Dr Charlotte Heath-Kelly is from the Institute of Advanced Study within the Department of Politics and International Studies at The University of Warwick.
She has recently edited a book, alongside Lee Jarvis and Chris Baker-Beall: ‘Counter-Radicalisation: Critical Perspectives’. (Abingdon, Routledge, 2014)
Commenting on the debate over the government’s ‘Prevent’ strategy in the news today, she said:
“Dal Babu, Chief Superintendent of the Met Police until 2013, has today labelled the UK ‘Prevent’ strategy as a toxic brand. He highlights the perception of counter-radicalisation policy by Muslim communities as ‘spying’, given that it is implemented by a majority white police force with little knowledge of Islamic cultures. Furthermore he highlights the important issue of the implementation of surveillance upon Muslim areas – especially the highly contentious instalment of security cameras in Birmingham suburbs with high populations of Muslims during Project Champion. Mr Babu asserts that the lack of diversity in policing, as well as multiple interventions which give the appearance of spying, create an enormous credibility gap when it comes to implementing ‘Prevent’.
“Mr Babu raises important points which must be taken seriously. The Home Office and Police have today countered his comments. They justify ‘Prevent’ as an effective policy on the basis that no bombs have gone off in Britain recently (as Sir Peter Fahy, Chief Constable of Greater Manchester Police, has stated). But as any graduate of a methodology training session will tell you, this is a false justification of the programme’s effectiveness. The lack of explosions could have multiple causes and it is dubious to associate this with the supposed success of ‘Prevent’. Something is not proven to be effective, just because something else has not happened – causation is far more complex than the simplistic narrative (as asserted within the ‘Prevent’ strategy) that stigmatising and securitising radical ideas will stop violence.
“The effectiveness of ‘Prevent’ cannot be proven. Indeed, multiple scholars have highlighted that ‘Prevent’ relies upon an idea of ‘radicalisation’ which can be actively disproven: case study research shows us that the supposed indicators of radicalisation (change in dress, accentuation of overtly religious behaviour, alienation from broader society) do not predict the transition towards violence. Multiple contributors to the recent book ‘Counter-Radicalisation: Critical Perspectives’ have considered this. Yet the UK has blindly followed the path of ‘Prevent’ and ‘radicalisation’ because it provides a simple narrative. However the policy does not predict violence and, as Mr Babu has highlighted, actually has counter-productive results – it alienates the communities with which the government is trying to engage. As I have argued in journal articles and my recent edited book, ‘Prevent’ creates a ‘suspect’ community to explain political violence – as happened previously when Irish communities were inappropriately stereotyped as having the propensity for terrorism, just because they are Irish. Do we want to stereotype communities as being associated with terrorism, on the basis of their racial or religious attributes?
“To intervene on this debate, we must begin with facts. What can we prove, and what can’t we prove? We cannot prove that ‘Prevent’ is effective in preventing terrorism because it has no predictive power regarding which persons with extremist ideas will move towards violence. Instead it targets ‘suspected’ communities with an ineffective blanket approach. What we can prove (through community engagement and academic research) is that ‘Prevent’ is perceived as a set of surveillance measures deployed against a community which has been inappropriately stereotyped. We can prove that ‘Prevent’ has counter-productive results for engaging communities. It drives people away from communicating openly.
“As a result, we must take the experience and knowledge of Mr Babu extremely seriously and begin a debate about the effectiveness of ‘Prevent’.”
Note to Editors:
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