Preventing Violent Extremism - Communities and Local Government Committee Contents

2  Prevent and CONTEST

11. In the introduction to our report, the Government's rationale for including a Prevent strand in CONTEST is explained. However, the Institute for Community Cohesion (iCoCo) sums up the view of the majority of our witnesses in stating that

The real problem with the Prevent agenda is simply that it is presently situated within a counter-terrorism strategy and implemented by a team dedicated to counter-terrorism and is therefore viewed through this lens with suspicion and apprehension; there is a strong belief that the community will be spied upon, wrongly accused and treated unfairly; or simply that the community is made guilty by association with terrorism.[18]

12. This has led to accusations of Prevent being "Pursue in sheeps' clothing",[19] implying that Prevent provides a cover for the active pursuit of suspected terrorists. The upshot of such perceptions is that many witnesses believe Prevent "has not minimised extremism but has instead proved to be counter-productive",[20] with "key community members whose engagement is vital to the success of PVE [being] reluctant to be associated with such policies".[21] As the Somali Family Support Group's[22] evidence claims

Positioning a programme that denotes to fight violent extremism and help, support and capacity build Muslim communities in one sentence spelt disaster from day one.[23]

13. In other evidence, witnesses claim that Prevent's focus on Muslims as possible targets for radicalisers not only "serves to legitimise and validate the views of the Far Right and other Islamophobes",[24] but also "alienat[es] the very community that it seeks to engage and influence positively, unwittingly heightening potential vulnerabilities to radicalisation by terrorist propaganda".[25] Oldham-based Asian charity PeaceMaker supports this view and speaks on behalf of many witnesses in saying that

Fundamental to success in our opinion, is the need to engage in these communities with a positive focus, rather than the current emphasis where the rationale appears to be 'we are here to stop you from becoming bad'.[26]

14. The Islamic Society of Britain contends that terminology has played a major role in creating the stigma associated with Prevent:

Terminology was a challenge in itself, and the outcome was to name the programme by its very aim. It [sought] to prevent ideas (leading to violent action), and so it was named: Prevent. By its full title, 'Preventing Extremism' and then a little later 'Preventing Violent Extremism', it also sought to focus on the criminal act of violence and distance itself from the problem being a religious problem per se. Whilst we believe this direction was the right approach, it is questionable whether the term 'Prevent' itself achieves that. The term 'Prevent' lends itself to the idea that there lies a dormant terrorist within Muslims; that somewhere, entwined in their instincts and licensed by their religious beliefs, there is the possibility that some, albeit very rarely, will turn to terrorism against the state. And so we must do everything to 'prevent' that from happening.[27]

15. The Government recognised that terminology had been an issue and, as a result, made revisions to Prevent guidance in late 2009, encouraging local authorities to drop the Prevent title in their local programmes. Prior to this, some local authorities negotiated the 'branding' of their local Prevent programmes on a case-by-case basis. Leicester City Council, for example, opted for the title 'Mainstreaming Moderation' as the authority found that Prevent "created a number of issues in terms of creating a barrier that [it] felt was unnecessary".[28] Despite Government action however, many witnesses believe it came too late to have positive impact, as LB Barking and Dagenham describes:

Recent efforts by the Government to re-present and re-focus the Prevent agenda are unlikely to overcome negative impressions about the programme already implanted in both Muslim and indigenous communities.[29]


16. In common with a great many witnesses, evidence from London-based research organisation the Institute for Policy Research and Development (IPRD) highlights the risk that Prevent "criminalises" Muslims by labelling them all as being at risk from violent extremism. The IPRD adds:

The scope of risk-assessment is rendered potentially unlimited by the assumption, recently espoused by the MI5 Behavioural Science Unit for instance, that there is no "typical pathway to violent extremism" for British Muslim terrorists who fit "no single demographic profile"—all genders, classes, ages and localities of British Muslims may therefore potentially be "at-risk".[30]

The Government has been at pains to stress that any such perceptions of Prevent are based on a total misconception of the programme, as CLG explained in its evidence:

the Government does not want terrorism to define, or be perceived as defining, the relationship between Government and Muslim communities. As with all communities, the Government has contact with Muslim communities across the full range of public activities and policies. We are clear that the vast majority in our Muslim communities are against violent extremism and want to work with the Government to tackle the terrorist groups who target the vulnerable.[31]

17. However, the submissions we have received suggest that the Government has not been successful in countering the perception that preventing terrorism defines its relationship with Muslim communities, despite warnings from the start of the programme of that risk. The Preventing Extremism Together Working Group on Supporting Regional and Local Initiatives[32] warned in its 2005 report that "Targeting only Muslim communities would result in further stigmatising them as being the 'problem', which could potentially lead to increased alienation whilst society at large plays little or no role in the two-way integration process".[33]

18. Sir Norman Bettison of the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) agreed that the targeting of Muslims as a single group had not necessarily been very constructive.[34] However, Charles Farr, Director-General of the Office of Security and Counter Terrorism, asserted that

It is a simple statement of fact that al-Qaeda tends to focus for its recruitment operations on people in Muslim communities of a variety of different kinds and, of course, not just in this country but in every other country in Europe and across the world. Inevitably, if you start with al-Qaeda you tend to begin to look at the constituencies that they focus on, and that means Muslim communities. One has to qualify that immediately by saying that it does not imply that Muslim communities are somehow universally vulnerable to al-Qaeda because clearly they are not. The Muslim community, like any other community in this country, is clearly and explicitly opposed to al-Qaeda and what it stands for.[35]

19. We accept this justification and do not question the security services' analysis of the nature of the current terrorist threat to the UK. However, we also have sympathy with Oxfam's view that "Muslim communities feel that both the problem of extremism and its solutions are laid at their door".[36] Suleman Nagdi of the Federation of Muslim Organisations in Leicestershire further illustrated this point to us, asking

if we take the money, [is there] an expectation that if, God forbid, this whole strategy fails, [we will] then be held accountable?[37]

20. Government has acknowledged such concerns and recognises that "good Prevent delivery programmes can be wholly undermined by poor communications".[38] Government has therefore employed media such as RICU (the Home Office Research, Information and Communications Unit), to ensure that counter-terrorism messaging has a positive impact in communities. However, as the Association of Police Authorities points out, although "central government has made repeated efforts to communicate the objectives, and this is supported on a day to day basis by RICU",

ultimately, many Muslim communities will not agree with the Prevent agenda and feel that they are being targeted. Ultimately communications efforts aimed at these sections of communities may not be successful.[39]

21.The fact that Prevent forms part of the UK's counter-terrorism strategy has not been welcomed in many quarters. Despite significant efforts by Government to clarify that Prevent focuses on al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism (as opposed to Muslims per se), Muslim communities have felt unfairly targeted and branded as potential terrorists. The strategy has contributed to a sense of frustration and alienation amongst Muslims which may increase the risk of making some individuals more vulnerable to radicalisation. Prevent's focus on Muslim communities has not, therefore, been constructive. We return to the question of whether Prevent should continue to form part of the national CONTEST strategy later in our report.[40]


22. During the early stages of our inquiry, the Guardian published an article claiming that Prevent was being used as a cover to "spy" on Muslims:

The government programme aimed at preventing Muslims from being lured into violent extremism is being used to gather intelligence about innocent people who are not suspected of involvement in terrorism […] The information the authorities are trying to find out includes political and religious views, information on mental health, sexual activity and associates, and other sensitive information, according to documents seen by the Guardian. […] Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, branded it the biggest spying programme in Britain in modern times and an affront to civil liberties.[41]

Around the same time, the Institute of Race Relations published its report Spooked, which claimed that a range of Prevent-funded projects were being used by statutory agencies to "trawl for intelligence":[42]

In another case, Prevent funding was approved for a youth centre aimed at Muslims in a northern town. The centre was to provide sports, keep fit, recreational facilities and careers advice, as well as religious guidance that aimed at providing a counter-extremism narrative. The bid also recommended the inclusion of free IT facilities as it was 'good for monitoring which websites people were visiting' and 'intelligence gathering' was stated as one of the rationales for the centre.[43]

23. In evidence to our inquiry, the Institute of Race Relations added that the "embedding" of counter-terrorism police in local services was a major cause for concern in Muslim communities, suggesting that

There is strong evidence that Prevent-funded services are being used for information gathering by the police [...] In practice, a major part of the Prevent programme is the embedding of counter-terrorism police officers within the delivery of other local services.[...] The extent to which counter-terrorism police officers are now embedded in local government is illustrated by the fact that a West Midlands Police counter-terrorism officer has been permanently seconded to the equalities department of Birmingham City Council to manage its Prevent work. [...] Muslims may want to avoid participating in the government's Prevent programme for a number of reasons which have nothing to do with support for extremism—for example, concerns about surveillance, transparency, accountability or local democracy.[44]

In response to this particular claim, Birmingham City Council rejects any notion of secrecy in its approach and openly describes the partnership that exists between the local authority and the police in the area:

West Midlands Police Security & Partnership Officers work within communities, as part of the Counter-Terrorism Unit, to assist in delivering the Prevent agenda. Their role is to provide an overt, visible and accessible link between the covert counter-terrorism function, the Police, communities and partners.[45]

24. We questioned Arun Kundnani, author of Spooked, about the allegations in his report, particularly in view of the fact that the report was based on the experiences of a small sample of stakeholders.[46] Mr. Kundnani stood by the allegations and further asserted that "From all the conversations I have had since we published our research and with other youth workers who have come forward, [this impression of Prevent] does seem to be fairly common. The police are putting pressure on people who are involved in working with young Muslims to pass this kind of information to them".[47]

25. The perception that Prevent funding is targeted at projects which 'spy' on Muslims was shared by a large number of our witnesses and is seen to be a major failing of the programme. This perception has been exploited by groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir who are in any case opposed to Muslims engaging in any way with government. In its 2009 publication, Stronger Together, The New Local Government Network pointed out that "In several local authorities some Muslim communities have refused to engage with programmes or seek funding under the Prevent banner. In one area, the money has even been described as 'blood money'".[48] Other witnesses, such as the Network of Sikh Organisations feel that Prevent has created a "sense of alienation, however misplaced, [which] plays into the hands of those in the Muslim community with an extremist agenda".[49] Despite advice from Government that local authorities could drop the title Prevent from their funding streams so as not to stigmatise local projects bidding for funding, Reading Council for Racial Equality suggests that the damage has already been done, meaning that an altogether different strategy—clearly distinct from the counter-terrorism agenda—would be preferable:

The national strategy has harmed our local work and provided groups such as Hizb-ut-Tahrir with a cause. Currently such organisations are getting a good foothold in the community with scare-stories about 'stigmatising', 'spying' etc. A wider community cohesion approach would enable communities to come together more easily.[50]

26. We raised the issue of 'spying' with Charles Farr of the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism. He told us with great conviction that

The allegations about spying [...] are completely unfounded and we have looked at them in some detail. I am happy to share a report with you which explains exactly what conclusions we have reached about those allegations. In fact, the truth is almost entirely the opposite. The direction of the information, intelligence if you will, regarding the Prevent programme is from the police and from the security agencies into local authorities. That is how we have configured it and that is how it must be.[51]

Mr Farr also concurred with Reading Council for Racial Equality's stance in saying that "a mythical construct of Prevent which does not exist and is not part of the strategy" and which is "rooted in the misrepresentations which Prevent suffered from notably in the articles that the Guardian ran to some degree on the IRR report by [Arun] Kundnani",[52] has encouraged the disengagement of many local community organisations from the programme.

27. Following the claims made in the Guardian, the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government asked OSCT to conduct an urgent investigation into the substance of the allegations. OSCT's investigation found the claims to be unsubstantiated and RICU issued a factsheet on 27 October 2009 setting out the Government's response to the allegations. In a similar way, the claims made in the Spooked report were also investigated and a detailed response provided which not only expressed concern at the methodology behind the report (including the small sample of witnesses interviewed), but also made clear that the Home Office disagreed with the majority of its findings.


28. During our evidence gathering, it became clear that much of the anxiety about 'spying' and 'intelligence gathering' under Prevent was connected to a particular programme, delivered under the auspices of the Home Office. Whilst the remit of our Committee is the work of the Department of Communities and Local Government, the delivery of Prevent at local level does not necessarily make clear the separation of responsibilities of central government departments. Some consideration of the Channel programme therefore seems appropriate at this point, in order to address the concerns of our witnesses.

29. Channel is an intervention which for some witnesses has met with success and, for others, courted much controversy. The Channel process identifies an individual's risk of vulnerability to becoming violently extreme and their influence on others. These individuals may not have committed any criminal offence but information is received, sometimes from community members, about their activities. This might include accessing terrorist websites, frequently talking about taking violent action or other negative behaviours. If the risk assessment suggests that interventions are required, then a partnership of police, statutory partners, councillors and appropriate local community leaders will consider what community interventions are available and appropriate in each case. Unlike Prevent, Channel focuses on all types of extremism, not just that inspired by al-Qaeda.

30. Although the aim of Channel is in principle simply to provide a mechanism, within a strictly defined process, for individuals or groups to be supported and diverted from violent extremism, it has been described as a "high risk strategy" with "the potential to result in mistrust and suspicion"[53] in some places. Arun Kundnani explained to us why he saw it this way:

I think it is a serious human rights issue that people are being identified to the police simply on the basis of expressing opinions that some of us are uncomfortable with, but which are legal opinions to hold. I think for that reason the Channel Project in particular is deeply flawed and should not be in existence in the way it is at the moment.[54]

31. Charles Farr of OSCT responded to the concerns about Channel:

The Channel programme is clearly inherently sensitive […] You are asking statutory partners to look at vulnerable individuals, named individuals at a certain point of the process, to consider what are at some point intensely personal details about those individuals and to consider whether support should be provided to them. We take our responsibilities for the protection of personal data which is exchanged in that process incredibly seriously. We are governed by the Data Protection Act and we are governed by information sharing protocols that apply to other areas of crime prevention in local authorities and policing and we have built upon those protocols. I am completely sure in my own mind that the law prevents us doing what some organisations think we are doing. Channel is not a mechanism for spying. We do not need a mechanism for spying of that kind, and it is the last thing the security or police services would want to do.[55] […] For the avoidance of doubt, surveillance is not part of the Prevent programme and intelligence gathering is not a feature of the Prevent programme. It does not say so in the strategy and does not say so in our guidance documents. What we have said is what you get.[56]

32. As our evidence gathering progressed, we became conscious of the fact that differing interpretations of terminology relating to concepts such as 'intelligence gathering', 'spying' and 'surveillance' were posing major challenges in themselves with respect to the Prevent agenda. As Birmingham Activist Citizens Group described, "Some community groups equate project monitoring with intelligence gathering by the authorities as the role of the police is visible both in terms of their presence on key strategic bodies as well as visibility of uniform".[57] Some witnesses also took exception to the requirement in the Prevent strategy for local authorities to have a "sophisticated understanding of local Muslim communities including strong knowledge and their make-up including different ethnic groups, denominations, social and economic status, elected representatives, community leaders, knowledge of location and denomination of mosques, awareness of community groups".[58] As the Muslim Women's Network UK stated, "This part of the strategy highlights the amount of scrutiny that Muslim communities are under".[59]

33. These views suggest that some stakeholders may have confused the need for local authorities to understand the background and social patterns of communities they serve, and the beliefs, attitudes, habits and values of the people with whom they engage, with the kind of 'intelligence' required by the police and security services to combat crime and undertake surveillance. As Charles Farr said, "the direction of [...] information, intelligence if you will, regarding the Prevent programme is from the police and from the security agencies into local authorities".[60] The purpose of information-gathering in this context, then, is not to put communities under scrutiny, but to enable local public services—police and local authorities—to serve them better.

34. It should also be acknowledged that the sharing of personal information in the interests of crime prevention, or to protect vulnerable people, is sometimes necessary. CLG's August 2009 publication Delivering the Prevent Strategy: An updated guide for Local Partners provides clear guidance on policy, procedures and legislation relevant to the sharing of personal information and intelligence between Prevent partners. The document stresses the key principles of information sharing, stating that "Partners may consider sharing personal information with each other for Prevent purposes, subject to a case by case assessment which considers whether the informed consent of the individual can be obtained and the proposed sharing being necessary, proportionate and lawful".[61]

35. We therefore felt it important to clarify the terminology around 'intelligence gathering', 'surveillance' and 'spying' with OSCT. Charles Farr told us:

Clearly if someone is involved in activity which suggests they are being drawn into the world of violent extremism, such as the Chairman's point about browsing a chat room or operating in a chat room, which is clearly one of those which encourages violent extremism, if that activity stops short of something which is illegal under the Terrorism Acts, notably TACT 2006, that is the sort of person we would expect to get referred to Channel, not to criminalise them but precisely to avoid them criminalising themselves. That process by any reasonable definition of the term "spying" and certainly by the definition in UK law does not amount to spying. Spying defined by the Security Service Act makes it absolutely clear who does covert operations. Channel enables the referral by people for the purposes of crime prevention to a group comprising of local authority and police members. That person is not then, as it were, subject to surveillance, they are provided with support which is precisely intended—I repeat—to stop them being, as it were, drawn into violent extremism and thence into the criminal justice system.[62]

36. To clarify the boundary between Channel and surveillance undertaken by the security services operates, we probed further, asking whether it was possible for an individual to be subject to Prevent interventions and, at the same time, be under surveillance by the security services. Charles Farr answered:

No. We would never get ourselves into a situation—let me be completely clear about this—where someone was put forward and agreed and nominated on to a Prevent programme whilst they were being subject to surveillance by the security authorities. To do so would be completely improper, precisely not what we want to achieve with Prevent. We need, and this happens at the Channel referral process, to understand the individuals being referred. If it is clear that they are engaged in activity which is right on the edge of legality, i.e. are associated with people who may be engaged in terrorist activity, then it would be wrong to put them on any sort of Prevent programme.[63]

37. The Secretary of State, John Denham, also defended Channel and drew comparisons with approaches to preventing other types of crime. He also pointed out that the sharing of information between local partners in a bid to protect vulnerable people and prevent crime pre-dated the Prevent programme and was a normal part of the work of local crime and disorder reduction partnerships:

There is a legitimate aim, which I would say would be recognised in all sorts of crime prevention areas, of trying to identify particularly young people who may be in danger of being drawn into more serious crime. It is something that would be absolutely taken for granted if we were looking at gun and knife crime or other areas of crime. The attempt to identify those who are vulnerable and steer them in one way or another is a legitimate aim. [...] It is the case in most—I am not sure I could say all—crime reduction partnerships at local level that there are information sharing protocols between different organisations about people who might be vulnerable or be drawn into crime. What were sometimes presented as things specific to the Prevent programme were simply information sharing protocols which had been in place, in most cases, for many years before the Prevent programme had been established.[64]

38. In oral evidence, Sir Norman Bettison of ACPO provided a significant example of the importance of targeted multi-agency interventions in preventing events such as that experienced by Londoners on 7 July 2005. This underlines the potential for catastrophe when early warning signs are not acted upon:

Hasib Hussain was a young man, a third generation Leeds-born individual. [...] He was a model student at Matthew Murray School in East Leeds. He went on at the age of 18 to strap a rucksack to his back and blew up the number 30 bus that we have all seen in the scenes that followed the 07/07 bombings. We started to unpick what was known about Hasib Hussain. He had never come to the notice of the police at any stage in his young life and therefore in terms of opportunities for the police to intervene to prevent what went on to occur, there were just no hooks there. However, what we did discover is that as a model student whilst at Matthew Murray School his exercise books were littered with references to al-Qaeda, and the comments could not have been taken as other than supportive comments about al-Qaeda. To write in one's exercise book is not criminal and would not come on the radar of the police, but the whole ethos, the heart of Prevent is the question for me of whether someone in society might have thought it appropriate to intervene. What do I mean by intervention? I do not mean kicking his door down at 6 o'clock in the morning and hauling him before the magistrates. I mean should someone have challenged that? They are the sorts of cases that get referred through the Channel scheme.[65]

39. Allegations of 'spying', 'intelligence gathering' and 'surveillance' under the Prevent programme are widespread. These allegations are not only alienating individuals but also deterring organisations from becoming involved to do good work in the communities they serve. CLG and the Home Office have made good attempts to try to dispel fears of 'spying', but these messages are clearly not being understood or accepted. We believe that the misuse of terms such as 'spying' and 'intelligence gathering' amongst Prevent partners has exacerbated this problem. We recommend that the Government take urgent steps to clarify how information required under Prevent does not constitute 'intelligence gathering' of the type undertaken by the police or security services. We also recommend that clear definitions of these terms be provided in all public guidance inviting bids for Prevent funds.

40. We welcome the Government's investigations into allegations of spying and intelligence gathering under the Prevent programme, but we cannot ignore the volume of evidence we have seen and heard which demonstrates a continuing lack of trust of the programme amongst those delivering and receiving services. Based on the evidence we have received, it is not possible for us to take a view. If the Government wants to improve confidence in the Prevent programme, it should commission an independent investigation into the allegations made.


41. Whilst many in Muslim communities feel that Prevent has thrust them into an uncomfortable limelight, the strategy has also had repercussions in other parts of the community. The Network of Sikh Organisations pointed out that

The government's engagement with religious communities is badly skewed by over-focussing on Islamic extremism. This has produced a sense of unfair targeting within the Muslim community, and a corresponding sense of marginalisation among those of other faiths. Sikhs are particularly conscious of the negative rebound of Islamic extremism on many turban wearing Sikhs and our places of worship.[66]

Dr. Paul Thomas at the University of Huddersfield highlighted the "backlash"[67] Prevent has provoked amongst other communities which feel that Muslims are being given preferential treatment, or even—as Dr. Indarjit Singh of the Network of Sikh Organisations told us—"a sort of favoured status as a result of radicalisation".[68]

42. Dr Singh also commented on a growing "sadness"—as opposed to jealousy or resentment—in faith communities to see interfaith dialogue being "skewed" by an agenda which should be "purely to do with the evils of crime and crime prevention".[69] Dr Singh added that "the involvement of religion in a nebulous way [...] suggests religion is a problem [whereas] interfaith dialogue [had been] moving towards getting communities together, tackling real differences and impediments to understanding the bigotry of belief and things like that. [Those things] have been pushed to one side".[70]

43. The Muslim Council of Britain reflected the concern of many witnesses when they commented that Muslim organisations have been encouraged to depend on Prevent funding for projects which would previously have been funded through other, more 'mainstream', channels:

Since the Prevent policy was instituted, the opportunity to access mainstream funding has diminished with those affiliated to MCB reporting that they are being directed to funding emanating from the Prevent strand rather than through previous sources of funding.[71]

Conversely, Prevent has also opened doors for opportunists in a less than desirable way, as Oldham-based Asian charity PeaceMaker describes:

Traditional South Asian organisations are successfully accessing Prevent funding through emphasising the Muslim aspect of their identity. This funding is being used to replace historical race equality funding that has seen severe cutbacks with the emergence of the cohesion agenda. Indeed, Prevent funding is being used to deliver activities that are anti-cohesion, and this is taking us back at least 5 years in the way in which we engage and support community groups.[72]

The Islamic Society of Britain believes that there are many instances in which 'square pegs' are being made to fit 'round holes' to a certain extent, so as to benefit from Prevent funding—a practice which it calls "be[ing] Prevent enough":

local delivery plans and subsequent programmes built on those plans seem to be eager to accentuate a Prevent dimension in order to 'be Prevent enough'. This stretching of project designs in order to make them worthy of Prevent consideration can lead to hit and miss results for the central aims of Prevent. Moreover other project proposals that can achieve the very forms of indirect inoculation from hate messages that Prevent is seeking to achieve, do not receive due attention because they may not 'be Prevent enough'.[73]

44. These comments hint at problems with the way in which Prevent funding is currently being targeted—something which we will discuss at greater length later in this report. However, it is interesting to note at this point the Quilliam Foundation's view that funding is currently being aimed "carelessly", rather than where need is greatest:

Prevent is a very important and delicate programme which necessitates a focus on the most vulnerable people in society and on establishments where radicalisation is occurring, not aimed carelessly at areas which simply have many Muslims resident in them. This strategy risks alienating British Muslims by playing into the hands of groups which claim that Prevent is aimed against all Muslims, not just extremists.[74]


45. The vast majority of our witnesses concurred that Prevent has too strong a focus on Muslims and insufficient regard to other forms of extremism, such as that stemming from Far Right politics. As West Yorkshire-based think tank JUST argues:

The evidence of the bias and disproportionality in relation to the application of the PVE programme is particularly evident when comparing the government's response to Irish terrorism and far-right extremism. Neither threats were accompanied by the overwhelming securitisation of public services, the burgeoning of the state security apparatus, the doubling in the number of intelligence officers and the attribution for the blame for extremism—presumed to be the penultimate step in the journey towards active terrorism—on all Irish or all White people in the way that Muslim communities have been maligned.[75]

46. In common with a great many witnesses, the New Local Government Network recommended that "there should be a clear, proportionate and consistent approach which targets all violent extremist ideologies within our local communities, not just Islamist ideology […]".[76] However, the CONTEST strategy makes clear the reasons for its single focus on al-Qaeda inspired terrorism, showing why a dedicated focus on tackling this issue is required:

The current international terrorist threat is quite different from the terrorist threats we faced in the past. Contemporary terrorist groups claim a religious justification for their actions and have a wide-ranging religious and political agenda; they are no longer concerned with a single issue. Many seek mass civilian casualties and are prepared to use unconventional techniques (including chemical or radiological weapons); they conduct attacks without warning; they actively seek to recruit new members in the UK and elsewhere around the world.[77]

47. In his speech to front-line Prevent workers at the National Prevent Conference in December 2009, John Denham addressed the concerns of many of our witnesses regarding the focus of Prevent, saying:

It is important that local Muslim communities do not feel they are being singled out if other forms of extremism are a threat in the area. [...] The threat from Al-Qaeda inspired terrorism remains the greatest threat—in terms of number of plots and the ambitions for death and destruction that are expressed. But Government and our whole society must oppose extremism wherever it exists. [...] We are already working across Government to tackle hate crime, including that from far-right extremism. We are supporting areas where we know far-right organisations are mobilising. Through the Home Office led Channel programme and the new Connecting Communities programme, we are tackling head on the issues—real and perceived—which if left neglected can prove fertile territory for extremism and those who would divide our communities.[...] So I want to make it clear today: any area facing far right or racist extremist problems which divide communities should have a strategy for addressing those problems. And those areas should be resourced for that work.[78]

48. Whilst this announcement was welcomed by many of our witnesses, it was not a commitment to broaden the focus of Prevent to other forms of extremism, as some witnesses interpreted it. Instead, work on preventing extremism such as that from the Far Right, will be carried out under separate programmes, such as Connecting Communities. Although the majority of our witnesses preferred a widening of Prevent, there are supporters of the Government's approach. Organisations such as Quilliam believe that any broadening of Prevent's focus would contribute to further misunderstandings and further alienate the communities on which Prevent depends for cooperation:

[…] are we not moving in the wrong direction now by saying, "Actually, we will include all types of extremism" when in reality the focus is still on Islamic terrorism, so we are getting vaguer in our targeting, for what reason I do not understand other than political correctness possibly; and yet we are sending out completely the wrong messages, both to the Muslim community who may think they are being tarred with a particular brush and to perhaps the wider community who are puzzled about what this programme is actually about.[79]


49. Earlier in this chapter of our report, we clarified the point made to us by Charles Farr that Prevent does not focus on Muslims per se, but on Al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism, which tends to focus its recruitment on Muslim communities. This goes some way to explain the need for a targeted programme which prevents the likelihood of a Muslim being affected by this type of risk. However, it is widely criticised as a crude blanket approach to the problem as it fails to recognise the diversity within Muslim communities, as Ted Cantle of the Institute of Community Cohesion explained to us:

the irony is that the Prevent agenda reinforces the Muslim identity because it only approaches Muslims through their faith rather than recognising that everyone, all communities, all people, has lots of different identities and multiple identities. Prevent does not engage with them as parents, as employees, as members of any other type of activity at all. It makes the community more inward. It creates the impression that the only thing that the government is interested in is their Muslim-ness. That is exactly the opposite of the approach that we should be taking, which is to try and recognise that members of the Muslim community, like all other communities, have multiple interests and have the ability to engage at a lot of different levels.[80]

50. The Institute of Community Cohesion further states that "Muslim identity, paradoxically, has also been narrowed and reduced to a simple faith persona, rather than building upon and providing wider experiences for people of Muslim heritage".[81] Naz Koser of Birmingham group Ulfah Arts highlighted the potential problems of engaging Muslims on a faith-related basis, telling us that "When you break it down there are 73, if not more, different sects of Islam and we all practise differently, we are all from different cultural backgrounds".[82] Ms Koser went on to tell us that, because of the programme being targeted on faith-related grounds, confusion and resentment had started to surface in the community:

whoever gets funded everybody else is thinking, "they have been funded because of this, that or the other" and there is this conversation around Muslim women who are supported are women who wear hijab, not the women who do not wear hijab. All of these rumours are escalating at local level.[83]

51. Some local authorities have already recognised the drawbacks of prioritising faith criteria when deciding how engagement and project funding should be managed within Prevent. Lambeth, for example, has a specific programme called Together As One, which aims to look at the way broader issues are affecting Muslim communities, such as employment, health, access to services and civic engagement.[84]

52. However, the perceived conflation of the Islamic faith with terrorism has been a source of much contention with regards to Prevent. At no point does CONTEST suggest that religion leads to terrorism; only that contemporary terrorist groups may use religious justification for their actions. The question of how great a role religion plays in influencing an individual to turn to violent extremism or terrorism was one of the most hotly disputed issues of our inquiry, and one which we consider in more detail in the next section of our report. Meanwhile, we draw the following conclusions about the effects of the way in which Prevent has been implemented up until now.


53.The fact that Prevent only focuses on al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism has both added to feelings of alienation and stigma in Muslim communities and brought about deep resentment in non-Muslim communities on the basis that funding is being given to Muslims and not other communities in need. Prevent has failed to harness the potential of interfaith dialogue to contribute to increased resilience to violent extremism through increased community cohesion. Useful community-based work previously funded through other channels is being directed towards Prevent funding streams and a counter-productive association with an anti-terrorism agenda, while new projects have sprung up to tap this new funding stream which address neither community cohesion, tackling exclusion, nor counter-terrorist objectives in any effective way. All of these outcomes suggest that Prevent has not been properly thought through, in terms of the negative impact it has on the whole community—not just Muslim communities.

54. However, we remain convinced that a targeted Prevent strategy at national level is required. The nature of the contemporary terrorist threat is specific and, as our inquiry has shown, extremely complicated to comprehend and tackle. Broadening Prevent could add further complication and confusion to an already complicated arena. Other forms of extremism are being addressed in programmes such as Connecting Communities, which we very much welcome. The risk-based approach of Connecting Communities offers a potential solution to the problems which we have identified in this section of our report. We will return to this point later, but first need to consider the question: what are the risk factors for violent extremism?

18   Ev 119 Back

19   Ev 172 Back

20   Ev 153 Back

21   Ev 179 Back

22   The Somali Family Support Group is a national organisation, with local branches throughout the UK. The organisation originally focused on the Somali community, but now works with people from all communities and faiths to promote community cohesion and provide education programmes. Back

23   Ev 141 Back

24   Ev 91 Back

25   Ev 111 Back

26   Ev 135 Back

27   Ev 194 Back

28   Q 185 [Sheila Lock] Back

29   Ev 105 Back

30   Ev 125 Back

31   Ev 201 Back

32   Following the events of 7th and 21st July, the Government appointed a diverse range of people with different skills and knowledge in mid August 2005 to join seven Working Groups that it had resolved to set up, the objective being Working Together to Prevent Extremism. The findings of the Working Groups were published in a report in November 2005. Back

33   Preventing Extremism Together, Working Group Report, August-October 2005, available at, p 48. Back

34   Q 236 Back

35   Q 355 Back

36   Ev 106 Back

37   Q 92 Back

38   HM Government, Delivering the Prevent Strategy: An updated guide for local partners, August 2009, para 2.25. Back

39   Ev 144 Back

40   See para 53 Back

41   "Government anti-terrorism strategy 'spies' on innocent", The Guardian, 16 October 2009. Back

42   Arun Kundnani, Spooked: How not to Prevent Violent Extremism, Institute of Race Relations, October 2009, p 28. Back

43   Ibid., p 29. Back

44   Ev 102 Back

45   Ev 139 Back

46   Q 292: Mr Kundnani told us that "I interviewed around 32 people for this research who were involved in Prevent work and I had a focus group with around 24 people". Back

47   Q 292 Back

48   Anna Turley, Stronger Together: A new approach to preventing violent extremism, New Local Government Network, August 2009, p 12. Back

49   Ev 89 Back

50   Ev 230 Back

51   Q 368 Back

52   Q 369 Back

53   HMIC and Audit Commission, Preventing Violent Extremism: Learning and Development Exercise, October 2008, para 151. Back

54   Q 290 Back

55   Q 368 Back

56   Q 371 Back

57   Ev 218 Back

58   Ev 129 Back

59   IbidBack

60   Q 368 Back

61   HM Government, Delivering the Prevent Strategy: An updated guide for local partners, August 2009, p 28. Back

62   Q 374 Back

63   Q 381 Back

64   Q 313 Back

65   Q 231 Back

66   Ev 89 Back

67   Ev 108 Back

68   Q 75 Back

69   Q 66 Back

70   Q 66 Back

71   Ev 154 Back

72   Ev 136 Back

73   Ev 195 Back

74   Ev 122 Back

75   Ev 183 Back

76   Anna Turley, Stronger Together: A new approach to preventing violent extremism, New Local Government Network, August 2009, p 13. Back

77   HM Government, Pursue, Prevent, Protect, Prepare: The United Kingdom's Strategy for Countering International Terrorism, March 2009, para 0.12.


78   The Rt Hon John Denham MP, Speech at the National Prevent Conference, Birmingham, 8 December 2009. Back

79   Q 4 Back

80   Q 3 Back

81   Ev 116 Back

82   Q 41 Back

83   IbidBack

84   Anna Turley, Stronger Together: A new approach to preventing violent extremism, New Local Government Network, August 2009, p 14.


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