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Prevent Duty guidance for England and Wales – HM Government – or Prevent strategy – misguided? Islamophobic?

July 14, 2015

Prevent guidanceAs if teachers haven’t got enough to do, they now have to spot signs of extremism in pupils and report them.

If you are a good RE teacher and promote lively discussions, you’re going to encounter a lot of what might seem ‘extremism’ because young people are full of ideas and certainties.

Russell Hobby, general secretary of the National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT). “If you think a young person is involved in criminal activity or at risk of being drawn into it, you’re going to report it. But the idea of conducting surveillance on students or taking on some sort of policing of students is alien to schools. They’re not trained to know the early warning signs of extremism or radicalisation, some of which are subtle.

“If you think schools are going to be our only guard against this, that’s a very risky position to be in. They have a level of relationship with students that other parts of the public sector don’t have and, there’s very significant cuts going on other parts, so they do feel quite exposed.”

I once took an online test to determine whether I was an ‘extremist’ and I answered it as if I were my 17-ear-old self. Yes, I obey my parents, yes I trust my vicar and take his advice in the confessional, yes the Bible is true and yes homosexuality is sinful. (Nicky Morgan said that she thought ‘homophobia’ was a sign of extremism.) So I am (was) an extremist.

If you American, you can take a test (not the one I first took) at http://www.gotoquiz.com/what_kind_of_extremist_are_you It says I am 86% rational and 76% left-wing extremist.

The government’s document defines: Extremism’ is defined in the 2011 Prevent strategy as vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also include in our definition of extremism calls for the death of members of our armed forces, whether in this country or overseas.

Well, I don’t quibble with that except to say that Jesus, Moses and Guru Gobind Singh opposed some laws in the name of God.

Michael Gove said ‘Signs of possible radicalisation can include people suddenly changing their style of dress or personal appearance to fit in with a particular cause and losing interest with other friends……looking out for individuals using derogatory terms for rival groups http://www.telegraph.co.uk/education/educationnews/10816920/Michael-Gove-tells-teachers-to-identify-pupils-at-risk-of-radicalisation.html

Well, tell me what teenagers don’t dress to fit in or rebel, change friends and form in-groups.

A large number of signatories, including Simon Barrow from Ekklesia, wrote to The Independent on Friday 10th June 2015:

We, the undersigned, take issue with the government’s Prevent strategy and its statutory implementation through the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 for the following reasons:

  1. The latest addition to the United Kingdom’s counter-terrorism framework comes in the form of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTS Act). The CTS Act has placed PREVENT on a statutory footing for public bodies to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism by tackling what is claimed to be ‘extremist ideology’. In practice, this will mean that individuals working within statutory organisations must report individuals suspected of being ‘potential terrorists’ to external bodies for ‘de-radicalisation’.
  2. The way that PREVENT conceptualises ‘radicalisation’ and ‘extremism’ is based on the unsubstantiated view that religious ideology is the primary driving factor for terrorism. Academic research suggests that social, economic and political factors, as well as social exclusion, play a more central role in driving political violence than ideology. Indeed, ideology only becomes appealing when social, economic and political grievances give it legitimacy. Therefore, addressing these issues would lessen the appeal of ideology.
  3. However, PREVENT remains fixated on ideology as the primary driver of terrorism. Inevitably, this has meant a focus on religious interaction and Islamic symbolism to assess radicalisation. For example, growing a beard, wearing a hijab or mixing with those who believe Islam has a comprehensive political philosophy are key markers used to identify ‘potential’ terrorism. This serves to reinforce a prejudicial worldview that perceives Islam to be a retrograde and oppressive religion that threatens the West. PREVENT reinforces an ‘us’ and ‘them’ view of the world, divides communities, and sows mistrust of Muslims.
  4. While much of the PREVENT policy is aimed at those suspected of ‘Islamist extremism’ and far-right activity, there is genuine concern that other groups will also be affected by such policies, such as anti-austerity and environmental campaigners – largely those engaged in political dissent.
  5. Without due reconsideration of PREVENT’s poor reputation, the police and government have attempted to give the programme a veneer of legitimacy by expressing it in the language of ‘safeguarding’. Not only does this depoliticise the issue of radicalisation, it shifts attention away from grievances that drive individuals towards an ideology that legitimises political violence.
  6. PREVENT will have a chilling effect on open debate, free speech and political dissent. It will create an environment in which political change can no longer be discussed openly, and will withdraw to unsupervised spaces. Therefore, PREVENT will make us less safe.
  7. We believe that PREVENT has failed not only as a strategy but also the very communities it seeks to protect. Instead of blindly attempting to strengthen this project, we call on the government to end its ineffective PREVENT policy and rather adopt an approach that is based on dialogue and openness. http://www.ekklesia.co.uk/node/21888

Joyce Miller spoke on Community cohesion to South West SACREs at Dillington, in March 2015. My notes:  The rhetoric has moved from Race equality and Community cohesion  to Prevent and Fundamental British Values. “First we were Asians and then we were Pakis and now we’re Muslims.” ‘…odd presumption that the people of the world can be uniquely categorised according to some singular and overarching system of partitioning’ – such as religion. ‘None can be taken alone to be the person’s identity’. We are ‘diversely different’. Amartya Sen

‘The state has made faith identities… highly salient through the formation of its policies… One consequence has been to construct adherence to the Islamic faith as the major category of self-definition for many people who would previously have seen themselves through the lens of ethnicity and national heritage. ‘There is a pervasive sense that when it comes to Islam in contemporary Britain, being devout is in itself a suspicious act’ (Husband and Alam, 2011, 204, 205).

OusleyThe Ouseley report 2001 reported self-segregating communities, living in fear of each other, in Bradford but was methodologically flawed – based on ‘consultation rather than systemic research’ (Alam & Husband, 2006, 3)

The Cantle reports (2001, 2004) – Almost nothing on race equality, despite RRAA (2000), the Parekh report (2000) and the Macpherson report (1999)

Cantle‘Parallel lives’. Main recommendations included a local community cohesion plan for each area, a programme of cross cultural contact, fostering understanding and respect, ‘myth busting’ and a community cohesion task force. A cohesive community is one that has four key characteristics: a common vision and sense of belonging; the diversity of people’s different backgrounds and circumstances is appreciated and positively valued; those from different backgrounds have similar life opportunities; strong and positive relationships are being developed between people from different backgrounds in the workplace, in schools and within neighbourhoods.

Commission on Integration & Cohesion (2007) – Shared futures – an emphasis on articulating what binds communities Shared futuretogether; A new model of rights and responsibilities; A new emphasis on mutual respect and civility – strengthening social bonds within groups; Visible social justice – prioritising transparency and building trust.

Community cohesion is flawed because it’s the wrong answer to the question, because it neglects social bonding, because race equality is too easily neglected, including institutional racism. Some would claim it’s a racialised concept in itself, because social inequality is replaced with equality of opportunity and because it’s too easily conflated with Prevent. In its mindset, 9/11 and 7/7 as key events, the ‘demonisation of Islam’, of ‘Muslim’ as ‘key political minority identity’, Muslims as problematic – media coverage, Islamophobia, Orientalism and ‘the other’

Prevent – Extremism – ‘views which fall short of supporting violence and are within the law, but which reject and undermine our shared values and jeopardise community cohesion’ (HMG 2009 87). Schools are more confident about their duty to promote community cohesion (93% were ‘fairly confident’ or better) than they were at implementing the Prevent agenda (only 48% were ‘fairly confident’). Ipsos Mori study

Cohesion and ‘Prevent’ sit in tension with each other, in the context of national policy versus local implementation. Local officers saw it as ‘their task to make local sense of contradictory and ambivalent central government policy’. Community cohesion became ‘clearly infused with the priorities and logics of counter-terrorism’.

Racialised’ agenda – ‘…the state itself has promoted a programme of categorical stereotyping of Muslim communities…It is their perceived self-segregation, and their wilful pursuit of parallel lives that has defined the purpose and method of Community Cohesion policies’ ‘Institutionalised anti-Muslimism’. They prefer ‘social’ to ‘community’ cohesion. There is a ‘litany’ in which: Multiculturalism has lead to segregation (self-segregation) which leads to fundamentalism which leads to extremism which leads to terrorism. There is NO evidence to substantiate this view and much that segregation is not increasing,. There is confusion between ‘segregation’ and ‘concentration’ What about housing policies and parental school ‘choice’ policy? – the wealthier segregate by moving out of inner city schools

Fundamental British Values – Democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, mutual respect, and tolerance of those of different faiths and beliefs

APPG report on RE and good community relations, 2014 – The implementation of Law and Policy: SACREs and ASCs – support from government and LAs; local collaboration. Law and policy – gather data on community relations; affirmation of community identities; PSED in relation to religion and belief’; sharing of good practice between schools on equality. Learning in RE outside the classroom, SACREs support visits out and visitors to classrooms, LOtC integral part of RE, Intercultural education and dialogue and links between schools. Conflict and extremism – Resilience, Media literacy/human rights/critical enquiry. Support and training by RE organisations, sharing good practice and research. Teachers develop their understanding of social media, globalisation, changing patterns of religions and worldviews, and their local communities. Greater use of REC Code of Practice, PD Portal, e-Handbook, and RE:ONLINE. RE and community relations share contested aims, attitudes – e.g. openness, empathy, skills – e.g. interpretation, dialogue, concepts – e.g. identity and community.

RE can Address key concepts: Identity/ies, community /ies, ‘Diversity within diversity’; Challenge misconceptions and promote human rights in order: to promote ‘positive pluralism and to enable teachers and pupils to become ‘skilled cultural navigators’

In presenting Islam, RE can focus on public discourse and media images – violence, extremism, subjugation of women, drugs etc or Islam as a religion of peace – the RE version – Which will pupils believe? Do we think that teaching about religions effectively counters prejudice? Does teaching about Islam counter Islamophobia sufficiently? ‘There is a naïve and simplifying view that the solution to Islamophobia … is to teach people about Islam, so they won’t feel that hate or resentment any longer.’ Robin Richardson

‘Religious education is not ‘confined to learning in RE classes [but] through other curriculum areas, through experiences of religion in other aspects of school life and encounters with religion in the wider community which are facilitated by the school.’ (Jackson et al, 2010,169)

RE needs to reclaim its own agenda and scrutinize the political and social dimensions of religion, politics of identity, human rights education, religion and media literacy, transcendence. An issues-related form of RE should also enable the ‘critical discussion of religion and religions within their globalised and politicised context and which also addresses controversial local issues’. Michael Grimmitt

RE offers: A perspective through the lens of religion and belief (and everyone has beliefs); A glimpse of transcendence through the recognition that human beings are more than the sum of their labels; An opportunity to take young people to a place of deeper understanding about themselves, and others.

We have moved on from assimilation. We recognise human right. We celebrate difference and commonality. New understanding of identity/ies. Communities are valued as well as individuals. Religion and belief now part of public discourse

Hope in the young: 60% of people support ‘positive solution’ to extremism and community issues. Young people are more positive towards multiculturalism than older people (Searchlight, 2011). REDCo surveys across Europe showed that young people want to know about people and religions that are different from themselves and want to live in harmonious societies.

It is uncomfortable for me to label it as this ‘Prevent agenda’. What are we trying to prevent? We are actually trying to develop young confident adults who have open minds and open hearts to live in a multi‐cultural society.’ (Deputy Head Teacher – REsilience)

The Guidance is at https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/417943/Prevent_Duty_Guidance_England_Wales.pdf

On ‘British Values’ see https://layreadersbookreviews.wordpress.com/2014/11/29/british-values/

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