19/12/2018 - Published by

Another day, another article about the Prevent strand of the Government’s counter terrorism strategy, CONTEST.

In his commentary (published in the Conversation 18th December 2018), Julian Hargreaves, Research Fellow at the Woolf Institute and Research Associate at St Edmund’s College, University of Cambridge concludes that Prevent remains unfair on British Muslims, despite Home Office efforts.

Such a conclusion is not new and is often used by detractors of Prevent who sway from the lazy rhetoric trotting out words like ‘toxic brand’ through to others, like Julian, who take a more considered view.  Of course, repetition makes a fact seem more true or memorable, but we also know that “repeat a lie often enough and it becomes the truth” – the first rule of propaganda often attributed to the Nazi Joseph Goebbels.  This is known as the “illusion of truth” effect and perhaps poignant that an extreme right-wing violent extremist is associated with such a technique.

The question for me is that the naysayers of Prevent are sometimes doing the same, when our energies really need to be on the end game and that is preventing violent extremism and tackling the causes.

Julian sets out a fair critique and indeed points out that Prevent has become more transparent.  But the conclusion again fails to look at the whole picture.

In his recent update on the number of live terror related investigations in the UK, head of national counterterror policing, Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Neil Basu, told the Home Affairs Committee it numbered a record of 700.  He stated that Islamists and the far-right “feed each other.”  He said around 80 per cent of investigations by Police and MI5 were looking into Islamist inspired and 20 per cent “other”, including a “significant proportion from the right wing.

“There is no doubt whatsoever in my mind that the two ideologies, both perverse, are feeding each other.” Neil Basu

He also said: “The overriding threat to the UK remains from those inspired by Daesh and the resurgent al-Qaeda, but our operations reflect a much broader range of dangerous ideologies, including very disturbingly rising extreme right-wing activity.”

He reported that 17 attacks had been foiled since 2017 – 13 Islamist (76%) and four far-right (24%).

Prevent is a highly targeted strand of CONTEST, responding to risk and threat.  So, whilst Julian’s central point is valid and there may be ‘perceived’ unfairness, would these figures not suggest that the targeting is being driven by the evidence and that the real unfairness is created by the perpetrators.

Behind this risk is a complex set of aspects that leads to such referrals. It is possible that public and public sector workers (the people who refer to Channel) are more afraid of Islamist extremism, or it is more visible, given the larger number of disrupted plots. It could be that the scale of those incidents that succeeded is more embedded in the collective psyche – ‘terrorism’ does what it says – it creates fear and generates a reaction.  Both the Manchester 2017 and Finsbury Park 2017 attacks were terrorism and acts of pure evil but compare the scale of reaction to both. Of course, if referral number are a measurement of fear or based on public whim, and not threat, then we have unfairness.  The unfairness on British Muslims is firmly at the door of Daesh and every other warped group that uses violence to further its cause along with the Far Right who feed all this.

We must be clear that the target here is the ideology – we are trying to prevent Islamism and far right and other promoters of violence, not be unfair to British Muslims.  We need to protect and support them and everyone else who wants to live in a peaceful democracy.

For me, whilst I respect that Julian’s chosen slant is the Prevent referral process not the Prevent network local delivery, this is an important omission.   Organisations like the Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation were set up in response to a violent extremist act, in our case IRA terrorism.

Our work has evolved over 23 years and much of it now supported and funded as part of the Prevent strand of work.  Not one aspect of it is unfair.  The Peace Foundation does not pursue causes, we work with all sides in conflict and, in truth, the ideology is secondary.  Our purpose is to break the cycle of violence and to challenge any person or entity that in any way promotes violence to further their aims.  We will target highest risk, but that is through a sense of fairness and not unfairness.

The Government cannot do this alone, the Prevent strand of CONTEST is about the public, public sector, business and civil society coming together to challenge a societal problem.  The Foundation has zero tolerance to violence and our programmes are making a difference, working with children and young people of all ages, with communities and cohorts such as women affected by violence, and in standing for peace in our society.  Sadly, the public doesn’t see this as a charitable priority, philanthropists, funders and corporately responsible business is in short supply when it comes to the business of preventing violent extremism.

It is the Prevent strand of work and the support of central and local Government that is enabling much of our work and it is vital that this is retained and supported over the long-term and that fairness is a litmus test we apply to all our actions.  Read about the Peace Foundation’s work in the prevention, resolution and response to violent conflict

Blog by Nick Taylor, Chief Executive, Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Peace Foundation