Despatch from London | International

U.K’s troubled anti-terror strategy

Posters calling for peace in London following a terror attack in June 2017.

Posters calling for peace in London following a terror attack in June 2017.   | Photo Credit: Leon Neal

Late last month, as attention was focussed on Britain’s unending Brexit saga, the Home Office (the department which Theresa May led for six years till becoming Prime Minister) made a major climbdown. It agreed to an independent review of its anti-radicalisation strategy, ‘Prevent’, a demand which human rights and community groups had long raised.

‘Prevent’ predates the current Conservative government and was initially developed in the environment of the post-September 11 and post-July 7, 2005 (the London attacks) anti-terror programmes rolled out across Western nations. It was refined over the years as part of a four-plank strategy to “prevent”, “pursue”, “protect” and “prepare”.

However, from its early days, Prevent — intended to focus on preventing the radicalisation of individuals through obligations placed on a host of public sector institutions, from schools and universities to health services — has faced criticism. It has been accused of being a domestic spying programme, targeting Muslims, and reinforcing the caricaturisation, stigmatisation and alienation of Muslims, underpinning Islamophobia.

Last year, a group of human rights groups warned that the strategy was often pursued without evidence and involving a vague and expansive definition of terrorism that left it open to abuse and misinterpretation. Two years earlier, the union representing British teachers — on whom the strategy had placed onerous responsibilities — called for the programme to be scrapped, arguing that it had failed to support them properly, rending it an ineffective system.

Indeed, campaigners have pointed to a series of concerning instances that highlighted the problematic nature of the strategy. In one such case, a two-year-old boy with learning disabilities was referred to social services for “concerning behaviour” and in another, two college students were reported merely for the way they had “made way for two female students, and out of respect, lowered their gaze”. Such instances were too common to be dismissed as mistakes due to a lack of training, the Muslim Council of Britain warned in a 2016 report.

Tackling homegrown terror

The question of tackling homegrown terrorism in the U.K. has become all the more important given the wave of terrorist attacks in the past couple of years across Europe, by those who have identified themselves with the Islamic State (IS) terror group.

These include the attacks in Westminster, London Bridge and the Manchester Arena in 2017 that killed 34 people. The 2016 assassination of the Labour MP Jo Cox by a far-right extremist and the 2017 terrorist attack outside a mosque in central London highlighted the multi-ideological nature of the threat against the U.K.

Last month, Britain’s counterterrorism chief Neil Basu warned of the threat of far-right extremism, as far-right groups exploited the tense atmosphere over Brexit to gain a foothold. He noted that of 18 terror plots foiled since 2017, four had been from the far right.

The government’s decision to hold an independent review only came through as a House of Lords-led amendment to counterterrorism and border legislation. Minister Ben Wallace struck a defiant tone, accusing human rights groups and others of making allegations about the programme without any evidence behind them. Whatever the outcome now, the review is a clear acknowledgment that a key plank of Britain’s anti-terror strategy is struggling with its credibility.

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Printable version | Jun 5, 2020 10:44:43 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/uks-troubled-anti-terror-strategy/article26162515.ece

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