Deconstructing the “PREVENT is Safeguarding” Spin


Last year, the hate-financed Henry Jackson Society published a report on how to spin away criticism of PREVENT. One of its suggestions was to recast the public surveillance programme as “safeguarding”.  There has been an amplification of this spin by most government-paid PREVENT practitioners, promoters and careerists since then.  This claim both from a historic and conceptual point of view, is woefully inaccurate and a continued demonstration of how the PREVENT industry is deceptively manipulating narratives.

Ignoring History? PREVENT’s Discriminatory “Influence Campaign

As I have explicated in some detail, the counter-productive pre-crime approach to countering terrorism was not based on empirical evidence but the paradigmatically neoconservative military doctrine of pre-emption.  McCulloch and Wilson (2015), in their book exploring “pre-crime” intervention state,

“The declaration of the “war on terror” was the catalyst for a more pre-emptive approach to threats.

With the War on Terror aimed at Muslim countries, PREVENT’s focus from its very inception has been to control Islam and Muslims through what Ruth Kelly once called the “winning of hearts and minds” – a punch line which inherently denoted propaganda warfare and which usually accompanies hot war.  The fundamental difference to normal propaganda warfare during military campaigns and the PREVENT Strategy is that PREVENT is being waged against Britain’s own Muslim citizens.  In 2007, PREVENT funds were directed to those local authorities in England with 5 per cent or more of their population identifying as Muslim. In other words, funding was allocated based on the number of Muslims as opposed to risk.[1] This discriminatory focus on Muslims has continued through the years, with the Guardian last year reporting that PREVENT was being prioritised to target mainly Muslim areas.

To enable the focus on ideology, a reconstitution of the understanding of terrorism was required. Thus, early on, the causes of a “new terrorism” was forced through the lens of “irrational, religiously-derived and political – deviant, radical or faulty beliefs or attitudes”. Political causes such as foreign policy were excised.[2]

PREVENT was a project which, in the words of Chris Allen, had the “covert objective” of creating an “institutionally approved, ‘mainstream’ and ‘moderate’ expression of Islam that would be dually endorsed by various co-opted ‘liberal’ Muslims as also Government itself.” Through government-generated Muslim organisations focussed on countering “radical” theology, the state wished to “engineer if not exact power” in the Muslim minority. Indeed, early versions of PREVENT defined success as demonstrable “changes in attitude among Muslims”.[3]

This control is constitutive of Britain’s attempt to project soft power.  Tuck (2016) elaborates Britain’s sustenance and furtherance of its global interests through “influence” which they define as soft power. Commenting on the reorientation of risk from post hoc regulation to pre hoc intervention and policing activities, they explicate the shocking structure of PREVENT’s “influence campaign”:

“This futures-orientated risk-based understanding of counter-terrorism, coupled with an understanding of the causes of terrorism rooted in radicalisation, leads to perpetual ‘influence campaigns’ in an attempt to change the emotions, knowledge and beliefs of the targeted group (and subsequently behaviours) without relying on coercion. These perpetual influence campaigns are built on upon three themes: compliance; conformity; and conversion. Compliance is founded upon the principle of ‘believe what you want, but do what we say’; the influence campaign then uses inducements, minimises obstacles and establishes clearly what behaviours are required. Conformity focuses on the assertion ‘do what your context suggests is appropriate or correct’; the influence campaign is then designed to define appropriateness and correctness. Conversion focusses on ‘believe what we say, then behave accordingly’; here the campaign restructures worldviews and emotions. These can be considered as three stages or as operating as different levels of ‘influence’ in a campaign, with the latter understood as more enduring but also the hardest to achieveIt is with this in mind that the Preventing Violent Extremism agenda (known as ‘PVE’ or PREVENT) emerges: on that seeks to win the ‘hearts and minds’ of young British Muslims and their communities…[4]

Over the years, the strategy to fulfil this aim has fluctuated between directly controlling Islam through quisling organisations to indirectly forcing Muslims to subscribe to state-sanctioned liberal ideas vis-à-vis the PREVENT-based “British values”.  This is by and large discriminatory because the interpretations of these ideas and values have explicitly targeted and securitised Islamic concepts in contrast with other minority groups. In the 2011 government PREVENT strategy review, the orthodox Islamic notion of a “pan-Islamic Caliphate” was assigned to “Al-Qa’ida and its associates”. In the latest version of the PREVENT Duty guidance, “Islamist extremism” is explained in some detail, whilst “white supremacist ideology” has little to no explanation at all (it is literally one sentence).  Further reinforcing the focus on Islam is the “gentlemen’s agreement” in Parliament that the counter-extremism strategy is a “counter-Islam” strategy which is being dressed-up by the government to demonstrate it is not discriminating.  The aim, in short, is to create an Islam carved to the sensibilities of those in power.  Tuck’s elucidation is apt here:

“In terms of the ‘Influence campaign’, policies and activities promoting ‘moderation’ and a moderate Islam aim at ‘conversion’ in the broadest sense: that is, what is sought is the restructuring of worldviews[5]

Against this constructed enemy who undergoing mind control policies, the PREVENT Strategy also serves the purpose of establishing the British identity:

“The goals pursued by the UK government during this time in its PREVENT counter-terrorism campaign were not primarily about countering existential threats the state but rather about countering perceived threat to ‘British identity’”.[6]

This level of control of ideas is not exerted on any other group in the specific context of “counter-extremism”.  Neoconservative ideas, for instance, are thoroughly based on far-right principles of fascism, actively promote the subversion of democracy, authoritarianism, social inequality, double standards, deception, warring without accountability all in the context of ruling a nation. Yet neoconservatives, far from being scrutinised for their “extremism” threat, have not only been instrumental in forming the PREVENT policy, but are still advancing it from the corridors of power.

Further demonstrating the anti-Muslim bent of PREVENT, the disproven anti-Muslim Trojan Hoax fiasco of 2014 provided the pretext for the PREVENT/British values social engineering programme to be placed on a legal footing.  This involved dubious, and now proven to be baseless, allegations against Muslims of “Islamist infiltration” of state institutions purely on the basis of holding Islamic views. In other words, the pretext used to push the PREVENT Duty into law was a conspiratorial, wholly discriminatory “Muslim threat”.

The etymology of counter-extremism thinking is undeniable.  Its target has always been to intrude into the private sphere of beliefs and control Islam and Muslims, and later broader society through the architecture of a new British, nationalist identity.  Subsequent sprinklings of “other forms of extremism” are but a mere tokenistic nod to placate the liberal ego and deflect claims of Muslim profiling.

The above is more than enough to debunk the claim that the ideological propaganda project that is PREVENT is safeguarding. Despite this, further analysis from the perspective of safeguarding will follow in order to demonstrate just how far removed the notion of safeguarding is from PREVENT.

Recasting PREVENT Surveillance as Safeguarding

PREVENT is antithetical to the principles of safeguarding.

With the implementation of PREVENT, Finch and McKendrick (2015) argue that the notion of “safeguarding” has been recast within the context of a non-linear war, which they explicitly derive from the War on Terror and the excesses of neoliberalism. They further assert that this non-linear war is now being waged upon social work:

“Post 9/11, the “war on terror” signaled a new type of warfare, one that accords with the features of a non-linear war… The aim of government therefore, is to create confusion, uncertainty and anxiety amongst the electorate. In this atmosphere of confusion, the populace cannot arrive at a carefully considered view of world and domestic events. Non-linear war therefore describes a new form of war, one without clearly defined geographical boundaries and a clearly identified “enemy”.  In this confused and anxious climate, the government imposes ever more restrictive policies, policies that often undermine democracy.

Whilst [the PREVENT Duty] sounds relatively benign, we have been concerned by various government ministers’ pronouncements that have co-opted the term “safeguarding” and the changing focus of front line workers, including social work, key task as to “identify” those at so called risk of engaging in terrorism.  As McCulloch and Pickering, (2009) point out, this is a departure from usual crime prevention strategies; rather, there is a notion of pre-crime, which serves only to undermine fundamental tenets of justice. This leaves us very uncomfortable, that somehow social work is now being tasked with policing ideological beliefs that may differ from so called “mainstream” society.  There is no evidenced link of course, between expressing views that may be deemed to be “not British” and subsequently engaging in terrorist activities. Of equal concern is the narrative being presented, either you are with us, or if not, and critical of policy discourse, pose a threat to British society and are “dangerous”.

The authors of the paper call on practitioners to “resist securitised discourses” and “reject discriminatory notions of so-called dangerous people and communities”.[7]

Conceptually, the fundamentally fallacious pre-crime approach has perverted notions of safeguarding by violating core social justice principles like rights and empowerment. Instead of empowering families to help safeguard a tangibly defined “vulnerable”, parents are threatened with the removal of their children through PREVENT’s arbitrary criteria, fostering a culture of intimidation. Contact with PREVENT is resulting in psychological child abuse, with children becoming withdrawn and self-censoring their feelings and religious expressions.   Delineating this conceptual conflict in the context of PREVENT, Chief Social Worker for Birmingham City Council, Dr. Tony Stanley, inquires,

“How can social workers resist the tendency to view risk in these cases in rather fixed, positivist and psychologising terms (thus predetermining a child’s trajectory to be ‘at risk’?) something at odds with the empowerment and social justice aims of social work?

He further scathingly adds that PREVENT is “rather a social surveillance project with perverse outcomes for social work and the people we work with.”[8]

It is easy to understand why an academic would arrive at such a conclusion. There has been a paradigmatic shift from managing risk of actual physical or psychological harm to governing ideas and predicting harm using a broken tool.  With this has come the notion of policing thought.  The PREVENT duty departmental advice states that “schools are expected to assess the risk of children being drawn into terrorism, including support for extremist ideas that are part of terrorist ideology.” Whilst claiming there is no single radicalisation pathway, in order to spot an “extremist” PREVENT, and in particular the CHANNEL assessment panel, utilises the (scientifically baseless, distinctly lacking in predictive validity, and completely inapplicable to the broad social spheres it is impacting on a daily basis) Extremism Risk Guidance (ERG22+) to judge the “extremism” of the vulnerable person.  “Extremism” is ideological, being defined as opposition to the woolly “British values”, which implies the need to contort society cognitively towards a “norm”. What constitutes risk, therefore, is ideologically subjective and completely arbitrary.

The aspect of regulating or policing thought is given further credence by the way in which PREVENT has been implemented and invoked.  With baseless and vague risk factors courtesy of a structurally defective predictive tool combined with woefully untrained frontline workers and manifest political Islamophobia, the arbitrariness is resulting in outcomes which worryingly demonstrate a totalitarian result born from an inherently totalitarian concept. This is precisely why orthodox Islamic books (in a discriminatory fashion) have been regarded as “extremist” in Ofsted assessments. Peter Clarke in his pseudo-investigation designed to contribute to the (Trojan Horse) “evidence” needed to support the PREVENT duty, categorised an orthodox Jewish group Neturei Karta as “extoling” extremist views because it was “anti-Israel”.  Interestingly, PREVENT-defenders like Waqar Ahmed, manager for PREVENT in Birmingham, has been chastised by establishment journalists for criticising Israel. More recently, a female Muslim PREVENT practitioner was media-lynched by counter-extremism organisations for supporting an organisation fighting Islamophobia which also opposes PREVENT. Moreover, the tentacles of PREVENT are slithering their way into a broader campaigns too, seeking now to also regulate the Occupy movement and anti-fracking protestors.

Concluding Remarks

What the above analysis worryingly shows is that PREVENT is “safeguarding” individuals from the accommodation of, or a risk of accommodating ideas which conflict with the state-sanctioned approved ideas and values.  In particular, efforts to reconfigure thought has focussed discriminatorily on Islam and Muslims.  This is not safeguarding. This is the state targeting its British citizens with mind control strategies. If this does not have an air of fascist totalitarianism, then what does?

PREVENT is certainly safeguarding.  It is ultimately safeguarding the neoconservative state from organised dissent.


[1] Kennedy G., Tuck C., ed. British Propaganda and Wars of Empire – Influencing Friend and Foe 1900-2010,  Routledge: Oxon, 2016, p.224

[2] Ibid. p.221-222

[3] Ibid. p.227

[4] Ibid. p.222-223

[5] Ibid. p.230

[6] Ibid. p.241

[7] McKendrick D., Finch J., “’Under Heavy Manners?’: Social Work, Radicalisation, Troubled Families and Non-Linear War”, The British Journal of Social Work, 2016

[8] Stanley T., Guru S., “Childhood Radicalisation Risk: An Emerging Practice Issue”, Practice Social Work in Action, 2015, 27(5) 353-366.


One thought on “Deconstructing the “PREVENT is Safeguarding” Spin

  1. Reblogged this on | truthaholics and commented:
    “What the above analysis worryingly shows is that PREVENT is “safeguarding” individuals from the accommodation of, or a risk of accommodating ideas which conflict with the state-sanctioned approved ideas and values. In particular, efforts to reconfigure thought has focussed discriminatorily on Islam and Muslims. This is not safeguarding. This is the state targeting its British citizens with mind control strategies. If this does not have an air of fascist totalitarianism, then what does?”

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