The Network For Police Monitoring (Netpol) have launched a new way for opponents of Prevent, the government’s ‘anti-radicalisation’ programme, to make a public stand against its draconian surveillance methods, stigmatization of political dissent and disproportionate targeting of Muslim communities. CAAT is proud to be one of many organisations to join ‘Together against Prevent’ and stand in opposition to the flawed assumptions behind this discredited approach to countering terrorism.
Launched in 2006, Prevent is a central part of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy. The government says it “aims to stop people becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism”, but others see it as a domestic spying programme, collecting intelligence about the thoughts and beliefs of individuals, overwhelmingly British Muslims, who are not involved in criminal activity. Much of this information has been gathered by schools, youth projects, religious and voluntary groups, either under intense pressure from the police or as a condition of the £140 million of funding attached to Prevent. An increasing number of organisations wanted no part in what was previously a voluntary programme, so the government has placed it on a statutory footing with the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act, which received Royal Assent in February 2015.
Along with the other groups signing up to ‘Together against Prevent’, CAAT rejects the rhetorical use of the term ‘extremist’ to stigmatize activists and criminalise communities. Extremism is vaguely defined in the original Prevent guidance as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”. But, even a brief reading of the legislation shows it to completely undermine all of these principles. Far from protecting our democracy, the Prevent strategy is a clear attack on it, which threatens to curtail our civil liberties and freedom of thought.
The government claims that initiatives like Prevent are necessary for national security, yet it continues to promote arms sales to anyone who will buy and refuses to address genuine threats like inequality and climate change. Against the backdrop of the UK’s heavily militaristic foreign policy, racially targeted initiatives like Prevent are likely to only increase tensions and close the space for important debate. CAAT strongly supports Netpol’s campaign to bring groups together to stand against this blatant attack on democracy.
Organisations supporting ‘Together Against Prevent’ have agreed the following statement:
- We recognise and condemn the damage that Prevent’s “spot the potential terrorist” approach has made primarily in stigmatising and criminalising entire Muslim communities, but also to a growing number of political activists and campaigners labelled with ill-defined terms like “non-violent extremist” or “domestic extremist”.
- We view Prevent as a policy that is based on insufficient evidence to support the flawed assumption that ‘extremist’ ideology opposed to subjective ‘British values’ is the single most important cause of terrorism. We therefore support closer collaboration between different campaigning, religious and community organisations to call on the government to end its Prevent strategy.
- We support and encourage more political debate in schools, colleges and universities and reject attempts to close down and censor dissenting voices. We welcome open discussion with all young people about potentially radical ideas and call on all educational institutions to vigorously defend the right to free academic inquiry on issues considered ‘controversial’.
- We pledge to take no Prevent funds and support non-cooperation, wherever possible, with local Prevent programmes.