In an interview given to Belgium’s national francophone broadcaster this week, Martyn Rush, an MPhil student at St. Anthony’s College and current Politics Officer of the Oxford University Islamic Society, strongly criticised the government’s Prevent strategy, which has been established in order to combat radicalisation in schools, colleges and universities across the country. Describing the policy as ‘completely disproportionate’, Rush went on to say ‘Only one aspect of it is focused on external speakers. The vast majority of the Prevent strategy is actually concerned with monitoring students’ behaviour, their beliefs, and their engagement in debates. So in that sense it is a complete and almost totalising system of surveillance.’ The interview, including the news report in its totality, were later posted on the Islamic Society’s Facebook page.
The rise of the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in particular has seen a number of British nationals and residents travel to Syria in order to fight for the jihadist organisation, as well as attacks carried out in Paris and Brussels by operatives living in Europe; in response to this, Prevent was conceived as a method of countering radicalisation at its source; monitoring invitations of external speakers for radical clerics, cracking down on potential indoctrination at faith schools, and observing student behaviour for signs of potential radicalisation. In particular, concerns over the atmosphere in which individuals such as Mohammed Emwazi – otherwise known as ‘Jihadi John’ – amongst others, were brought up and educated have, according to the government, put them in the position of having to take preventative action as per this counter-terrorist measure.
The Islamic Society is not alone in having been critical of Prevent, which has been attacked from a number of perspectives for allegedly polarising and legitimating paranoid Islamophobia, despite its mission statement of countering ‘all forms of extremism and radicalisation’. The strategy, and particularly its forced implementation in schools and universities, has been criticised for its effects on the quality and scope of classroom discussion by the National Union of Teachers, whilst newly-elected NUS President Malia Bouattia has referred to the strategy as an ‘agenda’ as well as wilful ‘amnesia’ of Britain’s colonial past, and historic intervention in Muslim-majority countries, in an article appearing to blame the West for the rise and operations of terrorist groups in the Middle East. The Prevent strategy has also resulted in very young Muslim children being questioned with relation to terrorism in the UK, as in Lancaster earlier this year.
The achievements of the Prevent strategy are not fully known or recognised due to classification of much of the information involved; however, the nullification of terrorist operations in the UK recently involved the rest of several individuals plotting to bomb shopping centres in Birmingham. There has not been a terrorist attack with multiple fatalities in Britain for 11 years.