Is Prevent program fit for purpose?

Lord Carlile
Updated 08 December 2019

Is Prevent program fit for purpose?

  • UK counter-radicalization initiative faces criticism ahead of first review

LONDON: On Nov. 26, three days before the London Bridge terrorist attack, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott told supporters that, if elected, a Labour government would conduct a review of the Prevent program, one of Britain’s most controversial counter-extremism initiatives.

Prevent was created in 2003 to support Britons vulnerable to radicalization, and to stop them from supporting terrorism.

In 2015, the government introduced a statutory duty requiring prisons workers, teachers and doctors to report worries about people considered at risk of turning to radicalism and terror.

Critics say the duty has a chilling effect on free speech and turns public sector workers into informers on their colleagues, creating an atmosphere of distrust.

But some Britons working under the Prevent duty say it has rarely been part of their professional lives.

Dr. Paul Stott, a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society, a London-based think tank, said in his 11 years of teaching about security and terrorism in five British universities, he never received any communication about Prevent from the university hierarchy. 

“This is a problem,” he told Arab News: “The lack of proper communication about Prevent creates a vacuum of discussion, which has been exploited by activists opposed to the program.”

He said the Labour Party had been successfully lobbied by British Islamic groups to whom Prevent is a “die in a ditch” issue. 

“Organizations such as CAGE and the Muslim Council of Britain contest Prevent as their central activity,” he added.

“It’s painted by these groups as an anti-Muslim program, which is remarkable considering the diversity of the British Muslim population, many of whom are supporters of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy.”

Abbott criticized the Home Office’s decision in August to appoint Lord Carlile to head the government’s Prevent review “because he has spoken in favor of it.” 

But Stott said anyone the government appointed would receive a barrage of criticism as Labour and anti-Prevent NGOs would aim to hit the review before it had started.

He said: “Lord Carlile has been involved in counter-radicalization for decades, and was central to the prosecution of far-right figure Nick Griffin in the 1990s.”

When asked how the UK could improve its counter-terror strategy in light of the London Bridge attack and heightened concern about returning Daesh fighters, Stott referred to Australia’s “Declared area offense” law, which criminalizes entering or remaining in a declared area of a foreign country. 

Syria’s Raqqa province and the Iraqi city of Mosul have both recently been subject to this regulation.

Yasmine Ahmed, director of Rights Watch (UK), said a review of Prevent needs to be the first step in developing a stronger counter-terrorism strategy.

“This has to be a job for the government using a thorough, methodological and evidence-based approach,” she told Arab News. 

“It’s not up to think tanks and NGOs to promote their own preferred counter-terrorism policies.”

Ahmed said there is no evidence to support the theoretical underpinning of Prevent. 

“The broad indicators that the government uses to identify extremism lack an evidential basis, and coupled with the overly vague and broad definition of extremism, gives rise to a huge number of misguided referrals and results in pervasive human rights and societal harms,” she added.

“Prevent is being used as a soft surveillance tool against persons who’ve committed no crimes, the vast majority of whom don’t even end up being onward referred to the Channel program,” she said. Channel is Prevent’s de-radicalization program, led by the police and Muslims who oppose anti-Western rhetoric. 

“The government is collecting information about people, including children, on a secret Prevent database, and people have no way of knowing that they’re on this database and thereby challenging it,” she added.

“Lord Carlile completely lacks independence from the policy of Prevent, as well as the ongoing debate about the legitimacy and effectiveness of the policy.” 

His appointment is currently the subject of a legal challenge from Rights Watch (UK), which described the proposed review as a “whitewash.” 

Lord  Carlile has dismissed concerns about Prevent as arguments made to “liberate the activities of some who are opposed to the very essence of our democratic way of life.”  This, Rights Watch (UK) says, “fundamentally undermines any trust and faith in the process and outcome.”

Ahmed concluded: “It’s critical that this review is genuinely independent; our lives and liberty are at stake.”

Britain’s security policy is fraught with division. Competing think tanks, NGOs and politicians all have their own policy preferences and ideological positions. But after a decade of heightened terrorist-related concerns, and with many British radicals having been referred to the Prevent program but unsuccessfully prevented from carrying out attacks, many agree that now is the time to review the initiative.


Clampdown on dissent pushes young Kashmiris into ‘resistance’

Updated 11 min 30 sec ago

Clampdown on dissent pushes young Kashmiris into ‘resistance’

  • Separatists fighting Indian rule in the disputed region have stepped up attacks on lower level politicians
  • Two security officials said that around 500 politicians had been moved since Thursday

NEW DELHI: When Bashir Ahmad Lone’s son Mehraj Uddin did not return home from a picnic with friends, his family informed the police. A day later, on June 5, the young man’s photograph was making the rounds on social media. He was dressed in military fatigues and carrying a gun.

“We never thought that could happen,” the father of the 24-year-old construction worker from Arigam village in Pulwama district of Kashmir told Arab News.
“Sad thing is that it’s not only my son, there are many youngsters joining militancy. In frustration, people are picking up guns.”
A year since the revocation of Kashmir’s special autonomous status by India and subsequent lockdown of the region, hopelessness, anger and increasing violence have pushed more youths into extreme forms of resistance.
“It is a sad reflection in any conflict zone, more so in Kashmir,” said Gowhar Geelani, a Kashmiri journalist and political analyst. “When all democratic forms of dissent are disallowed and democratic spaces choke, some youth and impressionable minds do take refuge in extreme forms of resistance.”
On Aug. 5 last year, New Delhi annulled Article 370 of India’s constitution, which had guaranteed Kashmir’s autonomy, and divided the state into the Union Territory of Ladakh and the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir — directly governed by a New Delhi representative.
Thousands of additional troops were sent to support 500,000 servicemen already deployed in the Muslim-dominated region to enforce a military lockdown on its population of 13 million.
Thousands of local political leaders and civil society activists were detained and some of them still remain under arrest.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Kashmiris say the revocation of region’s special autonomous status by New Delhi broke the last bond between them and India.

• Youths embrace militancy as a form of dissent in the absence of any outlet to express their anger.

Some 16 km from Arigam where Mehraj Uddin Lone was last seen, another boy, 19-year-old Shoib Ahmad Bhat from Chursoo village, also in Pulawama district, joined militants on July 13.
“I fear security forces will get hold of him and kill him, before his promising life can serve any purpose,” the young paramedic’s father, Mohammad Shafi Bhat, said.
Bhat said the overturning of Article 370 broke the last bond of trust. “Article 370 was a sort of bond between India and Kashmir. The special status gave us benefits in our education, employment and it was a matter of pride for us,” he said.
Last month alone, several young educated men, including a doctoral student from Srinagar, were reported to have joined the local militant group Hizbul Mujahideen.
“The situation is very grim in the valley. Youth are frustrated and angry and there is a strong sense of alienation,” said social and political activist, Mudasir Dar.