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Terrorism and the Prevent duty

In a poignant display of how terrorism has become a defining feature of our time, Britain had just welcomed home the bodies of 30 tourists who were gunned down in Tunisia when we paused to mark the ten year anniversary of the 7/7 attacks on Tuesday.

As well as these tragic events, the news this week is littered with reports of yet more British families flocking to the ISIS banner in Syria, and older memories of religious violence have risen to the surface as Russia threatens to veto the UN vote to officially class the 1995 massacre at Srebrenica as genocide.[1]

The 7/7 anniversary, second attack on European tourists in Tunisia since March 2015, and revisiting of the terror in Bosnia paints a worrying picture for Europe. ISIS has seized on Europe’s failure to confront Bosnia’s ongoing religious, ethnic and political tensions by recently releasing a recruitment video, ‘Honour’, specifically targeting a young, disillusioned, Bosnian audience.[2]

But how is this related to education, and why is what’s happening in Bosnia relevant to your school?

Put simply, it’s a lesson in exactly the problem the government’s new Prevent duty, part of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, is hoping to tackle. With over 1,000 British people estimated to have already joined ISIS in Syria, and new reports claiming that the Tunisian gunman was radicalised by a British hate preacher, the government is under increasing pressure to tackle the rise of extremism here. [3],[4]

Designed to avert the kind of disillusionment that is contributing to the ISIS recruitment drive across Europe, the duty requires your school to notice and prevent radicalisation. All staff and school volunteers need to be trained in the new duty; and Ofsted are expected to ask pupils what they would do if they suspected a fellow pupil was vulnerable to exploitation by extremists.

In addition to monitoring any potential radicalisation among pupils, the duty is accompanied by a requirement that schools continue to promote British values such as democracy, the rule of law, individual freedom, tolerance, and mutual respect of other faiths and beliefs.

While debates still rage over what exactly ‘British values’ are, and whether this is simply another kind of indoctrination, the need for measures to fight back against the tide of violent radicalisation is clear.

Though this rarely makes its way into official guidance, it’s important that schools recognise that radicalisation today isn’t exclusively tied to Islamist groups like ISIS and their terrorist ideologies. The far-right’s youth movement is on the increase in Britain too, undergoing a process of “recalibration” which has seen increasingly young individuals recruited.[5]

Yet while schools focus on monitoring the impact these ideologies are having on vulnerable youths, are broader, equally pertinent questions being put aside? Namely, why does the British audience for these hateful ideals continue to grow? Are British values as much a defining feature of our society as the government claim them to be? It’s all well and good to vehemently promote the ‘British values’ of tolerance and democracy in schools, but what of the British girls and boys who regularly face racial abuse, who cannot see themselves represented in the halls of power, or who recognise the way that our society’s structures and stereotypes will continue to work against them?

There are young people in this country who are vulnerable to extreme ideologies because they have not been taught about British values and the freedoms we enjoy, but there are others vulnerable to radicalisation because they have, and they recognise how weakly many of these values translate from the classroom into reality.

Devolving the task of preventing radicalisation to teachers makes sense because they are well placed to monitor changes in children’s behaviour. But with many parents failing to recognise the indoctrination of their own children, and other parents fuelling it, it’s arguably not feasible to expect teachers, in addition to all the other targets expected of them, to first notice and then tackle radicalisation.[6],[7]

Promoting British values like tolerance and democracy is something that needs to extend outside of the classroom. If not, we risk creating further disillusionment by promoting a lie – just as ISIS continues to reiterate its violent ‘truths’ to youngsters who have no reality to gauge these against until borders, both mental and geographical, have been firmly crossed.

For more information on the Prevent duty and general safeguarding at your school, check out our great resources at TheSchoolBus.

[1] Associated Press (2015) ‘Russia threatens veto on UN vote calling Srebrenica ‘a crime of genocide’’, <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/08/russia-threatens-veto-on-un-vote-calling-srebrenica-a-of-genocide> [Accessed: 8 July 2015]

[2] Julian Borger (2015) ‘Isis targets vulnerable Bosnia for recruitment and attack’, <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jun/25/isis-targets-vulnerable-bosnia-for-recruitment-and-attack> [Accessed: 8 July 2015]

[3] Alice Harrold (2015) ‘7/7 London bombings anniversary: Britons who want to fight for Isis should be ‘put on charter flight to Syria’’, <http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/crime/put-on-charter-flights-to-syria-for-britons-who-want-to-join-isis-suggests-exhead-of-counterterror-on-77-anniversary-10370663.html> [Accessed: 8 July 2015]

[4] Helen Barnett (2015) ‘Living on £50k benefits: Hate-preachers ‘mentor’ to Tunisia beach killer in £1million home’ <http://www.express.co.uk/news/uk/589111/Hate-preacher-Tunisia-terror-attack-gunman-benefits-UK> [Accessed: 8 July 2015]

[5] Hywel Griffith (2015) ‘Far right ‘targeting new, younger generation’’, <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-wales-33167441> [Accessed: 8 July 2015]

[6] Arthur Martin and Ian Drury (2015) ‘Father who blamed police for not stopping his daughter joining ISIS screams ‘burn USA’ – and stands just feet away from Lee Rigby’s killer – at Muslim demo’, <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-3015311/Pictured-Father-blamed-police-not-stopping-daughter-joining-ISIS-screams-burn-USA-stands-just-feet-Lee-Rigby-s-killer-Muslim-demo.html> [Accessed: 8 July 2015]

[7] Vikram Dodd, Alexandra Topping and Aisha Gani (2015) ‘Missing girls lured by Isis won’t face terrorism charges, says Met chief’, <http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2015/mar/10/missing-girls-stole-family-jewellery-syria-trip-police>  [Accessed: 8 July 2015]

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