Time to re­vive Pre­vent strat­egy

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - Paul Richards

MICHAEL Gove’s last act as Ed­u­ca­tion Sec­re­tary was to in­ves­ti­gate claims of an Is­lamist plot to take over the run­ning of some of Birm­ing­ham’s schools. Gove was crit­i­cised for putting counter-ter­ror­ism ex­pert Peter Clarke in charge of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion. Some said Tro­jan Horse was a hoax, or that heavy-handed in­ter­ven­tion was “Is­lam­o­pho­bic”.

Af­ter 2,000 pages of tran­scripts from 50 wit­nesses, the in­ves­ti­ga­tion re­vealed a “sus­tained, co-or­di­nated agenda to im­pose seg­re­ga­tion­ist at­ti­tudes and prac­tices of a hard­line, politi­cised strain of Sunni Is­lam”. It con­cluded: “Left unchecked, it would con­fine school­child­ren within an in­tol­er­ant, in­ward-look­ing mono­cul­ture that would se­verely in­hibit their par­tic­i­pa­tion in the life of mod­ern Bri­tain.”

Michael Gove is one of the few se­nior politi­cians who has con­sis­tently warned about the di­rect link between ex­trem­ist ide­ol­ogy and vi­o­lent ter­ror­ism. His re­moval from the Ed­u­ca­tion Depart­ment makes the bat­tle against ex­trem­ism just a bit harder.

This week we hear that 500 Bri­tish Mus­lims are in Syria and north­ern Iraq, fight­ing for the Is­lamic State (IS). We saw a Bri­ton be­head Amer­i­can jour­nal­ist James Fo­ley. We know that the 500 men fight­ing for IS went to Bri­tish schools, shopped in Mor­ri­son’s and WH Smith, watched Match of the Day and walked the streets of Lon­don, Manch­ester or Birm­ing­ham.

Their ex­trem­ism didn’t start the day they booked their flights to the Mid­dle East. It was in­cul­cated and nur­tured, like bacil­lus on a petri dish, in schools and on cam­pus, in mosques, in box­ing clubs and cof­fee shops, and on­line.

We know there is a link between non­vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism, and vi­o­lent ex­trem­ism. One can­not ex­ist with­out the other. The gov­ern­ment’s strat­egy for coun­ter­ing ex­trem­ist Is­lamist ide­ol­ogy is named “Pre­vent”. It has been cut to the bone.

Af­ter the mur­der of Lee Rigby by Mus­lim con­verts Michael Ade­bo­lajo and Michael Ade­bowale last year, min­is­ters were warned of the dan­gers of fail­ing to tackle Is­lamist ide­ol­ogy at source. Hazel Blears, who was Com­mu­ni­ties Sec­re­tary and now serves on Par­lia­ment’s In­tel­li­gence and Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee, ar­gued for a “long-term, gen­er­a­tional, strat­egy” and that short-term cuts to Pre­vent were stor­ing up trou­ble.

MP Yvette Cooper said: “The Pre­vent pro­gramme seems to have lost mo­men­tum and di­rec­tion ... there has been a re­duc­tion in work with coun­cils and com­mu­ni­ties — and more should be done...to sup­port in­te­gra­tion and com­mu­nity or­gan­i­sa­tions that are work­ing to pre­vent rad­i­cal­i­sa­tion

Pre­vent has been al­lowed to wither

and ex­trem­ism in the first place.” Pre­vent was always the trick­i­est el­e­ment of the coun­tert­er­ror­ism strat­egy, for sev­eral rea­sons: one is that in a lib­eral democ­racy, we de­fend the right of peo­ple to hold stupid, il­log­i­cal, ex­trem­ist views.

An­other is that el­e­ments of the ex­trem­ist “Al-Qaeda nar­ra­tive” are shared by main­stream politi­cians, such as the par­lia­men­tary sup­port­ers of the Pales­tinian Sol­i­dar­ity Campaign, or those Euro­pean lib­er­als who be­lieve Is­lamist ter­ror­ism is the fault of the West. A third is that those who sign up to the whole pack­age tend to op­er­ate in se­cret. They will hide their true in­tents and mean­ing, while pri­vately en­cour­ag­ing young peo­ple into sui­cide vests.

Pre­vent was always a work in progress. Some of the money went to the wrong peo­ple: in a small num­ber of cases, groups be­yond the pale or to en­ter­pris­ing groups or in­di­vid­u­als who saw the chance for some gov­ern­ment cash. But Pre­vent was a laud­able ef­fort, against a per­ni­cious en­emy.

The coali­tion is­sued its re­vised Pre­vent strat­egy in June 2011, which watered down the orig­i­nal in­tent. Since then, Pre­vent has been al­lowed to wither on the vine. Eric Pick­les, whose depart­ment took the lead on Pre­vent, has qui­etly scrapped al­most ev­ery scheme. Min­is­ters, in pur­suit of spend­ing cuts, have cre­ated con­di­tions for ex­treme Is­lamism to flour­ish once again. We should be con­cerned that hun­dreds are fight­ing un­der the black flag of ji­had in Iraq. What are we go­ing to do when they come home? Paul Richards was spe­cial ad­viser at the Depart­ment for Com­mu­ni­ties and Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment un­der the last Labour gov­ern­ment

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