The brutal shootings in Orlando will again, no doubt, bring negative attention to the Muslim community living in the West. Again the actions of one lone individual will be used to judge the actions of the millions of Muslims who live law abiding and peaceful lives. Again, we as a community will be asked to explain how one man acted in the devastating way he did because he happened to be a Muslim. No doubt, the actions of this lone gunman in the US will again provide justification for our Government to continue with the Prevent initiative (the Government’s counter terrorism strategy) which continues to alienate and disengage the younger members of the Muslim community.
The Prevent initiative places a statutory duty on schools and an obligation on teachers to refer to the police any pupils they suspect of engaging in some form of terrorism or radical behaviour. The National Union of Teachers in their 2016 conference overwhelmingly voted to reject the Prevent strategy over concerns that it “causes suspicion in the classroom and confusion in the staff room”. The Prevent initiative disproportionately targets and puts the spotlight on young Muslims. My own daughter reports there being a “Prevent” assembly in her school which was clearly directed towards the Muslim girls and which resulted in the Muslim girls being called terrorists and ISIS supporters.
The full force of the Prevent strategy became fully apparent when it was used against one of my clients. My client X, a young girl aged 16 years was arrested after concerns raised by the school that she may be becoming radicalised. As a result police raided her family home where they seized all electronic devices belonging to the family and arrested this child. She was then taken to Southwark Police Station where she was strip searched and held in custody pending interview. For a period of time at the police station, her hijab was removed and she was forced to leave her head uncovered in front of male police officers. She was interviewed hours later and subsequently bailed, subject to numerous bail conditions, to return to the police station one month later. The police later decided to take no further action against her.
At the time, I thought this marked the end of the matter and my client would be able to put this humiliating and distressing incident out of her mind. Unfortunately, this was not the case.
The initial referral to the Police resulted in Social Services intervention who placed my client and her younger siblings on the ‘at risk’ register. Requirements were also placed on my client to attend meetings to discuss radicalisation and extremist version of Islam practiced by members of ISIL, however she was not able to fully engage as she was fearful of being judged and condemned as holding extremist views. Social Services formed the view that her lack of engagement was a sign of her harbouring extremist views and that she was at risk of leaving the UK. They then applied to the family courts to seize not only my client’s passport but also those of her younger sisters, aunts and uncle in the belief that they feared my client was planning on leaving the UK to travel to join ISIS. The distress and inconvenience this caused the family was immense. The family understandably had conflicting emotions; where on the one hand they wish to support and nurture their child but on the other hand they felt a degree of resentment towards her for placing them in this position. The end result being that my client became estranged from her siblings and, to an extent estranged from the older members of her family. Further the initial referral from the school, which started this whole rollercoaster, meant that she is became disengaged with education. My client, who was once a fully engaged, committed student is now isolated, disenfranchised and suspicious of all people in authority.
From what I have seen, there is no doubt in my mind that a strategy which is meant to prevent is instead pushing children and young adults to become alienated, disenfranchised and distrustful of the community in which they live. A recent letter in the Guardian from various MPs, NUS members and others raised the same concerns which I have. The letter referred to comment made by David Anderson QC to the Home Affairs Select Committee who reported that the Prevent strategy has become a “significant source of grievance” among British Muslims . As a British Muslim who has seen the impact of this strategy, I wholeheartedly agree with the views expressed in this letter.