Spooked: how not to prevent violent extremism

October 17, 2009 — Comment

Written by Frances Webber

A report published today by the Institute of Race Relations finds that the government’s Prevent programme for tackling extremism fosters division, mistrust and alienation.

Entitled Spooked: how not to prevent violent extremism, the report suggests that the Prevent programme has been used to establish one of the most elaborate systems of surveillance ever seen in Britain.

Moreover, there are strong reasons for thinking that the Prevent progamme, in effect, constructs the Muslim population as a ‘suspect community’, fosters social divisions among Muslims themselves and between Muslims and others, encourages tokenism, facilitates violations of privacy and professional norms of confidentiality, discourages local democracy and is counter-productive in reducing the risk of political violence.

The result of a six-month research project funded by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, the report draws on existing policy and academic work, freedom of information requests, a roundtable discussion and thirty-two interviews with Prevent programme workers and managers in local authorities, members of local Prevent boards, voluntary sector workers engaged in Prevent work and community workers familiar with local Prevent work.

The government describes its Preventing Violent Extremism programme (known simply as ‘Prevent’) as ‘a community-led approach to tackling violent extremism’. It believes that by selectively directing resources at ‘moderate’ Muslim organisations to carry out community development and ‘anti-radicalisation’ work, it can empower them to unite around ‘shared British values’ to isolate the ‘extremists’. With hundreds of millions of pounds of funding, the Prevent programme has come to redefine the relationship between government and around two million British citizens who are Muslim.

The report’s key findings are that:

  • Prevent-funded voluntary sector organisations and workers in local authorities are becoming increasingly wary of the expectations on them to provide the police with information on young Muslims and their religious and political opinions.
  • The atmosphere promoted by Prevent is one in which to make radical criticisms of the government is to risk losing funding and facing isolation as an ‘extremist’, while those organisations which support the government are rewarded.
  • Local authorities have been pressured to accept Prevent funding in direct proportion to the numbers of Muslims in their area – in effect, constructing the Muslim population as a ‘suspect community’.
  • Prevent decision-making lacks transparency and local accountability.
  • Prevent has undermined progressive elements within the earlier community cohesion agenda and absorbed from it those parts which are most problematic.
  • The current emphasis of Prevent on depoliticising young people and restricting radical dissent is actually counter-productive because it strengthens the hands of those who say democracy is pointless.

Author of the report, Arun Kundnani, says that: ‘The stated aim of the government’s counter-terrorist strategy is to enable people to “go about their lives freely and with confidence”. The question we pose in this report is whether freedom and confidence for the majority can be enabled by imposing a lack of freedom and confidence on a minority – in this case, the Muslim population of Britain.’

Related links

Free download of Spooked: how not to prevent violent extremism (pdf file, 1.2Mb)

[1] UK Border Agency response to Freedom of Information request, FOI 13808. The response also details other IOM projects funded by UKBA, including irregular migration management in countries as diverse as Angola, China, Djibouti and Libya, strengthening the capacity of the Nigerian immigration service, reception for forced returns in Somaliland and voluntary returns in Kyrgystan, 'sensitisation' in the DRC, and the Calais project, which involves voluntary returns and 'tackling migratory flows at source and transit points'. [2] Application form for VAARP, at http://www.iomlondon.org/doc/varrp/VARRP%20Application%20Form.pdf. [3] Lin Homer to HAC, 4 February 2010, http://deposits.parliament.uk, DEP2010-0354. The removal statistics do not break down 'voluntary removals' from other removals.[4] See Briefing No 20, September 2009, Migration Development Research Centre, University of Sussex, 'Voluntary assisted return (AVR): An opportunity for development?'. [5] Council of Europe Committee on Migration, Refugees and Population: 'Voluntary return programmes: an effective, humane and cost-effective mechanism for returning irregular migrants', June 2010. The Centre of Studies and Documentation on Migration, Racism and Xenophobia (MUGAK) published a critical response, see Statewatch News, 4 October 2010, 'The fiction of migration control policies'. [6] See Guardian, 14 September 2010, 'Roma deportations by France a disgrace, says EU'. [7] The 'restoration' argument falters on the evidence that most returnees never get back to their previous home, because it has either been destroyed or expropriated, while the lack of mechanisms for matching returnees' skills to the needs of reconstruction renders the 'human capital' argument invalid. See Blitz and Sales, 'Non-Voluntary Return? The politics of return to Afghanistan', Political Studies 53:1, March 2003. [8] Briefing No 20, see note 4 above. [9] ECRE, 2005, 'Increasing refugee participation in the field of voluntary return'. [10] See Al Jazeera, 8 June 2010, 'UK plans to deport Afghan children'. [11] Blitz and Sales, 'Non-Voluntary Return? The politics of return to Afghanistan', Political Studies 53:1, March 2003. This finding replicated earlier findings presented to IOM in the context of voluntary return programmes to Africa. [12] ibid. [13] ibid. [14] Cited in Blitz and Sales, op cit.

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

Comments

January 9, 2012
Dave Garratt, Chief Executive Refugee Action:

Frances Congratulations on a well thought out article – there was much in it that rings depressingly true. Inevitably I disagree with your comments about RA’s involvement in voluntary return. I don’t want to get in to a detailed public argument about it, but I do need to clarify a few of the things you’ve said: 1)RA does not ‘actively encourage’ anybody to take up voluntary return, we give confidential, non-directive and impartial advice to people who have a complex, restricted and difficult decision to make. Crucially, we support people to make their decisions, we do not influence or push people towards a particular course of action. 2)Being able to give this impartial advice is one of the fundamental reasons for being involved in the programme. I wish people didn’t have this decision to make. I wish it wasn’t, for all the reasons you give, such a restricted decision – but it is a decision, and a difficult one – which is why we at RA believe so passionately that people should be able to receive information and advice around it. 3) I also wish it were true that ‘lawyers advise on the options, the pros and cons’ but we both know that, in this area, they don’t. The experience of our many thousands of clients a year is mainly one of receiving no or poor quality legal advice (for all the ‘legal aid funding’ reasons you outline). Even where good legal advice is present, it cannot cover the detailed, specialised and often long term advice people need around voluntary return – put simply, legal advice for asylum seekers is, rightly, about protection issues, our voluntary return advice is about giving the holistic and wide-ranging advice people need to decide whether voluntary return is in their best interest. Far from trying to provide a nosegay then, we at RA would say that it is precisely because the reality facing our clients stinks so much, especially at point of final asylum refusal, that it is important that organisations like ours strive to support and advise them through it. In this context then, I simply disagree that our contract to provide voluntary return services means RA is ‘acting to legitimise and to enforce Home Office policy.’ However, clearly this debate, and indeed the issues raised in the IPPR report are more complex than I’ve outlined here. If you’d like to discuss these in person, I’d be more than happy to meet up, my office number is 0203 176 2511. Dave Garratt CEO Refugee Action

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