Wed 21 April 2021

Dr Adnan Siddiqui argues the targeting of XR as an extremist organisation supports growing concern the government’s policy is about criminalising views it finds threatening.

As a GP in the NHS I am required to do safeguarding training, which included attending a workshop on Prevent, the government’s controversial counter-extremism programme.

During this 75-minute training, we were treated to “pearls of wisdom” about questioning whether young people who were desirous of political or moral change, sceptical of the mainstream media and disagreed with UK foreign policy may be at risk of “radicalisation”, particularly if they were called Mohammed or Fatima. In the interests of equality legislation, Tommy and Katie weren’t left out – as long as they were working class. 

Nevertheless, as someone committed to the values and ethics of my profession, I undertook the training, hoping it would not lead to an undermining of our civil liberties. 

This latest disclosure that Extinction Rebellion has been designated a terrorist terrorist-type group under guidance issued under Prevent came as a surprise, but it was not a shock.

The criminalisation of dissent through Prevent is the experience of the work done by CAGE’s caseworkers. It is an outlook shared by people such as Julian Assange, and is demonstrated in the public and secretive documents analysed by leading academics. This is why the policy has been described as toxic. 

Growing numbers now claim that Prevent is a threat to Britain’s diverse society. For this reason, amongst others, I believe Prevent must be scrapped and we must begin discussions towards building a healthy, safe society beyond Prevent, as outlined in our report at CAGE which we publish today.  

To call for others to join in this struggle is not extremism. It is proof of a desire to move towards a more decent and humane society, where we respect our differences and have tolerance of those who raise even uncomfortable questions.

Secretive documents outlining climate dissent, animal rights, as “threats”

Almost three years ago, CAGE revealed the existence of Counter Terrorism Local Profiles (CTLPs).

These documents – which are not publicly available or able to be challenged – revealed insights into the way certain sections of the government have been using Prevent to monitor, not just Muslim activism and charitable work, but dissent and “subversive activities” in a manner that goes way beyond “counter-terrorism”.  

CTLP documents highlight “emerging issues” including “anti-austerity protests”, “anti-war protests” and “animal rights protests”.

However, our society has often been shaped by those whose views were once deemed “radical”. Now, climate activists have woken us up to the threat posed by fossil fuels and should be heard, not labelled “extreme”. 

Prevent has thus gone way beyond its purported aims of dissuading the vulnerable to pursue a violent path, and morphed into a tool that punishes those who voice opinions contrary to those wielding corporate and political power.

Prevent erodes the trust in professions like my own and encourages acting on prejudice

Prevent is preserving the interests of the state, not its people. It does so through  implementing discriminatory policies that are detrimental to people and, in the case of XR, the planet. 

If your job depends on Prevent, you would find it difficult to bite the hand that feeds you, and – contrary to one of the core principles of safeguarding – to be transparent and take on board legitimate criticism and concerns. 

As a result, those that support and facilitate Prevent continue to foist on loyal and hardworking public sector workers a policy that is perceived by many to be unethical and politically motivated. Not only has it been proven to decrease trust between public sector workers and the people we are meant to serve, it also creates intra-professional suspicion.

Even those tasked to implement the Prevent duty are not immune from being targeted; proof of this happened when an NHS trust member reported retired Dr Lyn Jenkins, when he was found to be an XR activist.

To make matters worse, the lack of a scientific consideration and analysis at the core of Prevent is now being extended to a public training programme on “counter-terrorism”. The course is composed of seven modules and takes 45 minutes to complete. 

Is it, therefore, not legitimate to ask questions of the Prevent strategy, particularly at a time when there are so many divisions in our society?

The Prevent net is growing and so should the resistance to it

The listing of XR has struck a chord perhaps because it brings white middle-class activists into the Prevent net, who so far have watched from the sidelines the ever-growing fear among other communities that the strategy amounts to racial and class profiling.

Those who oppose the policy themselves are attacked as “extremists” and “terrorist sympathisers”, particularly when they are from a black, Asian or minority ethnic background.

We all want to be protected from terrorism, but not by losing the rule of law and our right to practise our beliefs. However, many appear to be agitated only when their own freedoms are threatened and not others. We can’t continue like this; the time is now ripe for change. 

Dr Adnan Siddiqui is the director of CAGE

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