A report published last week by the Institute of Race Relations finds that the government’s Prevent programme for tackling extremism fosters division, mistrust and alienation. The report suggests that the Prevent programme has been used to establish one of the most elaborate systems of surveillance ever seen in Britain.

A report published last week by the Institute of Race Relations finds that “the government’s Prevent programme for tackling extremism fosters division, mistrust and alienation”. The report also suggests that “the Prevent programme has been used to establish one of the most elaborate systems of surveillance ever seen in Britain”. See press release and full text of the IRR report: http://www.irr.org.uk/2009/october/ak000036.html.

The report’s key findings are that:

  • Prevent-funded voluntary sector organisations and workers in local authorities are becoming increasingly wary of the expectations on them to provide the police with information on young Muslims and their religious and political opinions.
  • The atmosphere promoted by Prevent is one in which to make radical criticisms of the government is to risk losing funding and facing isolation as an ‘extremist’, while those organisations which support the government are rewarded.
  • Local authorities have been pressured to accept Prevent funding in direct proportion to the numbers of Muslims in their area – in effect, constructing the Muslim population as a ‘suspect community’.
  • Prevent decision-making lacks transparency and local accountability.
  • Prevent has undermined progressive elements within the earlier community cohesion agenda and absorbed from it those parts which are most problematic.
  • The current emphasis of Prevent on depoliticising young people and restricting radical dissent is actually counter-productive because it strengthens the hands of those who say democracy is pointless.

Author of the report, Arun Kundnani, says that: ‘The stated aim of the government’s counter-terrorist strategy is to enable people to ‘go about their lives freely and with confidence’. The question we pose in this report is whether freedom and confidence for the majority can be enabled by imposing a lack of freedom and confidence on a minority – in this case, the Muslim population of Britain”.

The same question may be levelled at the EU, which adopted its own “radicalisation and recruitment” programme in 2005 in the wake of the Madrid and bombings. In its Communication on ‘terrorist recruitment’ (COM (2005) 313), the Commission suggested that the EU could address ‘incitement’ to terrorism in the media, on the internet, in schools (where ‘youngsters’ often ‘fall prey to violently radical ideas’) and in local communities (by promoting European ‘values’ through ‘inter-cultural dialogue’).

The implementation of these proposals should be subject to the same kind of radical interrogation as IRR’s treatment of the Prevent programme.