The Prevent policy was introduced in the UK in 2003 as part of an overall post 9/11 counter-terrorism approach (CONTEST), with the aim of preventing the radicalisation of individuals to terrorism. In 2015, the Prevent policy became a legal duty for public sector institutions, and as such, its reach has extended much deeper into society.
This article, based on ongoing ethnographic fieldwork—including interviews, focus groups and participant observations—seeks to uncover and analyse the function of surveillance at the heart of the Prevent strategy. Contrary to official denials, surveillance forms an essential feature of the Prevent strategy. It regards radicalisation as part of an overall conveyor belt to terrorism, and thus attempts to control the future by acting in the present.
The article shows how the framing of the terror threat in the ‘war on terror’, as an ‘Islamic threat’, has afforded a surveillance infrastructure, embedded into Muslim communities, which has securitised relations with local authorities. Its intelligence products, as well as the affective consequences of surveillance, have served to contain and direct Muslim political agency. Such an analysis uncovers the practice of Islamophobia at the heart of the Prevent strategy, which accounts for its surveillance tendencies.