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

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.  

 

Signatures

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

 

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Yahya Birt University of Leeds

 

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Bill Bolloten Teacher and education consultant

 

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