The corrosive damage done to the fabric of society by extremist narratives from across the political spectrum has at its heart one key message: that the UK’s diverse communities cannot, and should not, peacefully co-exist alongside one another.
This is emphasised in Dame Louise Casey’s report into integration, published this week.
Arguing that extremist groups “maintain significant support”, Casey’s report notes “the widespread promulgation of racist, discriminatory and intolerant material, which is judged to foment social tensions and encourage isolationism”.
Challenging such narratives is vital if the UK is to become a more integrated society, and Casey’s review identifies the Prevent strand of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy as the key plank of this process.
Seeking to “prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”, the programme has disrupted attempted travel to Syria and Iraq, provided awareness training to over half a million public sector staff, and supported community organisations that push counter-narratives.
However, while the positive aspects of Prevent delivery rightly take centre-stage, Casey also highlights the development of a far more worrying trend, which has the potential to undo much of this good work.
Casey describes “an active lobby opposed to Prevent”. She spares no criticism for the “elements of this lobby who appear to have an agenda to turn British Muslims against Britain”, whose activism to undermine Prevent she describes as making British Muslims “feel even more alienated and isolated – and therefore more vulnerable to extremists and radicalisers”.
Casey also takes aim at those who “have deliberately distorted and exaggerated cases” of Prevent delivery in an attempt to “portray the programme at its worst”. Pointing out that media coverage of these incidents has often uncritically repeated these exaggerations, Casey calls on the government “to be more robust in countering false perceptions”.
For those of us who have been attempting to highlight the mendacious influence of the anti-Prevent lobby for some time, these findings are a vindication of our efforts.
While not named in the report, one of the main figures in these efforts – the prisoner lobby group Cage – was likely in Casey’s mind when she referred to “groups – often describing themselves as advocacy and human rights organisations – which have…sought to set Muslim citizens apart from the rest of society”.
In 2015, Cage Research Director, Asim Qureshi, was strongly criticisedby politicians after he told parents Prevent could see their children taken away if they attended political demonstrations or repeated political slogans. The organisation has also attacked civil society groups for working alongside the government and misrepresented research used in counter-radicalisation practice.
As part of their campaign, Cage and others have worked hard to misinform the public about Prevent delivery, using false or exaggerated stories of referrals to suggest the strategy is failing.
Casey’s review highlights the case of a boy who was allegedly questioned by Lancashire Police because he wrote that he lived in a “terrorist house” when he meant to write “terraced house”.
This case is widely used by anti-Prevent activists as an example of racist and heavy-handed Prevent delivery, yet has been utterly misrepresented.
The family were in fact visited by a police officer and social worker because the child had written “I hate it when my uncle hits me” – and, as Casey points out, “no referral to Prevent was ever made. No Prevent officers were involved”.
A second example has seen a young man tour university campuses claiming that he was referred for wearing a “Free Palestine” badge and fundraising for Palestinian children.
His case continues to be used as an example by activists despite his school pointing out that neither the badge nor the fundraising were seen as an issue, and that the school actually supported him in raising money.
Casey also documents the case of a family whose son had been taken out of class and interrogated simply for using the phrase eco-terrorism. This has been used to target Prevent by the Institute of Race Relations and the NUS, yet Casey writes that there was actually no referral to Prevent and no police involvement either.
Unfortunately, at the very time when policy-makers need to identify this campaign of misinformation for what it is, too many politicians have bought into the myths and misunderstandings spread by this campaign, making absurd comparisons between attempts to prevent violent extremism with internment without trial, or pledging to scrap Prevent entirely.
That the Casey review is so willing to call out this activism is to be welcomed, as is her criticism of the government’s failure to effectively communicate the benefits of Prevent, or to better engage with some communities outside of the remit of counter-radicalisation.
If we are serious about protecting the UK and its communities from the harm caused by extremism, it is vital that the efforts to undermine Prevent are seen for what they are. There is no doubt that the strategy isn’t perfect, but pushing disinformation that encourages fear and mistrust certainly won’t help challenge the problem – and risks making it worse.
Originally posted 2017-01-04 16:29:39. Republished by Blog Post Promoter