Photo by Anuradha Sengupta used under a Creative Commons licence

Is ‘Prevent’ preventing radicalisation, or alienating young people?

Think Global’s CEO, Tom Franklin, discusses his concerns about current attempts to prevent radicalisation of young people

From a young age I was interested in politics.  In the 1980s, my school jumper was never without several protest badges.  I was pretty angry about government policy, especially the foreign policy of the time.  And I had a dislike of mainstream media, which I saw as biased and unfair.  I even organised protests at school, and in the local town.

Of course, as I’ve grown older, my views have adapted and modified in various ways, with the benefit of gaining different perspectives and experiences.  But I’ve continued to be political, and questioning of what I’m told, and I try to take action as a responsible citizen.  It’s why I like working at Think Global; and I’m grateful to my school for indulging – even encouraging – my activism when I was growing up.

So I was more than alarmed when I read about a recent pamphlet from Camden Safeguarding Children’s Board, as reported in the Telegraph earlier this month. It said that warning signs of radicalisation might be when young people show “a mistrust of mainstream media reports”, or appear “angry about government policy, especially foreign policy” – exactly the things that I was doing in my youth. It even suggests that “out of character changes in dress” is a warning sign – surely something that many teenagers go through.

The question, ‘How do we help young people who may be in danger of being radicalised?’ is one which authorities from local to national level are grappling with.  It’s a no-brainer that this should be a major concern at the present time.  And I think it is right and proper that government does all it can to protect young people from getting caught up in situations which are dangerous for themselves and others.

But I’m alarmed at some of the attempts which are being made.  However well-meaning these may be, there is a danger that they will backfire spectacularly.   They may stigmatise particular groups of young people, confuse those who have responsibility to care for them, and discourage young people from becoming active global citizens prepared to think for themselves and question those with authority.

I’ve spoken with some of our teacher and head teacher members (who now have a legal responsibility to protect students from being drawn into terrorism) who are concerned that the guidance they are being given is not to help students gain better understanding, but to conduct surveillance and ‘policing’ of young people.

At Think Global, we thought long and hard about whether to submit a project proposal to a recent government competition for innovative programmes under its ‘Prevent’ anti-radicalisation strategy.  The reason for our dilemma was that we know that Prevent is seen as counter-productive by many, and that there are some groups – especially but not exclusively Muslim groups – that won’t work with it as a consequence.  In the end, we did submit a proposal – which was centred on engaging young people in critical thinking and discussion on the issues of extremism and radicalisation.  We think this is a far more effective and long term approach to the challenge.  We’ll find out in the next few weeks if our proposal has been successful – but whether it has or not, it’s going to be one of our new year’s resolutions here at Think Global to press for more of this approach from government.  We need more young people who do think for themselves, are critical about policies, are angry about the state of the world, and are committed to taking actions for a more just and sustainable planet.  Such young people will be part of the solution to extremism and terrorism.

By Tom Franklin, CEO, Think Global


By Tom Franklin, Think Global CEO

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