‘Prevent’ and its dangers
Launched in 2007 and re-launched in 2011, the strategy now obliges staff of UK public bodies to report behavior which they suspect could be indicative of radicalization. Mohammadi’s own experience emphasizes how invidiously it is being applied. When he began collecting money for a Palestine charity he found himself being quizzed by the principal of the college he attends in the south of England town of Luton. Was he a supporter of Daesh? The interrogation appeared light-hearted but subsequently his home was visited by the police.
In his video, Mohammadi talks to a fellow victim of the over-zealous application of Prevent, Mohammed Umar Farooq. A mature student at the University of Staffordshire, Farooq made headline news in 2015 when he was arrested for reading a book on terrorism, a book that was in fact a prescribed text for his master’s degree on global security. Behind his arrest, he feels, lay little more than the fact that his name was Mohammed and that he has a beard. It is his view and that of other participants in the video, who include the Labour MP for Bolton South East, Yasmin Qureshi, that Prevent has become a charter for spying on Muslims and that it is engendering a climate of intimidation in which Muslims feel they are objects of suspicion simply because they are Muslims.
It could be said that Mohammadi has been radicalized, radicalized into making an impassioned plea on behalf of common sense. The urgent message of his video is that far from stopping people being drawn toward radicalization, Prevent is in danger of pushing them toward it. Yet he was not able to get a single representative of the British government to address his concerns.
It would not be easy for a 17-year-old Muslim student to get the ear of a British minister at the present time. Under the UK’s new Prime Minister Theresa May, the Conservative government is wrestling with the complex consequences of the vote by British people in last June’s referendum to leave the European Union. In any case, the government evidently believes that it is already engaging with the Muslim community through groups such as the Quilliam Foundation.
The trouble is that many young Muslims feel scant respect for the groups in question. It is a common perception that they are appendages of the political establishment. It is widely felt too that they are united with the government in placing undue stress on the belief that radicalization is an essentially religious phenomenon. The government insists that it recognizes there are many paths to radicalization, including mental health and substance abuse, and that it is concerned to tackle far right as well as Muslim extremism. This, though, is a claim that simply does not square with the everyday experience of Muslims like Mohammadi, who have been gratuitously targeted and who see no evidence that Prevent is being even-handedly applied.
For many British Muslims it is an enduring bone of contention that the government and affiliate Muslim groups remain loath to discuss the counter-productive consequences of British foreign policy. The subject remains off-limits even after the publication this summer of the Chilcot Inquiry report on the Iraq war which underlined how British intelligence warned of the radicalizing domestic impact of military intervention in Iraq. The Chilcot report was testimony that the British state is capable, albeit belatedly, of acknowledging the errors of past policies. Yet there is little indication that the report has sharpened concern in the corridors of power about the possible fallibility of current policies, the need to subject them to stringent review lest they produce the very results they were intended to avoid.
Mohammadi is entreating the UK government to listen to young Muslims, to recognize that they are law-abiding British citizens, not the ‘enemy within.’ In its apparent reluctance to do so the government is in danger of alienating an entire generation.
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