Why the Prevent duty threatens long-term public security

The foundations of the Prevent duty, although it sits within the broader UK Counter-Terrorism strategy, are pre-crime in nature; it rests on an assumption that it is possible to ‘predict’ an individual’s susceptibility to terrorist violence, even when that individual is a child.

This ‘prediction’ must be based on assumptions. These assumptions are listed in a series of behaviour and belief indicators derived by the state. They include many ordinary aspects of growing  up, religious belief, and political dissent.

The fact that we rely on such a strategy for the national security of the UK is harmful and divisive.

Prevent upends legal principles because it operates way before any intention is voiced or even formed (especially in the case of children) towards violence.

Rather, it kicks in when any ‘indicator’ is identified, and naturally lends itself to the profiling of targeted groups, especially Muslims, treating them like criminals before a crime has been committed or even – in all of our cases – even planned.

Some examples of these indicators include ‘desiring a sense of belonging’ or ‘participation in political activities’, ‘going through transitional period’ – this is why over 2000 under 14s are referred to Prevent yearly, a statistic of which even the Home Office is ashamed.

Prevent reinforces itself and harms us in the process

Prevent referrals have real consequences on individual lives and even the threat of a Prevent referral stops people from being involved in political activism. This is because of the very broad indicators that lead to referrals, which in turns creates a self-censoring environment that can have a pressure cooker effect.

As people become more politically active, especially young people of colour and/or Muslims, they are more likely to be smeared as “extreme” by Prevent. The implantation of Prevent in the immigration system as recommended by the Shawcross Review, is an added injustice towards migrant communities.

It’s important to remember that it is the government who decides what is “extremist” belief and what is not. The Prevent industry encourages this.

This industry is bolstered by the fact that Prevent self-reinforces; high numbers of referrals, even when they are false, give the impression to the lay public that Prevent is ‘working’ and ‘necessary’.

Prevent’s data collection mechanism makes it a huge surveillance mechanism. Not only is it a legal limbo space, where it is impossible to legally challenge an act of non-criminality, it is also a lengthy and frustrating process to remove your data from watchlists.

Prevent is incompatible with human rights

The People’s Review of Prevent as well the recent Amnesty report ‘This is the Thought Police’ found that the Prevent is incompatible with human rights, that it discriminates against Muslims and neuro-diverse people, that it lacks transparency and has an unjust data collection and retention function.

Even though the government presents Prevent as an upstream preventative measure, there is no hard evidence that it actually works, since it is not possible to prove that a crime that has not been committed yet, would have been committed had Prevent not intervened.

Amnesty and many other groups, including more than 18 organisations who supported the People’s Review of Prevent, have called for Prevent to be withdrawn.

We have stated that instead, authorities must rely upon existing safeguarding and criminal justice measures that are age and context appropriate, and that lie within the rule of law. Recent Home Office statistics on Prevent support this call proving that the best alternative to Prevent, is no Prevent.

Prevent needs and fosters racism and other unjust biases

Because Prevent referrals are based on ‘intuition’ linked to the broad indicators, and since intuition is often linked to the racial order found in society, Prevent both encourages and fosters existing structural injustice, whether directed at Muslims, migrants or other groups.

These biases, in a climate of political jostling, are again reinforced by media and populist ideologies, so that targeted groups in UK society who are already cast as suspicious, must encounter Prevent, which assumes their guilt first, because this is its nature.

In this way, Prevent actually leverages existing injustices and biases, both requiring them to work, and strengthening them through its work.

But in truth, what is needed for public security is less of them, and more access to inclusive, well–funded public services.

This article is taken from a recent panel discussion as part of a series with Rethinking Security entitled ‘Community Security: Overcoming a Politics of Exclusion’. We look forward to the culmination of this three-year research project by Rethinking Security towards a new national security policy that is inclusive and just. We hope it includes the call to withdraw Prevent and actively undo the harms that Prevent has created across society.

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