As delivered so far, the Prevent programme has stigmatised and alienated those it is most important to engagethose it is most important to engage and tainted many positive community cohesion projects, says a cross-party committee of MPs. Moreover, the government’s strategy to limit the development of violent extremism in the UK sits poorly within a counter-terrorism strategy.
Launching 'Preventing Violent Extremism', a report of a recent select committee inquiry into the Prevent Programme, Communities and Local Government (CLG) committee chair Dr Phyllis Starkey said:
“We agree that a targeted strategy must address the contemporary al-Qaeda-inspired terrorist threat, but we do not believe a Government department charged with promoting cohesive communities should take a leading role in this counter-terrorism initiative.
"Much of the positive work undertaken by CLG—to promote better community cohesion and to curb social exclusion—has been tainted by association with the counter-terrorism agenda. Any decision to widen the Prevent programme would only make this problem worse.
"A different approach must be taken. All the elements currently within Prevent which have a clear role in crime prevention should be brought under the remit of the Home Office. Where possible, elements such as the Channel project should be removed from the CONTEST (counter-terrorism) strategy and placed within other crime prevention initiatives. CLG should however retain responsibility for delivering an entirely separate programme to tackle the underlying factors that foster all forms of extremist violence and communal hatred."
To improve Prevent, the CLG Committee calls on the government to:
•Apply a more clearly risk-based approach to tackling all kinds of extremism.
•Update the CONTEST strategy (and guidance) to reflect recent research and intelligence on the factors associated with the pathways to radicalisation and extremist violence. Commit to completing a regular review of this evidence base.
•Revisit a recommendation made by the Commission on Integration and Cohesion (Our Shared Future, 2006) for a central 'Rebuttal Unit' to help local authorities tackle all extremist myths with accurate facts.
•Strengthen information sharing between local partners to ensure local authorities have vital information required to decide which organisations should be funded under Prevent.
•Provide much more training and support to front line workers such as council staff, police, teachers and youth workers.
•Make available a proportion of funding currently provided through Prevent specifically to projects aimed at encouraging direct participation in democratic means of debate.
•Recognise explicitly the long-term value to the UK Counter-Terrorism strategy of projects designed to improve understanding between people of different cultures and religious groupings.
Dr Starkey adds,
"It was clear from our witnesses that many believe Government has sought to engineer a 'moderate' form of Islam, promoting and funding only those groups which conform to this model. In our view, a persistent pre-occupation with the theological basis of radicalisation is misplaced because the evidence suggests that foreign policy, deprivation and alienation are also important factors. Preventative work should address these challenges."
To improve the reputation of Prevent, the CLG Committee calls on the government to clarify urgently how information collected for the purposes of project monitoring and community mapping under Prevent does not constitute 'spying' or 'intelligence gathering' of the type undertaken by the police or security services. MPs likewise call on ministers to provide clear definitions of these crucial terms in all public guidance inviting future bids for Prevent funding.
Commenting on this issue Dr Starkey says:
"Many witnesses made plain they believe Prevent has been used to 'spy' on Muslim communities. The misuse of terms such as 'intelligence gathering' amongst Prevent partners has clearly discredited the programme and fed distrust. Information required to manage Prevent has been confused with intelligence gathering undertaken by the police to combat crime and surveillance used by the security services to actively pursue terrorism suspects.
"These allegations of spying under Prevent will retain widespread credibility within some communities until the Government commissions an independent investigation into the allegations."
Source: © Communities and Local Government (CLG) committee