Faith Matters Responds to Home Affairs Committee Report on 'Prevent'

The Home Affairs Committee recently released a review of Prevent entitled 'Radicalisation: the Counter Narrative and Identifying the Tipping Point.'

As part of the review, the organisation that I founded 11 years ago, Faith Matters, also fed into the review and we raised our concerns about a lack of clarity about the guidance to schools around Prevent training. We also stressed the uncertainty around whether local authorities were able to choose training providers that suited them or if the Home Office had an approved list of providers, whilst also stressing that there was very little third party oversight on the quality of training being provided. Furthermore within this process there was little transparency for members of the public to openly access such information.

The report mentioned a key area and suggested a review of the approach of Prevent, given that the ‘brand’ has become toxic in some parts of Muslim communities. It suggested using the term ‘Engage’ rather than Prevent. This may help given that some Muslim activists that used to work on Prevent have walked away from the agenda and others have voiced their concern about the lack of engagement in some parts of Muslim communities and given that numerous stories that have been promoted through media sources and Islamist web-sites have sometimes raised valid concerns on cases, whilst some of the latter have made a point of whipping up fear and insecurity and blurring messaging around Prevent.

Some of this 'blurring of the message' has partly been through disinformation about the programme and partly through a lack of openness and transparency on the part of the Government in its ability to explain the programme and to have ongoing dialogues with members of Muslim communities. This, as the Home Affairs Select Committee suggested, includes involving those people who disagree with Prevent in strategic and grass-roots discussions about the programme.

The Committee also mentioned greater transparency around what it is doing in Prevent. This is essential in building trust and this also means being open with communities in how and why the Government is looking to take actions through its implementing bodies on the ground. Some of the organisations working with the Government in reaching out to Muslim and other communities are also bound within a framework where they sometimes cannot release information which can settle and reassure Muslim communities and where information dissemination is tightly bound by Prevent. This cannot be healthy nor does it help in trust building in communities.

We also welcomed the Committee's call to media sources to avoid contributing to negative views around particular groups in society through unbalanced and unsubstantiated and sensationalist reporting. Faith Matters has been the central driver in the Tell MAMA campaign, which monitors, maps and measures anti-Muslim hatred in the UK. Some of the press headlines around Halal food, child safeguarding, Hijabs and migration have simply placed 'Muslim' in the headlines and which promote the worst picture of a whole community. Some of these stories have been found to be baseless, yet the damage in terms of social cohesion may already have been done. The Committee rightly denounced such inflammatory headlines which lump all Muslims into a monolithic group and give the perception that all Muslims are somehow collectively guilty for the actions of terrorists and extremists. Such headlines and clickbait stories need to be challenged where members of the public come across them and more importantly, where British Muslims come across them.

Yet, one of the most scathing suggestions from the Home Affairs Committee was that Internet giants such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, were ‘consciously failing’ to tackle extremism on the web. Once again, through the work of Tell MAMA, we realised early on in 2011 that social media providers were doing virtually nothing to close or tackle accounts that were promoting openly anti-Muslim material and social media platforms felt like they were the ‘Wild West’ of opinion with bigots taking to the airwaves.

Today, we continue to challenge some of the Internet giants and we disagree on some of their assessments of hate material and in the main, unless there are targeted threats, material is not removed. Google for example, does not remove content without legal proceedings, if for example, malicious blogs are written about Muslims in the public eye, just because of their faith. Twitter simply fails to remove any material unless copyrighted material is being circulated or if a direct threat is made. Facebook on the other hand, is the most advanced in dealing with hate complaints and whilst there is still room for improvement, they are engaging, willing to listen and actively develop counter-speech Google is changing and engaging since it needs to be seen to be pro-active in this area. Google and Facebook are therefore willing to listen to how far right extremism is impacting on Muslim communities and how it may also lead to cumulative extremism. However, in the case of Twitter, the charge that they are ‘consciously failing’ to tackle extremism and in particular, far right extremism continues to be true.

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