Saturday 8 October 2016

Contesting the Prevent Strategy in Brent and the Labour Party

I haven't reported back on Monday's Time to Talk about Extremism Meeting LINK because, to be honest, it was hard to get motivated as very little happened.  The three expert speakers said not much, but at some length, and seemed curiously detached from real events on the ground.

Cllr Michael Pavey, at the time the lead Cabinet member for Stronger Communities, (I wonder who will replace him? Will the Labour Group decide or will s/he be appointed by Cllr Butt?) in his breezy way said that he would be very disappointed if Prevent made any Brent students feel they could not express themselves. There were murmers of dissent from the audience. He accepted that Prevent was not ideal but claimed, Sinatra fashion, that Brent could do it its way. Prevent was a statutory responsibility and the Counci had to comply.

Similarly in his introductory remarks Cllr Butt said that didn't like Prevent but he wanted to engage with the community and have a frank discussion about it. He also cited the statutory duty.

Interestingly, and I hope to get further information on this, a Muslim solicitor challenged Butt and Pavey saying that while it was a duty for local authorities to prevent recruitment into extremism it was not statutory that to do so they had to follow the Prevent Strategy.

A passionate speech by Humera Khan of the An-Nisa Society challenged the basis of the Prevent Strategy, its stereotyping of the Muslim community as potential terrorists, its impact on pupils' confidence in expressing their views and the failure of the Council to respond to her organisation's request for a dialogue on the issue. An-Nisa, who have been active in Brent for 30 years, run a Sunday School in Wembley that has been attended by hundreds of young people.

Most questions  and contributions from the floor were critical of the Prevent Strategy whilst also clearly opposed to young people getting involved in extremist activities (although 'extremist', 'terrorist', 'radicalisation' were never clearly defined).  Cllr Liz Dixon recognised the problems with Prevent but asked what would replace it.

In my contribution I asked how the community organisations that Brent engaged with over the strategy had been chosen, remarking that it would be a temptation to unconsciously choose those that were easiest because of existing political, religious or friendship links - ignoring those hard to reach. When Monitoring Prevent in Brent LINK had asked which organisations the Council worked with they had been told the Council were not allowed to give that information. I remarked that I was shocked to discover from members sitting at my table that the Brent Youth Parliament had not been consulted - surely given the concerns abnout young people they should have been first in line?

Cllr Pavey responded by saying that he was frustrated by the restriction on revealing who the Council engaged with and feared that fed suspicion. He said if they were allowed to reveal the information he was sure people would be reassured. He accepted the need to consult with young people through the Brent Youth Parliament - but now of course he is not in the role.

The second half of the meeting were group discussions which were reported back to the whole meeting. Most centred around enabling the different communities of Brent to speak to each other and learn from each other, engage in mutual festivals and cultural events as a way of breaking down barriers. To do this the Council should provide neutral affordable public spaces and facilities - a problem when cuts have meant that Brent Council has closed several  such spaces and others such as Granville and Carlton Centres and  Preston Community Library Hub are under threat of closure.   The young people at my table were particularly concerned about what happened in schools regarding breaking down barriers and wanted higher quality religious education as well as opportunities to meet, discuss and socialise across schools.

Chris Williams, the head of Community Safety in Brent (having previously worked for the Local Government Association and National Policing Improvement Agency), is a passionate advocate of the Prevent Strategy, often active on social media (Twitter @SaferWilliams) in its defence. He may have been disappointed that there was not a more robust defence of the Prevent Strategy at the meeting. (See his comment at the end of the Labour Against Prevent statement below).

The flip-chart recorded suggestions made at the meeting will be written up into a report to inform the Council's approach.

It will be interesting to see how Labour Party policy develops in terms of Prevent. Andy Burnham, shadow Home Secretar, was very critical and Diane Abbott has now been given his post.

A Labour Against Prevent group LINK has been formed.  I do not know how representative it is, or how much support they have, but this is what they have to say:
We are a group of Labour Party members and supporters who recognise the racist and destructive intent of the PREVENT duties, as laid out under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, and who seek to oppose and repeal them through Labour Party channels, connections, and communities.

We recognise that these duties were brought in by a Labour government under Tony Blair in response to the 2005 London bombings, with the wider intent to undermine opposition to the Iraq war and British foreign policy in the Middle East through the racist portrayal of Arabs and Muslims as inherently violent and drawn to ‘extremism,’ ‘radicalisation’ and ‘terrorism.’ The PREVENT duties are intrinsically Islamophobic as they explicitly target Muslims and those of perceived Muslim backgrounds as imminent threats to security, and falsely conflate expressions of Islam with an increased tendency towards extreme ideologies and violence. We believe that the discriminatory and repressive foundations of PREVENT present a fundamental threat to our civil liberties and, as such, we call for the full repeal of the PREVENT legislation.

We recognise that British foreign policy is a root cause of the threat of violence to Britain. We further acknowledge that violence from individuals and groups on the fascist far Right pose a severe threat to the peace and stability of Britain. The PREVENT legislation does not reflect this and, thus, we conclude that its aim is not to combat ‘terrorism,’ but rather to stifle dissent through the creation of a surveillance state by blurring the line between welfare provision and national security. Furthermore, we recognise that the continued propagation of the controversial and widely criticised PREVENT duties, brought into statutory law by the Conservative government in September 2015, is used to feed into the wider government Islamophobic narrative that seeks to deflect responsibility for the harsh austerity measures through blaming Muslims, refugees, and immigrants for the social problems caused by failing neoliberalism, economic recession and ideological cuts to welfare services.

PREVENT claims to offset the risk of terrorism by challenging its apparent roots in ‘extremist’ ideology, however this ‘conveyor belt theory’ has no empirical support and, as such, has been widely discredited. We acknowledge that there is no evidence that PREVENT actually can or has prevented acts of ‘terrorism.’ As such, we maintain that the best strategy to tackle such threats is to recognise the role of British foreign and domestic policies that target British Muslims and Islamic countries in causing disillusionment and disagreement with the British state, and to work proactively at both national and grassroots level to ensure the safeguarding and social inclusion of those disillusioned and isolated by such policies.

We recognise that the role of Labour in the Iraq war is an indelible stain on our party’s history. Furthermore, the lack of sincere apology or remorse from those responsible, the damning conclusions of the Chilcot report, and Labour’s continued neo-colonialist and oppressive policies, including the lack of any formal commitment to tackle the oppressive PREVENT legislation, and indeed the vocal support for it from many prominent Labour politicians, continue to isolate and anger our BAME members and supporters. For too long, we have taken BAME votes for granted and ploughed ahead with such policies in the knowledge that BAME members sympathetic to the Labour Party will continue to vote for us. This is not good enough. We must work for these communities, as we work for all others. We must recognise the wrongdoings of Labour, apologise and work to rectify them and to support our members in the face of state sponsored racism. We therefore call on all Labour members and representatives to join us in our fight to for anti-racism and equality, to oppose and undermine this legislation at every opportunity, and to ultimately force the reppeal of the PREVENT legislation. 

What is Prevent?

• ‘PREVENT’ refers to Section 26 of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act of 2015 that contains a duty on specified authorities – including local authorities, government departments, and ‘education, criminal justice, faith, charities, online and health sectors’ – to have ‘due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.’
• PREVENT is a key component of the Government’s 2011 Counter-Terrorism Strategy, known as CONTEST. It builds on the previous PREVENT strategy brought in by Tony Blair’s Labour Government after the London bombings in 2005. It is a dangerous form of intelligence gathering directed at individuals who are, by definition, not suspected of involvement in criminal activity.
• The PREVENT strategy has been widely criticised for its McCarthyist tendencies to cast all Muslims and those of perceived Muslim background as a suspect community, and particularly for its use of ambiguous and politically charged language – notably British ‘values,’ ‘radicalisation,’ and ‘extremism’ – that are routinely and intentionally weaponised by the state for its own political ends.
• The government can provide no legal definitions for such terms that do not contravene basic freedoms of speech and thought. As such, their definitions remain vague and open to abuse, enabling the government to control the language and debate surrounding Islamic ‘extremism,’ and thus to adapt its definition to suit its political agenda.
• Training ranges from e-learning, private or in-house trainers, to a government DVD and script based training programme known as WRAP (Workshop to Raise Awareness of Prevent).
• The success of PREVENT is difficult to measure as it seeks to tackle the cause of ‘terrorism’ before the act occurs. However, it is widely accepted that there is no evidence to demonstrate any link between religious or ‘extreme’ ideology and acts of terrorism.

Our Aims:
• To pass motions at our local Constituency Labour Parties to put the fight back against the PREVENT laws on the national Labour Party agenda with the ultimate aim of gaining a commitment from the Labour Party to repeal the racist PREVENT agenda in its manifesto for the next general election.
• To lobby our MPs and councils to support our cause through advocacy, protests, policy motions, and public statements of support. MPs such as Jeremy Corbyn and Andy Burnham have already indicated their adversity to PREVENT, we demand a full and public commitment from all Labour MPs to oppose, undermine, and repeal these laws entirely.
• To work with Labour Party members, Trades Unions, and local communities through meetings, conferences, workshops, lobbying, trainings, and protests to demand full transparency and accountability in the implementation of the PREVENT policy in the different local institutions and sectors, and to combat the implementation of PREVENT through disengagement and boycott of the duties.
 Chris Williams Have you thought about learning about Prevent? How it doesn't use the conveyor belt theory? How it's a safeguarding process, designed to protect people who are vulnerable to being radicalised because (in many cases) they have mental illness or learning difficulties? How it works with this vulnerable to ALL forms of radicalisation including far-right (by far the majority in some parts of the country)? Or that hundreds of vulnerable people have been protected from travelling to join ISIS in Syria - and therefore saving lives?

Let me know if you need any info


Anonymous said...

'it is widely accepted that there is no evidence to demonstrate any link between religious or ‘extreme’ ideology and acts of terrorism'.
This is the sort of statement which would be made by someone who Googles < evidence of link between religious or ‘extreme’ ideology and acts of terrorism>, finds no accredited study there and concludes that therefore no link exists. They'd get the same result if they Googled < evidence of link between being an extremely rich narcissist called Donald Trump and being an arsehole'. Intelligent observation gives you all the evidence you need in both instances.

Chris said...

I feel like I've finally arrived in Brent when I get a namecheck in Wembley Matters...sadly it's out of date by six months. I left Brent in April and now work to help the Home Office engage better with local authorities on the delivery of the Prevent Duty (which, sadly for your lawyer friend, is indeed a statutory obligation - s29 of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act enables the Home Sec to issue statutory guidance (eg things which must be done), which in this case is the Prevent Strategy).

One of the reasons I'm so passionate in my advocacy of Prevent is because I can see that there is a link between the anti-Prevent propaganda spouted by certain groups and vulnerable people being increasingly at risk of radicalisation.

If you are constantly told that Prevent is some bogeyman designed to alienate Muslim communities and shut down free speech, then that will feed into your acceptance of conspiracy theories about wicked Western governments and plays into the hands of those who would seek to radicalise you – and perhaps spirit you away to Syria, or encourage you to undertake a random attack in a tube station, for example.

That’s why it’s so important that those of us charged with safeguarding the vulnerable have dialogue like that Brent has begun. I’m not saying it’s perfect, but it’s a start.
Your readout of the event was really interesting. It saddens me to hear some of the same mistaken rhetoric played out and go largely unchallenged.

One thing stands out, though; the identification of community groups operating in Brent on Prevent. A few years ago there was a brilliant Prevent project working with young people, recent refugees from a troubled part of Asia, to help explore their feelings and attitudes (creating a safe space, one might say…). The project was challenging but this marginalised group really gained from it. I asked the co-ordinator if he’d consider doing some positive communications about the project:

“No, we can’t. There are so many influential people in the community who hate Prevent that we would become outcasts if they knew we were doing this work.”

Multiply that by every project in every Prevent area in the country. That’s why government don’t release details – because the project providers ask them not to. They are afraid of a backlash from groups who don’t take the time to learn that Prevent is about safeguarding, not spying.

I’m always happy to answer questions on Prevent, here or via my Twitter feed. I believe that the more people who really understand what it’s about, the better the outcomes for vulnerable people in Brent and across the country.