Government’s Prevent strategy stifles debate, watchdog warns

According to David Anderson QC, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, the government’s anti-extremism Prevent strategy is inhibiting free speech in schools and encouraging teachers to avoid ‘toxic’ issues of extremism.

Anderson maintained that while the strategy did work well overall, the way that the policy had been implemented left teachers feeling ‘vulnerable’ and reluctant to confront radicalisation.

Anderson cited: “One lady [teacher] in the north-west said that ISIS comes up quite often and she used to use it as an opportunity for a discussion: why are they using violence, what about other ways, what about Martin Luther King, what about Mahatma Gandhi, someone mentioned the IRA – are they the same as ISIS? They would have had a discussion.

“The toxic views would come out and they would either be blunted or neutralised, or at least [pupils] would be given something to think about. Now, she said, you choke off the discussion because teachers are watching their backs and don’t want to be reported.”

Anderson said such cases make people feel inhibited. He also added that the government’s forthcoming Counter-Extremism Bill, which is set to give local authorities powers to close down premises and ban groups, is likely to be fairly diluted when it arrives in Parliament.

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