The review of the previous government’s Prevent Strategy has now been completed, and the findings published. The new Prevent Strategy sets out clear areas where it feels vulnerable people may be at risk of being radicalised. These include cities and areas such as Leeds and Tower Hamlets as well as institutions, including prisons and universities.
While aspects of its presumptions and strategy have already been questioned and will no doubt continue to be, it is also worth at this early stage highlighting how it does give relatively clear definitions of key terms and concepts. For example, ‘extremism’ is defined in Annex A as:
Extremism is vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also include in our definition of extremism calls for the death of members of our armed forces, whether in this country or overseas.
Included in this definition is a description of ‘fundamental British values’. It seems legitimate to ask how these might be considered as different to French or German values. Additionally it could also be pointed out that it is clear from the definition that it is acceptable to withhold tolerance of some beliefs. Perhaps more seriously the definition speaks of faiths and beliefs without questioning whether it is these beliefs or actions motivated or legitimated by them which are problematic. If the former option, then this raises questions about the validity of government intervention into private beliefs.
The above lines of questions ignore, however, the usefulness of such a definition. Whether or not readers of the 2011 Prevent Strategy agree with it, these definitions efficiently communicate government’s position in these areas and even for its critics they provide a clear idea of where legitimate questions may be raised.
It is also clear that in this document, as in the one it replaced, religion is considered to be at the heart of the matter in terms of how it is used as justification and motivation in some groups (see page 1; Chapter 8; and Chapter 10, sections 114 and 131 as clear examples). In this respect the document also continues the focus on certain branches of Islam. In separating the community cohesion aspect of the previous Prevent Strategy into a separate policy area, to be covered by the Department of Communities and Local Government, the government hopes to avoid the charges (raised against the previous strategy) of using such initiatives to spy on Muslim communities. The Integration Strategy will be released later in 2011.
As well as defining Britishness the new strategy also makes clear that the government will not work with organisations which it sees as disagreeing with these 'fundamental' values (page 1) and which the government feels play a role in the radicalising process (page 83). Both these aspects are among the clear departures from the previous government's aim to provide an inclusive approach to tackling terrorism, including using non-violent 'extremist' groups to counter violent extremism.