Prevention is better than cure
We are soon to have a training day. They are rarer than a word of wisdom in a textbook; more precious than a horde of IWB software; more costly than an audio CD component which is essential in order to do a listening in a student’s coursebook. And yet those who rule have in their wisdom decreed that part of the day is to be taken up listening to somebody from Prevent detailing to us how we can spot students being radicalised and thus safeguard them.
Safeguard is a nice verb, isn’t it? Radicalised is a nasty old adjective, isn’t it? What a wonderful world we live in where teachers try their utmost to safeguard their charges from insidious radicalisation! Thank the lord for those politicians who had the foresight to set up the organisation Prevent. David Cameron, I am talking to you, you lovable rogue.
What is Prevent? you are casually wondering. Oh, come on! Keep up! Prevent is one of the four cornerstones of the UK Government’s CONTEST strategy. Sorry? you tentatively enquire, Is that CON-test or con-TEST? Are we entering a competition or are we disputing something here? Neither. We are fighting International Terrorism. And to do that, we need a plan and we need to give it a name. One wonders whether the bureaucrat who decided that government strategies need christening is the same character who decided that the Cabinet Office needed a secret identity and came up with COBRA.
So, anyway, yeah…the government has decided that we need a strategy to defeat international terrorism. Apparently, the strategy of not pissing people off in far-off countries and hoping that, in return, they will leave us alone was not given much consideration. Instead, four pillars were erected. They were the pillars of Prevent, Pursue, Prepare and Protect. How serendipitous that they all begin with the letter P. You couldn’t plan this sort of stuff (nor prevent it, obviously).
One of the things that Prevent does is “provide practical help to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism and ensure they are given appropriate advice and support” (11 Ps in total). Which is awfully nice. One imagines that the government and its workers already have a dreadful amount of work to do, so to take time out to offer practical help to those who threaten “our” way of life is really a sign of how caring conservatives can be. And Lib Dems, obviously.
Do not be thinking that this is all aimed at muslims or anything, will you? “The strategy covers all forms of terrorism, including far right extremism and some aspects of non-violent extremism (!!!!!!!).” I added the exclamantion marks…But “Our activity is concentrated on Pakistan, the Middle East and East Africa”, the Preventers admit, and “Translations of Prevent’s Executive Summary in Arabic and Urdu, and the Prevent equality impact assessment are also available.” Presumably because the Far Right and the Withington Concerned Farmers find reading in Arabic and Urdu to be more stimulating than boring old English.
Luckily for me, a bit of jolly old training from Prevent and I will know what to look out for when spotting radicalised students who need safeguarding. They may start making some comments that are unpalatable; they may grow beards; they may refuse to work with women; they may refuse to work with men; they may watch videos online that depict acts of violence against innocents. And if I spot any of this, I will be told who to contact. I will watch over this dear old democracy of ours.
The training may be considered by some to be a waste of time. Don’t we have security services for this sort of thing? they moan. Aren’t I just being lured into seeing all muslims…sorry…all people who grow beards and stuff…as potential terrorists? Why didn’t I have to shop the Irish when I was growing up? How come the muslims get so much attention? Is it because they are more obviously not like us? These are the sort of people, in my mind, who are on their way to being radicalised. My Prevent training will hopefully tell me who I need to report them to.
And I will need this training. Because while I know that it is OK to support Our Boys as they drop bombs on the developing world, I am less clear in other situations. Presumably, if somebody is in favour of Russian intervention in Ukraine, they are Good…shit!…or are they Bad? If somebody wants to fight for Bashar Al Assad against Isis, do they need safeguarding? If somebody wants to rise up against a Libyan dictator, are they terrorists? Are people who set up raggedy old tents outside the Glory of St Paul’s terrorists or protestors? Is it radical to wear a red poppy or a white one? What about people who don’t wear poppies?
When I get the answers, I’ll let you know and we can all keep an eye on each other. Until then, I am going to naively assume that my students are not terrorists and that I don’t need the government to tell me that I need to spy on them. Nor do I need the word radicalised. If democracy needs safeguarding, it might be from the legislators rather than from the terrorists.