How good are the British police at fighting terrorism

Radicalization prevention information service

Paul Thomas

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Prof. Paul Thomas teaches on »Youth and Politics« at Huddersfield University in Great Britain. His research interests include the question of how multicultural policy approaches, such as the “Prevent” program to combat terrorism, are implemented at the local level and by educational professionals. In addition, he is a trained youth social worker himself. Most recently, he published “What the Prevent duty means for schools and colleges in England: An analysis of educationalists’ experiences ”(with J. Busher, T. Choudhury and G. Harris, 2017).

Paul Thomas, professor at the University of Huddersfield, outlines the development of the controversial British anti-terrorism strategy "Prevent" since 2007 and presents its main goals and content. He describes and discusses the fierce controversies surrounding the program. This allows conclusions to be drawn about the role of "Prevent" now and in the future.

The British anti-terrorism strategy "Prevent" has been criticized since it was introduced in 2007. (& copy picture-alliance, Wire / empics)

This article first appeared in the anthology "Sie haben kein Plan B", edited by Jana Kärgel. The anthology can be ordered in the bpb shop.

The preventive or "soft" [1] anti-terrorism strategies introduced by Western states have all been criticized. But none was as controversial as the British Prevent program. From its introduction in 2007, "Prevent" was decried as a "spying program", as "spoiled" and "poisoned", which suggests that this counter-terrorism strategy could ultimately prove to be counterproductive. The independent expert on terrorism law commissioned by the British government has called for a review of the “Prevent” program and “Prevent” has also been criticized in parliamentary committees, but the British government has not only rejected any criticism, it has even suggested that it will expand the program want. The controversy has not stopped the governments of other countries from delving deeply into "Prevent" and from launching similar programs. This is due on the one hand to the fact that »Prevent« was the first program of its kind after September 11, 2001, and on the other hand to the fact that its scale and ambitious goals met with great interest.

In this article the beginnings and later changes of »Prevent« are traced and the most important goals and contents are outlined. The fierce and ongoing controversies surrounding the program are then set out and discussed on the basis of five broad and interrelated topics. This allows some conclusions to be drawn about the role of Prevent now and in the future.

The development of »Prevent«

Two different phases can be identified in the development of »Prevent«: »Prevent 1« was launched in 2007 by the Labor government at the time. "Prevent 2" has been running since 2011. In the second phase, significant changes took place, which on the one hand reflected key events such as the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, but on the other hand also tensions and different perspectives within the government (between different ministries and between the coalition parties) , [2] but above all between the government in London and the local governments who were supposed to carry out "Prevent".

"Prevent 1" was quickly put into practice in 2007/2008 with pilot projects and then expanded considerably between 2008 and 2011. [3] In addition to the allocation of funds, which flowed through the Department for Communities and Local Government (DCLG) to all municipalities with a high proportion of Muslims, the program included efforts to create "more diverse governance structures" within the Muslim communities on a national level and local level, which were particularly geared towards women and young people (e.g. through the nationwide Young Muslims and Muslim Women's Advisory Groups) and thus stood in stark contrast to the more traditional management structures in Muslim communities, which were often dominated by older men.

Along with this, the program sought state support for "more moderate" forms of Islamic religious practice (for example through civil society initiatives with the help of which a kind of "mainstream" Islam should be promoted, e.g. the Radical Middle Way Roadshow or the Sufi Muslim Council, however was short-lived). Finally, 300 additional police posts were created for prevention work as part of the security policy measures of the Ministry of the Interior and its Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT).


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In total, almost 150 million pounds (around 220 million euros at the exchange rate at the time) was spent directly and exclusively on prevention with the program. The local governments took different approaches: some distributed all the money to organizations within the Muslim communities, others used it to develop their own programs in youth and community work. [4] In its first year, the government boasted that the program had already reached almost 50,000 Muslim youth. [5] For Muslim civil society organizations, the "Prevent" funds came precisely at a time when other public funds were being cut. As a result, it was often difficult for them to turn down the funds, even though they knew that the acceptance of these funds was very controversial.

The rapidly increasing dominance of the role of the police within "Prevent" led to negative media coverage, accusations of "spying on" [6] and a critical review of the program by a parliamentary committee of inquiry. [7] The new government made up of conservatives and liberals initially put the program on hold when they took office, and then presented a revised version called "Prevent 2". The Ministry for Municipalities and Municipal Administration (DCLG) was no longer involved and the funds for the municipalities were cut significantly. Control of the "Prevent" funds now remained at the national level and was transferred directly to the Department of Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) of the Ministry of the Interior, which, together with the continued dominant role of the police, made the security aspect of the program more and more important.

"Prevent 2" was supposed to counteract all forms of extremism, but in practice the focus remained predominantly on Islamist extremism and thus directly on the Muslim communities. However, public interest in "Prevent" seemed to wane until two events in 2013, the murder of soldier Lee Rigby by two Islamist extremists and the worsening crisis in Syria, put "Prevent" back on the agenda and led to its expansion .[8th]

A major innovation was the legal obligation (the so-called Prevent duty) for all schools, universities and other public institutions, e.g. health services, »to take seriously the need to protect people from being drawn into terrorist activities«, [9] to protect them from extremism and to implement »prevent«. Specialists working on site, e.g. in youth social work and in schools, now had to report young people, in whom they noticed the first tendencies towards radicalization, to the newly introduced »Channel« project. This was supported by a considerably expanded range of "Awareness Workshops" (Workshop to Raise Awareness of Prevent, WRAP), with which a large number of public sector employees were trained to radicalize - even a very controversial concept [10] - better to recognize.