The pro-PREVENT lobby has been perpetuating several myths about this failed policy in an effort to keep it alive or to engineer a “review” or overhaul and relaunch. We look at these myths and confront them with the facts in order to direct the conversation towards solutions.
Myth 1: PREVENT is community led by Muslim organisations
Ben Wallace, security minister, claimed that “Civil society groups supported by PREVENT ran 130 projects last year, reaching more than 25,000 people and countering radicalisation in numerous communities.”
However, an FOI request sent to obtain further details of these claims was refused and the Government avoided providing any details. Details of the FOI request are here.
Research by CAGE revealed last year that many of the so-called ‘grassroots’ organisations supporting PREVENT were in fact funded by the government and directed by the government’s secretive domestic PR arm known as the Research Information and Communications Unit (RICU), responsible for ‘hearts and minds’ propaganda directed at its Muslim citizens.
Myth 2: Saying the government can take your children away is fear-mongering
When CAGE warned that children would be taken away from families as a result of PREVENT we were accused of ‘fear-mongering’.
In April 2015, Asim Qureshi warned of the hidden powers of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act, saying that the small print gave the government power to ‘consider models from health and social services’ should parents not give consent for their children to participate in PREVENT.
Today, CAGE has seen numerous cases where children are under the threat of being removed from their families under broad and politically charged definitions of ‘extremism’ and “radicalisation.”
In one case, an investigation was conducted to assess a family and was subsequently closed by the local authority since the children were being properly looked after.The mother was deemed to have provided all of the physical needs and “emotional warmth” for her children.
However, the authority decided to do a reassessment since the initial assessment was judged as inadequate because it did not take into account the impact of the supposed “radical extremism” of the father. This constant monitoring of family life and the threat of removing children results in severe stress, particularly on the young.
Aside from this, referrals have real life consequences for families. In the latest Cafcass report on cases involving “radicalisation”, 54 cases involving 128 children were reported as having radicalisation as a known feature between July to December 2015. A total of 15 wardship applications were made in relation to alleged ‘radicalisation’ involving 23 children.
Through our research and case studies, we’ve recognised that due to the vague terms, and the opaque nature of the ‘science’ underpinning theories of radicalisation, there will have resulted a great number of miscarriages of justice. This is particularly true where children have been made ‘wards of court’, seemingly for their own protection.
In one particular case, even though the judge accepted there was a low risk that several home schooled – by the state’s definition ‘socially isolated’ – children would attempt to travel to Syria, he still invited the local authority to apply for wardship over them.
The conflation of traditional religious values and practices and ‘radicalisation’ means that increasing case studies show that the situation has reached a point where in many cases parents are being forced to choose between co-operating with the government’s attempts to interfere in their faith and define what is acceptable worship for them and their children, or losing their children.
Myth 3: PREVENT is voluntary
Although parents are told that engagement with PREVENT is voluntary, coercive tactics are used to compel families into engaging. PREVENT officials are known to turn up at meetings between parents and social services. In one case, PREVENT officials threatened a mother that if she didn’t co-operate with them, then her family care plan would change, potentially risking her guardianship over her children.
In another case, engaging with Prevent meant avoiding jail for a mother-of-three.
These sorts of intimidation tactics mean PREVENT isn’t voluntary and it isn’t optional, in spite of their claims, since there is always the overarching threat of parents losing access to their children.
Myth 4: Prevent has had some early training issues
While PREVENT only became a statutory duty in 2015, as a policy it has existed for a decade. Therefore it’s incorrect to disregard its failings as simple ‘teething issues’ to conceal the more fundamental flaws within it.
Moreover, there have been 7500 referrals in the year 2015-2016 of which 90% were false and led to no action at all. This figure led to the policy being labeled a failure by leaders in the teaching profession.
This is even more devastating when one considers that nearly 10% of those referred are under 10 and over 40% are under the age of 18. In addition the majority of referrals have been for ‘Islamic extremism’, which only serves to further the substantiate the belief that PREVENT targets Muslim beliefs and behaviour.
Myth 5: The ‘terrorist house’ case had nothing to do with PREVENT
When a 10-year-old boy misspelt ‘terraced’ house as ‘terrorist’ house, teachers reported the issue and the next day a social worker and police officer visited the house.
When the BBC broke the story, police criticised their approach, saying the case had nothing to do with terrorism and was rather a reaction to an allegation by the boy that he was being assaulted by his uncle. This story was repeated in the media.
However, both a police officer and a social worker attended the house and most questions were being asked by the police officer not the social worker. Furthermore, all the questions, approximately 9, were related to ‘terrorism’ and 1 question was about his uncle. This line of enquiry has become standard, only through the normalisation of PREVENT and the subsequent entrenching of the security focus on Muslims.
You can get a deeper understanding of what really happened in this interview with the boy, here.
Myth 6: PREVENT is about safeguarding
PREVENT is not about safeguarding. The definitions of “extremism” and “radicalisation” are not fit for purpose and do not hold up to scrutiny. While safeguarding is supposed to be about protecting vulnerable people from harm, the linking of faith to radicalisation gives the perception that people are being persecuted for their religious beliefs.
Moreover, the ERG22+ framework underpinning PREVENT and the government’s understanding of how ‘radicalisation’ occurs are deeply flawed and can by no means serve as a basis for safeguarding. There is no evidence to suggest that the ERG 22+ can either work within the safeguarding context nor are they even applicable, since the original study was developed using prisoners and the scientists who ran the study themselves said it lacked demonstrable reliability and validity.
Additionally, safeguarding is supposed to be a collaborative approach between stakeholders such as parents, teachers and social workers. However, PREVENT as a safeguarding tool is counter-productive, as parents have a deep mistrust of it.
There is also a real risk of ‘mission creep’ if PREVENT is used as a safeguarding tool. Ultimately, PREVENT seeks to set the parameters of acceptable thoughts and beliefs, which is extremely dangerous and politicised grounds for safeguarding work.
It is perhaps unsurprising then that the UK has plummeted from a ranking of 11 to 156 in global children’s rights rankings. According to reports, data from Unicef and the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child (CRC) “[raise] serious concerns … about structural discrimination in the UK, including Muslim children facing increased discrimination following recent anti-terrorism measures, and a rise in discrimination against gypsy and refugee children in recent years.”
Myth 7: PREVENT has stopped 50 children from joining ISIS. It’s a success.
The supporters of PREVENT claim that the programme has stopped 150 people travelling to Syria – including 50 children. Whilst that may seem commendable on the face of it, the fundamental question requiring answers is: how many times have Prevent-based interventions directly saved lives in Britain?
Due to the lack of transparency, it is difficult to assess the veracity of these claims coming from the pro-PREVENT lobby or to conclude whether PREVENT was at all necessary to the process.
Moreover, stopping people from travelling to Syria to join a proscribed group is already a matter for the police. Therefore, at best, the role of PREVENT here is to duplicate the work of the police. At worst, it’s a deliberate attempt to distort the true role of PREVENT.
On top of this, PREVENT has been said to have a counterproductive effect. The UN special rapporteur Maina Kiai said “by dividing, stigmatising and alienating segments of the population, PREVENT could end up promoting extremism, rather than countering it”.
We therefore believe PREVENT is unnecessary and counter-productive.
Myth 8: Radicalisation is ‘a major problem’
In an attempt to support Britain’s discriminatory de-radicalisation programmes it is often stated that 700-800 people have left to go to Syria. This represents approximately 0.03% of the total British Muslim population.
However, there are no reliable figures that list the number of individuals who have left the UK to join British-backed groups, Kurdish forces or to fight alongside the militias of Bashar Al-Assad; let alone any consideration as to how many have left as part of aid efforts – with the frequent blurring between the two resulting in the criminalisation of aid workers.
The lack of evidence is an endemic problem within PREVENT, and impacts the way the PREVENT lobby perceive reality.
Myth 9: PREVENT is not racist or divisive as it tackles right-wing extremism too
PREVENT pundits constantly refer to the increasing numbers of far-right extremists being referred to the programme. However it clearly played no role in identifying or stopping the worst atrocity committed on British soil in several decades against a serving British MP by a far-right criminal.
The Prevent narrative criminalising religious practice has in fact emboldened the far right: statistics, in fact, show one in three terrorism suspects arrested last year were white. Arrests of far-right extremists doubled in 2016, after the killing of Jo Cox. However, Muslims are 50 times more likely to be referred to PREVENT than people from the far-right.
Shockingly, only 10% of PREVENT referrals required further support, suggesting mass overreporting, spying and intimidation of innocent people, many of them under the age of 18. This has created an atmosphere of deep mistrust.
It is unsurprising that PREVENT predominantly targets Muslims because the training material and research basis – which has been discredited as a source for broad application even by the academics that did the studies – are Islamophobic and target Islamic behaviour and beliefs.
Myth 10: PREVENT is not about targeting religiosity and it is not based on a conveyer belt model
Proponents of PREVENT often deny that it is based on a conveyor belt model and instead claim they rely on a “multi-factor” approach. However, we know that the multi-factor approach is actually based on the discredited ERG 22+ factors.
But even with a multi-factor approach, it rests upon the idea of a linear path that takes an individual from ideas to potential future violent action. These models are simplistic and do not convey the real ways in which both ‘push and pull’ factors lead to violence.
The Joint Select Committee on Human Rights, in its latest review of the UK “counter-extremism” strategy, found:
“The Government’s proposals rest on the assumption that there is an escalator which starts with religious conservatism and ends with support for violent jihadism, and that violence is therefore best tackled by curtailing or placing restrictions on religious conservatism. However, it is by no means proven or agreed that religious conservatism in itself correlates with support for violent jihadism. The aim should be to tackle extremism that leads to violence, not suppress views with which the Government disagrees.”
Myth 11: PREVENT is providing the best practice example for CVE across the globe, so it really is a success intra state
CVE, or Countering Violent Extremism, is the latest trend in the global counter-terrorism market. The UK makes no apologies for the role it has played in shaping these policies – in fact, the UK prides itself on its leadership in paving the way. CVE thinking rests on the very same discredited theories of ‘radicalisation’, which created PREVENT and therefore focus largely on the role of ideology.
PREVENT is not merely a domestic product but is seen as a high value export product. Attempts to gain public access to the ERG22+ risk assessment tool on which PREVENT is based were refused as government said it would “allow for the production of a competing product to the market, prejudicing the commercial interests of the department and allowing us to get best value for money.” This is evidence of a profit motive.
As a result, we are seeing global CVE policies, which have been largely modelled after PREVENT, being perpetuated around the globe by UK and US-backed organisations. Since there is little if any acknowledgement of the disastrous effect PREVENT has had in the UK, the prospect of an honest and realistic account of PREVENT outside the UK is unlikely.
However, it is entirely irresponsible to export a policy that has failed so miserably in the UK. Furthermore, it is outright deceitful to attach any type of success to PREVENT when in fact, hundreds of cases to date prove otherwise and large parts of society have actively called for the strategy to be scrapped.
CVE policies in the US, which are largely modelled on PREVENT, have been actively resisted by not only the very communities they target but also a growing list of NGO’s and other civil society actors, many of whom cite PREVENT as a warning rather than an inspiration.
Myth 12: Those opposing PREVENT are ‘Islamists’ who give oxygen to violent ideologies
CAGE’s opposition to PREVENT and calls for it to be scrapped stem from a well-founded concern of its discriminatory underpinnings and that its end result is to redraw boundaries of acceptable Muslim behaviour. This tool could then be extended to other communities until Britain resembles a police state.
Our concerns have been echoed across a broad spectrum of society, by individuals and organisations who also see the damaging effects of PREVENT and its potential to be applied to those who challenge power.
Hundreds of psychologists and academics have spoken out against PREVENT including Karen Armstrong OBE, Prof. Tariq Ramadan, Prof. Baroness Ruth Lister, Ken Macdonald QC, former director of public prosecutions and Prof Maureen Baker, former Chair of Royal College of General Practitioners, also oppose the policy.
The UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights to Freedom of Peaceful Assembly, Maina Kiai has said that “By dividing, stigmatising and alienating segments of the population, PREVENT could end up promoting extremism, rather than countering it.”
The “science” underpinning PREVENT, the Extremism Risk Guidance 22+ (ERG22+) framework, which is used to assess the risk of ‘radicalisation’ and influence referrals to the CHANNEL programme, is fundamentally flawed. The framework has been criticised by over 150 leading academics and psychologists including Professors Noam Chomsky and Marc Sageman.
The opposition to Prevent includes a formidable group of individuals and organisations, from a variety of theological and political persuasions as well as those in civil society including the Open Society Foundation, Rights Watch UK, NUT and the NUS.
To claim otherwise would be a deliberate attempt to distort the truth.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)