Tuesday, 25 November 2014


Last Friday I attended a training session entitled PREVENT which I believe is compulsory for all 'public facing' public sector workers, ie. those who come into contact with members of the public. The object of the course is to provide public sector workers with the necessary tools to identify those members of the public, with whom they come into contact during the course of their work, who are most susceptible to possible 'radicalisation' by extremist or terrorist organisations.
I was interested to see what the training would involve and I must admit I was (and still am) sceptical and suspicious of the whole idea of getting one section of the public (workers in public sector industries) to effectively spy on other members of the public (their clients).
The training session basically involved watching a series of films about what 'radicalisation' means, how it supposedly takes place, what type of personality profile might be susceptible to the process of radicalisation and what signs to look out for that might indicate that someone is in the process of being radicalised.
After each short film the trainer engaged us in a brief discussion of its contents. The questions thrown out to us for discussion were not of her design. She was reading from course materials prepared in advance by the training designers, presumably some Civil Service department or a private company contracted by the government.
It was made very clear that the threat posed by terrorism was not specifically linked to any one ethnicity or religious group. Examples were given of past atrocities that had been committed by groups other than Islamic fundamentalists - most of them were references to Irish republican terrorism.
A clip was shown from the film 'This is England', in which a young boy whose father had been killed in the Falklands conflict is persuaded to join a far right skinhead gang by the manipulative rhetorical techniques of the gang leader. After watching this clip, we attendees were invited to discuss the factors which had led to the boy being successfully recruited by the gang, eg. his vulnerability due to his recent bereavement, his impressionable age, peer pressure from his friends who were also in the gang, the oratory skills of the gang leader etc.
'What do you notice about the surroundings', the trainer asked us and was evidently pleased when eventually someone mentioned the apparent poverty on display (the scene was set in a room where there was not much furniture, with the occupants sitting around the wall). Apparently poverty is one of the factors that make people vulnerable to radicalisation.
The whole session was predicated on the notion that those who resort to violence in order to achieve their political aims must be psychologically flawed individuals who can potentially be identified in advance, thus enabling us to ensure that they get the help they need in order to be saved from making the wrong decisions that they would otherwise have made. This may be true, but if so, some might argue that we in the 'West' are not in general particularly good at spotting such personality flaws considering some of the leaders we have elected over the last couple of decades.
After the 'This is England' clip, the main part of the session involved a film which was a case study of a young man named Andrew Ibrahim who is now in prison for terrorism related offences (I think for possessing documents likely to be of use to terrorists and for preparing to commit terrorist acts). At one point during the film, the presenter interviewed the mother of Mr Ibrahim and asked her whether there were any signs that might, had they been picked up by the authorities, have enabled her son to have been identified as a potential victim of radicalisation and thus prevented from going down the path of committing terrorist offences. The mother stated that there were signs and that the first of these was the fact that her son had been handing out leaflets at University in protest against the occupation of Iraq by troops from the US led coalition! The presenter pointed out that some people might say there is nothing wrong with this, after all we do have free speech in this country, and the mother replied that that was true but that apparently he had been visibly angry about the issue, and shouting. The presenter agreed that this incident did indeed constitute a sign that might have been picked up as evidence of Mr Ibrahim's future radicalisation.
Apparently then, passionate opposition to UK military intervention abroad is a sign of potential susceptibility to terrorist radicalisation.
All public sector staff are being encouraged to report such signs of potential radicalisation to their appointed anti-radicalisation lead (there is one for every NHS organisation, and presumably for every education department, police service, etc.)

Update: Apparently, Home Secretary Teresa May said in her speech yesterday about proposed increased anti-terrorism measures that the PREVENT programme should be bolstered. A report out today, however, into the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby, said the PREVENT programme wasn't working.

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