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INTERVIEW:

Prevent is an expletive in Muslim Communities, says film producer

University of East London (UEL) journalism students and Samosa Media have produced a film exploring Prevent, the Government’s controversial anti-radicalisation strategy. Anwar Akhtar, the film’s producer and founder of Samosa Media tells Policing Insight why the film was made and the impact he is hoping it will have.

Can you tell us a little about your film, ‘The Prevent Programme: A Conversation’?

It was a challenging, difficult film to make given the hurt, trauma and loss caused by the terror attacks in London and Manchester in the last 12 months, but it is vital to allow space for the many strong and opposing views that surround the Prevent programme to be aired.  The idea behind the film was to highlight the concerns and the challenges around the Prevent Programme which is designed to support people at risk of joining extremist groups. Ultimately, our aim is to inform how we can, as a country, move towards some consensus on these challenging issues.

There is no doubt that we have challenges and issues around exploitation and radicalisation, but there is a feeling that Muslim communities have been demonised. 

Anwar Akhtar, Samosa Media

Racism has been given the green light to re-circuit and converge on Muslims. It’s okay to hate Muslims and some of that is linked to the Prevent Programme.

British Muslims are very aware of the issues surrounding the Prevent Programme. It is seen as very divisive. Muslims feel they must defend their communities against the extreme right wing and show solidarity for their faith. There is no doubt that we have challenges and issues around exploitation and radicalisation, but there is a feeling that Muslim communities have been demonised. 

As far as I’m concerned, the state should throw the book, and use all means to stop those breaking the law, inciting any violence and terrorism. You must separate cultural issues, driven by a political agenda, from policing, law and order.  We don’t want a conflicting narrative. We need to work to together.  We are democracy and we police by consensus not coercion and stigmatising any one community.  That’s the opposite of what some powerful well-funded right wing think tanks are advocating.  They have a cultural supremacy agenda of stigmatising British Muslim communities as part of a wider right-wing attack on multi culturalism and diversity in British society. Prevent has got caught up in this culture war.

The film interviews a cross section of people who are both critical and supportive of the Prevent Programme. This includes John Pandit from the Asian Dub Foundation which is very influential in the Asian community, and organisations such as the Henry Jackson Society and the women’s group, Southall Black Sisters who are all given the opportunity to lay out their case.

Why is there unease and distrust among Muslim communities towards the Prevent Programme?

It’s important to understand the role of the Quilliam Foundation which has been detailed in the national press and how it is an important factor in the distrust some communities feel towards Prevent. The Quilliam Foundation helped set up the original programme, but the organisation is not trusted by many in British Muslim communities. The use of Prevent legislation on campuses to shut down Palestinian civil rights support groups has also undermined trust especially amongst young people.

Did the process of making the film alter your personal view of Prevent?

I know there are serious and valid concerns surrounding Prevent. The film highlights this and other issues too.

The problem is Prevent is also being used by some Muslim advocacy groups to shut down debate on issues such as gender equality so as not to give right wing groups more reasons to attack all British Muslims.

Anwar Akhtar, Samosa Media

In the film, we interviewed Kadra Buchanan, a South London Social Worker, who supports Prevent and sees it as a valuable service, but she highlights the impact it has had on gender inequality. Because Muslim communities feel under threat, this drives them to feel they should be more stringent with their religion, adhering to stricter Islamic guidelines and rules and this can impact negatively on Muslim women.

Gender inequality is a huge issue. Many young Muslims want to debate religious orthodoxy, plurality within Islam, the negative effect Saudi Arabian influence and funding has had on Britain’s Muslim communities, especially around gender equality and freedom of speech, and how this is also helping right wing groups that are hostile to all Muslims. 

The problem is Prevent is also being used by some Muslim advocacy groups to shut down debate on issues such as gender equality so as not to give right wing groups more reasons to attack all British Muslims.

What impact are you hoping the film will have? What other projects have you in mind?

I’d like the film to be used as an educational tool to promote the idea that these are issues that we must work together on. I hope it brings young people together to fight extremism, but I also think police officers would find it useful to understand the issues people have with Prevent.

In terms of what films we have planned next, we are taking a closer look at issues around gang culture pressure on young people, tensions around stop and search and how to improve relations between young people from BAME communities and the police.  Also, we’re looking at a film on media representation of street culture and youth culture in popular culture in relation to gender and if this puts pressure on teenagers, especially girls.

If you had five minutes with the National Policing Lead for Prevent, what would you say to him?

I believe our police service is today the best in Europe in terms of policing all communities with consent.  The progress in the last 30 years, much due to Macpherson, has been a huge achievement. We’ve moved on from the awful situation in the 1980s with the sus law, the violence in Southall in 1979 against an anti-racist demonstration and the death of Blair Peach.  We’ve moved away from the conflict of previous decades, where the police were seen as a force to bully Black and Asian communities. 

I would ask the National Policing Lead for Prevent to be aware of the history of these complex issues in the way history informs how we police Northern Ireland. This must include an understanding of  how Western foreign policy has informed and supported extremism in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria  and Pakistan often working with Saudi Arabian State 

The name has to go and there has to be reform. The word Prevent is like an expletive to many British Muslims and is synonymous with a hostile cultural agenda.

Anwar Akhtar, Samosa Media

I have a nephew in the Metropolitan Police Service and a niece in Greater Manchester Police. They love their jobs and they’re passionate about what they do. Their generation are the best people to lead this and of course the more diverse the police force, the more it reflects all of society, the better. 

Would you scrap Prevent?

The name has to go and there has to be reform. The word Prevent is like an expletive to many British Muslims and is synonymous with a hostile cultural agenda, that conflates cultural attitudes (often held by religiously orthodox people that do not sit well with liberal values). This then plays to a larger debate about diversity, multi culturalism and integration. Those planning violence and terrorism are where the Police must focus their attention, not get used in culture war debates.  

Anwar Akhtar is the founder and Director of The Samosa Media project, www.thesamosa.co.uk Arts and Education Charity. Anwar was the production consultant on the play Dara, working with Ajoka Theatre Pakistan and the National Theatre UK and was Project Director, The Rich Mix Centre London. You can follow him on https://twitter.com/aakhtar 

You can watch The Prevent Programme – A Conversation here


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