“Preventing people from committing appalling acts of terror in the UK is something we should all want,” argued Amber Rudd when she was the UK’s home secretary.
This statement made in August 2017 has since been published on the government’s website, claiming that safeguarding our young people from becoming radicalised - either by the extreme right wing or Islamist extremists - should not be a controversial aim for the UK.
Yet despite this, she wrote that there are people who are actively trying to undermine the government’s Prevent programme without offering an effective alternative.
“The truth is, as Commander Dean Haydon of the Metropolitan Police said this week, many of the most vocal opponents do not want Prevent to work in the first place,” she wrote.
“They say it is about spying on communities. But asking teachers and others to be alert to signs of radicalisation and refer those who may need help works in a similar way to safeguarding processes designed to protect people from gang activity, drug abuse, and sexual abuse.”Is this assertion accurate? Let’s take a look at some of the facts, as well as the other side of the debate.
The Prevent programme is a strategy by the UK government to safeguard people and communities from the threat of terrorism. It is one of four elements of ‘CONTEST’ - the government’s counter-terrorism strategy to stop people supporting terrorism or becoming terrorists themselves. Pursue, protect and prepare are the other three elements of this strategy.
When it comes to practice, Prevent aims for the police and other important organisations to build relationships across the UK which will ultimately prevent terrorist activity, both in terms of radicalisation and attacks. According to the BBC it requires faith leaders, teachers, doctors and others to report any suspicious behaviour from those they are dealing with to a local ‘Prevent’ body. The idea is that communities are the best place to gather information about potential terrorist activity, and that this is a more effective way of listening in.
Following any report, an assessment is made to decide whether further action is required. In many instances, social services departments are increasingly being involved in identifying ‘Prevent’ cases because of their duty to counter radicalisation, and their regular interaction with certain high-risk groups.
Bodies such as the National Union of Journalists have criticised the strategy and argued that ‘Prevent’ will likely have a negative impact on open debate, free speech and political dissent. This is because it could create an environment in which political change can no longer be discussed openly and will instead withdraw to unsupervised spaces. In turn, rather than Prevent revealing information, it may make us less safe by encouraging discussion to move underground where it cannot be monitored.
In an article by the Independent it was also argued that the ‘Prevent’ strategy in fact conceptualises radicalisation and extremism based on the view that religious ideology is the primary driving factor for terrorism.
According to Ms Rudd, although some claim ‘Prevent’ stifles free speech, she believes that on the contrary, schools and colleges should provide a safe space where children and young people can understand the risks associated with terrorism. Here, they could also develop the knowledge and skills to be able to challenge any extremist arguments. This, she argues, is something that ‘Prevent’ encourages.
The former home secretary argued that the ‘Prevent’ strategy deals with all forms of extremism, not necessarily just religious. “I am the first home secretary to ban an extreme right-wing group, National Action, for their links to terrorism,” she highlighted. “Prevent aims to protect all those who are targeted by the terrorist recruiters who seek to weaponise them.”
Ms Rudd concluded her statement by claiming that Prevent had so far made a significant impact in stopping people from being drawn to terrorism. Because of that, she said that it is “here to stay”.
“In light of the horrific terror attacks in London and Manchester, we are reviewing all aspects of our counter-terrorism strategy to make sure we keep pace with the changing terrorist threat. Prevent will continue to play a major part in our future counter-terrorism approach.”
Organisations such as schools and local police forces can ensure their employees are well-equipped to spot potential concerns in young people by signing up for safeguarding courses. At Virtual College, we’re pleased to be able to offer a wide range of such courses, including those tailored towards spotting extremism and those that cover some elements of Prevent.