• Friday, July 01, 2022

Column

‘Acting Early to Prevent radicalisation is a step in the right direction’

Akeela Ahmed.

By: Radhakrishna N S

By Akeela Ahmed

AS A parent, I know how the easy availability of phones and social media has made it so much harder to keep track of what our chil­dren are going through.

Add the impact of lockdowns, missed time at school and people who want to exploit young people’s vulnera­bilities with conspiracy theories and divisive narratives, and it’s an even more stressful time for parents.

So I can understand why the country’s most senior officer of colour and the head of counter terrorism policing, Neil Basu, has asked parents to be more vigilant for signs of their children becoming prey to radi­calisation or other on­line harms. He is launching a new cam­paign called Act Early, aimed at tackling terror­ism in its early stages, which is part of the Pre­vent programme.

I have had serious concerns about the structure of Prevent and how the Prevent duty has been implemented – and I hope the independent review of the pro­gramme will address some of these issues.

In the early days of Prevent, a lack of trans­parency and a dispro­portionate focus on eth­nic minority communi­ties and British Muslims, especially, fuelled such concerns. There still re­mains more to be done to address issues around Islamophobia and anti- Muslim hatred, as well as wider problems of prejudice, discrimina­tion and integration.

I will continue to challenge the government on that. But I also recognise the need for a pro­gramme such as Prevent and the importance of communities support­ing this new campaign.

First, it is about all forms of radicalisation and aimed at all com­munities. That’s the right approach because the threat of terrorism can come from any form of extremism. And the rise of right-wing terrorism in recent years has been the big­gest threat. Community confidence increases when people are as­sured that it is not just one community or mi­nority being singled out.

I am glad to know that the police are tak­ing right-wing extrem­ism seriously as I know how much minority communities, and par­ticularly women, are liv­ing in fear of harassment, hate crimes and worse.

I am also concerned about extremism in our own communities. Though carried out by a tiny minority and not at all representative of who we are, it is real and can have the most terrible consequences, as we are currently reminded when we hear the tragic testimony in the Man­chester Arena Inquiry.

Second, there has never been enough transparency and com­munication about Pre­vent, nor has there been enough acknowledge­ment of the concerns of communities. Under­standing the signs of radicalisation and how these might differ from other issues such as mental health illnesses is not easy. Public knowledge of what to look out for and where to go for help is actually very low. Polling research from ComRes and the Crest Advisory that I was advising shows that 68 per cent of the public and 55 per cent of Brit­ish Muslims have never heard of the Prevent programme. So it is not surprising that only three per cent of all referrals into the Prevent pro­gramme come directly from communities.

Yet it is friends and families who will often be the first to notice when something is wrong in someone’s life. Of course, it might not be radicalisation that is causing people to behave differently. The impor­tant thing is to find out what it is and get them the right help if they need it. So if this new initiative can get more people more help earlier, especially when they might not have access to the usual mechanisms of support, for instance at school or at their GP, then I will support it.

Finally, I have also been calling for more transparency around the Prevent programme, specifically about what it means long-term for someone if they have been referred to it, but did not require an inter­vention. So I welcome too that this new web­site will be a single easy place to answer peo­ple’s questions about what Prevent does and doesn’t do. Building confidence among communities about what is done to keep the country safe requires honesty from everyone.

In an ideal world there would be no need for Prevent. The best way to deal with issues of extremism would be a bottom-up approach with community-led in­itiatives like this without need for police inter­vention. But the recent attacks in France, Austria and earlier in the UK prove that communities need to work together with the authorities as equal partners in keep­ing the public safe. It is even more important during the pandemic when people have re­duced access to sup­port. Early intervention, if done correctly and appropriately shouldn’t be controversial.

I will continue to challenge politicians and the police when I think they are going wrong. But I am also worried about the threat posed by extremists, and so I call on everyone to come together and do every­thing in our power to stop them. For some, that in­cludes getting profes­sional support and ad­vice early on, even if it feels uncomfortable. ‘Act Early’ should help with that and make the process easier.

Akeela Ahmed is a member of the Counter- Terrorism Police Advi­sory Network and chair of the independent members of the govern­ment’s anti-Muslim ha­tred working group.

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