This week the London Assembly published a report calling for changes to the Government’s Prevent counter-extremism strategy. The Green party’s Baroness Jenny Jones explains why her group were unable to support the report.
We are concerned that no upfront definition of what is meant by extremism is made for the purposes of the report. However, we recognise that, along with the Government’s definition of ‘radicalisation’, these are very contested words and not all Members of the Committee would be able to agree a common definition.
Flexibility is obviously required when professionals seek to define what is and isn’t ‘extremism’, just as flexibility is required when debating what is ‘Britishness’, and the interpretation will often vary according to local circumstances.
But there are obvious dangers to this. For example, the Met Police have previously included at least one member of the London Assembly and several journalists in their database of ‘domestic extremists’. This shows how words such as ‘extremism’ can be interpreted in a surprisingly broad brush way.
We are also unhappy that while the report references the concerns raised about the Government’s focus on non-violent extremism, this is not reflected in the recommendations.
There is academic evidence that the ‘conveyor belt’ idea, which underpins the Government’s new approach to Prevent, is not a valid one. These academics argue that violent terrorists do not grow out of a culture of non-violent extremist ideas.
If these academics are right, then we believe there are three ways in which Prevent could be counter-productive.
First, it could alienate people who have ‘extremist’ ideas but would be potential allies in the fight against violent extremism.
Second, it may hinder the development of the counter-narrative in classrooms and colleges as communities withdraw from discussions in those controlled spaces.
Finally, we believe the larger the number of people being monitored as ‘extremists’, the thinner the spread of Met Police resources becomes.
We believe there should be consultation about whether the emphasis in Prevent on linking violent and non-violent extremism is having a detrimental effect on the work of those trying to engage in their communities and develop a counter-narrative.
We are concerned that the recommendations in the report avoid questioning the Prevent Strategy adopted by the Government. We believe the most significant barriers which the professionals and organisations are facing all stem from the way Prevent is being framed.
If we believe that counter terrorism increasingly relies on information gathered from communities, and less on intelligence services at home and abroad, then we need to radically overhaul programmes like ‘Prevent’.
If decent, law-abiding people view these programmes as counter-productive and we wish Prevent to be more successful on the ground, then it needs to address any fundamental problems in its approach which are creating barriers to implementation. Prevent is failing to win the hearts and minds of many people it needs to reach.
For these reasons we are unable to support this report.