Engage, not Prevent – a review of a Select Committee’s report on the Government’s Anti-Terrorism policy

“Identifying the tipping point for many men and women thinking of joining Daesh remains the holy grail in our fight against radicalisation”.

It emerged a couple weeks ago that one of the Bethnal Green school girls who left Britain for Syria in 2015 had been killed in a Russian airstrike.  Kadiza Sultana, along with Amira Abase and Shamima Begum were a part of a surge of young people heading out from Britain to join organisations fighting in Syria and Iraq.  The numbers are deeply concerning; a recent report estimates that around 850 have left, with 125 losing their lives (the NCF believes the real figure to be considerably higher).  Kadiza Sultana and her friends from East London have become a statistic in a recent Select Committee report that addresses concerns over the Government’s Anti-Terrorism policy.

Facewall

Kadiza (second row, second from left) is just one of 850 young Britons to have fled to the Middle East.  A Select Committee is calling for the Prevent Strategy to be reviewed and overhauled.

The report, published on 25th August 2016, has highlighted a number of problems with the Prevent Strategy, and offers options to make the strategy more accessible to those that need it most.  The report centred on the issue of combatting radicalisation and extremism amongst vulnerable people, and draws on how The Home Office, schools, health organisations, social media companies, security services and the press all have a responsibility to enhance their resources with the aim of engaging communities, instead of alienating them.  The committee felt that the current system used for Prevent was causing more harm than good.  Security Minister Ben Wallace argued that the strategy had been reviewed numerous times to “ensure it works,” and that “for Prevent to work, we all need to get behind it, not stand on the side lines undermining it”.  However, Rushanara Ali, MP for Bethnal Green and Bow has called for a proper assessment of Prevent, to “really understand what works and what doesn’t”.

The Select Committee have called for a review, and have encouraged a community led approach.  As of this moment, the strategy is viewed by many in local communities as a “big brother” security operation.  Harun Khan, deputy head of the Muslim Council of Britain has also expressed his concern, claiming that many young people feel they are being viewed as “suspects” rather than feeling welcomed and encouraged to speak out.  The real focus of the strategy should be around building a relationship between various influential community groups and the state.

A CCTV camera

Prevent was criticised after hidden CCTV cameras were placed around predominantly Muslim areas of Birmingham

 The most promising set of options to improve Prevent was the strategy suggested for dealing with families and the rehabilitation of those affected by extremism.  In order to bridge the silence that characterises the relationship between the state and the communities, the committee highlighted the need for an easily accessible advice and counselling service, particularly for parents, but also for other loved ones and friends who may have concerns about people being radicalised.  If this were to be put in place, perhaps with community organisation members acting as part of the team of advisers, we could identify the tipping point where individuals start to embrace extremism.  The issue is a complex one, but engaging with families, would build up an extensive array of counter-narrative case studies.

Finally, with regards to the committee’s stance on rehabilitation, empowering young people to have a voice and use it with confidence seems to be the most commanding way to combat extremism at a grass roots level in the UK.  The committee advocated a programme that helps young people from vulnerable communities in acquiring critical reasoning skills and a sense of belonging and purpose, so that they could be aware of any manipulation or grooming.  Sara Khan, co-founder of the anti-terror organisation ‘Inspire’, has looked at girls like Kadiza as victims, who “lack the critical thinking skills” which “is what makes them vulnerable to Islamist extremist propaganda”.

It is important to note the success of the UK’s security services in preventing tragedies on the scale which have been seen elsewhere, and that should be highly commended.  However, the approach used by previous governments to counter extremism has so far not achieved the success that we have desired.  The Select Committee recognised that local communities, community leaders and young people are willing to cooperate and tackle the problem if the correct strategies were put in place to enable positive changes.  That being said, the report urged the Government to not squander this opportunity to harness the powerful force of community engagement.

By Nihal Patel

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