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A new policy paper from the Henry Jackson Society, Myths and Misunderstandings: Understanding Opposition to The Prevent Strategy, examines the campaign against the Prevent strategy, the government’s counter-radicalisation policy, highlighting the spread of misinformation designed to undermine the strategy.
The ‘Prevent’ strand of UK counter-terrorism policy exists to “respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism”; “prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”; and “work with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalisation”.
Prevent delivery ensures public sector staff understand radicalisation and recognise those vulnerable to it, and provides processes for staff to report concerns about vulnerable individuals. Once concerns have been raised, it works to provide personalised support to those at risk.
Despite this clear safeguarding role, an organised campaign to see the Prevent strategy has developed in recent years, led by extremist groups. It uses false claims and misleading arguments to scaremonger about the strategy, including that it only targets Muslims, to whip up anger and suspicion and has gained footholds in schools, universities, local councils, and politics.
These organised attacks on Prevent have not simply been the preserve of extreme groups, and there has been coordination between extremist groups and public sector activists, with National Union of Teachers (NUT) members working with MEND and National Union of Students (NUS) members campaigning alongside CAGE.
As such, the government must work harder to challenge the dissemination of inaccurate stories about Prevent, publicise cases where Prevent intervention has been beneficial, and provide greater support for practitioners to help them rebut misinformation.
Rupert Sutton, a research fellow at the Henry Jackson Society and author of the report, said:
“Identifying those at risk of radicalisation, and ensuring they receive the support necessary to prevent them from becoming involved in violent extremism, is one of the most important policy challenges this country faces.
Despite this, a determined and well-organised campaign to undermine these efforts has developed in recent years. Drawing on extremist narratives and spreading divisive fabrications, it is vital that this campaign faces greater challenge from government if the public is to successfully engage with Prevent.”