Prevent: SNP MP urges Home Office to include anti-vaxxers in counter terror strategy
AN SNP MP has urged the Home Office to refocus a domestic counter-terror programme to take in anti-vaxxers, incels and followers of the Trump-supporting Q-anon conspiracy theory.
Kirsten Oswald said the Prevent programme was too preoccupied with a possible Islamist threat and risked stigmatising and marginalising Muslim communities.
She was speaking as Home Secretary Suella Braverman promised a “major reform” of the scheme following a long-awaited and damning report.
READ MORE: Prevent programme ‘not doing enough to tackle non-violent Islamist extremism’
Initially ordered by former home secretary Priti Patel in 2019, the analysis of Prevent by ex-Charity Commission chairman William Shawcross said it was “out of kilter with the rest of the counter-terrorism system, and the UK terrorism threat picture.”
The report said terrorism was wrongly treated as a mental illness and there was a “failure” by those working on Prevent to properly understand the nature of ideology in Islamist radicalisation which risks “several potentially serious consequences”, he said.
He called for an overhaul and made 34 recommendations.
He also criticised the Scottish Government for taking its own approach to the strategy, urging them to align more closely with how the system operates in England and Wales.
READ MORE: Far-right fanatics become biggest terrorist danger in Scotland
While Prevent is part of the UK Government’s Home Office-run counter-terrorism strategy, CONTEST, much of the responsibility for delivery lies with Police Scotland and the Scottish Government.
It aims to “tackle the causes of radicalisation” via early intervention and through giving “those who have already engaged in terrorism” a means of getting out.
Under the scheme, teachers, healthcare professionals, social workers, and others, are all tasked with directing someone they believe is at risk of radicalisation to Prevent.
It operates slightly differently north of the border, in part because of a different “threat picture” with a smaller Islamist and extreme right-wing threat but higher levels of sectarianism and Northern Ireland related terrorism, but also because of a Scottish Government focus on community engagement.
Unlike in England, there are no programmes that tackle the ideological causes of terrorism, but rather the priority is on ‘drivers’ of radicalisation, such as poverty and mental health.
Prevent in the rest of the UK has often been criticised for unfairly targeting Muslim communities.
However, in his report, Mr Shawcross said not enough was being done to tackle “non-violent Islamist extremism.”
He wrote: “A more cohesive, fair, and liberal society is well worth striving for. However, the revolutionary intent of terrorists, and their hatred of a liberal society, means that even an extremely well-integrated and cohesive society would not be immune from the threat of terrorism.
“Equally, tackling radicalisation through focusing on ‘push’ factors and a range of social ills is an imperfect model for Prevent delivery, as it inevitably de-emphasises the appeal and attraction of socio-political ideologies.”
Mr Shawcross also expressed concern over the lack of oversight and support in education, bemoaning that Scotland does not have a dedicated officer for dealing with students.
“This comes despite serious concerns about the invitation of extremist speakers by Scottish university Societies," he said.
The resort author called on the Scottish Government to “look to restructure Prevent in line with the regionalisation model outlined for the wider UK in this report.
“This would include a dedicated Prevent lead, HE/FE regional co-ordinator and the commission of Prevent funded projects that tackle the ideological causes of terrorism, not social cohesion and integration.”
Mr Shawcross also called on Police Scotland to develop regular and frequent local Prevent specific risk assessments.
In the Commons, Home Secretary Suella Braveman told MPs the scheme needed to focus “on security, not political correctness.”
Ms Oswald welcomed the publication of the review but said “there do remain questions about the focus of what we see.”
She told MPs: “For instance, we need to see this report in the context of the Met's head of counterterrorism pointing out that three in four advanced terror plots disrupted in 2021, actually involved right-wing extremists and 41% of counterterrorism arrests in 2021 were of extreme right-wing suspects.”
Ms Oswald said it would “be wrong and indeed damaging to stigmatise or marginalise Muslim communities, and that the risks posed by ideologies such as right-wing extremism, and antisemitism, as well as Islamic extremism, must all remain central to any UK counter-terror strategy.”
She added: “I also wonder if she feels a shift in focus is needed to take into account more recent forms of extremism that have emerged since the report was commissioned, things like the QAnon ideology imported from the United States or incels or the anti-vax movement that sprung up during the pandemic.”
Incels are "involuntarily celibates" who are unable to find romantic or sexual partners and often express anger and frustration towards society and women. There have been a number of incel related terror attacks in recent years.
The SNP MP also urged Ms Braverman to protect Scotland’s “specific approach” to the Prevent strategy.
Ms Braverman said: “Well, I don't agree with the honourable lady's characterization that this is unfairly stigmatising Muslims, I've been clear that the vast majority of Muslims are peaceful and law-abiding.
“What we are talking about here is a minority of Islamist extremists, and we mustn't shy away from calling out their unacceptable behaviour.”
Assistant Chief Constable Gary Ritchie said: “We will examine the report carefully in consultation with our national partners.
“Our officers are focused on protecting our communities and working in partnership to deliver the Prevent Strategy to identify and support those who may be vulnerable to radicalisation.”