Prevent is one of the four strands of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy, ‘Contest’, created by the Labour government in 2003, and later widened in 2011. It is farcically described as “a community safeguarding programme” to stop people becoming involved in terrorism. This hinges on a system of reports from ‘community figures’ and has shockingly even been spread to the NHS, threatening doctor-patient confidentiality. This system breeds an atmosphere of fear and suspicion at all levels, dividing people amongst themselves.
Universities are a key area in which Prevent has been implemented. In Oxford and Cambridge each of the dozens of university colleges has implemented the programme differently. For example, St John’s College (Cambridge) has taken a very hard approach. It has instructed all its student-facing and welfare staff to go through Prevent training. And, in a handbook for students, the college refers to students monitoring and reporting their peers for signs of radicalisation. Encouraging staff and students to spy and inform on each other is the method of the Prevent scheme.
Unsurprisingly, it is Muslim communities that are targeted most heavily by Prevent. In November 2017, as part of its implementation of Prevent, Cambridge replaced Dr Ruba Salih, an academic from SOAS, with its own director of communications (Paul Mylrea), as the chair of a scheduled panel discussion on the Israel-Palestine conflict. In response to this, the Cambridge Palestinian Society published an open letter, which accumulated 350 signatures, correctly criticising the University’s “threat to academic freedom”, by supporting “those who seek to silence the voices of the marginalised”.
This toxic system is racist and reactionary. This is seen most widely in the education system, with over a third of referrals being schoolchildren. Responding to a NUS survey, over one third of Muslim students said Prevent had a negative effect on them, and 43% of those stated they felt unable to express their views comfortably.
The context for the targeting of Muslim communities is British and western imperialism, particularly the Iraq war and recent conflicts in the Middle East, especially Libya, Syria and Gaza. To justify the horror of its actions, there has been an active and conscious spreading of racist views through the media and government policy.
In that sense, Prevent is a divide-and-rule tactic used by the establishment against the rest of us. It encourages us to blame each other (and especially Muslims), as individuals, for society’s problems. Instead we should be fighting together against the capitalist system that breeds inequality and war, and against the capitalist class that defends it.
The government uses programmes like Prevent to intimidate and smear with allegations of terrorist sympathies, anyone who speaks out against the atrocities committed by British and US imperialism. The freedom of people to express their opinions, such as the Muslim schoolchildren and the SOAS academic mentioned above, is being trampled by Prevent.
The marginalisation and division created by Prevent and other racist policies causes the atomisation of different struggles, when what’s needed is maximum unity to fight our common class enemy. This is why we need a socialist labour movement, to unite the struggles of the oppressed under the banner of the fight for socialism.
Without such a movement, young working-class Muslims, disenfranchised and alienated by the crisis of capitalism and the racism they experience, are vulnerable to religious fundamentalist ideology. These terrorists pose as radical ‘anti-imperialists’ but in fact are reactionary to the core. They slaughter innocent people, thereby justifying the repressive policies of western governments and dividing workers amongst themselves, without damaging capitalism or imperialism in the slightest. Ultimately, they play the same role and are the mirror image of the imperialists they claim to hate.
Programmes like Prevent only serve to divide us amongst ourselves and further alienate working-class Muslim youth, driving them towards reactionary ideas. We need Labour to abandon racist surveillance programmes like Prevent, and to replace them with a bold, socialist programme that will unite all the oppressed under one banner in the fight against capitalism.
by Thais Warren, Cambridge Marxists