On the 14th November I was due to debate the controversial NUS president, Malia Bouattia on the government’s Prevent strategy. However, as I found out at the very last minute, she had decided to cancel due to health reasons. Though it is only fair to give her the benefit of the doubt, it would appear that this is not the first time Malia has opted out of a potentially challenging situation at the last minute. Moreover, her lack of correspondence with organisers to reschedule the debate casts doubt on her excuse of being unwell.
To say that Malia’s stance on certain political issues has been problematic would be an understatement. For example, at the 11th Annual Bindmans and UCL Debate on Prevent, when she was asked about the reasons she believed caused extremist attitudes to flourish, Malia pointed a finger at “mass unemployment” and “privatised education.” She said the “political climate which we’re in” is causing people to take “certain actions and joining these groups and wanting to inflict violence.” She went on to say: “We have to look at the state’s hand and the political events related to that.”
In another interview, she claimed, “every service available to support young people to allow space for critical thought and development has been shut down by the state.”
Her eagerness to implicate the government in every issue as part of some kind of larger conspiracy theory demonstrates her unsophisticated and naïve attitude towards tackling the challenge of extremism. Her response to most challenges is a claim to victimhood often steeped in identity politics. Clearly out of touch with the realities of radicalisation on British soil and the facts about Prevent, Malia indulges excessively in anti-establishment sentiments glossing over the truths of the matter.
Listening to Malia’s rhetoric, what comes to mind is the phenomenon known as Social Justice Warriors. Social justice warriors, rather than engaging opposing views and arguing their views, resort to silencing their opposition and to stigmatise them. There remains no need to engage with opponents since they alone both define, and fight, for justice. Without the need for engagement, dissent is often taken up simply for the sake of dissent. In order to mask the lack of substance, provocative terms are used with little thought to their meaning.
When talking about Prevent, Malia often bandies around terms like ‘racist’ and ‘Islamophobic’; terms that resonate well within her social circles, but simply have no relevance to the subject. To claim that Prevent is ‘Islamophobic’ (A better term would be Muslim-phobic or anti-Muslim bigotry), would be akin to claiming that a duty on teachers to be aware of obese students, teaching young children the health risks of obesity and implementing a form of intervention for a morbidly obese child was Fatphobic, a bigotry against obese people. One would hope that no one in his or her right mind would support such a view. In the same vein, giving teachers the duty to be aware of extremism, and teaching children the dangers of Islamic extremism, cannot be considered a form of anti-Muslim bigotry.
According to Dr Matthew Wilkinson, director of the think-tank Curriculum for Cohesion and an expert on Islamic ideology, the government’s counter-terrorism strategy has been remarkably successful at the level of security and the basic protection of British citizens, with any number of plots foiled and people brought to justice. But at the level of affecting hearts and minds for the better, he says, “Prevent has been largely unsuccessful.”
This is largely due to the fact that people like Malia insist on continuously marring the Prevent brand in order to push their own political agendas. This is evident in her bizarre intent to lump together a whole host of different issues, from Prevent to government cuts to fracking (yes, she said fracking), into one anti-establishment rant:
“Oh, but you see the Prevent agenda is not just simply targeting Muslims – as though an incredibly racist policy could even distinguish between the Muslims and non-Muslims. One black man with a beard and another, they all become Muslims, so, by extension, any racialised person becomes a target. And actually the agenda is targeting far more than that. It’s a wider-reaching attack on politicised people and groups, anti-austerity activists, anti-fracking activists, there’s a whole host of people that this extends to now.”
For Malia’s benefit, and for the benefit of her followers, here is some evidence-based research. Studies have actually refuted “the assumption that people sympathetic to violent protests and terrorism have limited education, earn a low income, and are isolated from others,” contrary to Malia’s beliefs.
The study found that “those at greater risk of sympathies for radicalization had an income of more than £75,000” and that “many putative factors found in the literature did not show any associations with, for example, social contacts, social capital, political influence, discrimination, frequency of visiting a mosque for prayers, gender, proportion of friends of the same ethnic background, and being single.”
This perpetual position of anti-statehood and victimhood, encouraged by those like Malia, not only stifles genuine conversations about the problem of homegrown terrorism, but also urges others to exist in a constant state of opposition to society at large. Her hodgepodge answer in response to why she is against the Prevent strategy gives us an insight into what’s really behind her objections to Prevent. The opposition towards Prevent isn’t about Prevent, but instead about a part of a growing trend amongst young Leftist supporters, who think it’s cool to be anti-state. As a consequence, Prevent is scarified on the altar of trendy anti-establishment politics.
More than simply being an opposing view, this kind of emotionally-charged rhetoric, void of any evidence, has very real and dangerous ground realities. Though there has been a steady increase in terrorism-related arrests across all age-groups in the UK, the average age at the time of arrest has been falling: the number of 18 to 20-year-olds arrested has more than doubled.
Malia, consciously and knowingly, is turning young people off Prevent, and therefore eliminating any alternatives for vulnerable youth, who could have otherwise been rehabilitated back within society. Of course, Prevent is by no means perfect, but to purposely continue to tarnish its image is synonymous to being complicit in the problem, especially when you have no real alternatives other than casually blaming austerity measures and unemployment.