As part of its overall anti-terrorism strategy, the British government introduced a program called Prevent. It appears to have become more an instrument for Big Brother-style thought control, rather than an effective tool against terrorists. Reason reports:
Part of a larger anti-terrorism strategy, Prevent was designed to prevent radicalization and seeks to monitor supposedly vulnerable people for evidence of extremism in the materials they peruse and the ideology they express. The idea is that, once identified, these individuals can be steered by authorities away from negative outcomes. “Interventions can include mentoring, counselling, theological support, encouraging civic engagement, developing support networks (family and peer structures) or providing mainstream services (education, employment, health, finance or housing),” according to the official strategy statement.
Primarily targeted at potential recruits to Islamist terrorist groups, but also at Northern Ireland-style sectarian violence and extreme right-wing terrorism, Prevent suffered mission-creep pretty much right out of the gate. In 2015, a politics student at the University of East Anglia was interrogated by police after reading assigned material in an ISIS-related publication … A similar case arose at Staffordshire University when a postgraduate student was questioned for reading a textbook on terrorism in the college library. Concerned about ending up on a watch list, he hired a lawyer and dropped the course.
Prevent officials have demanded membership lists from university Islamic groups, creating a climate of “fear, suspicion, and censorship,” according to reports. With ample reason, the students worry that they’re being “spied upon.”
Some professors are now running reading assignments past the authorities—”just in case there was anything too critical”—in hopes of avoiding more examples of students being hauled in for doing their homework.
Younger students are being scooped up for alleged radicalization, too. In 2016-17, 272 children under 15 years of age and 328 youngsters between ages 15 and 20 were flagged under the Prevent program “over suspected right-wing terrorist beliefs.” The proportion of individuals referred to government officials “as a result of far-right concerns has risen from a quarter in 2015 to 2016 to over a third in 2016 to 2017,” according to Britain’s Home Office, so that likely represents only a fraction of young people questioned and “mentored” for their suspected ideological deviance.
Where do these referrals come from? Well, anybody can contact the authorities, but the situation is complicated by the duty the law imposes on both public and private institutions to report people seen as being at risk of radicalization, with very little guidance as to what that means beyond cover-your-ass. The imposition of the duty resulted in a surge in referrals by schools to the authorities.
Civil libertarians worry that the law has Britons far beyond schools looking over their shoulders and watching what they say … As the example of students interrogated for reading their assignments shows, the definition of “extreme” speech gets very slippery when government officials are looking for something to do—and when people required to inform-or-else on violators make reports to keep themselves out of trouble.
There’s more at the link.
This is what happens when unelected bureaucrats develop measures that they feel are necessary to do their jobs. They aren’t accountable, so they don’t have to worry about how their measures impact ordinary citizens, or make our lives difficult. One is reminded of the old joke about the Civil Service department that was fed truth serum in its morning tea – whereupon the salutation at the end of their letters to the public changed from “I am, Sir, your obedient servant,” to “You are, mate, my obedient slave!”
The most annoying thing about this is that it’s a panacea. There is no evidence whatsoever that Prevent, or programs like it elsewhere in the world (including the USA), have prevented or deterred even one terrorist “conversion”, where a member of the public became radicalized through exposure to inflammatory material. Terrorists and their sympathizers will always manage to produce and circulate such material, despite any number of official laws, rules, regulations and policies to the contrary.
Remember the “War on Drugs“? It began during the Nixon administration in the early 1970’s. Today, almost half a century later, we’re spending almost $60 billion every year on it – but drugs are more freely available than ever, in greatly enhanced formulations with stronger addictive effects. So much for that war. What makes anyone think that an ideological “war” will be any more successful?