PREVENT will have a chilling effect on open debate, free speech and political dissent

The latest addition to the United Kingdom’s counter-terrorism framework remains fixated on ideology as the primary driver of terrorism

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The Independent Online

We, the undersigned, take issue with the government’s Prevent strategy and its statutory implementation through the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 for the following reasons:

1. The latest addition to the United Kingdom’s counter-terrorism framework comes in the form of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTS Act). The CTS Act has placed PREVENT on a statutory footing for public bodies to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism by tackling what is claimed to be ‘extremist ideology’. In practice, this will mean that individuals working within statutory organisations must report individuals suspected of being ‘potential terrorists’ to external bodies for ‘de-radicalisation’.

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. Without due reconsideration of PREVENT’s poor reputation, the police and government have attempted to give the programme a veneer of legitimacy by expressing it in the language of ‘safeguarding’. Not only does this depoliticise the issue of radicalisation, it shifts attention away from grievances that drive individuals towards an ideology that legitimises political violence.

6. PREVENT will have a chilling effect on open debate, free speech and political dissent. It will create an environment in which political change can no longer be discussed openly, and will withdraw to unsupervised spaces. Therefore, PREVENT will make us less safe. 

7. We believe that PREVENT has failed not only as a strategy but also the very communities it seeks to protect. Instead of blindly attempting to strengthen this project, we call on the government to end its ineffective PREVENT policy and rather adopt an approach that is based on dialogue and openness.  



Signing with institution name is for identification purposes and not for institutional endorsement.

Prof. Baroness Ruth Lister Loughborough University and House of Lords


Karen Armstrong OBE Author and Historian of Religion


Prof. Paddy Hillyard Queen’s University, Belfast


Prof. Tariq Ramadan University of Oxford 


Prof. Humayun Ansari Royal Holloway University


Prof. David Miller University of Bath


Prof. John L Esposito Georgetown University


Prof. Laleh Khalili School of Oriental and African Studies


Prof. Arun Kundnani New York University


Prof. Augustine John University College London Institute of Education


Prof. Gargi Bhattacharyya University of East London


Prof. Tariq Modood University of Bristol


Prof. Robert Gleave University of Exeter


Prof. Bill Bowring Birkbeck College


Prof. John Holmwood University of Nottingham


Prof. Richard Jackson University of Otago


Prof. Gurminder Bhambra University of Warwick


Prof. Marie Breen-Smyth University of Surrey


Prof. Richard Tapper School of Oriental and African Studies


Prof. Urfan Khaliq Cardiff University


Prof. Julian Petley Brunel University


Prof. David Boucher Cardiff University


Prof. Tim Jacoby University of Manchester


Prof. David Whyte University of Liverpool


Prof. Imran B Chaudhry University of Manchester


Prof. Eric Herring University of Bristol


Prof. Arshin Adib-Moghaddam School of Oriental and African Studies


Prof. Bob Brecher University of Brighton


Prof. Ian Stronach Liverpool Hope University


Prof. Debbie Epstein University of Roehampton


Prof. Jeremy Keenan School of Oriental and African Studies


Prof. Adam Gearey Birkbeck College


Prof. Hilary Povey Sheffield Hallam University


Prof. Peter Hallward Kingston University


Prof. Basia Spalek University of Derby


Prof. John O Voll Georgetown University


Dr Tarak Barkawi London School of Economics and Political Science


Abdoolkarim Vakil King’s College London


Asim Qureshi CAGE


Dr Lucy Delap University of Cambridge


Dr Jim Wolfreys King’s College London


Dr Rizwaan Sabir Edge Hill University


Dr Katy Sian University of Manchester


Dr Salman Sayyid University of Leeds


Dr Anna Bull King’s College London


Yahya Birt University of Leeds


Dr Sadek Hamid Liverpool Hope University


Dr Kalpana Wilson London School of Economics and Political Science


Dr Fauzia Ahmad University of Bristol


Bill Bolloten Teacher and education consultant


Dr Nisha Kapoor University of York


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Dr Charlotte Heath-Kelly University of Warwick


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Dr Ian Patel Independent researcher


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Dr Andy Higginbottom Kingston University and KU UCU 


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Dr Samuel Solomon University of Sussex


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Dr Sarah Ilott Teesside University


Dr Anna Ball Nottingham Trent University


Dr Ziba Mir-Hosseini School of Oriental and African Studies


Dr Louise Purbrick University of Brighton


Dr Muhammad G Khan Ruskin College, Oxford  


Dr Iona Heath Former President of the Royal College of General Practitioners


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Dr Thomas Gregory University of Aukland


Anisa Mustafa University of Nottingham


Milly Williamson Brunel University


Fatima Rajina School of Oriental and African Studies


Ali R Chaudhary University of Oxford


Liam McCann University of Lincoln


Layli Uddin Royal Holloway


Christopher Olley King’s College London


Randy Banks University of Essex


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Alejandro Forero Cuéllar University of Barcelona


Julie Ward Member of European Parliament for North West England


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Anjum Anwar Women’s Voice


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Gillian Klein Race Equality Teaching


Martin Spafford Retired History teacher


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Lewis Hendon-John Brighton and Sussex Medical School


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Thomas Martin University of Sussex


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Sitara Akram University of Leeds


Pallavi Mittra                               University of Strathclyde


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