UK police have a secret database with details of thousands of people referred to “Prevent”, the government’s supposed “anti-radicalisation” programme, it was revealed on 6 October by the Guardian, via human rights group Liberty.
The National Police Prevent Case Management (PCM) database is accessible to all UK police forces and the home office, and contains personal details and reasons for “referral” of all those referred. People referred are not notified, and so have no (straightforward) rights to due process.
The stated aim of Prevent is to prevent “radicalisation” which is at risk of leading to terrorism.
In practice, it mostly targets Muslims and people from Muslim backgrounds, although occasionally far-left activists, and members of the nativist far-right.
The revelations show that 7,318 people were referred to Prevent 2017/18, around one third from the education sector, another third from the police, and the rest from local authorities, health and other sources. 57% were aged 20 or under, 27% aged 14 or under.
Only 5% were referred to the “Channel” support, designed for those at risk of being drawn into terrorism. 47% were referred to other services, 42% deemed to require no further action.
These figures suggest that, even by the programme and associated institutions’ own standards, the overwhelming majority of referrals were of people not really “at risk”. The 47% figure suggests that many of these individuals face wider issues and marginalisation.
Prevent raises an air of suspicion around young Muslim-background individuals on the basis of their perceived beliefs, especially in education. This fuels anti-Muslim bigotry through the trope of Muslims as terrorist threats.
The response also serves to isolate — or further isolate — potentially vulnerable people, which would be counterproductive even in cases where the suspicion is correct.
Secret state spying on individuals on the basis of perceived beliefs, and attempt to control them on that basis, infringes civil liberties. That it has been applied to individuals for engaging with Marxist texts or campaigning for a living wage and against tuition fees highlights the reactionary and authoritarian nature of this programme.
A supposedly “independent” review of Prevent, commissioned by the government under pressure, has been exposed as a farce. The terms of reference exclude inquiry into the “past delivery of Prevent”, rendering it completely superficial. Lord Carlile, appointed as the “independent reviewer”, has vocally supported Prevent on-record.
Having facilities to support vulnerable young people at risk of turning to far-right politics, whether nativist — English/British nationalist — or Islamist, is important.
Reversing the brutal austerity applied to youth services and education — and going further — is one vital step. Building a loud, combative socialist labour movement, to provide internationalist and socialist answers to social problems, discrimination, and imperialism, is another.
As for specific support for vulnerable individuals, engaging them with attempts at inclusion, and support, rather than suspicion, spying, and consequent exclusion, is the answer.