Critics of the programme "should listen to community groups, rather than the ill-informed gossip on the Islington omnibus"by / November 4, 2016 / Leave a comment
Last month, Alistair Carmichael criticised the Prevent Strategy on the Prospect website. Here, Security Minister Ben Wallace mounts a defence of it.
There is something very “echo chamber” about recent criticism of the government’s counter-extremism Prevent Strategy. Without any credible evidence being presented, a number of so-called commentators have taken to the media to denounce the policy. They have ignored the facts, ignored the successes to date and, worst of all, ignored the voices of the people within communities delivering the programme itself. They have chosen to listen to the few and not the many.
One recent critic admitted to me she hadn’t actually spoken to anyone involved in delivering Prevent nor met any individuals who have been channeled through the scheme. She heard criticism from someone who had heard it from someone else. I represent a seat in Lancashire; a county with many challenges ranging from severe deprivation to intercommunity friction. We have seen too many young men and women exploited by those that prey on their vulnerabilities, whether that exploitation is of a sexual, criminal or extremist nature. My constituents are pleased we have Prevent. The threat from exploitation and radicalisation isn’t far away. For us it is real. Young people today, who live their lives more and more online, are particularly at risk. The programme is just one of the strands that feeds into safeguarding vulnerable people from such exploitation.
Contrary to the myths, Prevent is not delivered by white middle class men in Whitehall; it is delivered by local groups from within communities. Take, for example, Kikit Pathwayz in Birmingham, whose outreach team succeeded in stopping two young men from travelling to Syria—even though they had tickets booked for the following week. A simple conversation at the right time saved these two, who spoke of their relief that they’d come across the Kikit stall when they did, fully aware of what may have happened. Or take Luton, where the Luton Mothers’ School plays a vital role in preventing extremism by bringing mothers together to lead by example, combat intolerance and hate, and keep people safe. And it is not the Home Office but local authorities who appoint Prevent officers to work hand in hand with people on the ground. This government and the last Labour government recognised that safeguarding people requires a broad approach that includes schools, social services and police. That is what we continue to practise.
However, I believe there are groups and individuals who are fully aware of the grassroots work yet are irresponsibly fuelling the myths around Prevent anyway. It is the oldest trick in the exploitation playbook to self-declare oneself as the one true voice of a community and then use that power to coerce people towards a single view. We owe it to the majority in communities to not let this happen.
We have provided support for over 1000 people deemed at risk of being drawn into terrorism through the local authority-chaired “Channel programme,” but this is voluntary, and requires the consent of the participant. The kind of support an individual receives will vary. So, for example, a teenager who held anti-Muslim views received mentoring and was involved in a community project with other youngsters from diverse backgrounds. A girl wanting to travel to join Daesh received help from a female counsellor, help with her online habits and family support. Prevent is about safeguarding. Distorting the work of Prevent and actively asking people not to engage puts this entirely voluntary process in jeopardy.
We know the threat of terrorism is real and not going away: last year there were 280 terrorism-related arrests. We also know that Prevent works to support those who are at risk of radicalisation.
Last month I met and spoke with over 100 people from charities and community groups involved in delivering the strategy. They are passionate about what they do and their voice matters more than anything. They are not spies or stooges, they are ordinary people determined to protect their communities and religion from being exploited. Their efforts deserve our support because what they do protects us all.
The irony of the criticism of Prevent is that it often comes from white, middle class people telling communities what they should or should not support from the safety of their Hampstead mansions. Perhaps they should listen to the community groups themselves rather than the ill-informed gossip on the Islington Omnibus. Prevent is working.