. That this nasty view is taken as fact. That so many people in this country now feel free to express overt and bigoted anti-Muslim sentiments. That so many in this country do not understand that just a tiny minority of Muslims hold radical views. Get to know some Muslims; discuss their views, share a laugh with them. You’d feel better, and the world will be a better place. The problem with radicalisation is that it is impossible to define. How do you fight it when so many things that are viewed as normal Islamic practices, such as Jihad and gender segregation, are viewed as radical by others? There should be laws that clearly define what is acceptable and what is not.

    What is about the English mentality?? Foreign Jews have gone plenty of times and fought in their holy land, with no animosity/hatred/jail etc from the UK or USA, so why is it a problem if Muslims do the same thing? Is Jewish blood worth more than that of Muslims?? Or is it that the media/Government/Police/Army want to keep up with this Islamophobia. In fact they asking the schools to stoke up Islamophobia too, as if there wasn’t enough of it already. UK and rest of world wanted to send in troops to fight against and topple the Assad regime, now we have a group ( ISIS ) combined with a handful of foreign fighters doing the exact same thing and all of a sudden its problem??

    What is the real agenda here?? Is it that UK is scared someone else may take over Assad’s oil and gold?? Well that will never happen, the amount of weapons Russia has provided to Assad will ensure Syria’s sovereignty, ISIS may have to settle for their own state ( which they deserve ) but Syria will still be Syria.


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