Home secretary Suella Braverman recently announced the Tories’ plan to accept all 34 recommendations made in a review of Prevent, one of the main planks of the government’s counter-terrorism ‘strategy’.
This ‘independent’ review was conducted by William Shawcross, a notorious bigot who previously claimed that Islam is “one of the greatest, most terrifying problems of our future”. It is no coincidence, then, that the Tory government will now refocus Prevent on tackling ‘Islamist extremism’.
As Braverman put it in the Commons: “Prevent has shown cultural timidity and an institutional hesitancy to tackle Islamism for fear of the charge of Islamophobia.”
Alongside this dog-whistle racism, Shawcross’ recommendations also target climate activists and those fighting against the oppression of the Palestinians.
It is clear that the Tories intend to widen Prevent’s remit to intimidate and criminalise minority communities, foment xenophobia, as well as to expand their repressive powers for cracking down on the explosive movements of tomorrow.
Since its very inception in 2003, Prevent has ostensibly been a ‘community safeguarding programme’. It was later broadened out to force a ‘statutory duty’ upon workers in communities – including teachers, lecturers, and even doctors – to report those deemed ‘suspicious’.
The suggested signs of ‘radicalisation’ outlined in the strategy are extremely vague and ambiguous. These include: changes in a person’s ‘style of dress or personal appearance’; being ‘disrespectful towards family and peers’; or simply showing a curiosity in Palestine.
An alarming 29% of Prevent referrals are of children under the age of 15, with 36% of all referrals made in the education sector.
This includes the referral of a four year-old who was misheard by his nursery teacher to have said ‘cooker-bomb’ instead of ‘cucumber’; or an eight year-old whose parents took him to a pro-Palestine rally.
Not only does this ‘strategy’ consciously whip up an environment of fear and suspicion, but it fundamentally does not work in its own stated aims. As a 2018 study commissioned by the Home Office found, 95% of ‘de-radicalisation programmes’ were entirely ineffectual.
This safeguarding sham was never meant to keep children or communities safe. In fact, it simply foments distrust and division, leading to such heightened feelings of hopelessness and alienation that push Muslim youth into the arms of extremist groups.
Divide and rule
Prevent has primarily been yet another tool for the British establishment to defend its imperialist interests and horrific actions abroad.
Western imperialism’s adventures in Afghanistan and Iraq blazed a trail of death and destruction. Even at the time, these wars were opposed by millions of workers and youth.
In order to generate support for this imperialist meddling, the ruling class waged a relentless, racist campaign of open Islamophobia. Fear-mongering of the Muslim community reached fever-pitch, as the establishment sought a scapegoat for their system’s ills, with little-to-no regard for the consequences.
The dark arts of divide and rule continue to be practised by the Tories. With workers from all walks of life struggling arm-in-arm against cuts and crisis, the suggestion that ‘Islamism’ is the real enemy is as transparent and it is deplorable.
It is no surprise that the Shawcross review has attacked NGOs like CAGE and MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development), who are outspoken on the dangers of Prevent, by accusing them of collaborating with Islamist extremists.
Similarly, Braverman and the Home Office have committed to rebut any criticism of Prevent, tarring outspoken opponents as terrorist collaborators.
This all feeds into the Tories’ ‘culture war’ agenda. Their aim is clear: to create a stir, bolster their rabid base, and divert public attention by sabre-rattling with human rights organisations.
Ratcheting up repression
Prevent has always been a repressive tool, wielded by the British state under the guise of combating ‘radicalisation’. In reality, it has been used to curtail democratic freedoms and frighten young activists who fight for ideas that threaten the status quo.
As Ilyas Nagdee, Amnesty’s racial justice director, has stated:
“There is growing evidence that Prevent is having disastrous consequences for many people; eroding freedom of expression, clamping down on activism, creating a compliant generation and impacting on individual rights enshrined in law.”
Under Prevent’s banner, universities have replaced panel speakers on topics such as the Israel-Palestine conflict, and have produced handbooks encouraging students to spy on peers engaging in political activism.
But this attempt to silence activists cannot cut across the genuine political radicalisation taking place on campuses; the growing appeal of revolutionary ideas amongst students and youth; or the rising tide of class struggle and industrial militancy.
These developments terrify the ruling class. And in response, the Tories have begun sharpening their weapons of repression for the future.
This began in earnest with the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act in 2022, with the intended aim of curtailing protests. The Nationalities and Borders Act soon followed, granting the government the ability to revoke citizenship without even informing the people concerned.
Furthermore, the Minimum Services Bill currently being pushed through Parliament aims to blunt workers’ right to strike. In response, on 1 February, half a million teachers, railway workers, lecturers, and civil servants mobilised up and down the country.
A clear thread runs through all these examples – from cutting back on basic democratic rights, to restricting criticism of the government’s failed and floundering counter-terrorism programme. All of these are an attempt to cow workers and youth into submission.
Ratcheting up repression is not a sign of strength, however, but of weakness.
The ruling class needs to routinely whip up division, demonising minority communities and defaming striking workers, in order to fragment and exploit the working class.
But the Tories’ deliberate and desperate attempts to deflect blame from their system are increasingly failing to cut ice.
At the same time, we should not have any illusions that a Starmer Labour government would be any different. The flag-waving Labour right wing has consistently shown that it is not on the side of the working class, or the Muslim community, and is all too eager to blame migrants for capitalism’s problems.
In reality, the democratic rights we have under capitalism are extremely fragile. This becomes acutely clear in times of crisis and counter-reforms.
The only force capable of combating the repressive agenda of the Tories is the organised working class.
The labour movement must deploy the full strength of the working class, and fight the establishment’s culture war with a united class war. No amount of parliamentary bills will be able to stop workers and youth, when mobilised around a bold socialist programme.