Prevent is an extension of political policing and will remain so until parliament defines who is and is not a domestic extremist.
Last week we learnt that a social media network for young people – ‘This is Woke’ is actually part of the covert British government counterterrorism programme, Prevent.
The saddest thing about reading the latest revelations from Middle East Eye on This Is Woke, is that I am hardly shocked by the news. Having fought for years against this counter-terror programme and its impact on community relations I am not surprised that a “news company” warning of the dangers of fake news is in fact paid for by the Home Office.
In the last few weeks, we have witnessed several instances in which the policies of the Home Office seems to be done for headline-grabbing rather than being produced as a result of serious, evidence-based research.
The corrosive effect of these Home Office-sponsored media outlets is far greater than their circulation or reach. In fact, much like the Prevent programme, they create distrust of the state in the communities they are supposed to help. Only through genuine cooperation can we help vulnerable people and communities.
It is also worrying that the running of these fake websites was entrusted on a private company, a company on which Parliament and the public have no oversight. It is a further obstacle that makes accountability difficult, if possible at all.
What issues like the anti-knife chicken boxes or the fake Muslim media outlets demonstrate is that in the drawing of Home Office policies there is still a strong racial profiling problem. Rather than seeing knife crime or extremism as a societal issue, it’s seen as a community problem and so those in charge of creating solutions produce ideas which draw on racial stereotypes – just like something straight out of The Thick Of It.
As I said in the past, Prevent is an extension of political policing and will remain so until parliament, rather than the police themselves, defines who is and is not a domestic extremist.
We are often being told about the beauty of our democracy and our democratic values. But what often seems to be forgotten by the proponents of programmes such as Prevent, is the importance that debate is supposed to have in a democratic system. Creating a wave of mass surveillance which includes the snoopers charter, extremism disruption orders and a clampdown on radical ideas, whether they are violent, or supporting fake community outlet will not resolve the root causes of extremism in our society, it will only increase the fertile ground used by violent extremist to further their causes.
We need a new approach to counter-terrorism and community relations, one in which the “us vs them” doesn’t dominate our political and security approach. Addressing the issues as related to a specific community rather than society as a whole will only enlarge the differences and divisions in society, reinforcing the extremist message that some of our young people have never been part or accepted in modern Britain.
Baroness Jenny Jones is a member of the House of Lords for the Green Party.
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