Since the government’s warning to the NUS to stand down its opposition to the government counter-extremism PREVENT Strategy, reports about PREVENT miscarriages of justice taking place in the education sphere have been increasing. Last year, I wrote a detailed piece about the strategy which would absurdly target toddlers through the counter-terrorism discourse. I elucidated the fact that it was to create a neo-Stasi state in which public service employees were co-opted to act as informers for the state. Britain’s neo-Stasi operation courtesy of the PREVENT strategy is now is being felt by the Muslim minority with full force.
Pro-Palestine Views/Islam as Indicators of Radicalisation
A string of cases demonstrating the Stasi-esque nature of PREVENT were highlighted by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). It noted that the PREVENT duty was creating an atmosphere in which schools were invariably behaving in a disproportionate, over-zealous, “informant” manner, with chilling consequences for the rights of children. The following are some of the examples:
- One schoolboy was accused of holding “terrorist-like” views by a police officer due to his pro-Palestinian activism (more details here).
- A school pupil mentioned “the history of the Caliphate” in his homework about British foreign policy and was subsequently referred to social services for signs of radicalisation.
- The Islamic command for men to lower the gaze in the presence of women was acted upon by two students when two female students passed by. They were reported to the senior team for “concerning behaviour”. Their lecturer questioned why they moved out of the way and lowered their gazes and then directly asked if they were Muslim.
- Friday sermons at a secondary school, which used to be delivered by other Muslim children were told they could only continue to conduct their Friday prayers if led by a non-Muslim teacher, who falsely informed the students that it was not an obligation to pray the Friday prayers.
- A two-year-old child with learning difficulties (!) sang in Arabic and spontaneously uttered “Allahu Akbar” was referred to social services for “concerning behaviour”.
- A teenager was deemed to require “deradicalisation” after attending a protest against the invitation of the potential war criminal, Benjamin Netanyahu.
- A teacher called in the parents of a student after uttering the common Islamic sentence “Alhamdulillah”.
- Another recent article made note of an incident where a girl starting to wear a hijab in Ramadan, gave “cause for concern” to the school.
“Alarmed and Extremely Scared”
The Guardian, on the 22nd of September, shed light on yet another victim of the neoconservatism. In this case, a 14-year-old had learned about “eco-terrorism” from the school’s extracurricular debating club. He used this knowledge to discuss eco-terrorism in a French class covering the topic of how violence is used to protect the earth. A few days later he was taken out of the his French class and made to sit in front of a child protection officer with another adult behind him due to the French teacher raising a “safety concern” with them. Here he was seemingly mocked by them, with them calling him a “tree hugger”, before subsequently being asked whether he had any affiliation with ISIS. This occurred, disconcertingly, without the consent of the parents.
According to the report, the child has been left “scared and nervous” and “alarmed and extremely scared” by the treatment by school officials. The school’s statement said that the safety and “wellbeing” was their primary concern. Clearly their interpretation of “wellbeing” sits homogenously with interrogating and intimidating a child to the point that he returns home “distressed” and “extremely scared”. The impact on the parents exposes the rupturing relations between the school, state and parents. The mother of the child said that the experience had “shaken her faith in the education system”:
“This has caused me a lot of stress. I feel I am being watched … You worry that they could take your children into care.”
The General Secretary of Association of Teachers and Lecturers Mary Bousted around the time of the publishing of the above report said, “we know Prevent is of great concern to our members…” and spoke of the “contentious adherence” to “Fundamental British Values”. Pertinently she further stated that,
“We believe that it is not the role of education staff to police young people and we are concerned that this strategy may exacerbate Islamophobia and racism.”
If the above list of examples is anything to go by, ATL’s concern of exacerbation of Islamophobia and racism is not a possibility, but paranoid, hyperbolic reality. It is noteworthy that in most of the examples outlined above, markers around Islamic history or practice are triggering “deradicalisation” concerns. This is precisely in concert with the neoconservative outlook which, as espoused by Michael Gove and endorsed/shaped by several British neocons/Zionists like Stephen Pollard, Oliver Kamm, Melanie Philips, William Shawcross and Douglas Murray, justifies religious symbols being viewed from the “War on Terror prism and refracted by perceptions of religious extremism”.
PREVENT Remit Grows Fostering Deception…
Shockingly, teachers have been taking up their new role as deceptive informers with aplomb. They have been trained to find out the views of students by making them do presentations on sensitive topics. I highlighted in a previous blog that the PREVENT remit was already extending itself by covering a scenario in which a child had been referred for deradicalisation based upon the views of the parents. Building on this, in a serious case of unethical practice, the MCB report identifies a similar case: a young child was asked to do a presentation on Syria in order to determine the views of the parents.
In another case highlighted by barrister Ibtihal Bsis, a mother was told her son was going to be taken out of class to test his reading skills, but in reality he was interrogated and checked for his religiosity. He was asked what he did at home and whether he read the Qur’an. Bsis states that the mother was “too afraid to tell the school [her concerns]”.
The general secretary of ATL Bousted additionally noted that PREVENT was being abused by schools stating that the “contentious adherence to ‘Fundamental British Values’” is “another stick, which can potentially be used maliciously.” She writes that,
“Shockingly, ATL has heard anecdotally that schools may be using the government’s Prevent helpline to denounce other schools in the area, claiming they have issues with radicalisation.”
The nature of PREVENT is such that it is slippery, from definitions to application. It is bound to be the subject of intel-gathering abuse; the initial version of PREVENT was, after all, penetrated by GCHQ. My concern is the impact on the child. He is being used as a window through which intelligence is being gathered. What will the child’s reaction be when he or she discovers this deception and abuse being played through him or her as the conduit?
Self-censorship and Fear
I noted in my previous blog regarding the synonymy of PREVENT and the authoritarian German Stasi that primarily Muslims would come to mimic the German public during the authoritarian era of the German Democratic Republic in which “many a conversation was subjected to a form of self-imposed censorship in the belief that it was being furtively recorded and analysed.”
This state has now materialised. In the “ecoterrorism” case, after the PREVENT-experience from the school, the child was reluctant to join in class discussions for fear of being suspected of “extremism”. Further, seemingly to avoid being monitored by the teacher, the student had dropped French. This is self-censorship on an extraordinary level, where PREVENT is directly impacting the education of students.
A teacher anonymously also revealed to the Guardian that her Muslim pupils had become more careful about what they talk about for fear of being referred through PREVENT. Fear? Should pupils be fearful in their learning environment?
This fear extends to the school itself. The same teacher states that the PREVENT duty is now assessed through Ofsted, adding extra pressure to conform to this nightmare:
“Most teachers would be reluctant to put any name forward because we are aware we live in an increasingly Islamophobic climate, and it would be hard to get the trust back [from pupils]. We are being asked to be part of the police. But people feel if they don’t go along with [Prevent], Ofsted will find out, and they need to protect their schools.”
Extensive research has shown that Muslims feel stigmatised, alienated and marginalised by the “them versus us” culture propounded by the state through its counter-terror discourse and accentuated through the well-connected press. Muslims viewed this stigmatisation through this press and anecdotally heard of cases where Muslims were being targeted for their “Muslimness” at airports, for instance.
Now, generations of Muslim children are directly experiencing neoconservative politics of counter-extremism extremism which is begetting discrimination, fear, intimidation, deception and abuse. This is state-sanctioned child abuse. What distressingly jars the mind further is that this new generation of victims of the War on Terror are to be found in the classrooms of Britain.