Saturday, 19 December 2015

A critical approach to Prevent in Brent

Following on from the Public Meeting on 'Prevent in Brent' on December 10th I accompanied members of An-Nisa Society to a meeting on Tuesday December 15th with Cllr Muhammed Butt, Leader of Brent Council, Cllr Harbi Farah and Chris Williams, Brent Council Head of Community Safety to express our concerns. This was the day after Brent Council Cabinet had approved the 'Stronger Communities Strategy' LINK  and just before the GLA Policing and Crime Committee issued its critical report on Prevent. LINK

An An-Nisa Society spokesperson issued the following statement after the meeting:
There was a frank exchange of views when we met with Cllr Butt and we made it clear that we thought the Prevent Strategy should be abolished and that a strong statement should be made by Brent Council about its short comings.

The top-down whole community model stereotypes the entire Muslim community, makes it open to surveillance and increases Islamophobia. Naturally this produces suspicion and fear and undermines an individual’s sense of self and belonging. We believe the emphasis should be on developing social cohesion and tackling inequality - not creating social division. While recognising this, Muhammed Butt said that the Council was limited by its statutory obligation and the threat of government takeover of local implementation if the borough was deemed not to be delivering Prevent properly.

The Council was not able to modify the WRAP (Workshop Raising Awareness of Prevent) training and had to keep secret much of their Prevent work. This lack of transparency is a concern we raised at the meeting and at the Public Event.

Arising from the meeting Muhammed Butt promised to issue a public statement on Prevent and to invite the Monitoring Prevent in Brent organisers to address cabinet and senior officers on their concerns. He would also help facilitate a meeting with Brent headteachers.
On Wednesday December 16th, Cllr James Denselow, Lead Member for Stronger Communities, published the following blog on the Brent Council website LINK :
The threat of terrorism isn’t new to Londoners but is now fresh in our minds following the rise of the self-proclaimed ‘Islamic State’ and the Paris attacks and the stabbing at Leytonstone tube station. 

Cases in the courts and in the news have highlighted Brits travelling abroad to receive terrorist training. 
We’re now awake to the concept of ‘lone-wolf’ attacks, by people radicalised over the Internet without having any solid links to organised extremist networks.

It’s worth remembering that there is as much of a difference between Islamic extremist terrorism and the faith of the vast majority of Muslims as there is between the Ku Klux Klan’s cross-burning lynching parties and your local Christian vicar’s tea party and charity tombola.

In addition to the threat of terrorism there is also the challenge of the pernicious growth in the number of random anti-Muslim attacks in the UK in the aftermath of extremist incidents.  
Let’s call them what they are – hate crimes.

Brent is Britain’s most diverse borough, so this isn’t an abstract worry for us – it is real, and immediate. In the 12 months up to this October, there were 509 racist and religious hate crimes recorded in Brent, up from 460 the previous year.  Ten a week makes this a substantial issue.
This is an issue all across London, and Brent is still a safe and welcoming place to live, with crime rates falling.  We’re determined to maintain and enhance that.

We know how events that happen on the streets of Raqqa can travel around the world from Syria to our part of North West London within minutes.  Social media and 24 hours rolling news have made a big world feel very small sometimes.

The risk of hidden extremism in our neighbourhoods is painfully real.  It’s no good just wringing our hands – it’s the job of those of us elected to public office to do something about this.

At a national government level, the strategy designed to stop individuals being radicalised, whether from right-wing extremists or, so-called, Islamic extremists is called Prevent, and it’s our legal duty as a local council to cooperate with central government, the police and others to advance its objectives.

It’s important though to remember that Prevent is not just about Islamic Extremism – it tackles radicalisation from whatever direction, including far-right extremism.  Indeed, around 30 per cent of ‘Channel’ cases (catching signs of extremism early amongst young people) are about far-right activity.

As ever, when there’s a tricky issue, the first step is to acknowledge that there is something real that needs to be dealt with.  Ignoring one wrong in the process of tackling a second wrong has never worked well in the long-term.

Whilst public services have a central role in dealing with these issues, we can’t deal with them on our own.  We need local communities, neighbourhoods, families and individuals to come together to tackle extremism, together.

We need communities – and faith groups in particular – to acknowledge that religious extremism is a real issue, and that some young people are at risk of being attracted to it.  We need this to be talked about in community centres – and yes, in Mosques too.  We need to challenge extremism if and when we hear it.  Many of our faith leaders are already leading the way.

We need families to accept that they have a responsibility too.  Do you know where your children are and what they’re up to?  Are they falling in with the wrong crowd?  Are they being taken advantage of, groomed even?  It happens rarely, but it should be as worrying if your child was being groomed and lured into religious extremism as if they were being groomed for drugs, gang violence or sexual exploitation.  Sadly, too often several of these threats go hand in hand.

It’s our job to support communities and families in this.

If a community leader has a concern, they need to know there is someone they can go to who will take their concern seriously, and look into it, but without overreacting.

If a family member or a neighbour has a concern about a young person being led astray, they need to know there is someone they can speak to who can offer practical help, but without labelling them a bad parent or their child a criminal.

We need to work harder, but we need this to be matched increasingly by our communities and every individual playing their part. 

Considering this all together, that’s why we’re trying something genuinely new here in Brent.

In our Stronger Communities Strategy which we agreed this week, we’re not just doing more of the same.
We’re not turning our back on Prevent – but we want to go much further, and to build an approach that our community owns and engages with, not one that some feel is being done to them by a distant government that doesn’t understand.

Our new approach in going further is to say to our communities: we’ll work with you to construct your own solutions.  If you’re uncomfortable feeling that you’re being done to – now’s the chance to take control and ownership yourselves.

This model of co-production has worked well in other areas of social policy – but this is the first time such an approach is being taken on the streets of London to an issue like tackling violent extremism.
In the meantime, we need all to accept responsibility for challenging anti-Muslim prejudice and violence.  Not only is it just plain wrong, but it also does more harm than good – throwing up barriers between communities that we ought instead to be breaking down.

Problems this big require solutions just as big.  These are problems that affect all of us, so we all need to be part of the solution too.

Let’s start by talking about it.

This does not amount to a 'strong statement on the short-comings of the Prevent Strategy but perhaps that is still to come.  There is certainly much to discuss, including addressing the issue of a community feeling under surveillance.  This is from the Brent Stronger Communities Strategy about the 'Community Champions' Brent intends to recruit:
The new Community Champions will form part of a small network of non-statutory partners who will help other partners to act as eyes and ears in the community relaying messages in both directions.
It is interesting to recall that in the 1980s the tabloid press railed against 'Spies in the classroom' when Brent Council 's DPRE was attempting to challenge racism in education. Now some are seeing the Prevent Strategy as a spying system with teachers and social workers in the role of intelligence officers.

In her statement on the GLA Committee report, Green Assembly Member Jenny Jones aid:
[Prevent] may hinder the development of the counter-narrative in classrooms and colleges as communities withdraw from discussions in those controlled spaces.
Meanwhile Monitoring Prevent in Brent will continue its work. It can be found on Facebook HERE

1 comment:

  1. Denselow needs an editor ......

    ReplyDelete