The Government's Preventing Violent Extremism programme is a complex and sensitive agenda which has met with widely varying perceptions as to what the programme stands for and what it aims to deliver on the ground. Our inquiry has shown that the current overall approach to Prevent is contentious and unlikely ever to be fully accepted in its existing form by those it is most important to engage.
The current breadth of focus of Preventfrom community work to crime preventionsits uncomfortably within a counter-terrorism strategy. We support the logic behind the 'Four P's' of the CONTEST strategyPursue, Prevent, Protect and Prepareand we do not wish to see this approach deconstructed. We also strongly support the need for a clear national strategy which deals with the specific threat from al-Qaeda-inspired terrorism. However, we question the appropriateness of the Department of Communities and Local Governmenta Government department which has responsibility for promoting cohesive communitiestaking a leading role in counter-terrorism initiatives. We agree with the majority of our witnesses that Prevent risks undermining positive cross-cultural work on cohesion and capacity building to combat exclusion and alienation in many communities. We see a very important role for CLG in continuing such work and acknowledge its contribution to the aims of Prevent. However, we believe that this work can be successful only if untainted by the negative association with a counter-terrorism agenda.
The single focus on Muslims in Prevent has been unhelpful. We conclude that any programme which focuses solely on one section of a community is stigmatising, potentially alienating, and fails to address the fact that that no section of a population exists in isolation from others. The need to address extremism of all kinds on a cross-community basis, dependent on assessed local risk, is paramount.
We remain concerned by the number of our witnesses who felt that Prevent had been used to 'spy' on Muslim communities. Our evidence suggests that differing interpretations of terminology relating to concepts such as 'intelligence gathering', 'spying' and 'surveillance' are posing major challenges to the Prevent agenda. Information collected for the purposes of project monitoring and community mappingboth of which are to be encouragedare sometimes being confused with the kind of intelligence gathering and surveillance undertaken by the police and security services to combat crime and actively pursue suspects. However, despite rebuttals, the allegations of spying retain widespread credibility within certain sections of the Muslim community. If the Government wants to improve confidence in the Prevent programme, it should commission an independent investigation into the allegations made.
Regarding the Government's analysis of the factors which lead people to become involved in violent extremism, we conclude that there has been a pre-occupation with the theological basis of radicalisation, when the evidence seems to indicate that politics, policy and socio-economics may be more important factors in the process. Consequently, we suggest that attempts to find solutions and engagement with preventative work should primarily address the political challenges. We therefore recommend that opportunities be provided for greater empowerment and civic engagement with democratic institutions, to strengthen the interaction and engagement with society not only of Muslims, but of other excluded groups.
Our witnesses demonstrated widely ranging views as to how Government and local authorities should fund, seek advice from, and engage with organisations in the development and execution of the Prevent programme. There is a sense that Government has sought to engineer a 'moderate' form of Islam, promoting and funding only those groups which conform to this model. We do not think it is the job of Government to intervene in theological matters, but we are also concerned that local authorities have been left with too much responsibility for deciding how engagement and project funding should be managed. We make a range of recommendations on this topic and conclude that this is an area requiring immediate attention by Government.