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Islamic radicalization and terror attacks have become critical problems in recent years. Remarkably, various countries, including the U.S., the U.K., and Spain among others have experienced multiple terror attacks, thereby prompting these countries to implement strict countermeasures. The 2005 London attack underlined the need for the U.K. government to execute comprehensive counterterrorism strategies to combat the menace. Unlike the 9/11 attacks that were perpetrated by foreigners, terror attacks in the U.K. were conducted by people who grew up in the country. As a result, the government realized the need to develop approaches that would combat homegrown terrorism. ‘Prevent’ strategy is among the strategies that the U.K. government adopted to achieve this feat. Remarkably, this framework was designed to prevent radicalization and supporting terrorism. This technique was developed in 2003, but it has been reviewed severally to encompass a wide range of areas, including health, education, and criminal justice among others. Remarkably, this approach has been targeted to areas that are at a high risk of radicalization.
Prevent, however, has received notable opposition, with some critics describing the need for the redefinition of radicalization to prevent the misrepresentation of activism as radicalization. Furthermore, this program has been linked with increased discrimination, profiling, and stereotyping of the Muslim community.
The dictionary defines prevent as stopping something from happening. In this context, prevent can be described as the act of stopping people, particularly U.K. citizens, from becoming terrorists or supporting terror activities. Extremism can be defined as the act of holding extreme political or religious ideologies. In the context of Prevent, extremism is defined as vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs (Dudenhoefer 2018, p. 162). Terrorism, on the other hand, is described as the illegal utilisation of violence and intimidation against people in pursuit of religious or political interests. Notably, various scholars have invested considerable efforts to discern between terrorism and extremism. These words have been used interchangeably, but it is essential to note that they differ significantly. Primarily, not all extremist groups engage in terror or violent activities.
In contrast, all terror groups are linked to intimidations and violent actions against the public. Nonetheless, both events pose significant threats to the populace, and hence, there is a need to formulate and execute effective measures to combat both. Extremism represents a form of radicalisation, and hence, the Prevent technique also be used to tackle it.
Challenges and contestation
The term pre-criminal space has been mentioned severally in the Prevent framework document. While this phrase remains undefined, evidence from the quotes where it has been mentioned indicates that it is an essential signifier of interventions being implemented by the U.K. government to identify individuals that are at a high risk of becoming terrorists (Dudenhoefer 2018, p. 154). As previously mentioned, Prevent strategy has been expanded to include areas such as education and healthcare organizations among others. Remarkably, these areas have been highlighted as main target areas that terrorists can target through radicalization to advance their interests. The Prevent approach has been executed in learning institutions with an increased focus on Muslim students to cushion them from being radicalized. As such, it can be contended that the program was explicitly targeted at the Muslim community in the U.K. The Channel program, which was launched as part of the Prevent initiative and aimed at offering support during early stages to people who are viewed as being at risk to engage in terrorism highlights the concept of pre-criminal space and measures that have been adopted by the government to combat terrorism. The project was initially launched as a voluntary scheme where participants could engage willingly but were eventually established as a statutory requirement when the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 was formulated. This program requires cooperation between multiple agencies, including Channel agencies, law enforcement, and other institutions that harbour vulnerable individuals. Channel programs have been prioritized in areas where terror groups and their sympathizers are active, which implies that Muslim communities are the prime targets.
In 2015, the U.K. administration oversaw the introduction of Prevent Duty with the aim of combatting radicalization within institutions such as learning facilities (Dudenhoefer 2018, p. 158). Young individuals became the primary targets of this program due to their vulnerability and predisposition to becoming influenced by radical ideologies. Remarkably, this program tasked teachers with the responsibility of identifying radicalization and reporting such cases to relevant authorities. While this project has been hailed for its zeal to safeguard vulnerable individuals and helping them appropriately, it has received immense criticism. One of the significant oppositions facing the approach is the inherent structural flaws that have culminated in the violation of human rights. Essentially, the framework works in pre-criminal spaces, which implies that individuals that are targeted have not indulged in terrorism. Additionally, non-violent extremists are also targeted by this approach. In the definition of extremism, ‘opposition to British values’ has been cited as one of the identifying factors of an extremist. However, it is worth noting that individuals have the liberty to express themselves, which implies that a person can oppose British values if he or she feels that they are wrong. In this regard, it is evident that this framework intrudes people’s liberties.
Prevent has also been condemned for its discriminative nature against Muslim communities. While Prevent was supposed to operate in public pre-criminal spaces, the program has infiltrated private spheres, including mosques. Remarkably, Mosques serve as critical religious centres for Muslim communities in Britain, and hence, they should be treated with respect. Many policymakers have labelled mosques as crucial breeding sites for radicalization and terrorism. Following the 2005 terror attacks, the then Home Secretary proposed the execution of ‘restriction of use order’ to pave the way for the closure of worship places. While this statement did not mention mosques, it was apparent that the Home Secretary was referring to Islamic religious centres. The proposal fell through, however, due to oppositions from the community. Nonetheless, the statement indicates how authorities have been stereotyping mosques as breeding centers for violent extremism and the labelling of Muslims as extremists. Consequently, mosques have continuously been subjected to investigations in an effort by authorities to combat the terrorism menace. Enforcers of the Prevent program ought to understand that terrorism and extremism are multifaceted social problems that encompass numerous elements apart from religion. For instance, terror activities based on race prejudice can be perpetrated by malicious individuals who feel that their race is superior to that of others. Therefore, there is a need for the British authorities to stop stereotyping individuals on religious grounds.
Prevent program has also played a key role in reinforcing prejudice directed towards Muslim in the U.K. Since the commencement of efforts aimed at fighting against terrorism, the government has instituted policies that have impeded civil liberties. Furthermore, as previously stated, the government has executed the Prevent program that has overseen the establishment of measures that target individuals who are described as vulnerable to radicalization. While the government affirmed that Prevent was aimed at dealing with terrorist threats, it has encouraged profiling and the development of hate towards Muslims in the country. For instance, there have been several cases where Muslim students are referred to the program for unjustified reasons such as participating in anti-racist activism (Cohen & Tufail n.d., p. 43). Remarkably, pre-existing stereotypes about Muslims and terrorism have been reinforced by Prevent. Besides, reports indicate that a significant number of professionals rely on these preformed ideas to make judgments. These biased treatments directed at Muslims indicate the lack of effective training, which increases the risk of discrimination. The discrimination that has ensued as a result of Prevent is likely to cause a backlash within U.K. society and can ultimately culminate into a rise in extremism. In a statement issued by the perpetrator of the 2005 London bomb attack, he affirmed that injustices against Muslims were the primary reasons behind the attack (Richards 2011, p. 150). In this regard, if Prevent continues discriminating Muslims, radicalization might escalate, and the outcome might be detrimental.
In their defence, the government maintains that Prevent does not seek to discriminate against anybody and the inclusion of Chanel programs in institutions such as schools aims at identifying at-risk individuals and cushion them against radicalization. Historically, Muslims have had a higher tendency of becoming radicalized compared to other individuals (Richards 2011, p. 150). Furthermore, a significant number of bombings that have taken place in the U.K. were perpetrated by Muslims, and hence, it is essential to target them to combat extremism. In support of Prevent, the U.K. government seeks to seal all loopholes that can culminate in terrorism. In this regard, the administration has to target critical institutions to ensure that people who are at risk of being radicalized are handled accordingly. Alternatively, the government can adopt a more docile measure that does not solely target the Muslim community. For instance, Prevent can be restructured in such a way that all vulnerable individuals regardless of the religion are evaluated to create a sense of non-discrimination. While extremism majorly affects Muslims, the social problem is not reserved solely to the community. Agreeably, people from other religions might get radicalized. In the recent church killings in New Zealand, mosques were targeted, indicating that Muslims have also become a target of religious-motivated attacks and with the prejudice that exists against this community in the U.K., such an event can occur. Therefore, the aim of Prevent should be creating a safe environment for all citizens.
Prevent program has played an instrumental role in enabling the U.K. government to combat extremism by targeting high-risk populations. Remarkably, the program has paved the way for the introduction of monitoring systems in various institutions, including schools where a significant number of individuals are at risk of getting radicalized. However, this approach has contributed to discrimination against Muslims in numerous fronts thereby calling for the reinvention of the policy. Essentially, the program has reinforced pre-existing stereotypes about Muslims and extremism, thus contributing to an increase in the number of Muslim individuals being referred to the program. As a result, the government should institute notable changes in the policy to ensure that discrimination is avoided. Arguably, a majority of the Muslim-perpetrated attacks have been conducted in an effort by extremists to avenge injustices against fellow Muslims.
- Cohen, B & Tufail, W Prevent and the normalization of Islamophobia, Leedsbeckett.ac.uk, accessed 6 May 2019, http://eprints.leedsbeckett.ac.uk/5462/1/PreventandtheNormalizationofIslamophobiaPV-TUFAILpdf.pdf
- Dudenhoefer, AL 2018, ‘Resisting radicalisation: A critical analysis of the U.K. Prevent Duty’, Journal for Deradicalization, no. 14, 153-191.
- Richards, A 2011, ‘The problem with ‘radicalization’: the remit of ‘Prevent’ and the need to refocus on terrorism in the U.K.’ International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1944), vol. 87, no. 1, pp. 143-152.
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