Roar writer Abdus Shaik on how the UK’s Prevent strategy is Islamophobic and limits freedom of speech on campus.Â
Prevent is a part of CONTEST, the United Kingdom’s counter-terrorism strategy, first developed by Sir David Omand and the Home Office in early 2003 as the immediate response to 9/11, and a revised version was made public in 2006. The strategy has been continuously revised under the various Conservative-Lib Dem and Conservative governments.
The Prevent arms of CONTEST aims to counter the rise of terrorism by preventing people from being radicalised by “extreme” ideas. However, rather than making people safe, it has been used to fuel Islamophobia and limit freedom of speech on campuses up and down the country.
The definition of Islamophobia according to the All-Party Parliamentary Group on British Muslims is as follows; â€œIslamophobia is rooted in racism and is a type of racism that targets expressions of Muslimness or perceived Muslimness”.Â This definition has been accepted by Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Scottish Conservatives and London Mayor Sadiq Khan. This definition, however, has been rejected by multiple Muslim rights groups and individuals in the UK who strongly believe that the definition does not encompass Muslim individuals’ experiences. The Muslim Census has found that only 21% of Muslims agree with this definition, a telling statistic.
Rather than looking at Islamophobia as a “form of racism” or focusing on what the definition of Islamophobia is, it is important to engage with the Muslim community to study what their experiences have been and what can be done to make them feel safer. Prevent has done nothing of that kind. From targeting Muslim individuals based on speculations to limiting freedom of speech on campuses, Prevent has harmed Islamic relations with the wider British community rather than keeping communities safe as it has promised to do.
According toÂ a major new report of a three-year study of Islam on campus shows that almost 10% of all students believe there may be some risk on their campus. the reportÂ reveals that Prevent reinforces negative stereotypes of Islam and Muslims: 20% of students believe that Islam is not compatible with British values; among those supportive of Prevent, the figure rises to 35%. And around 60% of people don’t know what prevent is, and a lot more don’t know how it has harmed the Muslim community.
A famous Prevent story that has terrorised the Muslim community, is when a young primary schoolboy, was taken from his parents because he claimed that he “supported Palestine” and basic human rights. Prevent seems to assume that anyone who “changes their friend circles” or “becomes more religious” could be a potential threat as that individual may be “radicalised”. Expressing support for Palestine and other issues are also seen as a sign of “extremist thinking”. And Prevent has brought this to our campuses.
On-campus our freedom of speech is being limited and Muslim students are being made to not feel safe. Muslim students do not feel like they have the same rights that other students do nor do they feel safe. According to Times Higher Education, Muslim students feel “under suspicion” on UK campuses and this has prevented students from “disengaging in campus life”.
This has also prevented students from talking about key issues in the world as it might be seen as a “no go zone” or “too dangerous”. Issues such as the failures of the war on terror are seen to be “extremist” when such academic discussions are important to gaining academic knowledge and growing in our University spaces. But most of all, Muslim students freedoms have been taken away and their rights have been stolen from them.
Freedom of speech is a basic fundamental human right. It is a right that belongs to every single human being regardless of our background. But when our rights are being taken away from us, it is important for us to raise our voices and demand the rights that we deserve. Rather than stopping Muslims or people from any community, from discussing and debating on such topics, we should understand each other and discuss our views on topics that are seen as “no go zones” today. Rather than forcefully shutting people up, we need to rationally challenge their views in a civilised manner. And if we do not change this, communities won’t feel safer, rather, they will feel more distanced from the wider community, which is not what we want.