Thursday 26-01-2017 - 12:00
On the week beginning 30 January 2017, UCL and KCL Union will join forces to challenge the Prevent duty, in a campaign known as Dissent from Prevent week. Here, Sayeeda Ali, BME Officer at UCL Union tells us more about the week of action.
Working in collaboration with NUS’ national Liber8 Education campaign to scrap prevent; our goal for the week is to generate awareness around Prevent and also draw together student and staff support in opposing it.
You may be wondering what Prevent is?
Prevent is one strand of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy ‘Contest’, introduced in 2006. Prevent claims to deal with the process of ‘radicalisation’ that draws people towards ‘extremism’ and acts of political violence.
In 2015, the Counter-terrorism and Security Act placed Prevent on a legal basis on numerous public sector bodies for the first time – known as the Prevent duty. The duty means that public sector workers are trained to spot signs of ‘radicalisation’ in order to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. Staff in universities, schools and NHS trusts are required to report individuals deemed to have extremist views.
A central part of Prevent is the Home Office’s Channel programme. Individuals identified as being ‘at risk of radicalisation’ are referred to Channel and assessed to determine whether they require intervention to ‘deradicalise’ them. Figures from the National Police Chiefs’ Council reveal that following assessment, only one in ten were found to be vulnerable to radicalisation, suggesting that people are being over-referred to Channel. It was also found that a significant number of the referrals were people with mental health needs. Many psychiatrists have argued that vulnerability to extremism can be confused with mental illness and as a result de-radicalisation programmes can interfere with the treatment that mentally unwell patients should be receiving.
As of the passing of the Counter-terrorism and Security Act, the government has also introduced a category of “non-violent extremism” which takes the focus of ‘counter-extremism’ further away from actual acts of violence towards subversive thoughts and ideas. “Non-violent extremism” is defined as “Extremism which isn’t accompanied by violence and which can create an atmosphere conducive to terrorism and can popularise views which terrorists then exploit.” This definition is so vague that it allows for more and more views to be designated as ‘extremism’, rendering anyone a potential suspect. Anyone who challenges or questions mainstream discourses can be labeled an extremist. As a result, we end up living in a society that polices people’s thoughts, particularly those that are critical of British foreign or domestic policy.
Another worrying reality is that Prevent disproportionately targets Muslims. Prevent cannot be taken in isolation from the climate of Islamophobia that pervades Britain today – it is both legitimised by the deep-seated hostility towards Muslims in public discourse, and it in turn legitimises paranoia and animosity towards Muslims. Due to media portrayals marking out terrorism as being inherently a ‘Muslim’ problem, it is no surprise that staff trained on Prevent are already biased to see Muslims as the suspect group, and most in need of surveillance. Ultimately Prevent heightens racist and stereotypical views and further alienates British Muslims.
The damaging effects of Prevent have also manifested in university settings. Recently, King’s College London have taken the drastic step of recording student online activity as part of their implementation of the Prevent duty. On the student login page a message appears warning users that their activity is being monitored and that any evidence of ‘suspicious’ behaviour will be given to law enforcement officials. This has made many students feel like they’re being spied on and has created a lot of mistrust between students and lecturers. The Prevent duty places no upper limit on the extent to which the duty extends, and so there is little to stop universities, including UCL, from pushing the boundaries of surveillance and securitisation on our campuses in the name of compliance.
Concerns have also been raised over the threat that Prevent poses to academic freedom. Students feel like they can’t express views on important political issues that deviate from the mainstream narrative as the line between critique, dissent, subversion and extremism are made increasingly blurred. Likewise, staff feel that Prevent makes students feel cautious and unsafe when sharing their opinions. Ultimately, students and staff want to work in an environment that promotes debate and the challenging of ideas. However Prevent directly works against this culture, since staff are legally obliged to prioritise the reporting of individuals rather than engage in healthy debate.
For all these reasons, UCL and KCL Union have joined forces to challenge Prevent during Dissent from Prevent week.
The week will be supported by the NUS President Malia Bouattia as a part of the Liber8 Education national campaign. Everyone is welcome to join the campaign and come along to the events.
Dissent from Prevent Week programme:
If you would like more information please contact Sayeeda Ali by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.