A government that leverages a narrow conception of ‘British values’ and ignores the benefits of genuine multiculturalism, will naturally pathologise religious and political expression.
We assert the need for a new notion of “British values” that is in step with the universal character of our population.
This is an excerpt from the People’s Review of Prevent
The Prevent strategy is set against the realities of British society
Gemma Catney in her 2015 study found that segregation of different ethnic groups in the UK has decreased.
Our neighbourhoods and our cities are becoming more ethnically mixed, especially in London and other large cities, such as Leicester, Birmingham, Manchester and even Bradford.
Mixing has also increased in residential areas, as children of first-generation migrants moving away from more established ethnic majority areas.
This study echoed the earlier 2012 Parekh Report by the Runneymede Trust, which argued that Britain was necessarily plural in terms of those who made up the national community.
This natural mixing of different ethnic groups has an adjustment period where significant inequalities persist – and certainly still do today, ten years later.
So, the Parekh report’s proposal that British identity – and by extension “values” – should be understood in terms of multiple histories of belonging, is still relevant.
That all communities should participate in its definition, is still relevant, as is the recommendation that underlying inequalities should be tackled.
How the notion of ‘British values’ came to be weaponised
These ideas must be reasserted in a political discourse around “British values” that has become confined and homogenous, as well as dangerously securitised under Prevent.
’Multiculturalism’ has had a fragile hold on political discourse, despite the realities of British society, with both New Labour and Conservative arguing for a need to affirm a unifying ‘Britishness’.
As early as 2007, New Labour introduced a duty on schools to “promote community cohesion”, but this was to be in terms of “affirming shared values” and “tackling inequality gaps”.
But this purpose was belied by the merging of “community cohesion” with counter-extremism through blending it with the toxic and Islamophobic Prevent strategy.
Thus, what might have been a well-intentioned attempt to genuinely acknowledge and build upon shared values, became a strategy of “winning hearts and minds”, specifically of Muslims.
Through secretive organs like RICU, the Home Office began covertly funding Muslim “community initiatives”, with the proviso that they shared the government’s political narrative.
The divisive and dangerous nature of the Prevent approach
Groups critical of the expanding Prevent strategy lost funds, and those critical of Prevent were described as ‘extremist’. After 2011, the government refused to engage with these groups.
This strategy of top-down co-option and shaming of community groups through the lens of counter-extremism via Prevent has developed apace.
This is a threat to the democratic process; it seeks to manage both the form of participation of the individual and organisations, in the social fabric of Britain, as well as what is expressed.
It especially seeks to confine and monitor Muslim expression within a particularly narrow, politicised view of what is acceptable for Muslims, including children, to express.
Besides asking why this is the case, we should also be asking how we move away from this narrow approach, to one that is more realistic and fitting for modern Britain.