Islamophobia now a public sector duty

In a speech on 20 July, Prime Minister David Cameron identified the ‘struggle of our generation’ as ‘the fight against Islamic State’. Cameron defined ‘extremism’ as an antagonism toward British Values. His address to the nation was delivered from Ninestiles Academy in Birmingham, a school which was subject to an investigation by the Department of Education and other government agencies into the so-called Trojan Horse letter.* The speech deflected much media attention from the vote on the welfare bill that took place that evening in the House of Commons. It was a speech to inspire in a fearful public a message about British security and British Values.

The term British Values appears frequently in the document known as the Prevent Strategy (2011). The Prevent Strategy is a subsection of CONTEST, a UK counter-terrorism policy. Prevent focuses on the identification of those individuals and groups who are vulnerable to radicalisation in order to stop the spread of ‘extremism’. Within the Prevent Strategy, ‘extremism’ is defined as an antipathy to the British Values of ‘democracy, rule of law, equality of opportunity, freedom of speech and the rights of all men and women to live free from persecution of any kind’.

Current government use of the term British Values and its prevalence in the mainstream media gives the impression that the concept is a Tory innovation. However the British Values construct predates 2010.

In 2009, the Labour Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Hazel Blears, introduced revisions to CONTEST (2003) the counter–terrorism strategy. This shaped the Prevent programme in use today. In February 2009 Blears said that Britain needed to promote a ‘counter narrative’ of Britishness, in which tolerance of diversity needed to be diminished so that the defence of British Values could be pursued without disruption.

The Prevent strategy contains references to data from the Centre for Social Cohesion, which is the British branch of the neo-con Henry Jackson Society. Hazel Blears along with many Tory and some Labour MPs is a political council member of the Henry Jackson Society. This society also runs the Centre for the Response to Radicalisation and Terrorism, which monitors the online activities of Muslims. The United States-based Henry Jackson Society has, over a number of decades, promoted interventions – both military and non-military – across the Middle East in the name of democracy.

In 2014, the Trojan Horse affair gave Conservative Education Secretary Michael Gove the opportunity to promote British Values within schools. Of the total 21 schools monitored within Birmingham, the three which received the most criticism from Ofsted for ‘extremist’ activity were all sponsored by the Park View Educational Trust rather than the local authority. The government’s Trojan Horse Investigation Report 2014 noted that a massive reduction in Birmingham City Council’s resources resulted in a failure to address early concerns regarding radicalisation. This lack of local funding and support, coupled with the particular interests of the academy sponsors, were key factors in the emergence of a faith school ethos. Despite this, the rise of academisation is ignored as an important factor in the fight against ‘extremism’ in educational establishments. There is a sustained refusal by mainstream media to accept that cuts and privatisation endanger the quality and accountability of educational institutions.

Two months ago a questionnaire designed to seek out Islamic extremism was presented to children in an east London primary school. The questionnaire was provided by a charity called Family Action. The charity defines its own purpose as providing ‘practical, emotional and financial support to those who are experiencing poverty, disadvantage and social isolation across England’. The questionnaire asked Muslim children to agree or disagree with statements such as ‘God has a purpose for me’. The aim was to find those vulnerable to radicalisation.

On 1 July 2015, the Prevent strategy became a ‘Prevent duty’. The Prevent duty described in section 26 of the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 declares that all employees of councils, police forces, prisons, health services and schools have a duty to exercise ‘due regard’ to prevent people being drawn into terrorism. Everyone working in public sector service provision, from leaders to frontline staff, must understand radicalisation and take action to notify the appropriate authority of any suspicions, based upon finding antipathy toward British Values.

Within schools, spotting individuals at risk of radicalisation is now defined as a safeguarding issue. Therefore if a teacher fails to recognise the potential radicalisation of a pupil, that member of staff will be considered to have failed to recognise neglect and abuse. Such an omission could lead to further Ofsted inspection of the school’s safe-guarding policy. Clearly viewing radicalisation as a safe-guarding issue depoliticises it, aligning ‘extremism’ less with acts of British imperialism, and more with poor parenting and community ethos.

The result of the recent Prevent duty ruling is that frontline workers are legally bound to find and prevent ‘extremism’ – despite being unqualified to do so. They are compelled to find the opponents of British Values, a deliberately ambiguous concept. We know that the victims of radicalisation will be the same victims of institutionalised Islamophobia that is oppressing working class Muslims. In stating that combating ‘extremism’ is the ‘struggle of our generation’, David Cameron enforces a narrative that seeks to undermine class struggles, diving the working class through a culture of fear by setting up one group of people as a fifth column.        m

Becky Fry

* See Susan Davidson ‘From book to letter; the Trojan Horse of Michael Gove’ on our website at http://tinyurl.com/o4sr7zl

FRFI 246 August/September2015

 

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