Last night, Student Rights’ Director, Rupert Sutton, spoke at the University of Westminster at an event asking whether students should “promote or prevent the Prevent Strategy”.
Appearing alongside Abdullah Al-Andalusi and Jahangir Mohammed, as well as University of Westminster lecturer Dr. Dibyesh Anand, he addressed the clear need for Prevent and sought to challenge the false claims about the strategy made by some of the other speakers.
Jahangir Mohammed spoke first, and claimed Prevent had been imported from the US into the UK by Tony Blair, using ideas that originated in the RAND Corporation, Christian Zionism and even the Crusades.
He repeatedly stated that the strategy is based in racist discrimination and finished by arguing it had been dreamt up by non-Muslims, was operated by non-Muslims, and said Muslims should not accept this.
Rupert Sutton then spoke, accepting Prevent has a bad reputation and highlighting the stream of news stories alleging bad practice which have often failed to tell the full story.
He also detailed the ongoing National Union of Students (NUS) ‘Students not Suspects’ campaign against Prevent, which has encouraged students to boycott the strategy and made unsubstantiated accusations of racism and white supremacism.
After addressing the lack of evidence for these claims, he argued that there is a clear need for safeguarding procedures to be put in place for those at risk of radicalisation.
Using the examples of Mohammeed Jackir Ali, Hasib Hussain and Roshonara Choudhry, he showed how Prevent is not about criminalising people for their views, but providing support before they criminalise themselves or harm others.
Rupert was followed by Abdullah Al-Andalusi, who compared those targeted by Prevent today to the civil rights movement in the US in the 1950s and the Suffragettes.
He then proceeded to claim at length that the Prevent Strategy is based on a fundamentally flawed conveyor belt theory of radicalisation – despite this simply not being the case.
Finally, Dr. Anand addressed his concerns about the potentially discriminatory nature of Prevent, but countered this with the fact that there is a clear need for the strategy, and criticised Mohammed and Al-Andalusi for their narrative of victimhood.
He also took Al-Andalusi to task over what would happen to a gay atheist such as himself in Al-Andalusi’s ideal society.
Following the talks, there was a robust Q&A session, with Al-Andalusi asked to clarify his views on the punishments for homosexuality and clarification sought on the aims and successes of Prevent.
Following this, a member of the audience stated that she had taken part in Prevent training that day, and that it did not target Islam or Muslims as Mohammed and Al-Andalusi claimed – her points sparking an angry response from Al-Andalusi in particular.
The challenging questions faced by the speakers showed exactly why balancing panels on these controversial issues is so important, with far too many events on Prevent seeing rooms of people who agree with one another repeating false claims and denouncing the strategy.
While Al-Andalusi repeatedly claimed balancing debates meant speakers would be forced to have political minders, it is vital that those spreading misinformation and scaremongering about Prevent face challenge – and last night’s event showed the benefits of this happening.