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Scrap Prevent - Cautious Welcome for EDM 425

Press release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities, Friday 9 September 2016.

SACC gives a cautious welcome to the Early Day Motion (EDM 425) on the Prevent strategy tabled this week by Alistair Carmichael MP (Liberal Democrat, Orkney and Shetland). But we remain opposed to any move to replace Prevent with alternative schemes for monitoring and manipulating Muslims.

The motion is strongly critical of the Prevent strategy and echoes many of our own concerns over the strategy. It calls, as we do, for "ministers to scrap the Prevent strategy in its entirety."

It concludes by calling for Prevent to be replaced with "a community-led programme that builds institutions and resilience for tackling social problems, has grassroots credibility and empowers communities rather than alienating them." If this means a programme that would fund broad-based community work, de-linked from the government's foreign policy and intelligence-gathering objectives, it would be very welcome. But SACC would be profoundly concerned if the Government were to establish a "community-led" programme embedded within its overarching CONTEST counter-terrorism strategy, or linked to it or to any comparable strategy.

MI5 might be expected to quietly welcome any such move. The well-publicised difficulties with the Prevent strategy are doubtless an impediment to its intelligence-gathering activities. But a change of this kind should not be welcomed by anyone who values transparency and civil liberties.

SACC encourages MPs to support EDM425 with a view to building support for the need to scrap Prevent and securing a Commons debate on the issue. But we strongly urge MPs to insist on drawing a line under Prevent, and to refuse to allow criticism of Prevent to be used as cover for any other programme designed to legitimise destructive foreign policy choices or create intelligence-gathering opportunities.

The prevention element of CONTEST, however it is labelled, needs to focus not on scapegoating Muslims but on the real roots of terrorism. It needs to set up a strategy to audit foreign policy, defence and intelligence decisions against the risk that they stimulate terrorism. Had a strategy of that sort been in place before the Iraq war, the Government would have had to give a formal and public response to secret advice given by the Joint Intelligence Committee in February 2003 (and now published in the Chilcot report) that an attack on Iraq would increase the threat from Al Qaida and other Islamist terrorist groups worldwide. MPs would then have been better able to make an informed decision when they debated whether to join the US-led attack.

Richard Haley, Chair of SACC, said:

"EDM425 invites the House of Commons to agree that Prevent is 'longer fit for purpose' to keep Britain safe from terrorist attacks. It was never fit for that purpose, but rather for the purpose of keeping government safe from effective opposition to its foreign policy. I hope MPs will support the call for Prevent to be scrapped in its entirety and that they will reject any suggestion that Prevent should be recreated under camouflage. The roots of terrorism lie in government, not in the Muslim community. The Chilcot report contains ample evidence that this was so for the Labour Government that took Britain to war in Iraq , and it has remained so for the subsequent Coalition and Conservative Governments. The Government should leave our communities alone and fix its own policies at home and abroad."

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The Prevent Strategy

EDM number 425 in 2016-17, proposed by Alistair Carmichael on 07/09/2016

That this House welcomes the Government's strong commitment to keeping Britain safe from terrorist attacks; believes that the Prevent strategy is no longer fit for purpose to serve this agenda; notes that there is little evidence to support Prevent or the conveyor belt theory of radicalisation; further notes that no impact evaluations or indicators are available that show Prevent has been successful; further believes that the severe lack of transparency with the Prevent strategy strongly undermines it; notes that Prevent has had a worrying impact on freedom of expression at schools, colleges and universities; believes that the behavioural indicators of possible extremism are vague and unhelpful; believes that the rhetoric of British values is alienating to many who already believed in those values and encourages ministers to adopt a more inclusive approach and rebrand these as universal values; is strongly concerned that the British Muslim community has been particularly stigmatised by Prevent; encourages ministers to engage with affected communities and their relevant grievances, including around foreign policy issues; further encourages ministers to engage with community actors and organisations that have grassroots credibility; believes that ultimately extremism is best tackled by the Government working in partnership with communities and engendering genuine two-way trust, neither of which Prevent has enabled; and therefore calls on ministers to scrap the Prevent strategy in its entirety and replace it with a community-led programme that builds institutions and resilience for tackling social problems, has grassroots credibility and empowers communities rather than alienating them.