This week the Metropolitan police assistant commissioner, Neil Basu, Britain’s most senior counter-terrorism officer, spoke candidly about the ineffectiveness of existing policy, particularly the Government’s Prevent programme, the strand of counterterrorism that aims to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism. Basu emphasised the need for counterterrorism to be underpinned by a broader policy agenda around “social inclusion” and called on sociologists and criminologist to help policy makers in identifying the underlying causes of terrorism.
These are all welcome statements, perhaps suggesting some tentative steps in the right direction. However, what is really needed is not tinkering around the edges, but a radical policy shift. This will require along with it much greater recognition of how damaging the existing approach has been.
Prevent is sold by its advocates as being based on safeguarding vulnerable people against the dangers of extremist ideologies, and this is how Basu describes its original intention, while implying that the policy has somehow lost its way. This is a rather sanguine interpretation.