Why we need a statutory Prevent strategy in schools

For years British academia has turned a blind eye to Islamist extremism

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From July 2015 onwards, the British government’s counter-extremism strategy Prevent became statutory for public bodies, including schools, colleges and universities. This was followed by up a speech at a school in Birmingham by David Cameron that signaled a ramping up of counter-extremism efforts across the board, including in the education sector.

In case some of you are in doubt about the importance of tackling extremism in the education sector, a letter published by the Independent offered all the proof one needs. It made a number of misleading assertions about Prevent whilst calling for it to be scrapped, and was signed by various academics and students from across the UK.

Ironically titled ‘PREVENT will have a chilling effect on open debate, free speech and political dissent’, the letter was also signed by a number of extremists including members of the fascist and theocratic group Hizb ut Tahrir (Reza Pankhurst) that seeks to create a global Islamic state that would murder homosexuals and ex-Muslims, whilst rendering non-Muslims and women second class citizens. It includes notorious hate preachers such as Haitham al Haddad who promotes FGM and believes Jewish people are the descendants of apes and pigs.

It also includes Asim Qureshi of pro-jihadist group CAGE who once said ‘We know that it is incumbent upon all of us, to support the Jihad of our brothers and sisters in these countries when they are facing the oppression of the West.’

In other words, the statement was signed by individuals who have no regard whatsoever for ‘open debate’ and ‘free speech’, and who would meet ‘political dissent’ with capital punishment in their utopia. It is signed by the very extremists the government is right to be concerned about and needs to tackle.

The fact that many British academics were prepared to co-sign a statement with such organizations and individuals illustrates the extent of the problem in British academia. For years British academia has turned a blind eye to Islamist extremism and viewed it as a new and exciting form of anti-establishment dissent with an ethnic twist. It has also been far from consistent in that far-right hate preaching is robustly challenged whilst Islamist extremism is practically celebrated.

The statement itself is littered with errors and factual inaccuracies that one would have expected academics to notice if they weren’t too busy being blinded by their political biases. It states:

The way that PREVENT conceptualises ‘radicalisation’ and ‘extremism’ is based on the unsubstantiated view that religious ideology is the primary driving factor for terrorism. Academic research suggests that social, economic and political factors, as well as social exclusion, play a more central role in driving political violence than ideology.

Indeed, ideology only becomes appealing when social, economic and political grievances give it legitimacy. Therefore, addressing these issues would lessen the appeal of ideology.

In truth, research shows that radicalisation is complex and can vary from individual to individual and over time. What is agreed is that many structural factors can contribute towards creating a climate in which certain ideologies gain appeal. The Prevent strategy documents do not suggest otherwise either. In fact, the strategy document states:

“We judge that radicalisation is driven by an ideology which sanctions the use of violence; by propagandists for that ideology here and overseas; and by personal vulnerabilities and specific local factors which, for a range of reasons, make that ideology seem both attractive and compelling.”

The personal vulnerabilities and specific local factors referenced in the document are the structural factors the letter is referring to, it is just a different choice of words. So in essence the letter constructs a straw man since no-one is suggesting ideology exists in a vacuum or operates independently of a social context.

However, the crucial point that signatories of the letter seem to omit is that when challenging extremism directly with individuals that are influenced by it one must focus on the ideology. Many people live in a social context that is conducive to certain forms of extremism and yet do not become extremists because they don’t find the ideology that seeks to construe reality through a narrow prism appealing.

So the difference between extremist and non-extremists is not always circumstances and structural factors, but attraction to an ideological narrative. That is why the challenge must start there.

Addressing structural factors is also important and, contrary to what the letter suggests, the government is cognisant of their importance. That is precisely why Cameron spoke about the importance of integration, social housing, education and other structural factors in his speech. These are, however, much more long-term challenges.

The statement goes on to say:

However, PREVENT remains fixated on ideology as the primary driver of terrorism. Inevitably, this has meant a focus on religious interaction and Islamic symbolism to assess radicalisation. For example, growing a beard, wearing a hijab or mixing with those who believe Islam has a comprehensive political philosophy are key markers used to identify ‘potential’ terrorism.

This serves to reinforce a prejudicial worldview that perceives Islam to be a retrograde and oppressive religion that threatens the West. PREVENT reinforces an ‘us’ and ‘them’ view of the world, divides communities, and sows mistrust of Muslims.

Indeed, those that view Islam as a comprehensive political philosophy, such as the Taliban, al-Qaeda, ISIS and Hizb ut Tahrir are the problem. Any attempt to build a theocratic state that imposes medieval shariah on people against their will through the threat of violence is extreme, yet we have British academics defending the idea alongside those that advocate it.

The letter is signed by individuals that genuinely believe in creating a ‘them vs us’, and have done so successfully for many years, now falsely complaining about the government doing the same.

Furthermore, the term ‘ideology’ does not necessarily translate to ‘religious interaction and Islamic symbolism’ – it is both dishonest and naïve to claim that it does. Ideologies such as Islamism are theo-political but primarily totalitarian political projects. Hence, religious symbolism by itself is not an indicator of extremism and, yet again, no-one has suggested it is. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest Prevent is focusing on those that display religious symbolism.

It gets worse:

While much of the PREVENT policy is aimed at those suspected of ‘Islamist extremism’ and far-right activity, there is genuine concern that other groups will also be affected by such policies, such as anti-austerity and environmental campaigners – largely those engaged in political dissent.

Again, there is absolutely no evidence of this happening. It is not exactly academically accurate to rely on ‘genuine concern’ since that could practically mean anything. Genuine concern from whom and based on what? The letter itself is an example of political dissent; has it been criminalized? Have the signatories been arrested? Or are they still free to complain about the oppressive state?

I could go on pointing out factual errors and inaccuracies in the statement but I think my point has been made. I doubt a single academic that signed the letter did any basic research on their extremist co-signatories or the content of the letter. They simply thought ‘this is anti-government and defending a minority so I must sign it’. This confused thinking is exactly why we need a statutory Prevent for the education sector.

Amjad Khan is a Muslim writer and commentator

10 Responses to “Why we need a statutory Prevent strategy in schools”

  1. Monkish

    These British Academics who signed the petition don’t “turn a blind eye” to Islamic exteremism. They are in favour of it. Four tenets/goals of Islamism are shared by leftist academics:

    1. Muslims are the “wretched of the earth”, the new global proletariat, from whom the Revolution will come.

    2. Islam will dismantle every means (cultural, legal, institutional) of class reproduction in Britain. Imposition of Sharia will eleminate the Toffs.

    3. The “West”, the most evil civilizational cluster in the history of man and the source of all modern ills (racism, inequality, slavery, religious bigotry etc.) must be destroyed.

    4. Israel, the purest distillation of these ills (racist, colonialist etc.), the most evil nation-state in modern history and the cause of all unrest and violence in the Middle East must be destroyed and the Jews, understood as arch capitalists, much be brought to heel.

  2. Saleem Shady

    The continuing alliance between parts of the left wing establishment in Britain, in academia and media and politics, and Islamists, is going to be catastrophic for the Left. It already is catastrophic in as much as it is leading to widespread revulsion and alienating the electorate from left wing politics, and the Labour Party. But the Left is going to become synonymous with Islamism, a far-right extremist movement, and in the end ultimately consign itself to the dustbin of history as a force that can effect progressive change. Because it has become the vessel for, and promoter of, one of the most bigoted, hateful and anti-progressive movements in the world today. We may be witnessing the death of the Left and its transformation into a dogsbody for a religious hate movement.

  3. CharleyFarleyFive

    Daily I see the same female, white, middle class, useful idiots defending and promoting Islam on the one hand whilst exploding in paroxysms of rage at the slightest hint of sexism or homophobia from fellow, non-Muslim whites.

    How they live with the hypocrisy is beyond me.

  4. Logan Hartanian

    That’s an awesome analysis! The left has embraced the right! I like that. And boy, does it fit, when it comes to Labour.

  5. Logan Hartanian

    This is more of the “complexity” gobbledygook, pushed by those who want to empower Islamic politics within Democratic countries as a means of gaining voters. A statutory prevent strategy could focus on the salient points of upending Democracy without calling it Islamism. For instance, teaching that all changes to governance, small or big, must begin with a legal bill petitioned and submitted by a representative, and specifically not with the advocacy of a new form of governance or compulsion to control government by religion, is better than tolerating street protesters who mindlessly blather that Islam is an alternative to democracy. IT IS AN ALTERNATIVE TO DEMOCRACY. But it must enter from within parliament and in small legislative parts. The hudud must begin with a bill, so it will be interesting to see how cutting off of hands is debated as a singular point within parliament. So begin there. It is after all, a healthy thing to congratulate a new immigrant from successfully escaping sharia, and then go one step further and inform of the mechanics of their new government. And further teach that all changes are incremental and with petition, discussion, and debate. It is after all, the ignorance of civics, that makes eventual turncoats of asylum seekers.

  6. Al

    I ate some halal meat the other day and am now very worried. Could Prevent let me know if this could be a gateway into jihadism? I’m starting to get worried because I’ve also started growing a beard. Perhaps if I call up Quilliam they could give me some advice?

  7. Mark

    I’m getting a teeny-tiny bit fed up with the word “ideology”. While it can refer to “something”, the something is never mentioned. It’s fanatical religion. I’m not of a religion, but I would hope that those of a religion who just “get on with things” in the UK, would recognise that they have a fanatical element, be against them, and want rid of them, like the rest of us.
    My first scary instance of fanatical religion was a street-corner shouter in my youth. You know the type, “You’re all fornicators, sinners and you’ll all go to hell if you don’t follow Jesus.” I knew it didn’t compute with any mainstream Christians I knew. I see the likes of Hizb ut Tahrir simply on that level of the street-corner shouter, but they have an organisation etc. That’s the difference.
    So why is it so difficult to cross that bridge to recognise that it is religion, albeit the fanatical kind? Has nobody ever heard of religious fanatics, or are we now all supposed to deny they have anything to do with the religion, but they have an “ideology” instead?

  8. Mike Stallard

    Amjad, isn’t this a religious problem?
    Isn’t that why the government and other organisations simply cannot understand it?
    I do not know if you are a practising Muslim, but, perhaps you believe in Allah? If you do, then do you not think that Allah is out there looking for people to accept His holy Word? Unless that desire is met, then we are going to get all sorts of aberrations.
    What we need – urgently – in schools is a religious presence, by which I mean regular opportunities (not imposed) for people who want to to worship under the guidance of approved imams, priests, ministers, religious leaders in their chosen faith. Secularists, I regard as a religious answer to a religious problem. They too should have an opportunity (instead of an imposed Assembly) to think over their position.
    At the moment all sorts of irregular people are doing this and they are making, as you so rightly point out, a complete b***s up.

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  10. petra kaliq

    If the UK govt does not abuse its powers on ‘radicalization’ it will be a first, it has and still uses its anti terror laws against any groups protesting government policies.
    What is wrong with the new legislation is that it is blaming a reaction to UK illegal wars and global violence for the actions of the UK government. After the murder of close to 1.8 million people around the world over the past ten years, surely attacks on the UK and US governments (and all NATO governments) is not a surprise, should be expected and in many cases is well deserved. When you declare war on the world and change the rules of engagement for war to be ‘against anything that threatens or might threaten NATO access to raw materials used by the US & EU’, as well as blatantly subverting the UN and ignoring the Geneva Conventions, you lose the right to expect people not to object and fight back in any way they can.
    The new UK rules are only needed because of the UKs love of global expansion, stop claiming to have a right to own the world and the world will stop fighting back

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