Throughout the career of the late civil rights leader Ratna Lachman, she never once deviated from the fact that Prevent needed to be independently reviewed and that in its current form it was encroaching and breaching the very civil liberties and human rights of communities that it claimed to protect. So when Ratna saw the opportunity for JUST to lead that review, she grabbed it with both hands. The JUST view is not to prove Ratna’s policy position on Prevent; rather it is to provide an independent perspective that can provide a direction and the beginning of a national conversation that is rooted in protecting the liberty and human rights of all citizens. That both Prevent detractors and supporters recognise that change and review of Prevent is healthy, particularly if it brings in from the cold those communities that feel they are either excluded from the conversation, or perceived to be (as Baroness Sayeeda Warsi puts it), the Enemy Within. Whatever the perspective, all mainstream political parties have agreed at some time or another that Prevent must be reviewed.
As Chair of JUST Yorkshire I am thrilled that we have been able to realise Ratna’s vision through the publication of this report. I am conscious that there are many divergent views on Prevent from all sides of the political spectrum, including from those civil society organisations that constantly claim its overwhelming success. It is sometimes claimed that charities like JUST are not interested in the success of Prevent – nothing could be further from the truth. The JUST position is that it has never claimed to be a counter-terrorism expert, it is first and foremost, and always will be a human rights charity that works to protect the civil liberties of all citizens. JUST should be seen as a credible reference point that enables and empowers dialogue to happen from grass roots up – particularly but not limited to those communities that are seldom heard. This report provides a set of evidence based recommendations that I believe will lead to a new beginning that is based on learning from the past, and moving forward together in the future.
Furthermore, the credibility of this report and the findings are strengthened by the comments made by Max Hill QC on the 19th of August 2017, who stated in an interview with The Independent that the Government should consider abolishing all anti-terror laws as they are “unnecessary” in the fight against extremists. He argues that potential extremists can be stopped with existing “general” laws that are not always being used effectively to take threats off the streets.
This unforeseen intervention by Max Hill QC provides the clearest indication that a change in philosophy is needed. This report has the potential to be a catalyst for that much needed change. Put simply, irrespective of which side of the fence the supporters or detractors sit on Prevent, one thing is certain, that terrorism on the streets of Britain is more complex than it has ever been, and as we approach the third successive year where the terrorist threat is severe we must consider an alternative that is bottom up underpinned with a covenant of trust between state and citizen.
I am delighted to endorse this report, and look forward to the much needed dialogue that follows.
Chair of JUST Yorkshire
The long awaited report entitled “Rethinking Prevent: A Case for an Alternative Approach”, supported by the Open Society Foundations, examines the chilling effect Prevent is having on society. The report makes a number of recommendations for policymakers to consider, with the hope that future decisions related to counter terrorism are grounded first and foremost in respect for human rights and civil liberties.
The report comes at a critical time when there has been a loud chorus of voices calling for an independent review of the strategy from the National Union of Teachers (NUT), activists, cross-party MPs, campaigners, faith communities, to the Government’s own reviewer of terrorism legislation. Based on in-depth interviews with 36 individuals, the report highlights the following:
- Prevent is built upon a foundation of Islamophobia and racism, a reliance on stereotypes which can be seen in the fact Muslim communities are often regarded as collectively suspect, whilst far-right extremism is downplayed.
- Prevent has contributed to a climate of fear and self-censorship primarily but not exclusively among British Muslims.
- Numerous human rights abuses have been carried out through the implementation of Prevent, targeting mostly British Muslim men and also activists because of their dissenting views.
- Prevent is ineffective and counterproductive, a fact compounded by the introduction of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015.
- Respondents expressed concern about the disproportionate and discriminatory counter terrorism focus of Prevent on Muslim communities. Recent evidence suggests practitioners from some institutions are interpreting their responsibilities under the umbrella of Prevent as a requirement to focus their attention on Muslims.
- The impact of austerity and the withdrawal of youth services has led to an increasing number of interventions carried out under the framework of counter terrorism.
- With no evidence to support the successes of the Prevent strategy, there is a lack of transparency and accountability that must be questioned.
- A generation of politicised British Muslim activists have emerged who are democratically challenging the government’s approach to counter-terrorism.
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