On 7 June 2011 the Home Secretary, the Rt. Hon. Theresa May MP, announced the result of the Government’s review of the Prevent strategy. Four documents were published, all of which can be downloaded free from the Home Office website. They are:
Prevent Strategy – 113 pages
Prevent Review: Summary of Responses to the Consultation – 24 pages
Report to the Home Secretary of Independent Oversight of Prevent Review and Strategy by Lord Carlile – 13 pages
Prevent Strategy: Equality Impact Assessment – 16 pages
This statement was written after reading all of the documents, and we urge all members and supporters to read the documents for themselves before reaching any conclusions regarding Prevent.
Our country faces terrorist threats of many kinds. Northern Ireland-related terrorism led to over 3,500 deaths between 1969 and 1998 and some deaths are still occurring. There are 17 people serving prison sentences for terrorism related offences who are known associates of right wing groups. There have also been other types of terrorist groups. However the greatest danger we face comes from Al Qa’ida, its affiliates and like-minded terrorist organisations inspired by violent Islamism. Of the 115 terrorist offenders currently in custody in England and Wales, 79 are associated with these groups. Accordingly most, but not all, of the Prevent review has focused on this most serious threat.
Although the implementation of the strategy is difficult, the goal of Prevent is very simple. It is to prevent people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism.
The Prevent Strategy document explains what has been learned about how individuals are radicalised into becoming terrorists. At the heart of the radicalisation process is Al Qaeda’s ideology, as summarised in paragraph 8.11 of the main document:
The ideology associated with Al Qa’ida and like-minded groups proposes that most governments in Muslim majority countries are ‘un-Islamic’ or ‘apostate’. It calls for their overthrow by jihad and for the imposition of new governments, (and ultimately a pan-Islamic Caliphate) based on a very specific interpretation of Islamic law. The ideology claims that these ‘apostate’ regimes have been supported and in some cases occupied by western states that are waging a war on Islam. It proposes that violent jihad and terrorism against these states are not only legitimate but a religious duty. It makes no distinction between civilian and military targets.
There is extensive research quoted in the strategy review which demonstrates that many of the people who become terrorists are first influenced by extremist groups. While respecting the right to free speech, the Government will challenge the ideology of extremist organisations, and will ensure that it does not inadvertently give them any funding. As a departure from previous practice, it does not regard it as sensible to try to use “non-violent extremists” to prevent people becoming terrorists. Extremists are defined for this purpose as people who do not subscribe to mainstream British values, which are set out explicitly in paragraph 6.60:
We are concerned that insufficient attention has been paid to whether these organisations comprehensively subscribe to what we would consider to be mainstream British values: democracy, rule of law, equality of opportunity, freedom of speech and the rights of all men and women to live free from persecution of any kind.
The documents make it clear that the overwhelming majority of British Muslims do not support terrorism. The review criticises the implementation of Prevent under the previous government, as many aspects of the implementation could be taken as stigmatising the Muslim community. The need to avoid this comes out strongly in the Equality Impact Assessment. As part of the strategy review, there was a public consultation including an on-line survey; the CMF Vice Chairman contributed to this public consultation and we assume other CMF members did also. The Equality Impact Assessment states:
When respondents were asked whether the proposed strategy would have a negative impact on religion/belief, the majority of respondents (59%) answered yes – the strategy would have a negative impact on religion/belief.
This category is the strongest area whereby online respondents envisaged a negative impact of the strategy.
When asked whether the proposed strategy would have a positive impact on religion/belief, the majority (57%) answered no – the strategy would not have a positive impact on religion/belief.
The main theme dominating the online comments in terms of perceived negative impact of the Prevent strategy on race/religion/ belief, was that the previous Prevent strategy was too Islam focused and only aimed at Muslims. Respondents felt strongly that the focus on Al Qa’ida-influenced terrorism had led to the stigmatising and stereotyping of Muslims, especially those of South Asian (e.g. Pakistani), Middle Eastern and African descent.
The previous implementation of Prevent conflated preventing people from becoming terrorists with general work on community cohesion. This led to confusion and increased the risk of the community cohesion programmes causing stigmatisation. Under the new approach, Prevent will be led entirely by the Home Office, while all community cohesion programmes will be led by the Department of Communities and Local Government, and will not be part of Prevent.
The CMF considers that the review will considerably improve the Prevent programme, will do what it can to assist the Government, and calls upon all British citizens to do the same.