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.
Discuss in our Forums
See what other readers are saying about this article!
Click here to read & post comments.
15 posts so far.