Biased Prevent Extremism survey

24th Mar 2020
Biased Prevent Extremism survey

(Photo credit: United Kingdom: You can’t Prevent extremism by stigmatising entire communities by former UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai: CCY)

Claudia Radiven

A recent report, published on March 2, commissioned by a crime and justice research body is the latest attempt to counter the increasingly negative perception of the Prevent Extremism policy.

CREST Advisory, consisting of ‘crime and justice specialists’ who work with practitioners, companies and authorities to develop and communicate strategies that build a ‘safer, more secure society’, claimed that the purpose of this report is to dispel “common polarising narratives which claim either that British Muslims do not accept that Islamist extremism is a serious threat and are ‘in denial’ or that argue Prevent is ‘toxic’ to British Muslims and has ‘alienated’ them”.

The report summary claims that this objective has been achieved and tries to reflect this through both qualitative and quantitative data. Further investigation into these claims shows several inadequacies that further endanger and problematise British Muslims rather than enhancing the situation.

The Prevent policy has come under fire lately from the University and College Union, the United Nations, as well as numerous academics and organizations such as The Muslim Council of Britain and CAGE.

CREST has done little to allay any of the concerns expressed by these groups. It takes a paternalistic, often patronizing, tone towards the status of the Muslims in the UK and the attitudes within these groups.

The report disregards great swathes of previous research, including academic, and also dismisses the genuine experiences of Muslims in the UK as only being a “small number of highly engaged individuals and organizations” (p90).

Whilst it was beneficial for this report to engage with those who have little knowledge of Prevent, and to feed a very benign and insufficient definition of Prevent, to then try and justify that this research “undermines the argument that Prevent should be scrapped due to lack of trust” (p91) is very dangerous.

The summary is more likely to be widely read than the full report and data set. It states that within that sample sets were chosen on the basis that they did not have a “disproportionate knowledge of the issues” (p24) being queried in this report.

Does this research body consider it to be disadvantageous for Muslims to be aware of policies that disproportionately affect them? Immediately following this statement is the following:

“Awareness/knowledge of the Prevent programme: this question was included early in the poll as not to inadvertently lead the respondents towards the correct answer by including it after the section on extremism and counter-extremism.” (p24)

Again, this poses questions regarding the integrity and neutrality of this report if there is already a correct answer. The issue of the so-called “neutrality” of the report arises throughout.

Despite the emphasis of this report in putting forward the narrative that British Muslims support Prevent, among the Muslims that were aware of Prevent prior to these interviews there was very limited support. This was not reflected in the summary released on March 2.

Considering the report’s critique of other studies and particularly Akeela Ahmed’s statements regarding the need to avoid “bias or weighting in particular directions, and avoiding over extrapolation” (p6), there is an irony in the manipulating of statements and parading them as facts within CREST’s report.

On the subject of bias, many of those consulted for this report are known to work with, and support, the Prevent policy.

The report did not see fit to consult those who have had direct experiences of being subjected to the remonstrations of Prevent, but still, there are repeated claims that this report is neutral, unbiased and independent. This being the case one would think the report could state which charitable trust is funding the research.

Apart from the gross assertions made from very limited data regarding Muslims in the UK and their attitudes to Prevent and extremism, there are further issues to be observed. Within the quantitative data, there are repeated references made to the results of various questions in terms of how they are impacted by voting habits.

These questions include “To what extent do you think Britain is a good place to be a Muslim?” (p63), whether “Most police officers treat people fairly, irrespective of their race or religion” (p76), and whether those involved supported the Prevent programme based on the limited description CREST provided (p82).

Overwhelmingly this report found that Labour voters and non-voters had less support for the Prevent policy, believed treatment by police was less fair and had a lower opinion of how good it was to be a Muslim in the UK. This categorization is reductive and pernicious. When the Prevent policy itself identifies the following (which was not shown to participants):

“Support for all kinds of violent extremism is more prevalent not only among the young but among lower socio-economic and income groups…people who distrust Parliament…are all likely to be more supportive of violent extremism…significantly associated with a perception of discrimination and the experience of racial or religious harassment…associated with a negative view of policing…with a lack of trust in democratic government and with an aspiration to defend Muslims when they appear to be under attack or unjustly treated…powers used by the police under counter-terrorism legislation; the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy; a perception of biased and Islamophobic media coverage; and UK foreign policy, notably with regard to Muslim countries.” (HM Gov: 5.26 -5.27).

This association between mistrust of the Government and police with support for extremism is problematic in of itself. The further association with voting patterns and an inclination towards the left with these issues is dangerous.

The data on Conservative and Brexit Party voters are an interesting addition considering the openly racist rhetoric of the Brexit campaign and the well-founded accusations of Islamophobia within the Tory party. The identification that Brexit and Conservative voters would be more supportive of Prevent, that police treat everyone fairly and that Britain is a good place to be a Muslim is hardly surprising and speaks of a degree of privilege.

Much can be said on the failings of this report and it’s ‘findings.’ In this brief assessment, we can see the inconsistencies and manipulations of both the qualitative and quantitative data to suit the aims of the report. Whilst it claims repeatedly to be unbiased and independent, we are never told who is funding it.

Paternalistic assumptions are made about Muslims in the UK and the reality of the Prevent policy and those who experience it are largely ignored. This is not helping Muslims in the UK, merely adding to the many problems faced daily.

HM Government. (2011a). ‘Prevent Strategy’, Cm. 8092, June. London: Stationery Office. CREST. (March 2020). Listening to British Muslims: policing, extremism and Prevent. London: Crest Advisory UK Ltd.

Claudia Radiven
PhD Candidate, University of Leeds

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