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UK deradicalisation program a massive fail

By Russell Grenning - posted Thursday, 21 June 2018

A UK Government strategy called Prevent which was established to try and stop the radicalisation of potential terrorists has been revealed as woefully and spectacularly hopeless with more than ninety-five per cent of its associated programs being exposed as ineffective.

According to The Times (UK), the study "revealed failures in the approach to deradicalisation in schools, youth centres, sports clubs and English-language classes."

The Timescontinued, "The study found that only two programs were effective and that some projects were counter-productive."


The study was undertaken by the Behavioural Insights Team (BIT) which is partly owned by the government's own Cabinet Office and, again according to The Times, "until the BIT study, the thirty-three projects claimed a success rate of more than 90 per cent because they evaluated themselves." That is hardly a surprising outcome given the usual complete lack of any intellectual rigour, honesty or integrity in self-assessment by civil/public servants.

Inevitably, the civil/public servants charged with running this sham Prevent strategy enlisted their Minister to come out publicly in their defence and probably wrote his media statement. The Home Secretary Sajid Javid loyally said that while he recognised criticisms of the program, nevertheless "misapprehensions around Prevent are often based on distortions" and, to put the matter to bed, "I absolutely support it."

That hardly dampened down the criticism of what the government had been touting as an innovative, evidence-based, comprehensive, effective and sophisticated strategy. No doubt the government has some other glowing adjectives to describe it but I'm sure you get the drift.

To quote again randomly from The Times, "Researchers concluded that one intervention program in schools was ineffective because it used a prescriptive curriculum that adopted the same approach whether addressing a predominantly Muslim or white audience" and "the study concluded that facilitators were uncomfortable dealing with sensitive topics and would often refuse to engage if they were brought up."

"Teachers in particular were afraid to bring up matters of race and religion with their students without appearing discriminatory, often causing them to refuse to talk." In fact, the BIT study discovered that some teachers were too afraid to even mention matters of race, religion and radical Islam with students and sought to avoid politically correct accusations of discrimination which meant that key topics were sidestepped completely.

Other programs placed too much emphasis on hurt feelings, offence and so-called Islamophobia which had the counterproductive result of convincing many Muslim participants to view themselves as victims.


One BIT researcher was quoted as saying, "There were ideas that sounded good, and a couple of them worked. However, they tended to work by chance - there was no grounding in psychological research that could potentially lead to impactful projects."

In plain English that means those charged with running the Prevent strategy which is supposed to be defusing potential problems that could lead to dangerous radicalisation were just groping blindly in the dark with their fingers crossed.

Another Minister, the Security and Economic Crime Minister Ben Wallace who is the junior Home Office Minister directly responsible for Prevent did as much as he could to defend his cause and was quoted as saying, "I am interested in the results of the BIT evaluation but they do not show the full picture." And in an effort to put a positive spin on the whole shaming matter, the Minister brightly added, "Their findings will help improve future interventions."

This response is straight out of a Yes Minister script.

The Prevent strategy was introduced after the July 7 2007 terrorist suicide bombings on London's subway and a bus during the morning peak hour. Fifty-two people died and more than seven hundred were injured. In 2015, a new statutory duty was placed on universities across the UK to remain vigilant to signs of extremism and a set of guidelines was introduced to oblige universities to carry out risk assessments on the chances of students being drawn into extremism as well as to train staff on how to challenge extremist ideas.

Academic staff are expected to follow twenty-two wide-ranging and almost impossibly vague criteria including, for example, "a desire for excitement and adventure", which presumably could get you reported for an interest in extreme sports, "a desire for political or moral change" which could mean an announcement that you won't be voting for the government next election or didn't believe in abortion on demand, and "being at a transitional time of life" - puberty?

Plainly, it is ludicrous to expect academics to be anti-terrorism experts. One individual academic's political beliefs could mean he or she sees a risk of extremism where another does not. One postgraduate student was profiled and questioned for reading an academic textbook in the university library entitled Terrorism Studies. He just happened to be studying counterterrorism.

To again quote The Times, "Supporters say that Prevent is an important measure to thwart extremism, but it is hard to explain and shrouded in secrecy. A source who has worked in Prevent for more than a decade told The Times, 'Nothing has ever been clear about Prevent, not even to the people who work in it. It's voluntary, so no one chases referrals up if they don't bother to turn up."

In 2015-16, 42,000 people participated in 142 sessions many of which were group sessions.

The Times quoted a police source as saying. "Critics say Prevent relies on ill-defined notions of extremism. Police say it works but their argument is not helped by the lack of transparency. Prevent's budget is not public...Thousands of people are now being referred, so inevitably, the programs are going to be light touch. How effective are you going to be breaking down an established world view in a once-a-week session?"

When Prevent was established in 2007 and subsequently during its operation, successive UK governments have been very careful to say that this is not just aimed at the Muslim community and the potential of radicalisation in that community. To present a picture of even-handedness, Prevent is also supposed to target what are described as far-right neo-Nazi groups.

That has had some curious outcomes.

A 15 year old student who is a member of UKIP (United Kingdom Independence Party) which began the initial campaign to get the UK out of the European Union was reported to Prevent by his school 'safeguarding officer' for possibly committing a hate crime. The boy made no secret of his political loyalties but was interviewed by two police officers without any prior warning.

The boy told British media that the officers had been friendly although they did question him about his views on immigration and the school warned him he could face a follow-up meeting if he didn't mind his awful ways.

In an even more disturbing case, another schoolboy, also 15, who thought that Muslim women shouldn't wear the full face-veil was identified as a potential far-right terrorist and put through the government's most strict de-radicalisation program which is that part of Prevent reserved for the most serious cases.

The boy was required to spend time with an imam, visit Islamic mosques and attend what was described as a multi-faith project.

Remarkably, it was the police who provided these and other details about this white boy to the media in response to criticism that they were unfairly targeting Muslims.

The West Yorkshire police officer who is the regional coordinator for Prevent said there had recently been a renewed focus on what he described as the far-right.

A very prominent British lawyer, who until recently was Chief Executive of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, told The Times that Islamist Muslim groups and community leaders hindered the fight against terror because they were only interested in presenting Muslims "as victims". Predictably, he has copped a lot of criticism - even open abuse - from leading Muslims.

But Nazir Afzal is a practising Muslim himself, the son of Pakistani immigrants. He has also served as the first Muslim Chief Prosecutor and took successful action against Muslims charged with serious crimes. He resigned from the Police and Crime Commissioners Association when they tried to stop him from speaking out.

Mr Afzal took aim at "self-appointed" Muslim community leaders whose sole agenda was, he said, to present Muslims "as victims and not as those who are potentially becoming radicals." He singled out the UK's largest Muslim umbrella group, the Muslim Council of Britain, for special criticism in this regard. He says that there is an "industry" of Muslim groups essentially making any excuse for anything any Muslim has done or might do.

Naturally, any non-Muslim who made such comments would attract a storm of criticism and, probably, be dammed as a far-right racist but it is hard - if not impossible - to level those charges against Mr Afzal although some apologists for extremists have labelled him a puppet for the far-right. That amuses him rather than upsets him.

Criticism of Prevent has extended to the government's own backbench. Conservative MP Ms Lucy Allen presented a Private Members Bill asking for an independent external review of Prevent saying that the so-called strategy was causing "increased level of concern" and that there was now a "level of disquiet that it would be wrong to ignore."

"Prevent as a concept, as a strategy to draw people away from terrorism, is not working. The problem is the way in which communities most affected by Prevent is that it is driving a wedge between authority and the community," Ms Allen said.

Entirely predictably, she was slapped down by Security Minister Ben Wallace said "Prevent is working. That's why I back Prevent. I'm passionate about it."

"If only I could tell you the successes," he complained to a journalist as if he was being prevented from doing so. Now here is something new - a government minister not wanting to boast about his and his government's alleged successes. The fact is that the only thing stopping him is himself.

And all of those clever anti-terrorism experts who think that Prevent is simply wonderful have come up with another breathtaking concept in the fight against terrorism - a project that is dubbed Operation Constrain.

According to the Mail on Sunday (UK), which has sighted documented details of this still secretive plan, the idea is to offer British jihadists who have returned from fighting with Islamic State in Syria help finding jobs and privileged access to social housing.

While full details are yet to emerge, it was more or less flagged only recently by Max Hill QC, the government's watchdog on terrorism laws who said that some "teenagers" who had "travelled (to join ISIS) out of a sense of naivety, possibly with some brainwashing along the way" might not be prosecuted.

He said that authorities "should be looking towards reintegration and moving away from any notion that we are going to lose a generation thanks to this travel."

The Mail on Sunday said documents relating to Operation Constrain showed that as many as 20,000 fanatics, previously investigated by security services, could be offered the sweeteners to persuade them to reject violent radical Islam. It has been reported that this plan has been drawn up by the Home Office, police and local authorities and that it is tipped to begin next year.

Already, this proposal has been strongly attacked. Terrorism expert Professor Anthony Glees of Buckingham University said, "You cannot bribe people not to be terrorists" while Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen added, "This sounds like a reward for being on a list of potential terrorists. You can't buy people's loyalty to this country." A former radical Islamist turned anti-extremist Sohail Ahmed said, "There are still some people in this country who are still loyal to what Britain stands for and I don't think they will be having any of this. I sincerely hope these plans do not go ahead."

It seems that the government hasn't given much thought - if any thought at all - to what ordinary law-abiding people languishing on a long list waiting for a council house think about returning terrorists being given housing priority and special help to get jobs.

While careful not to actually acknowledge Operation Constrain (or rule it out), a Home Office spokesman said the government was "committed to doing everything possible to protect our communities from the threat of terrorism" and "...we are exploring the best ways of doing this with our partners."

At least one government minister is less than enthralled by the idea.

Prisons Minister Rory Stewart said the only way to deal with British Islamic State fighters was to kill them "in almost every case". "These are people who have essentially moved away from any kind of allegiance towards the British government. They are absolutely dedicated, as members of the Islamic State, towards the establishment of a caliphate, they believe in an extremely hateful doctrine which involves killing themselves, killing others and trying to use violence and brutality to create an eighth or seventh century state."

Mr Stewart does know a thing or two about Islamic extremism - he was a civilian administrator in Iraq in 2003-04 and later a humanitarian worker in Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the deeply flawed Prevent strategy which is requiring the more than 410,00 academic and non-academic university staff across the UK to become part of an Orwellian state surveillance program, the outcome is not just a massive fail but, even worse, it is lulling UK people into believing that something effective is being done.

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About the Author

Russell Grenning is a retired political adviser and journalist who began his career at the ABC in 1968 and subsequently worked for the then Brisbane afternoon daily, The Telegraph and later as a columnist for The Courier Mail and The Australian.

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