Homegrown terrorism, inspired by extremist thought, provides one of the largest threats to our national security in the modern era.
The Henry Jackson Society, a foreign policy think-tank, carried out a report comparing terrorist attack data between 1998 and 2010, with data from 2011 and 2015. It was concluded that seventy-two percent of all ‘Islamism-related offences’ were perpetrated by people holding British dual or single nationality. Forty-seven percent of these offences were committed by people born in the UK.
A BBC report backs up this information, claiming that the number of terror convictions carried out by UK citizens is on the rise. They claim that ‘more than’ 100 people have been convicted, the youngest being just fourteen years of age.
Current government counter-terrorism legislation is split into four strands:
The government’s Prevent strategy, part of the Contest strand, attempts to avoid the harbouring of extremist views. This can be anything from extreme views towards homophobia, sexism and religion.
Following a 2011 review of the original legislation, the Prevent Strategy has three main targets:
- To respond to the ideological challenge of terrorism
- To prevent people from being drawn into terrorism, with appropriate advice and support required
- To work with sectors and institutions where there are risks of radicalisation
In schools, any pupil suspected of extremist views can be reported to a Prevent officer. Between 2015 and 2016, a total of 7,500 referrals were made.
Current Prevent strategy training programmes in schools are undertaken in accordance with ‘British values’, which are:
- The rule of law
- Individual liberty
- Religious toleration
What are Prevents’ strengths?
Boasting good numbers, the government claimed that 150 people have been stopped from fleeing to Syria in 2015 alone. In addition to this, of the 7,500 referrals, 3,100 were people under 18 years of age, meaning the strategy is targeting the problem at its root.
Furthermore, Prevent considers the multi-faceted nature of the issue, addressing factors like mental-health which can contribute to extremist thought.
Leicestershire Chief Constable Simon Cole branded Prevent as “absolutely fundamental” in an interview with the BBC. He claimed that Prevent is “putting an arm around” the most vulnerable people.
What are its weaknesses?
Prevent has some big-name critics, including MPs and the National Union of Teachers/NUT.
Said critics have argued it has failed and needs reform, as it’s only achieved the opposite of its intended effects. Having named the safeguarding criteria as ‘British Values’, Islamic and other communities automatically feel targeted and marginalised. This widens the gap between communities, making terrorist offences more likely to occur.
At a more social level, it’s been argued that Prevent is “a paranoid and counterproductive initiative which has traumatised innocent children” according to the Guardian’s Sasha Simic.
The training process in schools has also been criticised as being “crude” and involving “loads of stereotypes” claimed North Yorkshire delegate Gary Kaye.
As a result, the NUT has called for Prevent to be scrapped altogether.
During the recent 2017 snap election, Home Secretary Amber Rudd claimed the government has plans to reform Prevent.