“I very much welcome the announcement from the Government, but I do hold my breath with regards to just how independent and unbiased this will be.”
JAN Trust CEO, Sajda Mughal OBE, has written recently for the Metro about the governments Prevent strategy, after an announcement from Security Minister, Ben Wallace of an independent review of the strategy. Since May of 2018 Sajda has lobbied with many others for this review. In this piece, Sajda however addresses concerns she has regarding just how independent the review will be.
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However what we currently have known as Prevent, has failed.
On Tuesday, after years of lobbying, the Government succumbed to calls for an independent review of the long divisive strategy.
I have worked with Prevent for well over a decade, and I have seen its failures first-hand.
Since May 2018, I – with many other organisations and individuals – have lobbied and outlined concerns about the programme, but have been ignored.
Prevent is currently alienating a large section of the Muslim community. It is viewed with suspicion and mistrust, and has developed into a toxic brand.
The lack of trust in Prevent has resulted in huge push-back in communities – on numerous occasions individuals and organisations have refused to engage with the strategy.
There are also many cases that show the failings of Prevent and the urgent need to address concerns.
For example, an eight-year-old boy was questioned by counter-terror police at a school in east London earlier this month. His parents believe the boy was targeted because they were Muslim and the questioning has had an incredibly negative impact on the boy.
Treating children in this manner is wholly unacceptable and can have a long-lasting detrimental impact on someone so young, resulting in mental health issues and only feeds into the narrative of an ‘us versus them’ ethos that is peddled by extremist groups.
Multiple Prevent failings were also made apparent in the Parsons Green case.
“Prevent has failed to win over the hearts and minds of communities.“
Ahmed Hassan, the plan who planted the tube bomb, was referred to the Prevent programme. He disclosed to officials that he had been trained by IS to kill, groomed to fight and that he was struggling with his mental health.
There were a multitude of red flags that were not picked up and actioned, and could have resulted in the loss of lives had the bomb he planted on the tube gone off.
Over the years I’ve also heard numerous accounts and experiences from previous Prevent co-ordinators and projects who have all, in effect, had no faith in the strategy and admitted it was flawed.
It is paramount that this review takes place, and I very much welcome the announcement from the Government, but I do hold my breath with regards to just how independent and unbiased this will be.
It must have a strong set of aims, explore why Prevent has had a bad reputation and is deemed toxic, and why past cases, processes and procedures have failed.
The terms should include engagement with all (and not cherry-picked) individuals, crucially including those who aren’t funded by Prevent. It’s obvious that those who are will not criticiseit, for fear of losing their funding.
If this happens, it cannot be viewed as genuine feedback – I have noticed this when working with the strategy for the last decade.
Certain projects say things behind closed doors but won’t provide it openly or directly to the Home Office, feeling scared to lose their funding.
Additionally, the independence of this review can be guaranteed by commissioning a chair who is autonomous from the government, and has an acute awareness of the review’s importance.
There must be full transparency at the heart of it, including full disclosure of documents, cases, referrals, statistics, who is being funded via Prevent and how much – information that is often guarded very secretively.
Above all, we must ensure the full scrutiny of Prevent to ensure that we can rebuild trust.
Minister of State for Security, Ben Wallace, has stated that ‘this review should expect those critics of Prevent, who often use distortions and spin, to produce solid evidence of their allegations’, which makes me question if this review will be a fait accompli – leaving us with no option to accept it, no matter how effective we feel it will be.
Surely if people are to come forward with ‘solid evidence of their allegations’ then the strategy and its projects will need to be reviewed with the same measures, and this includes holding people and processes to account where there have been failures.
Instead, I fear that this may well become another tick-box exercise and do little to reform the strategy.
After 16 years of this strategy and many terror incidents, the review needs to be asking why wider society, along with the likes of Liberty, Amnesty International and Rights Watch UK, have not bought into Prevent?
The strategy is not working, and needs to change.
Its aim to prevent, and yet the irony is that it has not prevented, and has not engaged with the very people that it purports to help the most: the Muslim community.