Engagement by the courts with the issue of ‘radicalisation’ seems to take the veracity and accuracy of the government’s narrative of what constitutes ‘radicalisation’, how it occurs, and why it is a risk, for granted as truth.
Although it is acknowledged that “Radicalising is a vague and non-specific word which different people may use to mean different things”, the attitude that seems to prevail across many cases where ‘radicalisation’ is discussed seems to have embedded itself in a way that is best expressed by Mr Justice Hayden: “Those words are sadly now so much a part of contemporary life – ‘extremism’ and ‘radicalisation’ – that they scarcely need definition.”
Even where definitions are explored, as indeed in Re K, the definitions relied upon are frequently lifted from texts such as the Prevent Duty Guidance and the Channel Vulnerability Framework . In the case of London Borough of Tower Hamlets v B where the judge engages at great length with the work by an ‘expert’ – Professor Silke – on ‘radicalisation’, it is worth noting that a CAGE report identified Professor Silke’s involvement in the creation of the ERG22+. This appears to represent an uncritical engagement with one narrative on ‘radicalisation’: the state’s narrative.
Ignoring for a moment the inherent issues in the isolation and proliferation of any single narrative without any attempt to engage with or explore alternatives, the unquestioning acceptance of the government’s discourse around ‘radicalisation’ seems problematic due to the serious shortcomings that a CAGE report has already highlighted around the ‘scientific’ basis for the ERG22+. Nonetheless, the ERG22+ is a key part of PREVENT, Channel, and seemingly the whole state approach to ‘radicalisation’.
The implications of this one-sided engagement and the employment of the flawed ERG22+ on families cannot be understated.
Coercion is built into the system of removing children, since parents are forced into a binary situation, which is to accept there is an issue and not risk having their children taken away, or to challenge the subjective views of those fearful of their beliefs.
This was the position that Yusra*, a single mother of five, was forced into when social services and counter-terrorism police visited her home, and during a subsequent meeting between the social worker, his supervisor and herself. During the home visit, Yusra had boxes around the house from having moved six months previously. She saw the officials eyeing the boxes, and tried to explain that she had just moved, and, being a busy single mom on one income, had not settled and properly decorated yet. But, she said, they assumed otherwise, and treated her as such. A day later, she brought her tenancy agreement to the meeting to prove herself. However, the officials continued to assume that she was a “flight risk”, and, she said, were “nitpicking” asking her questions “straight from the ERG22+”.
She said: “They asked me what I thought of ISIS and what I thought about democracy, whether it was a viable system to live under. I felt like it was my religion and belief that was on trial. It was not about whether I was caring for the children properly.” Yusra also said that the entire process was led by counter-terrorism, and was not about children’s services. In the end it was one officer “quick-firing” her about her thoughts on the Paris attack, and other incidences around the world at that time. She specifically mentioned the way in which the officer had asked questions, rapidly, as if to catch her out.
Yusra was supported by her family doctor and many teachers at her children’s school who felt awkward and coerced into the line of questioning precipitated by the use of the ERG22+ by PREVENT. During court proceedings, she was found to be a warm and caring mother, her children’s needs seen to, but when authorities wanted to perform the “radicalisation” assessment, she refused to take part, saying: “They told me: you pick who will do the risk assessment, but I said: ‘This is ridiculous; I would not even pick my dad, as it’s all based on the ERG22+ so it’s completely untrustworthy and the outcome is predetermined.’”
The entire discourse on ‘radicalisation’ is inherently problematic when it is seen in connection with the criminalisation of certain ideologies or beliefs. Although the courts have been keen to state repeatedly that the measures being taken are not intended to undermine basic human rights including freedom of thought, belief or religion, there seems to be something distinctly Orwellian not only about the PREVENT strategy in so far as it attempts to regulate these freedoms, but also in the shocking ‘double-think’ that is required by the courts, the government, and bodies endorsing these strategies.
This is exemplified by the judgement of Holman J in the case of M (Children):