by Homa Khaleeli
"This feeling has become more intense because Prevent now aims to deter people not just from violent extremism but also from “non-violent extremism”. This means not just worrying about people who might be terrorists, but also trying to clock anyone with “extreme” views. The government defines these views vaguely, as ideas that are opposed to “British values” – an equally vague term. As Harriet Harman said in the recent select committee report, the government’s policy is focused on the idea that there is “an escalator that starts with religious conservatism and ends with support for violent jihadism”. But this theory has never been proven, and critics point out that it allows the government to label any views they disagree with as a sign of extremism.
When the national conversation about Islam and Muslims is so negative, it has a lasting effect. Being Muslim is seen at least as a factor in vulnerability to extremism, so Muslim students become less comfortable discussing controversial issues. Rights Watch UK reported: “Muslim children across the United Kingdom are self-censoring for fear of being reported under Prevent. Their fear is not unwarranted. We have uncovered a number of instances where children have been referred to Prevent for legitimately exercising their right to freedom of expression in situations where they pose no threat to society whatsoever.” Not only does this mean innocent children are being swept up in a panic over extremism, but those who do have disturbing views will not express them. Instead they will be hidden and allowed to fester.
Apart from a few terrifying exceptions, British Muslims want to protect their country and their young people as much as non-Muslims (who also have a few terrifying exceptions). Surveys show they are more patriotic than the wider community, and intelligence from Muslim communities is vital in countering terrorism. But for this to happen, British Muslims need to feel they are partners in keeping the country safe, not just suspects."