26 February 2010

The Future of 'Prevent'

Well there's been lots of talk, discussion and speculation about the future of the 'Preventing Violent Extremism' programme, what the current government is planning, what a new Tory government would do about it, and so forth.

Earlier on in the week I participated in a roundtable meeting hosted by Rt. Hon. Stephen Timms MP, the Financial Secretary to the Treasury - who also apparently takes the Cabinet lead on faith and community issues.

Anyway, an informed source at the meeting working at a senior level in Communities Minister John Denham's office confirmed in no uncertain terms what is gradually becoming clear to many - the government is essentially looking to narrow down the 'Prevent' agenda into a fundamentally and openly 'security'-oriented programme which may well be police and/or intelligence-led. Meanwhile, community-oriented capacity-building work which has previously been (at least in theory) the province of the 'Prevent' agenda will be relegated primarily to an emerging separate programme of work under 'Cohesion'.

Community capacity-building under Cohesion will be much less focused on one particular faith, i.e. Islam and Muslims, but will work toward getting different faith communities to collaborate and cooperate in various social enterprises. Even the new more ostensibly security-driven 'Prevent' programme would not focus exclusively on Islam and Muslims, but more broadly on 'violent extremism' coming from any other religious and non-religious groups.

Other sources familiar with 'Prevent' working in other government departments/agencies tend to generally corroborate this shift in thinking, so it's clear that although Denham has clearly taken a lead in driving this process in the Communities & Local Government Department, it's the outcome of a fair amount of new thinking going on throughout Whitehall.

Allowing myself to speculate, this could mean that if a new Tory government comes in after this year's elections, it's unlikely to be able or even willing to radically shake things up. The new Cabinet would of course consist of people who've had no experience of government for more than a decade, if not longer. They would be heavily dependent on civil servants to get to grips with things. That doesn't mean that they might not try to implement some major changes - given that many of the Tory MPs interested in security issues like Michael Gove or Patrick Mercer tend to swallow the pseudo-scholarly diagnoses of former (and still clearly quite confused) ex-Hizb ut-Tahrir ideologues hook, line and sinker, it's also likely that a Tory government would wish to ensure that 'security'-oriented programmes continue to focus heavily on Islam and Muslim communities generically.

2 comments:

  1. I think everyone who reads this blog agrees that 9-11 was a pretext. However it was a pretext with two distinct functions. The first widely accepted pretext was to serve as a new Pearl Harbor to mobilize American popular support for an illegal war of aggression on the other side of the planet. The second equally important function of 9-11 was to justify the passage of draconian anti-civil liberty legislation - not only in the US, but in US client states like the UK, Canada, Australia and New Zealand (where I currently live). The Patriot Act happened so quickly after Sept 11, 2001, it has to have been part of the original planning of the 9-11 architects. The massive anti-WTO protests in Seattle in 1999 scared Washington powerbrokers sh**less - as did the US antiglobalization, anti-IMF movement that grew out of it. The problem had to be nipped in the bud. http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com

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  2. Firstly to Mrs Bramhall - I read this blog regularly, and I don't think 9/11 was a pretext - it was used as a pretext - that's not neccessarily the same thing.

    Secondly hello Nafeez, long time no see.

    On the subject of the post, my understanding from those who have been involved in Prevent meetings is very similar - that there is now a palpable drive to remodel Prevent so it covers domestic extremism per se.

    This is problematic on several grounds. At some Prevent meetings participants have been randomly shouting out currents they consider to be extreme "animal rights activists" "anarchists" and calling on something to be done. This is not a good way to make policy. Nor is there anything more likely to allow such currents to appeal to young people than an increase in government/police opposition to them.

    The second problem is the nature of extremism. The numbers of animal rights extremists behind bars is rarely more than a couple of dozen, and their activities, although umpleasant to victims, is rarely if ever deadly.
    Whilst we have seen a steady stream of far-right and gun nut types arrested for terrorist offences in recent years, they are numerically tiny when compared to religiously motivated offenders.

    The Home Office's 2009 figures state that 91% of those in prison in the UK for terrorist offences affirm themselves to be Muslims. At a time when Muslims comprise about 5% of the population, that is indicative of a real problem.

    I guess it is just good politics for Prevent to aim itself at 100% of the problem rather than 91% of it.

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