Since the launch of the initial ‘pathfinder’ fund in 2006, Prevent – the policy mechanism designed to deter people from becoming involved in violent extremism – has been a source of fierce controversy, especially among Muslims. Prevent under Labour was criticised by those on the left for transforming British Muslims into a ‘suspect community’, while many of those on the right saw it as a waste of public money. In 2011 Prevent was re-launched by the Coalition government with a new focus on working with institutions such as universities, hospitals and prisons and less emphasis on community-led grass roots activism. Following the murder of Lee Rigby in May 2013, a specially commissioned Tackling Extremism and Radicalisation Task Force (TERFOR) was set up by David Cameron, which reported back in early December and which made further revisions. But what do these changes mean in practice? Is Prevent still fundamentally flawed or can it now be defended? And what do the changes mean for Muslim groups? This series includes perspectives from five researchers who have studied Prevent under both New Labour and the Coalition.
The series begins with an article by Therese O’Toole et al. (University of Bristol), Prevent after TERFOR: why local context still matters, which examines how the implementation of Prevent has varied across local contexts. By looking into the how Prevent played out in three areas – Birmingham, Leicester and Tower Hamlets – the article draws attention to potential problems with the Coalition’s plan to exert greater centralised control over local authorities.
In two further articles, Arshad Isakjee (University of Birmingham) and Imran Awan (Birmingham City University) focus on Prevent’s uneasy relationship to the surveillance of Muslims. In Project Champion and the stigmatisation of Muslim space, Arshad Isakjee offers an account of ‘Project Champion’ the controversial Birmingham-based surveillance programme that seriously damaged perceptions of Prevent within the city.
In Let’s prevent extremism by engaging communities, not isolating them, Imran Awan then considers the question of whether, even after the Coalition’s changes, Prevent still promotes suspicion of Muslims.
In the final two articles, Katherine E. Brown (King’s College London) and Paul Thomas (University of Huddersfield) offer an overall evaluation of the 2011 strategy.
Katherine E. Brown, whose previous research criticised Labour’s Prevent strategy for depicting women as ‘wives and mothers’ who could ‘pacify’ aggressive ‘masculine’ forms of Islam, contends in Gender, Prevent and British Muslims that the new strategy is no better as it fails to engage women at all.
Finally, in Preventing violent extremism under the Coalition, Paul Thomas charges the 2011 Prevent strategy with obscuring, rather than solving, Prevent’s fundamental problems, and calls for the strategy to be brought to an end.