Memorandum from Dr. Paul Thomas, University
of Huddersfield (PVE 13)
This Submission argues that, as it is currently
constituted, the Prevent programme is not the most effective way
of addressing the undoubted problem of the attraction to violent
extremist ideologies of a minority of young people, and that,
indeed, there is real likelihood of Prevent having a counter-productive
impact through working in contradiction to the overarching policy
goals of cohesion and integration. Here, it is argued that there
should be less distinction between Prevent and Cohesion, rather
than more, in terms of educational interventions with young people.
This argument is based on significant primary research around
work with young people in West Yorkshire and Greater Manchester,
not only around Prevent itself, but also around the impact of
community cohesion programmes, the understandings of "Identity"
held by young people, and previous attempts to operationalise
"anti-racist" educational programmes amongst white young
people attracted to violent racist ideologies. This primary research
shows Prevent programmes to be working with large numbers of Muslim
young people in monocultural settings without effectively engaging
with the actual issues and perceptions driving the groundswell
of support for extremist ideologies. Not only is this counter
to the goals of, and positive evidence around, community cohesion
programmes, but it runs the real risk of creating a further "backlash"
amongst some alienated white young people. Here, the recent decision
to "extend" Prevent to far-right "extremism"
is helpful, but still does not address the root problems of a
mis-constructed policy ('Government 'Prevent" strategy widened
to combat rightwing racism", The Guardian, 9 September,
I am a Senior Lecturer in Youth and Community
Work at the University of Huddersfield, with many of our Youth
Work students working and living in key areas, such as Dewsbury
and Batley (Kirklees), Halifax (Calderdale), Bradford, Leeds,
Oldham and Rochdale. My previous professional roles have included
being a Youth Policy and Campaigns officer for the Commission
for Racial Equality in the north of England, and work with white
young people and football fans around racism and violence. In
particular, this submission summarises evidence from the evaluation
I carried out of the initial phases of the Prevent Pathfinder
activity in Kirklees (Thomas, 2008), my wider examination of Prevent
activity (Thomas, 2009), my recent research in to the understandings
of national and personal "Identity" held by young people
in Oldham and Rochdale (Thomas and Sanderson, 2009), and my in-depth
examination of the impact of Community Cohesion programmes with
young people in Oldham (Thomas,2007).
1. It is clear from my own local evaluation
(Thomas, 2008) and national mapping (DCLG, 2008) that the initial
phases of Prevent work aimed at young people have worked with
significant numbers of Muslim young people on a monocultural,
"single group" basis onlythis is a programme
aimed at Muslim young people. Whilst agreeing that suggestions
of blanket bans on any type of "single group" funding
or activity was an unhelpful and clumsy interpretation of the
Commission on Cohesion and Integration's discussions (DCLG, 2008),
I feel this approach of Prevent is problematic in a number of
ways. The problems and possible unintended consequences of such
"single group" educational programmes are explored below,
as are problems with the actual content of these programmes. In
contrast, the submission suggests that we already have clear evidence
about the success and efficacy of Community Cohesion work aimed
at ethnically and socially-mixed groups of young people in terms
of helping to build positive attitudes and more inclusive, over-arching
identities, but Prevent work nationally is currently ignoring
this evidence, and is so working in contradiction rather than
in coherent partnership.
2. It is clear that the Government's underpinning
strategy (Home Office, 2005) on belonging and identity is rightly
working towards the strengthening of common and inclusive national
identity and affiliation that overlays any specific community,
faith or ethnic identities and affiliations, but this perspective
is not currently identifiable within Prevent work with young people.
By working with Muslim young people only in monocultural settings,
all other forms of identity and connection with others are effectively
ignored. Our own recent research on identity amongst young people
in Oldham and Rochdale (Thomas and Sanderson, 2009) identified
that young people of Bangladeshi and Pakistani origin do indeed
overwhelmingly see "Muslim" as the form of identity
most important to them, but they also had positive local identities
and were very clear that Muslim identity is not incompatible with,
or problematic, towards "Britishness". This is positive
and important evidence, but we did also find that many of these
Muslim young people were using their faith-based identity to make
very negative and prejudiced moral judgments on the lifestyles
and priorities of non-Muslims, with some of this expressed in
crude and aggressive terms. Such feelings found a clear parallel
in many of the white young people we surveyed, who displayed a
racially-based territorial defensiveness and aggression to non-white
"others". These racialised, faith-based and mutually
antagonistic understandings of identities found in our research
echo the Community Cohesion analysis (Cantle, 2001) that has led
to a welcome re-orientation of public policy over recent years,
and leads me to have real concerns that the type of monocultural
approach of Prevent could harden and re-enforce the negative and
antagonistic aspects of singular Muslim identity for young people
living in tense and divided areas. Such programmes are taking
place in a public context where many young Muslims rightly feel
that their faith and communities are being stigmatised by outsiders,
with the danger that a programme squarely targeting them solely
as young Muslims will fuel such feelings.
3. The problematic nature of the monocultural
Prevent programme is exacerbated by the fact that currently the
programmes do not focus squarely on issues, concerns and events
that seem to be driving some young Muslims towards more extreme
ideological interpretations, or even to violence. Whilst the more
recent "Channel" programmes of developing work with
individuals deemed to be at risk of radicalisation are a welcome
and targeted addition to policy approaches, the more broad-based
programmes are avoiding discussion of local or international political
issues, or of religious interpretation, instead opting for what
is often simply general youth activities but for Muslims only.
Such avoidance is understandable for a number of reasons. Firstly,
there is clearly great concern amongst Muslim communities around
any programmes that, in name or content, imply that their community
or faith has a generalised problem with "violent extremism".
My own research has found a studious avoidance of use of terms
like PVE, something now accepted by recent government guidance,
but which heightens the dangers of such programmes appearing to
be dishonest and disingenuous about their real purpose and funding
source. Secondly, my research (Thomas, 2008) clearly found that
practitioners and managers feel unskilled and unprepared to engage
with young people around such controversial and emotive subjects,
as well as feeling that they have not been authorised to engage
with young people and communities on such subjects. Such a finding
echoes findings of previous research carried out by the University
of Huddersfield (CRE, 1999; Thomas, 2002) that many teachers and
youth workers charged with carrying out programmes of "anti-racist"
educational work with white young people avoided such engagement,
or adopted a "do as I say" approach, because they personally
felt ill-equipped and unconfident about such work in the face
of sometimes overt racial prejudices and opinions from some young
people. There is clearly a disjuncture between the stated national
aims of the Prevent educational activity and the reality of much
of its contentmuch of it is positive and diversionary youth
activity, but it is not Prevent activity in any meaningful sense
and contains the problematic contradictions explored in this submission.
This has been exacerbated by the very limited external evaluation
of the programmes (DLCG, 2008) to date. Whilst more recent guidance
on evaluation (DCLG, 2009) is helpful, it arguably still understates
the importance of genuinely independent evaluation by the many
agencies such as Universities equipped to do such research.
4. As well as the possible impacts the current
Prevent activity is having on the self-identity of young Muslim
people, there is a real risk that the programme is adding further
fuel to feelings of "unfairness" amongst some white
young people and their communities. This feeling has been well-documented
by academic researchers such as Hewitt (1996; 2005) over the past
15 years, with the sometimes clumsy implementation of well-intentioned
equal opportunities policies and anti-racist educational measures
provoking a "white backlash" from some white working
class young people who feel that there is little regard or respect
for their own backgrounds and community traditions. A key element
of this has been perceptions around funding schemes dedicated
specifically to ethnic minority communities, with such, often
unfounded, beliefs in favouritism seen as a crucial ingredient
in the 2001 violent, racially-charged disturbances in the
northern towns and cities of Oldham , Burnley and Bradford (Cantle,
2001;Ritchie, 2001). The resulting discussion around "single
group" funding has been highlighted above, but it is clear
from my own research in Oldham and Rochdale that perceptions of
"funding favouritism" run deep amongst some white working
class young people at a time of very difficult economic circumstances
and of active agitation by far-right political groups whose stock-in-trade
is lies and half-truths about governmental approaches to non-white
ethnic minority communities. In this context, the extension of
Prevent to white communities affected by far-right political extremism
is a welcome recognition that violent political extremism is not
confined to one ethnic or faith group, as witnessesed by the number
of explosives and conspiracy charges involving far-right activists
over recent years. However, monocultural work with white young
people only would repeat the failing of existing Prevent work
with young Muslims detailed above, and do little to help young
people re-examine the "taken for granted" views, identities
and assumptions within their communities, as well as make all
sorts of questionable assumptions regarding what actually drives
and causes any sympathy they apparently have for extremist and
racist right-wing positions.
5. In contrast to the very questionable
assumptions underpinning much of the current Prevent educational
work with young people, and the very scant evidence regarding
positive impacts flowing from such work despite significant national
funding streams, there is clear and positive evidence at a local
level about the positive impacts on young people's attitudes and
behaviour from programmes of Community Cohesion work based around
cross-ethnic contact and work. A more general discussion around
Community Cohesion is not the focus of this call for evidence,
but the Committee did pose the question, "Is there adequate
differentiation between what should be achieved through the Prevent
programme and the priorities that concern related, but distinct,
policy frameworks such as cohesion and integration?".
The evidence discussed above of the monocultural nature of Prevent
work argues that Prevent activity is not just differentiated but
contradictory to community cohesion activity. My own in-depth
study of the impact of community cohesion youth work activity
with young people in Oldham, Greater Manchester (Thomas, 2007)
highlights the very significant changes to the assumptions and
priorities of youth work brought about in Oldham by this new policy
priority of cohesion, and the extremely positive response to cohesion
from both youth workers and young people of all ethnic backgrounds.
This positive evidence suggests, I would argue, that we need to
question whether any meaningful distinction between cohesion and
Prevent work with young people is actually helpful and effective.
Bluntly, if community cohesion is rightly a key policy priority,
and actual community cohesion work with young people in racially
tense areas is successful and well-received, which my research
suggests it is, what is the evidence base for suggesting that
monocultural work with significant numbers of Muslim young people
is an effective way of addressing violent extremist attitudes
and actions of a small number of those young people? To date,
much Prevent work has produced no meaningful evidence of success
on its own stated terms.
Youth Work agencies in Oldham have reacted to
the post-2001 focus on Community Cohesion by re-casting their
priorities and work plans. My research found that they had prioritised
cross-ethnic contact amongst young people in all the work they
did, not just in projects focussed on equality and diversity,
but in all their mainstream, arts, sports and outdoor activities.
Their aim here has been to make contact with, and respect for,
diversity of all types central to all their work with young people,
utilising "twinning arrangements" between youth projects,
residential trips, and regular town-wide youth festivals and projects.
The focus has not only been on improved contact between white
and Asian young people, but between able-bodied and disabled/learning
disability young people, rural and urban areas, and different
geographical areas seen as having "territorial" disputes
between their respective young people. In doing this, this new
community cohesion-based youth work has utilised the key principles
of what is known as "contact theory" (Hewstone et
al, 2007). Here, none of the young people have been asked
to deny their existing community identity, with vital preparation
done in their own local, monocultural settings. The cross-ethnic
contact has been carried out regularly and over time, to allow
relationships to build naturally and safely, with fun and shared
youth activities used as a platform to enable dialogue about difference
and identities to develop informally and naturally, rather than
"forcing" it through programmes overtly about "racism"
or "violent extremism". Both youth workers and young
people involved have reacted positively because this process works
on the basis of what they have in common as young people living
in Oldham, with common interest in having fun and new experiences.
In particular, youth workers have welcomed this community cohesion
work, with its emphasis on commonality and fun, as being much
more effective then previous programmes of "anti-racist"
work , which were delivered in monocultural settings and which
appeared closer to formal, school-type lessons, in stark contrast
to the enjoyable and challenging experiential community cohesion
activities shared with others.
In conclusion, this submission argues for a
significantly reduced differentiation between current Prevent
educationally-based activities and community cohesion activity.
Smaller-scale, targeted work with young Muslims viewed at risk
of radicalisation, through the "Channel" approach, is
undoubtedly needed, but large-scale, unfocussed and monocultural
work with significant numbers of Muslim young people is not only
not effective, but arguably counter-productive in terms of actually
strengthening separate identities and damaging efforts to promote
community cohesion. Instead, the submission draws on a range of
recent empirical research by the University of Huddersfield to
argue that the helpful extension of the programme to include far-right
violent extremism should be used as an opportunity to fundamentally
re-cast Prevent activities towards a cohesion basis, whereby opposition
to and collective resilience against violent political extremism
of all kinds is built through funding youth activities that develop
cross-ethnic contact, dialogue and respect, and which strengthen
common local and national identities.
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Commission for Racial Equality (1999) Open Talk,
Open Minds, London: CRE.
DCLG (2007) Commission on Integration and Cohesion:
Our Shared Future, London: DCLG.
DCLG (2008) PVE Pathfinder FundMapping
of Project Activities 2007-08, London: DCLG.
DCLG (2009) Evaluating local PREVENT projects and
programmes, London: DCLG.
Hewitt, R. (1996) Routes of Racismthe social
basis of racist action, Stoke-on-Trent: Trentham Books.
Hewitt, R. (2005) White Backlash: The politics
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(2007) "Prejudice, Intergroup Contact and Identity: Do Neighbourhoods
Matter?" In M Wetherell, M Lafleche and R Berkley (eds.)
Identity, Ethnic Diversity and Community Cohesion.
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Society: The Government's strategy to increase Race Equality and
Community Cohesion, London: Home Office.
Ritchie, D (2001) Oldham Independent ReviewOn
Oldham, One Future, Manchester: Government Office for the
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and Young PeopleEducation or Blame?", Scottish
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Thomas, P (2007) Moving on From Anti-Racism? Understandings
of "Community Cohesion held by Youth workers, Journal
of Social Policy, vol 36:3, pp 435-455.
Thomas, P. (2008) Evaluation of the Kirklees Preventing
Violent Extremism Pathfinder: Issues and Lessons from the first
year, Huddersfield: The University of Huddersfield.
Thomas, P and Sanderson, P. (2009) The Oldham
and Rochdale Youth Identity Project Final Report, Huddersfield:
University of Huddersfield.
Thomas, P (2009) "Between Two Stools? The Government's
Preventing Violent Extremism agenda", The Political Quarterly,
80: pp 482-492.