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Prevent gives people permission to hate Muslims – it has no place in schools

Teachers are right to reject a counter-radicalisation strategy that demonises an entire community

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The National Union of Teachers (NUT) has recently backed a motion to reject the government’s counter-radicalisation Prevent strategy at its annual conference. This motion follows the National Union of Students (NUS) motion to boycott the Prevent strategy and its subsequent activism under the banner of “students not suspects”.

The NUT claims that the Prevent strategy is targeting Muslim students, and indeed, the available referral data disclosed under freedom of information shows that between 2007 and 2010 67% of the referrals involved Muslims, and between 2012 and 2013, that figure was 57.4%. This is despite the fact that, according to the 2011 national census, Muslims made up only 5% of the national population.

When one reads the Prevent strategy and the broader UK counter-terrorism strategy (Contest), the gross disproportionality starts to make sense. While the government claims that its counter-terrorism strategies target all forms of extremism, and do not target specific individuals or groups, it is clear that the Prevent strategy centres on Muslims in the way that it frames the threat of extremism and terrorism. Added to this, the allocation of Prevent funding, which was based on the number of Muslims in a local authority. This explicit targeting demonstrates that Islamophobia is central in shaping how the government (and wider society) define and construct extremism and terrorism as solely Islamic problems.

The definition becomes instrumental in targeting specific groups and communities. For example, if as a lawmaker I understand and define crime as a white problem, then I shouldn’t be surprised if most of the suspects in police custody are white. Since the Prevent duty came into force in the education sector in 2015, the guidance offered to those working in schools, colleges, and universities has in many cases served to reinforce the relationship between being Muslim and vulnerability to extremism and terrorism.

Given this, the NUT is right to suggest that the Prevent strategy makes Muslim students more vulnerable to being attacked. Already, there have been numerous cases of Islamophobic attacks against Muslims on the streets of Britain, including those who have been murdered. The academic research suggests that attacks such as these, often called hate crimes, flourish in environments where they are enabled. The practices, policies and rhetoric of the state question the loyalty of Muslims to Britain, cast them as an ever-present security threat, and treat whole Muslim communities as suspect and suspicious. This not only institutionalises, legitimises and reinforces Islamophobia, but also provides the framework in which Islamophobia emerges.

This kind of treatment sends a strong signal to wider society about the nature of Muslims in Britain, and is influential in shaping people’s assumptions about Muslims and Islam– forming the basis of Islamophobia. It sets the tone for how ordinary people interact with Muslims and can be seen to provide permission to hate. The dogwhistle nature of politics also means that politicians disseminate messages that tap into the basest fears, insecurities, and stereotypes to attract new voters – finally, think about the message that the disproportionate levels of stop and search of Muslims sends to wider society about guilt by association and racial and religious profiling.

Right now, the Prevent strategy is securitising and criminalising the most banal of behaviours and ideas, and encouraging an environment of vigilance in ever wider areas of society. In this environment, mainstream Islamic ideas and practices, legitimate political discussions and dissent have been the basis for many Prevent interventions and referrals.

Although in many cases there have been no further actions taken, we cannot underestimate the mental health implications for young students who will have their views affected on the purpose of education, the nature of their relationship with their teachers and lecturers, and about the school and campus space as arenas for open and free discussions.

Prevent is an exercise in Islamophobia that continues to undermine democracy, equality, and justice. The state is complicit in undermining “British values” rather than upholding them.

Source: The Guardian

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