Academics criticise anti-radicalisation strategy in open letter

Confidential research used by the government as the basis for identifying radicalisation in the controversial Prevent programme relies on flawed science, a group of academics has claimed.

The study, conducted by psychologists at the prison service, identified 22 “risk factors” for gauging whether individuals are vulnerable to engaging with terrorist groups or posing a security risk.

The risk factors, which have become known as the Extremism Risk Guidance 22+, form the basis for the “vulnerability assessment framework” carried out under Channel, a strand of the Prevent programme that aims to identify and engage with people believed to be at risk of radicalisation.

Referrals to Channel can come from teachers, social workers, healthcare workers and police. Last year, nearly 4,000 people were referred for assessment, including children younger than nine.

The exact contents of the study have been deemed classified by the government, and the Ministry of Justice has previously refused to release it when asked by the Guardian. An official claimed that releasing the details of the 22 risk factors would compromise the assessment.

The “Science of Pre-crime” report has prompted more than 140 academics and experts, including Noam Chomsky, to sign an open letter protesting against the lack of transparency and scrutiny of the science that underpins key aspects of the government’s domestic counter-terrorism strategy.

“We are concerned that tools that purport to have a psychology evidence base are being developed and placed under a statutory duty while their ‘science’ has not been subjected to proper scientific scrutiny or public critique,” they write.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists recently also raised concerns about the secrecy shrouding the evidence base for the risk assessment. “Public policy cannot be based on either no evidence or a lack of transparency about evidence,” the college wrote in a position statement. “The evidence underpinning the UK’s Extremism Risk Guidance 22+ and other data relating to this guidance, should be comprehensively published and readily accessible.”

David Miller, a sociology professor at the University of Bath, told the Guardian: “This is secret research, and we can’t interrogate what the process was that led to the material in the original report. It’s not academic research, it’s not social science – it’s an internal report and not in any way a sound basis for making any kind of policy.”

The Home Office said: “The guidance that is used was based on a peer-reviewed study, carried out to meticulous academic guidelines and published in two publicly available academic journals.

“It informed part of the process used by independent experts to assess a person’s vulnerability to being drawn into terrorism, and the support which would most benefit them to stop this happening.”

Unwelcome Government intrusion in Madrassas

“Wherever children access learning, particularly where they spend a lot of time in an out-of-school setting, we want to be confident that they are safe and are being taught in a way which prepares them for life in modern Britain and to actively contribute to society. We want to be sure that teaching is compatible with, and does not undermine, fundamental British values.”

The quotation is from the Government’s call for evidence for its controversial plans to regulate primarily Muslim madrasas. The brief consultation period was for some reason organised over the quiet Christmas period and furthermore uncommonly cut from the usual 12 week period to close on January 11. But already it has been overwhelming rejected by over 500 mosques and Islamic organisations throughout Britain.

It comes after Prime Minister, David Cameron, decided to suddenly target voluntary out-of-school teaching and threatened to close some of them down. “In some madrasas, we’ve got children being taught that they shouldn’t mix with people of other religions; being beaten; swallowing conspiracy theories about Jewish people,” he told the annual Conservative Party Conference in October.

The Government goes through the formality of holding consultations as part of the policy making process ahead of introducing legislative changes. Currently more than 3,000 are being held though probably few as important as altering the fabric of society. It is a constant battle to broaden its powers by seeking to interfere with and control other pillars, including religion.

As reported elsewhere in this paper, the Conservatives are being accused of being trying to regulate religions under the guise of registering “out-of-school” education settings. “Government sanctioned religious education will lead to alienated faith communities and unduly encroaches on the legitimate right of faith providers to teach their children their faith”, the mosques warned in a joint statement warned.

For the first time, it seems that the targeting of Muslims is no longer underhand. The Prime Minister told The Daily Telegraph that these proposals won’t target Christian Sunday schools or scouts i.e. will focus on only on Islamic madrasas. And Education Secretary, Nicky Morgan, was asked by Channel 4 News: “I take it if a teenager comes home and says they want to be a member of the C of E you wouldn’t expect teachers to press alarm buttons?”, to which she replied, “No, of course not” even though the website she just launched said that “recent rapid conversion to any new religion” should be considered a warning sign of radicalisation.

The encroachment like so many others into the lives of Muslims is being linked with the discredited Prevent Extremism strategy. “There is growing evidence in other educational settings that the application of ‘S.21 Prevent Duty’ within nurseries, schools, colleges and universities has been misapplied due to the vague nature of terms like extremism and the flawed theory of radicalisation,” the statement said.

The campaign against Government meddling is to ‘Keep Our Masjids and Madrasas Independent and Free From Government Interference.’ Suspicions that it has always been the intention of successive governments to have state control of Islam are not new; and want to repeat the control it already exerts over the Church of England to a large degree. The intrusion is highly unwelcome and unnecessary and the Prime Minister ought to take note to the replies to the consultations.

Young British Muslims alienated by ‘us versus them’ rhetoric of counter-terrorism

The government’s “Prevent” counter-terrorism strategy is proving counter-productive, engulfing British Muslims further in the political rhetoric of the global “war on terror”. It has contributed to a growing moral panic between a British “us” and a Muslim “other”.

A hostile attitude towards Islam and Muslims and a tendency to associate Islam with intolerance and extremism, effectively asks British Muslims to decide whether they are Muslim or British by constructing these two facets of identity as incompatible.

Teenagers I’ve talked to for my research have told me they feel they’re not considered “British” because of cultural and religious differences and the colour of their skin. Yet they’re dismissed by Bangladeshis as “tourists”, “Londonis” and “British” and view their parents’ or grandparents’ country as a place of “holiday” and not “home”. They feel they don’t fit in to British society, yet experience cultural and language barriers with their closest relatives at home.

Their stories are stories of identity crisis, dislocation, alienation, exclusion and upheaval. There are struggles with poverty, deprivation, disengagement, disconnection from language and culture, racism, Islamophobia, the complexity of “home” and the question of “Britishness”.

At the same time, I’ve seen them create a new British-Islamic identity – a new Islam for a new generation. With its emphasis on banking, fashion, entertainment, travel, education – this new trendy and chic British-Islamic identity is highly modern, “western” and “British” in its outlook. The only difference is that many of these young people have a higher degree of spirituality and faith – and perhaps have more facial hair or wear the headscarf.

But they are living inside a moral panic that has been constructed by the government and the tabloid press that depicts British Muslims as the un-British, violent, irrational and terrorist “other”. I’d argue that instead, British Islam is actually a peaceful, spiritual and very “British” community.

Schools are one of the key sites of these tensions, particularly with the onus now on teachers to ensure they are teaching children “British values”. The coalition government introduced the Prevent strategy as part of counter-terrorism measures in 2011, but new legislation that came into force on July 1 formalised the strategy and gave the policy much greater prominence in English and Welsh schools.

Prevent remains problematic. Although the guidelines speak about tackling radicalisation and extremism in all communities, in practice there has been a disproportionately negative gaze and focus on the many Muslim communities across Britain – the vast majority of whom are hard-working, honest and law-abiding citizens.

This has been picked up by the National Union of Students whose “Students not Suspects” campaign is calling for a boycott of the government’s counter-radicalisation strategy. It argues that the policy will have a “chilling effect” on academic freedom, debate and free speech and also contribute further to a rise in Islamophobia and racial profiling of Muslim students.

The vast majority of people attracted to the ideology of terror, violence and murder suffer from deep social alienation and are psychologically disconnected from mainstream society. A study from the Hoover Institution at Stanford University suggests that among other complex motivations, righting perceived wrongs is a major terrorist motivation.

Government deradicalisation plan will brand Muslims with beards as terrorists, say academics

The Government’s flagship counter-radicalisation strategy leads Muslims who grow beards to be labelled as terrorists and could be used to clamp down on anti-austerity and environmental campaigners, hundreds of academics have claimed in an open letter to The Independent.

 

Wide-ranging powers brought in this month under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act force teachers, social workers, prison officers and NHS managers to report signs of radicalisation. Those suspected of extremism will be sent on deradicalisation programmes, while the whole system is to be policed by Government inspectors.

But the new law has been criticised as a direct assault on freedom of speech and a move towards a police state. In an unprecedented intervention, 280 academics, lawyers and public figures claim the controversial law will make Britain less safe as it will force radical political discussion underground.

Among the leading academics who want the Government to rethink the strategy are Karen Armstrong, one of the country’s most prominent writers on religion, and Baroness Ruth Lister, emeritus professor of social policy at Loughborough University.

The new regime, part of the Government’s counter-terrorism policy, Prevent, places public-sector workers under a statutory duty to confront radicalisation. Prevent was introduced by Labour in the wake of 9/11 and remains the frontline policy for combating radicalisation. Last month David Cameron said the Government would provide “a full spectrum” response to counter-terrorism, to include the vetting of external speakers at universities and banning those with extremist views. There are also plans to vet broadcast programmes for extremist content.

But the letter claims that “growing a beard, wearing a hijab or mixing with those who believe Islam has a comprehensive political philosophy are key markers used to identify ‘potential’ terrorism”. Moreover, “Prevent will have a chilling effect on open debate, free speech and political dissent. It will create an environment in which political change can no longer be discussed openly, and will withdraw to unsupervised spaces. Therefore, Prevent will make us less safe.”

Karen Armstrong said: “The Government’s emphasis on religious ideology as the chief driving force for extremism is both dangerous and ill-informed… It ignores the fact that influential Muslim leaders – Sunni and Shi’i, Salafi and liberal alike – have roundly condemned the policies of [Isis] as un-Islamic.

“It ignores the Gallup Poll conducted between 2001 and 2007 in 35 Muslim-majority countries in which 93 per cent of respondents asserted emphatically that there was no justification for the 9/11 attacks and the reasons they gave were entirely religious; the reasons given by the 7 per cent who claimed that the attacks were justifiable were wholly political.”

Government’s 'Prevent' strategy condemned by coalition of academics and public figures
Government’s ‘Prevent’ strategy condemned by coalition of academics and public figures

Ms Armstrong, author of Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, added: “After interviewing over 500 people involved in the 9/11 atrocities, former CIA officer and forensic psychiatrist Marc Sageman concluded that the problem is not Islam, but rather ignorance of Islam.”

Schools monitoring pupils’ web use with ‘anti-radicalisation software’

Schools are being sold software to monitor pupils’ internet activity for extremism-related language such as “jihadi bride” and “YODO”, short for you only die once.

Schools are being sold software that can monitor pupils internet use Photograph: Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images
Schools are being sold software that can monitor pupils internet use Photograph: Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images

Several companies are producing “anti-radicalisation” software to monitor pupils’ internet activity ahead of the introduction of a legal requirement on schools to consider issues of terrorism and extremism among children.

Under the Counter-terrorism and Security Act 2015, which comes into force on 1 July, there is a requirement that schools “have due regard to the need to prevent pupils being drawn into terrorism”.

One company, Impero, has launched a pilot of its software in 16 locations in the UK as well as five in the US. Teachers can store screenshots of anything of concern that is flagged up by the software. Other companies offering anti-radicalisation software products to schools include Future Digital and Securus.

Impero has produced a glossary of trigger words such as “jihobbyist” (someone who sympathises with jihadi organisations but is not an active member) and “Message to America” (an Islamic State propaganda video series).

Schools involved with the Impero pilot already have contracts to buy or rent other software from the company, and are trialling the anti-radicalisation software at no extra charge. They are in areas including London, County Durham, Essex, Leicestershire, Warwickshire, Yorkshire and Staffordshire.

Yahya Birt, a Muslim academic specialising in British Islam, tweeted about the four-year-olds potentially being monitored for radicalisation: “They’re pre-lingual, let alone pre-political. It’s bonkers.”

Muslim Ex-Police Officer criticises Prevent anti-Terror strategy

The government’s anti-terror strategy has become “a toxic brand”, a Muslim former senior police officer has said. Dal Babu, a chief superintendent until 2013, said many Muslims did not trust the “Prevent” strategy and many saw it as a form of spying.

The Home Office says there are now Prevent programmes in place in all key sectors, including local government, health, education, prisons, immigration and charities. But Mr Babu, who retired from the Metropolitan Police two years ago, said cases like those of the three London schoolgirls who have gone to Syria had caught the authorities unaware.

He said because police counter-terrorism units were mainly white, with few Muslim officers, they did not fully understand issues of race, Islam and gender.He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Prevent, when it was introduced, was a good idea. It is about engagement of local communities. But over the years it has become less and less trusted.Cameras were implemented, without the community understanding them, in Muslim areas of Birmingham.”

Mizahur Rahman, who underwent a deradicalisation programme after serving a prison term for soliciting to murder, told the BBC that the Prevent programme was never going to work as there was an atmosphere of fear and intimidation.

The Home Office spokesperson defended the programme in a statement: “This Government fundamentally revised the Prevent strategy in 2011 to ensure it challenges terrorist ideology, supports people who are vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism and works with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalisation.

Muslim Group Outraged with Cambridge City Council’s Decision to Give Funds to Citizen’s Advice Bureau

12 May 2012

 

£20 Million has been given to local authorities as a part of the Prevent Strategy, which was introduced by the previous labour government to prevent British Muslim youth from being recruited by ‘radical groups’ after the 7/7 bombings. The money has been used in joint projects with Muslim groups to educate them against radicalization.

 

However, aside from the criticism against the policy which was labelled as surveillance and entrapment of Muslims by some Muslim organization, the projects that the money was spent on have also been a subject of controversy. Many people have been sceptical about the appropriate expenditure of the funds.

 

The Muslim Council of Cambridgeshire’s (CMC) recent statement which lambasted the City Council for allocating the funds to a different project yet again has drawn attention to problems with the Prevent Strategy.

UK Parliamentary Committee Releases Report on “Roots of Violent Radicalisation

The Home Affairs Committee of the British House of Commons released its
long awaited report on “The Roots of Violent Radicalisation” earlier
today. Based on nine months of hearings, site visits and numerous
written submissions, the report provides a comprehensive overview of
recent developments and trends.

It highlights, in particular, the increasing role of the internet, the
emergence of “lone wolf” terrorists, and the potential threat from
far-right extremists. It also assesses the UK government’s revised
Prevent strategy.

Judges Rule: Muslim Baby Adopted to Prevent “Honour Killing”

21.12.2011

On Wednesday before Christmas, Britain’s Court of Appeal ruled that a baby at risk of becoming the victim of an “honour killing” must be adopted to keep her safe. The baby was the result of her unmarried Muslim mother’s secret affair with a married man and now had to be adopted to save it from being murdered by her mother’s family.

The child was conceived in 2009; when the mother found out she was pregnant, she was terrified of her family’s reaction and, with the help of sympathetic relatives, hid her pregnancy from most male family members and gave birth in a hospital far away from her home. When she returned home, she left the baby with adoptive Muslim parents. When the father found out about the pregnancy and the baby, however, he began proceedings to win custody. A High Court ruled, though, that the risk of retribution was too great and, in light of the danger that the mother’s family would kill the baby and her, the baby should stay with its adoptive parents. The Court of Appeal essentially confirmed this decision and regarded the risk of physical harm to the baby and its mother as being of major importance. The judges ruled that the desire amongst the mother’s relatives to preserve the family’s honour was simply too dangerous; therefore, the child has to be brought up by Muslim foster parents.

UK Universities Asked to Report “Vulnerable” Muslim Students

29.08.2011

As part of the government’s revamped Prevent strategy, British universities have been ordered to inform the police about Muslim students who may be vulnerable to radicalisation due to feelings of depression or isolation. According to the new guidance for countering Islamist radicalism, students reported at being “at risk” will then be monitored and Scotland Yard will assess any terrorist threat. However, the students will not be made aware of this investigation. The backdrop to this new focus on universities is the realisation that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallabhad, who has come to be known as the “underpants bomber” of Christmas 2009, had studied at the University College London.

The new guidance has resulted in discomfort amongst both lecturers and student unions who are concerned about the infringement of students’ civil liberties. As the Guardian reports, the National Union of Students, for instance, instructed their officers to not provide the police with details about students unless they presented a warrant. Similarly, James Haywood, president of Goldsmiths college student union, said he was appalled to be asked to spy on Muslim students. The University and College Union criticised the new strategy for risking to damage the relationship between staff and students. Similarly, Ted Cantle warned of the risk to stigmatise Muslims. Despite these criticisms, however, the Home Office defended the new strategy and expressed the expectation on universities to play their role in achieving its objectives.