Further Reading: Muslim Children Through PREVENT: Victims of the War on Terror
The neoconservative social engineering programme of hate that is the PREVENT counter-extremism policy last week suffered a further set back.
Over the past year I have endeavoured to raise the impact on the rights as well as the psychology of children resulting from the application of PREVENT. In January, the Institute of Race Relations issued a report looking at the impact on children from the context of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child.
Yet another report has now been published establishing what Muslims already know: that PREVENT is failing, counter-productive and responsible for injustices against students and children. Rights Watch UK in their report had the following to say about PREVENT:
“…the Prevent strategy is not fit for purpose, and its effect on education and students’ human rights raises serious concerns.”
“The Prevent strategy as currently structured and implemented is untenable. The strategy in this country’s schools needs to be abolished…”
The authors of the report aver that the “flawed strategy” is a “systematic breach of children’s human rights in the school setting”. These rights include,
- Freedom of religion,
- The right to privacy,
- The right to freedom from discrimination,
- The fundamental principle that actions taken in relation to children must treat the child’s best interests as a primary consideration.
The Psychological Impact
Of relevance to this article is the psychological impact on the children, which I have previously called psychological child abuse. The reason for this focus is because the general argument against PREVENT is that the effect on free speech and discussion is “chilling”, and that conversations are driven “underground”. Whilst these pragmatic problems certainly exist and require highlighting, the human effect of such measures has not be given proper attention.
According to the government’s own guidelines on safeguarding children, emotional (interchangeably used with “psychological”) abuse may be comprised of,
“…not giving the child opportunities to express their views, deliberately silencing them or ‘making fun’ of what they say or how they communicate… It may feature age or developmentally inappropriate expectations being imposed on children. These may include… overprotection and limitation of exploration and learning…”
The report highlights that children are being intimidated into revealing “personal beliefs or inform[ing] on classmates”. Furthermore, “Muslim children in particular feel that they are subject to additional scrutiny, especially if they deviate from the particular version of Islam that the government has deemed acceptable”.
Among the cases it sheds light on is the case of an eight-year old who was interrogated on his own about ISIS, his religious beliefs, and his social habits for wearing a t-shirt bearing the name of the closest Companion of the Prophet (peace be upon him). The impact on the child is described in the report in the following terms:
“…his mother reports that her formerly confident son has become increasingly reserved and reluctant to speak up at school”
In effect the child’s experience of PREVENT had resulted in limiting his “learning” and “exploration”.
In the case of fourteen year old Rahmaan, where he was harassed by PREVENT police officers for campaigning for Palestine, the impact on his friends has been related. His friend has become “completely withdrawn from politics”. The previously active Palestine supporter has now become “really quite and submissive and withdrawn from society”.
Again, according to government guidelines, this is emotional abuse.
Another case study referenced in the report is one which I have already covered on the blog. It explains how fourteen-year old student was removed by a person he did not know from his French lesson discussing deforestation for saying the word “eco-terorrisme”. He was then mocked and questioned about whether or not he was affiliated with ISIS. The report notes that the pupil returned home “visibly distressed”.
However, the impact on the child was much deeper. According to his mother, Ifhat Smith, he was left “scared and nervous” and “alarmed and extremely scared” by the treatment by school officials. Moreover, his behaviour in lessons has now changed to one which exemplifies how the overprotection in regulating his expression has resulted in him feeling fearful of contributing to his lesson:
“Now he’s not so vocal in his lessons for fear that anything he says can be misconstrued. That’s no way for a child to be growing up.”
No it isn’t. Put simply, this is emotional abuse of children.
Concluding Remarks – Next Steps
The report should be lauded for collating information on PREVENT and scrutinising it from the perspective of the rights of the child. The next step now is to assess the level of psychological harm resulting from the application of Britain’s counter-extremism programme. A brief analysis against the government’s own safeguarding guidelines strongly indicates that children are experience forms of state-sponsored emotional child abuse.
Are the children suffering from psychological harm? Given young children are experiencing treatment which is causing shock and alarm, is there a possibility of conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder developing? Should parents seek damages for psychological harm to their children?
These are questions which require further scrutiny and investigation.