Prevent is one part of the four-pronged government counter-terrorism strategy along with Prepare, Pursue and Protect, and was first introduced to the UK in 2006 by Tony Blair following the 7/7 attacks on London.
The Prevent strategy claims the “risk of a terrorist attack in our country is extremely high,” and therefore the counter-terrorism strategy needs to contain a “plan to prevent radicalisation and stop would-be terrorists from committing mass murder.”
The 2015 Counter Terrorism and Security Act has made the Prevent programme a legal duty for all public sector workers including teachers, doctors and university lecturers. It essentially encourages public sector workers to try to identify those they believe are being drawn into extremism.
The Home Office has stated that “changes in behaviour and outlook may be visible to university staff,” and those universities need “to have the necessary staff training, IT policies and student welfare programmes to recognise these signs and respond appropriately.”
Despite Prevent not mentioning any particular religious group, there have been a series of incidents that have raised questions about how the government regards the actions of Muslims.
On Wednesday, BME MCR and the University of Manchester Islamic Society (ISOC) held a Preventing Prevent event. Speakers at the event included lecturer Dr. Katy Sian; Hannah McCarthy, Campaigns and Citizenships Officer; Vice-President of Student Affairs for the Islamic Society Saffa Mir; and Ilyas Nagdee of BME MCR.
All four speakers highlighted how detrimental and offensive they thought the initiative was, with Nagdee stating that “the entire agenda is steeped in Islamophobia, it will criminalise dissent and create an environment of fear for Muslim and black students on campus.”
After a group discussion, a collective decision was made that students needed to work with the university to stop Prevent having a negative impact on its Muslim students. It was also suggested that working with Trade Unions across campus and setting up a public blog for students who have been unfairly policed by Prevent would be effective.
Preventing Prevent comes at an extremely relevant time, with recent headlines full of negative stories about Muslims and Islamophobic attacks on the rise, with a 68 per cent increase in London alone from 2013 to 2014.
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