In a school music room in Bristol, 20 or so teachers are grouped around communal tables, watching a DVD. “If I hadn’t intervened,” the man on the screen intones, as ominous background music swells, “this might have ended very differently.”
The training video portrays a teacher talking to the camera about a disquieting essay one of his students turned in. He explains how, after speaking to the pupil, he realised she was “struggling to fit in and not sure, culturally, where she belonged … I am not suggesting she was going to support terrorism, but the opportunity was there if someone wanted to push her down that path.”
When the clip is over, a woman in a floral dress and blazer steps forward and addresses the group. “We are not asking you to spy,” she explains calmly. “But to look out for troubling behaviour.”
The speaker is Kalsoom Bashir, co-director of Inspire, an organisation working to counter terrorism and address inequalities facing Muslim women in the UK. Bashir is delivering an hour-long teacher training session on Prevent, part of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy. Rather than focus on predicting attacks or prosecuting offenders, the Preventing Violent Extremism strand (to give it its full name) aims to stop people supporting or becoming involved in terrorism in the first place. In other words, it’s about winning the battle for hearts and minds.
UK anti-radicalisation Prevent strategy a ‘toxic brand’
This summer, the government intensified this battle by making Prevent a statutory duty for schools: along with prisons, local authorities and NHS trusts, they are now under a legal obligation to “have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. According to the government’s guidance, the day-to-day responsibilities of teachers and even nursery staff now include being able to spot children who might be vulnerable to radicalisation, and dealing with them – if necessary, by referring them to the government’s anti-radicalisation programme, Channel. Since 2012, more than 4,000 people have been referred, half of them under-18s – with the youngest a three-year-old from London.
The new legal duty is likely to send the figures even higher. In April, delegates at the National Union of Teachers’ conference complained they were being turned into “frontline stormtroopers, who listen … spy and notify the authorities”. And in July, 280 academics, lawyers and public figures signed a letter arguing that the new duty would divide communities, clamp down on legitimate dissent and have a chilling effect on freedom of speech.
The government’s recent emphasis on combating “non-violent extremism” – a more slippery enemy than terrorism – has arguably nudged the strategy into the Orwellian realm of thought crime: simply expressing beliefs that conflict with “British values” could be enough to draw the attention of Prevent. While cases of British schoolgirls and boys travelling to Syria to join Isis have raised the stakes, campaigners argue that the policy is a blunt tool that is not only stigmatising children, but making the UK less safe.
The debate is not confined to this country, as the recent case of Ahmed Mohamed has shown. Mohamed, a 14-year-old schoolboy from Texas, was handcuffed, arrested and suspended after a teacher said the homemade clock he had brought to school “looked like a bomb”. His family argued that if he had not been Muslim, he would have been praised for his ingenuity, not treated as a terrorist.
Bashir, a robust supporter of Prevent, is hoping to allay any fears. A school governor, former teacher and a chaplain of the University of Bristol, she has trained officers for the Avon and Somerset police on the strategy and insists it is there to make sure children “are kept safely in their families, and are getting the best out of their educational experiences”. “Once the misconceptions are laid to rest and you challenge the lies and hysteria [around Prevent], parents will themselves make referrals [to Channel],” she tells me.
In the short session, Bashir advises against complacency. “I moved to Bristol from London thinking I was moving to a quiet backwater,” she tells the group. “But the day my husband took up his new post at the university, one of his colleagues got into his car and a bomb fell off it and exploded.” The reference to an attack by the Animal Liberation Front serves to highlight that Prevent covers all forms of extremism, including from the far right. (A recent FoI request breaking down the referral figures up to 2013, though, showed 14% were due to far-right extremism, while 57.4% of those referred were Muslims.)
Bashir tells of a 15-year-old girl from a nearby school believed to have joined Isis, and also draws attention to one of Prevent’s most notable success stories, Isa Ibrahim. This Bristol man was found guilty of planning to blow up a local shopping centre. He had been caught after officials at his local mosque called a special branch officer who worked in community engagement.
After the video clip, PC Mike Perry of the local Prevent team tells the teachers that the process of radicalisation is similar to grooming. He asks them to think about the “troubling” emotional signs that would always cause concern: a child becoming withdrawn, unusually angry or depressed, using rhetoric that seems scripted.
Theresa May’s Prevent bill is extremism in the name of security | Karma Nabulsi
Bashir talks about the “external” factors that can lead to pupils feeling more aggrieved and isolated – including discrimination. “As a Muslim, I only have to look at the Daily Mail to find a Muslim-bashing story, and wonder how my children are being defined by the media,” she says, before going on to discuss the effects of stop and search. “My son has been stopped after music festivals. He was the only one of his friends pulled out of line. Up to now, being Muslim has been just one thread of his identity, but it could become much bigger.”
She is quick to say that wearing a scarf or growing a beard is not a cause for concern. “Sometimes I wear a headscarf, and sometimes I don’t. Am I going to be reported?” she asks rhetorically. But she adds that it could be significant as part of a pattern of behaviour. “I had a high-flying sixth former who wanted to veil,” Bashir tells the group. “That can be part of a search for identity.” But then the pupil’s grades began to drop. She isolated herself from her friends, told her teachers she did not need to pursue a western education, chastised her parents for voting and said she wanted to move to an Islamic state. According to Bashir, the pupil was referred to Channel, which put her in touch with a female theologian. “She challenged the rhetoric [the girl had seen] on the internet and … she completed her A-levels.”
Perry, in a slightly chilling turn of phrase, describes Prevent as operating in the “pre-criminal” space; no law has been breached, so a pupil who refuses to engage with Prevent or Channel cannot be forced to do so. But throughout the session, the teachers are told that if they spot something, they should discuss it – with other colleagues, the pupil and their parents. The situation can either be dealt with internally, or referred to Channel. This referral would then be assessed by Prevent police officers, and if necessary by a Channel panel – a multi-agency meeting to discuss what help can be offered.
Perry ends the session by reminding the teachers to call 999 if they think anyone has left for Syria. All other referrals will go through his unit. “Don’t be afraid to say it is terrorism-related. You won’t get laughed at,” he says. “I have had three referrals already this morning.”
Afterwards, Helen Gregory, a teacher from Bath, says she felt reassured. “You are looking for responses and vulnerabilities that you would be looking for anyway,” she says.
Not everyone is convinced by the effectiveness of Prevent. Yahya Birt, an academic researching Muslim political activism, and a member of the #EducationNotSurveillance network, says children are being “scooped up” and stigmatised as potential extremists, pointing to figures that suggest only 20% of those referred to Channel up to 2013 were assessed as needing its intervention. A document submitted by the Muslim Council of Britain to the UK’s Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, appears to show that the strategy is leading to discrimination against Muslims. Teachers told the MCB that pupils are being asked to do presentations on sensitive subjects – such as the Syrian conflict – to elicit their views, or those of their parents. They cite referrals for pupils using such terms as alhamdulillah – praise be to God – and quote a teacher who told them of a request to refer a Muslim boy to Channel after he asked how to build a bomb during a class on nuclear fission. When non-Muslim pupils asked the same question, no concerns were raised. Anderson said although he had not sought to verify the cases, the submission showed the resentment created by Prevent because of the number of people it focuses on, their age and its focus on non-violent views.
Amina (not her real name), who is from east London and works in education, was horrified to be told her 12-year-old son was suspected of being vulnerable to radicalisation. “They were having a food studies lesson and the teacher had asked them to bring in chicken to cook,” she says. “At the time, there had been something on the news about halal slaughterhouses closing down. My son said he wouldn’t be able to get halal chicken and when the teacher asked why, he said: ‘It’s because the government hates Muslims.’”
Amina was surprised by his words. “I told the teacher that I never expressed those kind of views; I don’t think the government are particularly against Muslims. I am very careful about what my children look at online. But sometimes children add two and two together and make five.” She agreed to talk to her son, and the teacher told Amina the matter had already been discussed in class. A week later, social services rang. “They told me it was because the incident had been forwarded to the police.”
Amina’s son had been bullied at his primary school and some of the children responsible had transferred to the secondary school with him. He was so unhappy that Amina had already secured him a place at another school. Now his unhappiness was being taken as a sign he might be seduced by extremist views. “They said he was coming to class late because of going to the mosque, but he had just been waking up late because he didn’t want to go in.”
Then, when she went on holiday abroad, leaving her two sons in the charge of her husband, the school went further. “My son was off sick, and when my husband told them he wouldn’t be in, they called his older brother’s school to check he was in school. They must have thought I had taken them off somewhere.” She says the experience has shaken her faith in the education system. “This has caused me a lot of stress. I feel I am being watched … You worry that they could take your children into care.”
Government warns NUS to stop opposition to Prevent strategy
Similar examples of apparent overreaction are not hard to find. This week, it was revealed that the parents of a 14-year-old boy had started legal action after their son was questioned following a French lesson in May. The boy had been talking about “eco-terrorists”, something he says he had learned about at a debating society meeting. After the lesson, he was taken out of class and asked whether he was “affiliated” with Isis. His parents are seeking a judicial review, saying he was discriminated against because of his Muslim background. “He was presumed guilty because he was Muslim,” they said.
Mohammed Khaliel, a community activist in High Wycombe who sits on independent advisory panels for police forces including the Metropolitan police, thinks a lack of understanding of Islam and an increased suspicion of Muslims in general means normal religious practices are enough to spark fear and distrust. He reels off examples, including a school that was worried because a girl started wearing the hijab. “We had to go and explain that it was the month of Ramadan and people do try to increase their religious practice,” he says. “This is a lovely country and we need to keep it safe, but to do that people need to listen. Don’t ostracise and demonise a whole community.”
The Home Office admits that not everyone referred to Channel needs its intervention, but hundreds have been offered help, sometimes from other government agencies. Perhaps surprisingly, though, given that the policy was piloted in 2006 and rolled out nationally in 2007, there is little published evidence about its overall effectiveness. One reason is that Prevent has meant different things at different times. According to Peter Neumann, the director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation, “Gordon Brown’s 2007 strategy is almost the direct opposite of the government’s strategy today.”
In the early years, the noisiest complaints concerned money being wasted on vague community projects because of the government’s concentration on community cohesion. Money was allocated on the basis of the size of the Muslim community, increasing the perception that it was seen as “suspect”. Under the coalition, this was stripped back and replaced with a focus on direct counter-terrorism work. At the same time, the government tried to distance itself from religious groups or leaders considered to hold extremist views, however non-violent; organisations that had been seen as allies by the Labour government were redefined as part of the problem.
This has been compounded by the government’s unwillingness to provide information about how they evaluate its success. “The government is very convinced that the Channel programme works, but have never opened their books to allow independent scrutiny of that,” Neumann says. “If they highlighted successful cases too, [then Prevent] would be more plausible in the eyes of the community concerned.”
Jails and councils obliged to prevent radicalisation as new act becomes law
In the almost 10 years of Prevent’s history, it has been dogged by accusations that its real purpose is not “winning hearts and minds”, but spying on British Muslims. In 2009, Arun Kundnani, now an adjunct professor at New York University and the author of The Muslims are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism and the Domestic War on Terror, wrote a report for the Institute of Race Relations saying that Prevent-funded voluntary organisations were uncomfortable with expectations that they would be “providers of information to the police”. Such fears increased when, in 2010, more than 150 CCTV cameras were placed in a predominantly Muslim area of Birmingham. It later transpired that the cameras were paid for by the government’s Terrorism and Allied Matters fund, there to monitor a population seen as “at risk” of extremism.
This year, a former senior Muslim police officer, Dal Babu, argued the policy had become a “toxic brand” for the organisations it has helped fund – from those training Muslim youth workers to be role models to those working with substance abusers. Neumann agrees. “Prevent is tainted. There are dozens of Muslim activists who are working hard in communities to make sure violent extremism doesn’t happen. They are the ones who have this Prevent [label] stamped on them and are then vilified.”
Kundnani suggests Prevent’s bad reputation is one of the reasons the policy has been placed on a statutory footing. “In the past, there has been resistance to Prevent … now agencies cannot pull away.” He believes that fears over surveillance in schools are unsurprising. “Police officers build a file, including interviews with the family, teachers and social workers. What happens to that data and who has access to it? There is a lack of transparency. Channel referrals are stored in a database held by the police counter-terrorism units. Officers in that unit – and MI5 officers embedded in terrorism units – would all have access to that data.” A Home Office spokeswoman counters that data on referrals is held in accordance with the Data Protection Act and “not used to facilitate law-enforcement activity”.
But what makes this even more troubling is the government’s recent emphasis on combating “non-violent extremism”. The government defines this as “opposition to fundamental British values”, including “democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”. Rizwaan Sabir, a lecturer specialising in counter-terrorism at Liverpool John Moores University, points out that “British values” have never been properly defined, and that by branding all opposition to them as extremist, the government is effectively outlawing dissent. He cites a recent news report describing how a schoolboy had been reported to Prevent for pro-Palestinian activism. “The majority of Muslim parents do not believe in the supremacy of sharia [law], and do not want an Islamic state in the UK, but if they disagree with some aspects of foreign policy, and their children pick up on that, then they could fall foul of this.”
Public announcements in the media about vague potential signs of radicalisation have not helped. One police officer, for instance, gave the example of young people refusing to shop at Marks & Spencer (often included in campaigns to boycott Israeli goods) or a sudden negative attitude to alcohol, while Nicky Morgan MP, who herself voted against gay marriage, cited a hostility to homosexuality.
“There is no empirical evidence to prove a correlation between ideology and violence,” Sabir says flatly. “But that is what Prevent is based on – an unverifiable, flawed premise.” Neumann believes that non-violent extremism should be battled, but that this is a job for civil society. “Legal or counter-terrorism responses are the wrong instrument. The state should promote a healthy debate, not a punitive response.”
Government steps up efforts to prevent young Muslims becoming jihadis
Bashir, however, thinks extremism is a real and pressing problem. “When you have ideologies out there – that homosexuals are going to be condemned to hellfire, that you mustn’t talk to [gay people], or that if this was a Muslim state they wouldn’t be allowed – I do have a problem with that. I’m proud that the interpretation of Islam I adhere to is inclusive; it does not promote hatred or violence, or sow the seeds of division or suspicion. There are other [interpretations] that sit across the spectrum … and I don’t want my children to go down those paths.”
Some educators say Prevent has already had a chilling effect in schools, and that freedom of speech – itself a British value – is being compromised. One teacher, who did not want to be identified, told me that her Muslim pupils had become more careful about what they talk about for fear of being referred through Prevent. She says the fact that protecting children against radicalisation is now assessed in Ofsted inspections adds an extra pressure on teachers. “Most teachers would be reluctant to put any name forward because we are aware we live in an increasingly Islamophobic climate, and it would be hard to get the trust back [from pupils]. We are being asked to be part of the police. But people feel if they don’t go along with [Prevent], Ofsted will find out, and they need to protect their schools.”
For its part, the government insists that extremism is an important safeguarding issue that has to be addressed. In a statement, security minister John Hayes said: “We all have a duty of care to challenge, at every turn, the twisted narrative that has corrupted some of our vulnerable young people. Schools must play a vital role in protecting pupils from the risks of radicalisation. It is part of the pastoral care that I know all good teachers take so seriously.”
Kundnani disagrees, arguing that Prevent’s duty is not just counterproductive but dangerous. “The great risk is creating an atmosphere of self-censorship – where young people don’t feel free to express themselves in schools, or youth clubs or at the mosque. If they feel angry, or have a sense of injustice but nowhere to engage in a democratic process and in a peaceful way, then that’s the worst climate to create for terrorist recruitment.”
Terrorism, an issue that plagues our world every minute of everyday. You never know when or where a terrorist organization is going to strike. All groups reasons are different, some for political or religious reasons, others for hatred.
The roots of terrorism are believed to have started in 1007 A.D. Hassan ben Sabbah born in Qom, Iran was an Ishmaili Muslim and opposed all other Muslim groups except for the Ishmaili’s. He is believed to be the father of terrorism. Ben Sabbah’s actions had started a whole new trend, people began to follow his actions and started to form terrorist organizations. Terrorism started back then and its motives and tactics have continued to evolve through the reign of Stalin and Lenin in the Soviet Union and Mao Tse-tung in China. Many people consider what Hitler did in Germany to be terrorism, and when you actually think about it, it makes sense. When you define terrorism most definitions say it is the act of violence and/or intimidation to achieve certain political or religious goals. The definition of a terrorist is a person that employs terror or terrorism as a political weapon. And when you think about that definition that pretty much fits Hitler. He wanted to create a society that fit his personal political agenda. Of course the examples are from world history, but what about in the United States? Do we have terrorism in our own country committed by our citizens? Of course we do, take the Oklahoma City Bombing for example. Timothy McVeigh, out for himself and his own political agenda. The first act of terrorism recorded in the US was in 1622 committed by Indians, when they massacred the people in the settlement of Jamestown. Terrorism is problem everywhere not just the middle east, contrary to what people think.
People think there is such a thing as a “typical terrorist”, but there really is not. I guess it could be said that terrorists are stereotyped in many ways. Many people believe that terrorists in the Middle East are either Muslims or Islamic, which is not true either. Just because a person is of one region of the world it does not mean they are a terrorist. As far as I am concerned it could be a next door neighbor. But to understand what terrorism is you must first understand the causes; the motivation to commit these acts of violence.
First, at the government level states may use terrorism against their own people or other nations for several reason. One states may wish to force their message of ideology, politics, or religion upon people or other nations. Second states may use terrorism to eliminate dissent among the population. Third governments may resort to terrorism to eliminate normal political systems or because of fear of another system developing and being embraced by citizens. Fourth, the government may use terror to harass, control, or eliminate political, religious, or radical minorities. Fifth, the government may be in constant conflict with external enemies. Sixth, the government may be in business purely for itself and for what it can get without regard to the welfare of its citizens(Mullins 90).
Then there is the reasoning behind individual terrorism. An individual terrorist’s act is very different from that of a group or how a government would use terrorism. Although the ideology and motivation is the same; to invoke a violent act to achieve some political ends, how it is wanted by the individual. Some reasons for an individual committing terrorist acts are: First, minorities that are economically or politically repressed with poor job opportunities are prone to terrorism. Second, rising employment and inflation can result in people turning to terrorism in and attempt to force improvements in economic and workforce conditioned.
You can order a custom essay, term paper, research paper, thesis or dissertation on Terrorism topics at our professional custom essay writing service which provides students with custom papers written by highly qualified academic writers. High quality and no plagiarism guarantee! Get professional essay writing help at an affordable cost.
3.67 avg. rating (75% score) - 3 votes
Tags: sample essay, sociology essays, terrorism essay topics, terrorism essays, terrorism research paper, terrorism term paper