Tuesday, 24 May 2016

UK PREVENT Strategy in Countering-Terrorism: How the discourse of risk serves to undermine anti-radicalization efforts.

This article will assess how the governments discourse of risk has been counter-productive in identifying who could as well as who already is radicalized. This will be demonstrated by analyzing how the discourse of risk has been inconsistently presented in the varying editions of CONTEST, how PREVENT strategies negative reception in institutions of education has reflected a restricted learning environment and how police/community partnerships have undermined the exclusivity of a British- Muslim identity. Each assessment will be concluded by what I would offer as solutions to these weaknesses in policy in order to provide an inclusive and enhanced PREVENT strategy.

Basing a policy on a potential risk by instating “preventative measures attempts to produce a safe future” (Ahmed, 2015, p. 553), undermines the self-acclaimed definition of the UK as “an inclusive, diverse society” (Kenan, 2015, p. 21) by subsequently targeting the Muslim community. This approach has been problematized by the inefficiency in defining radicalization as an objective term which has led to the utilization of subjective and “abstract factors” (Heath-Kelly, 2013, p. 395) as to who is a a risk and who has the potential to become a risk. This is reflective of the “global risk society” thesis presented by Beck that suggests that “the principle of deliberately exploiting the vulnerability of modern civil society replaces the principle of chance and accident” (Beck, 2006, p. 329). This is evident through the three revised editions of the CONTEST strategy, where the Home Office has consistently changed its definition of what the government defines as radicalization, and as a result politicized and securitized a broadening range of who can be considered risky. For example, the 2006 version of CONTEST defines the threat of radicalization as “individuals who are using a distorted and unrepresentative version of the Islamic faith to justify violence” (UK Home Office, July 2006, p. 1) which overtly profiles the Muslim community as being a risk and therefore allowed policy to be aimed at them. On the other hand, in 2009 it is defined as “an individual who supports terrorism and violent extremism” (UK Home Office, 2009, p. 76) which allowed the government to then securitize the general population. Most recently in 2011, despite stating that the strategy will seek to address “all forms of terrorism” the only threat that further is addressed is “that associated with Al Qaida and likeminded groups(UK Home Office, 2011, p. 9) which allows the government to maintain their approach in targeting the general population but offers an extra layer of priority to targeting the Muslim community which is a weakness through undermining the principles of Britain as a multicultural society.

Such discourse has resulted in criticism from Human Rights Watch who argue the UK governments legislation has resulted in “harassment on the basis of religious beliefs and the use of religion to incite further criminal acts” by singling out a minority. The UK has attempted to defend itself by citing “Article 103 of the U.N. Charter to argue that its obligations to the Counter Terrorism Committee under Resolution 1373 took precedence over its obligations to the Human Rights Committee”. (Human Rights Watch, 2003, p. 6), thus a response consistent with Beck’s perception of government “engaging in practices that enacted in the name of managing uncertainty within the war on terror” (Heath-Kelly, 2013, p. 395). This approach has resulted in the marginalization of the Muslim community, that PREVENT strategy has “produced as a risky community in the Post 9/11 era” (Heath-Kelly, 2013, p. 395) and undermines the concept of Britain as a multi-cultural state.

Jackson argues that “the success of a discourse can be measured by the extent to which it allows the authorities to enact their policies with significant support (or at least without significant opposition)” (Jackson, 2005, p. 159). A significant barrier to the adoption of the PREVENT discourse in educational institutions is the perception that it is an attack on education and freedom of speech, as well as unnecessary pressure on teachers to monitor and report children as young as 5 years old. PREVENT states that “there is evidence that some schools have used teaching materials which may encourage intolerance... and it is the schools responsibility to protect children from extremist views” (UK Home Office, 2011, p. 66). The result of this policy has been the perception of an attack on mechanisms of learning, reflected by the National Union of Teachers (NUT) at their annual conference where a detailed motion condemning PREVENT stated that “a key role of teachers and schools is to develop critical thinking skills in children and young people... PREVENT could worsen relationships between teachers and learners, close down space for open discussion in a safe and secure environment and smother the legitimate expression of political opinion(NUT, 2016, p. 11).

The taboo of addressing radicalization within the curriculum has also reflected negatively on the ability of staff to identify signs of it, this has resulted in a focus intent on profiling. This is accentuated through the PREVENT strategies requirement of teachers to report students to the government if they are considered risky. For example, the erroneous referral of students is evident in all age categories, from a “young 17-year-old man who merely possessed a ‘free Palestine’ leaflet” to a “four-year-old who mis-spelled cucumber to something resembling ‘cooker bomb’” (Al-Othman, 2016), both of which were British Muslims. Further to this PREVENT has even explicitly forbid teachers from ‘undermining fundamental British values” (Mayssoun & Tannock, 2016) which as anabstract requirement has not only resulted in the suppression of culture amongst the student population, but increased scaremongering of expression. In order to combat the failure of PREVENT in schools (which evidently stems from a flawed discourse of risk), this author shall present a number of recommendations.

Rather than understand radicalization as a threat, it should be understood as a key component of education, as by “seeking to uncover and uproot the roots, foundations or origins of a problem or project” (McLaughlin, 2012, p. 19) young people would then be able to approach extremist ideas with a desire to further explore their intent. This discourse is shared with Sukarieth and Stuart who also suggest that “in an era of global economic, environmental and social crises, transformational educational practices (radical thinking) is now vitally more important than ever” (Mayssoun & Tannock, 2016, p. 22). This author also believes that an alternative to undermining academic freedom is to remove the requirement of schools to administer PREVENT policy from CONTEST and even allow the somewhat taboo- radicalization discourse become a topic of debate within schools as a way of “safely addressing issues around extremism” (Batty, 2016) in the same way drug and alcohol misuse is addressed, this is opposed to restricting creative and academic freedom and attacking opportunities for students to learn from each other about different cultures and practices.

Although some may argue that this would leave children and young people vulnerable to radicalization, the safeguards that are in place to protect children from other types of dangers are deemed sufficient by the NUT. Furthermore allowing a platform for what the state considers ‘extremist views’ would also require further training for teachers which would then allow them to “better identify signs of radicalization of pupils” (Batty, 2016) as they do with cases of drugs, alcohol and physical abuse. This recommendation is in line with the NUT recommendations at their annual conference that instructs the government to “campaign for recognition of the principle that schools and colleges should ensure a safe space for children and young people to explore their relationship with the world around them” (NUT, 2016), as this motion has the support of teachers (the grassroots stakeholders in such policies), it is also envisioned as having the potential for greater success, which in turn would allow young people to safely explore ideas in the classroom as opposed to through their own online research that could potentially make them more vulnerable.

Poor PR and community engagement has developed from the introduction of PREVENT under the which initially approached forging relationships as a means of “winning hearts and minds” by “partnering and engaging” (O'Toole, et al., 2016, p. 160) with Muslim communities. However, this approach has been perceived by many in the British Muslim community “who are actively engaged in politics, as an extension of the British Security forces” (O'Toole, et al., 2016, p. 106) and led to the oxygenation of identity. As British citizens the state has a responsibility to protect as oppose to persecute them. This is accentuated through the responsibility for communities to “provide information to the police about potential plots(Heath-Kelly, 2013, p. 403). Figure 1 demonstrates how this has manifested into the Foucauldian ideal of ‘the state using populations as an instrument of governance” (Pedersen, 2001, p. 32) and to quote David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism laws has “allowed for mistrust between communities to spread and fester” (Batty, 2016).

                                                                                    Figure 1, (Metropolitican Police, 2016)

This not only bases an entire security operation one community but also serves as counter-productive in countering terrorism as oppression and trivialization of a culture can arguably contribute to processes of radicalization. This is through “processes of oxygenation which can facilitate terrorist networks” (Heath-Kelly, 2013, p. 399) as loyalty and trust in the state is lost and sought elsewere. This is also a social representation of Edward Syed’s othering were the Self is, who is privileged and has upper hand to define, reconstruct the passive, silent and weak Other”, (Moosavinia, et al., 2011, p. 103) the other being the minority Muslim community. Which, combined with the focus of Muslim communities as a prominent target (as we have discovered through experiences in education), the mistrust of the police has further ostracized communities, who for those who are British Muslims, has served to undermine their ability to see themselves as both British and Muslim the state (that is there to protect them) is treating them with such suspicion.

Therefore, when creating a viable counter-terror policy, that is aimed at preventing radicalization with the support of all communities is ensuring young people are made to feel like they are part of the solution as opposed to the problem. Stop and search policies are criticized for frequency “amongst individuals of Afghan, Pakistani and Somali background” (Choudhury & Fenwick, 2011, p. 165), which furthered by the feeling of young “Muslims who feel they are second-class citizens in Britain” (Kozbar, 2015) represents how the discourse of who is or could be a risk translates into profiling by the security services. This could be overcome by ensuring that all communities have the same opportunities to address experiences of inequality and exclusion. Trust in the police could be increased by participation and representation of young people in the decision making process which could potentially consist of youth focus groups that work with the regional Police Commissioners and have a direct input into policy as is experienced across the UK in politics (British Youth Council, 2016).

This essay has identified how the UK governments discourse on risk within the PREVENT strategy has served to be its main weakness. Through identifying the difficulties faced by educational institutions I have demonstrated how isolating the subject of radicalization and attempts to swamp debate with ‘British Values’ has increased both a climate of fear through referring young people to be interrogated, and diminished the quality of debate on offer to young people. The suspicious approach to Muslim communities taken by the police as well as use of citizens as ‘watchdogs’ on each other has served to increase the mistrust of the government as well as incite ethnic tensions. The solutions offered have included the provision of extremist views on the curriculum as a chance to challenge the taboo subject which will educate both students and teachers, a reduction in police-community programs and the creation of youth focus groups to work with regional police commissioners to have a direct input to policy and themselves become stake-holders in counter-terror policy.


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