Comment: Why it’s time to get rid of Prevent

Cameron's strategy rests on the assumption that there is a conveyer belt which takes people along a path from extremist views to violent acts


The sharp end of the government’s approach to combating ‘extremism’ within our schools, universities, hospitals and public services is called Prevent. It is designed to stop people becoming ‘radicalised’ and to identify those who could potentially become home grown terrorists, or join an armed struggle overseas. It is primarily, but not exclusively, aimed at the Muslim community.

The problem is that Prevent has clearly become a counterproductive toxic brand, which the government has constantly had to tweak and reform in the hope of gaining acceptability.

There are many ways in which Prevent could be improved and made more effective, but I still think it needs to be dumped as a dangerous departure from the democratic values that it is meant to be defending?

Getting rid of Prevent would enable us to deal with the two key problems, but I would like to treat them as separate problems. How to deal with people promoting intolerance, violent change and anti-democratic values? How to deal with vulnerable people who get attracted to the terrorist cause?

The police and security services have been given the go ahead to include myself and many other innocent people in their definition of domestic extremists. School children come under suspicion for wearing Free Palestine badges and saying ‘l’ecoterrorisme’ in a French class.

I completely accept that there are safeguards in the current Prevent system but these could be easily removed by a draconian government out to suppress dissenting views and protest.

Prevent is part of a wave of mass surveillance which includes the snoopers charter, extremism disruption orders and a clamp down on radical ideas, whether they are violent, or non-violent.

It doesn’t matter if people are careful to preach non-violence, in the world of David Cameron, radicalisation inevitably leads to Syria, or a tube bomb on 7/7. He uses this logic to justify the creation of an infrastructure of state-employed spies which the Stasi would be proud of.

Peter Tatchell has argued that instead of being focused upon people with ‘extremist’ views tipping over into terrorist acts, we need a program of citizenship and human rights in all our schools and colleges to help inoculate young people against ideas based upon intolerance and violent change. I think we should broaden this to provide a robust case for democratic values.

For example, we could cover the failures of caliphate states, in the way our history books already cover the failure of fascist and totalitarian systems. Of course, we shouldn’t be afraid to explore the flaws in our own system, which is after all, the best democracy that money can buy.

Getting rid of Prevent would enable us to deal with the two key problems, but I would like to treat them as separate problems. How to deal with people promoting intolerance, violent change and anti-democratic values? How to deal with vulnerable people who are attracted to the terrorist cause?

We should encourage debate and argue it out. Our teachers should teach and encourage, rather than referring students who express ‘dangerous’ and dissenting views.

If we want to defend modern democratic values then we should rigorously apply all the existing equalities legislation and clamp down on hate speech. Some of the Islamic preachers attending events at British universities have horrible views on homosexuality, women’s rights and Jewish people.

Those views and the people giving them a platform need to be challenged, but that challenge should be led by the other students and academics, with the legislation providing back-up in the very worst cases.

We have to face up to the debate about religion and its role in our society. When people have stresses and problems in their lives they can often turn to religion to help them sort those issues out, but they can also vote, join trade unions, form pressure groups and self-organise. Religion is one form of identity; in a democracy we also have the right to have many others.

All of the discussion so far has rested upon the assumption that there is a conveyer belt which takes people along a path from extremist views to violent acts. Prevent aims to disrupt that flow by depriving radical preachers and ‘extremist’ organisations of a platform for their ideas. It also aims to identify young people who are on that path to violence.

However, most of the academic evidence says the conveyer belt doesn’t exist, from analysis by the MI5 behavioural unit to civil service briefings to government. I may be wrong and I would be interested in listening to any updated research, but it appears that people advocating violent change are as likely to prefer a version of our democratic system as they do Sharia Law.

There are a lot of good reasons for teaching citizenship and tolerance, but preventing terrorism may not be one of them.

Some of the 22 factors considered in the multi-agency Channel Board assessment are nothing to do with ideologies, but are about dealing with a lot of social and personal factors which have had an impact.

These are straight forward ‘safeguarding’ factors and the Birmingham Prevent scheme I visited recently provided some good illustrations of a multi-agency approach to dealing with the ‘whole person’.

If we dump Prevent and all its ideological baggage, then extending a teachers duty of care to cover children in danger of being sucked into a culture of political violence, is both less toxic and more effective. Professionals within the education system are generally sensible people who care about the student’s futures.

Give them reassurances that any student referrals won’t end up on an MI5 database and they will deal with it the same way they deal with child abuse, domestic violence, racism, severe bullying and the long list of other issues which are a regular part of their professional lives.

I agree that this whole debate should be about promoting British values, I just don’t trust this government to understand what they really mean and to protect them. We have to stop simply reacting and start thinking about an alternative: what do we value, and how are we going to cheer about it?

Jenny Jones is a member of the London Assembly for the Green Party. Follow her on Twitter

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15 Responses to “Comment: Why it’s time to get rid of Prevent”

  1. Roy

    It always puzzles me why so-called ‘progressive’ leftwingers choose to support a homophobic, misogynist, illiberal and violent religion based culture.

  2. Green Politics makes sense

    Because that violent religion based culture hates the same thing they do: us.

  3. Michaelinlondon1234

    Cameron likes drooping bombs on people and changing other peoples governments violently. Nothing left wing about him.
    He is a self declared Friends of Israel supporter trying to convince the UK to slaughter its way in to Syria and install a pro 5 eyes government. And he does not care how much destruction and death is caused to do it.

  4. Green Politics makes sense

    Nice tangent.

  5. jj

    So what is your ultimate plan then Jennie? Just let terrorists get away with it. It is strategies like the one you moan about which have actually prevented many possible attacks from occurring, if a few people are offended by the state looking after our security, then let them be offended, that’s their problem.

  6. jj

    So does Russia, and it is actually decimating ISIS


    The only way to defeat Islamists in Britain is to deport them to their place of origin. They will never accept any measures to stop Jihadists. They want Sharia and dictatorship.

  8. Michaelinlondon1234

    I will give you a good example of scams.
    In Lebanon in 2011 when the UK first started pushing hard on its regime change agenda the UN tried to move in to Lebanon. Before conflict there use to be about 400,000 that wold come across the border to do seasonal work.
    When the UN came in, they signed all the Syrians up. Including the seasonal labour. So they could do propaganda.
    Within 2 years people were buses over the border so they could collect free money and then head back.
    At the same time the US dumped 230,000 tones of GM wheat on the Lebanese market….Paid the local millers to mill it. Which destroyed the market place for Syrian product. To compound it the following planting season some tried to plant the GMO seed with disastrous consequences..the crops failed because they were not suited to local conditions.
    Hope you enjoyed part of the tale of what we have done.
    What have we done in the society that was actualy good….We started them planting trees.
    UK government did a water survey of contaminates. (I can not find the published data)

  9. Michaelinlondon1234

    We could always sterilise every one who wants to migrate to the UK.


    Just stopping the migration is sufficient however if you are into sterilisation then so be it.

  11. Michaelinlondon1234

    Theoretical I wonder how many would migrate here if that was the condition of entry.
    I think it is a bit extreme…….
    But perhaps we should spread rumours?

  12. Lefty Tosser

    It’s hard to take a Green politician seriously on ‘counter-terrorism’ when it it is offical Green policy to decriminalise membership of Al-Qaeda and other known terrorist organisations. In essence, if you willfully join and propagate for an organisation that has murdered civilians, British or not, a Green government would not care in the least; hell, they’d probably give you some kind of community service award.

    Most of this it seems is written in bad faith and ridden with contradictions; schools need to teach “democratic values”, but our country is “the best democracy that money can buy”, which from Jones’ own point of view therefore negates the idea that it can actually impart any so-called democratic values. So which is it? It can’t be both. Further to this, we should use “existing equalities legislation and clamp down on hate speech”, but at the same time the “challenge [to hate speech] should be led by the other students and academics”, so again, which is it? Is free speech to allow a real debate allowed, or will Jones invoke the law to stop Islamic preachers spreading hatred, which in turn negates the whole point of this article of protesting the government getting too involved in policing education? Or would these poor, pitiful Muslim extremists be being persecuted for their beliefs, again entailing a complete contradiction?

    But at the end of the day, none of this is about finding the best way to stop and oppose terrorism; it’s about normalising as part of public discourse an habitually violent ideology that informs a very very slim yet very vocal column of British Muslims.

    Save yourself anymore stupidity, and go read Ed Husain’s The Islamist to see how radicalisation actually occurs/red.

  13. Dave Stewart

    Where in the article above does it suggest the author supports homophobic, misogynist, illiberal and violent religion based culture?

    It does not. It clearly says these things are to be challenged. Well the first parts, people are free to have a religion if they choose to.

    I think the nuance in this article appears to have passed you by. The argument is simple, we need to challenge people who preach hatred a violence but the best way is for civil society to challenge it but the law is there if needed.

    The main thrust here is that the current approach to countering these problems is counter productive, illiberal and feeds into the hands of those who want to radicalise people. Saying what we’re currently doing isn’t working and suggesting ways that it might be improved is in no way the same as saying that the author supports homophobic, misogynist, illiberal and violent religion based culture.

    I’m sure you know this of course but have chosen to ignore it.

  14. madasafish

    “I agree that this whole debate should be about promoting British values”

    I Agree.
    So let’s stop all inhumane killing of animals by various religions.
    And actively stop segregation of men and women in public meetings.
    Promote tolerance by prosecuting ALL who make threats of violence and death against others.
    And close down all religious meetings which actively promote actions contrary to the above.

  15. madasafish

    The July bombers were born in the UK.. So deport them to their place of origin? The UK..

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