Wednesday 08-11-2017 - 08:36
This November marks the 6th annual Islamophobia Awareness Month (IAM) in the UK since its initiation by the Enough Coalition Against Islamophobia, MEND (formerly Engage) and the Muslim Council of Britain in 2012, which will be marked in colleges and universities across the UK.
The Black Students’ Campaign alongside the NUS Women’s Campaign, Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS), the Students not Suspects network and the Educators Not Informants network are hosting the Students Not Suspects tour against Prevent throughout November, starting at UCL on Wednesday 15 November.
Set up in 2006 under the pretence of ‘countering extremism’, Prevent has served as a tool of racism and repression, legitimising racial profiling, eroding civil liberties and fostering a culture of paranoia and suspicion – overwhelmingly targeting Muslims. It has grown to encompass much of the public sector and includes education, where our schools, colleges and universities are now legally compelled to implement Prevent to monitor students.
Prevent has limited the window for dissent against domestic and foreign policy, been used to physically shut down spaces for organising and educating against oppression, turned students into suspects and educators into informants, and opened politically active and vocal individuals – especially Muslims – up to deeply damaging accusations and smears of “extremism”.
This month we will be touring students' unions across the country to mobilise students and staff against Prevent, holding workshops and panel discussions that develop our collective understanding of why it is a threat to our values. Our fight against Prevent embodies the wider fight against institutionalised anti-Muslim racism and of the repression of student activism: we are fighting for the soul of the student movement as a place to organise for a better society and to hold the state to account.
Since being made compulsory on public bodies under the ‘Prevent duty’ of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTSA), over half a million frontline staff – including teachers, lecturers, GPs, cleaning staff, caterers and more – have been trained up to ‘spot the radical’ for referral to Prevent and its ‘Channel’ strand, fundamentally altering their relationship to those they are charged with protecting.
In colleges and universities, it is now embedded in everything from welfare to IT services to external speaker processes. Students have been notified that their emails may be monitored and their internet browsing can be recorded, and the ‘chilling effect’ of Prevent has been felt throughout the education sector, with educators and activists alike wary of speaking out on contentious topics.
Recently, under the banner of “safeguarding”, Prevent has begun targeting younger and younger victims. Between 2013/14 and 2014/15 - during which the CTSA was introduced to Parliament – the number of Channel referrals for under 18s increased by over 100%, doubling again the next year to a massive 2074. In that same period, the number of under 10s referred shot up by 600%.
If Prevent was really about safeguarding children it would have stated as such from its outset, not crept its way into the safeguarding agenda a near-decade after its introduction. As teachers’ unions like the former-NUT have noted, Prevent in education is having a devastating impact on students and their relationship to their teachers and schools – its real effect on schoolchildren is not in keeping them safe, but in introducing them to a state surveillance that will follow them from the womb to tomb.
In a year punctuated by the inauguration of a US President swept to power on a campaign of Islamophobia, highly visible instances of violence against Muslims, an ever-intensifying campaign of vitriol in the media, and the revelation in last month’s Lammy review that Muslims compromise 15% of prisoners in the UK yet make-up under 5% of the population, the urgency of combatting Islamophobia and anti-Muslim racism in our society is clear.
But Islamophobia will not be solved by limiting our scope to Islamophobic hate crimes, or relying on recourse to the police and state – it cannot be legislated away, nor can racism be policed into non-existence. The Black Students’ Campaign understands the fight against Islamophobia to be part of, and integral to, the wider anti-racist struggle – one that must be taken directly to the state, and organising against Islamophobic policy.
The Prevent agenda illustrates the sharpest edge of state Islamophobia. In Britain, the spectre of “Islamist terrorism” has been used by the state as an excuse for eroding civil liberties for all, and anti-Muslim racism has been used as the lever to curtail legal safeguards. Many of the most brazenly racist statements from Donald Trump on his election trail – such as the calls for “extreme vetting” of migrants and closures of mosques – can, in fact, trace their root to Prevent and the broader British counter-terrorism regime spanning back to Tony Blair’s Labour government.
Despite resting on a roundly discredited model of ‘radicalisation’ that has never been proven to predict or correlate with political violence, and without any evidence base to suggest that Prevent has actually prevented any incidents, the government has pushed ahead with creating a vast apparatus to monitor and keep surveillance on communities in Britain: one which our institutions are legally obligated to comply with.
Breaking down the complex question of political violence to a reductive ‘fast food’ analysis of extremism, drawing upon crude Islamophobic stereotypes, underpinned by poor science and stripped of any public legitimacy: Prevent is a strategy that hangs on tethers.
This Islamophobia Awareness Month join us at a Students not Suspects event near you and let us organise together to finally abolish Prevent.