[Top Photo: British Prime Minister David Cameron, visiting Ninestiles Academy in Birmingham, looks at a computer as he speaks with Muslim women during a workshop about ways to report suspicious online activity.]
CAGE — a UK non-profit that advocates on behalf on communities affected by the War on Terror — has released a new report examining the classified study that underpins Prevent and Channel, two of the British government’s “anti-radicalisation’ counter-terror programmes.Reviewed by 18 academics from a variety of disciplines, The ‘Science’ of Pre-Crime challenges the evidence base and methodology used to develop Extremist Risk Guidance 22+ (ERG22+), the assessment tool designed to help public sector workers identify those vulnerable to Islamic ‘radicalisation’.
By Arun Kundnani / 06 October 2016
The key areas of concern highlighted by CAGE include:
• The theory and conclusions of the ERG22+ study being unproven.
• The use of the factors from the study to introduce the concept of pre-criminalisation. This is a use that extends far beyond the original remit.
• The non-recognition of political context as being a significant factor within a multitude that result in disenfranchisement.
• No external oversight from the psychology community of the government’s ERG study raising questions of ethics. The authors of the study worked for NOMS, and two members of the advisory committee overseeing the study, were chosen as independent reviewers.
• A lack of credible peer review processes to verify the ‘science’ that was relied on to validate the assessment tool.
• A lack of replicated research supporting the findings of the NOMS study, a process that should have been a precondition to the UK government using the findings as part of its PREVENT and CHANNEL policies.
Below is one of the three forewords included in the report, this one written by Arun Kundnani, author of The Muslims are Coming!: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror.
Over the last fteen years, millions of dollars, pounds, and euros have been spent on research that tries to identify some set of radicalization factors that can predict who is going to be a terrorist. University departments, think-tanks, and national security agencies have all tried to discover a profile that can be applied to what law enforcement agencies call the “pre-criminal space” — the period before an individual begins terrorist activity. No profile that stands up to scholarly scrutiny has ever been discovered. But that has not stopped a proliferation of bogus “radicalization models” in policy-making.
How has this happened? The answer lies in the way that “knowledge” in the field of radicalization studies has been constrained and circumscribed by states. National security agencies have constituted the field, defined the object of knowledge, and set the questions to be studied. Thus, rather than ask what are the social, political, and historical causes of terrorism, radicalization studies ask what leads an individual to adopt an extremist ideology assumed (incorrectly) to be correlated with terrorism. In taking this approach, the political solutions we need are neglected and instead we get a rationale for surveillance that leads to suspicion falling upon thousands of law-abiding individuals. The “pre-criminal space” is really the “non-criminal space.”
With hundreds of thousands of public sector workers in Britain now required to absorb the government’s Extremist Risk Guidance and apply it in their work, the dangers of this research have never been greater. This report’s cataloguing of the intellectual aws and damaging implications of the official radicalization model is therefore of crucial importance.
In July 2015, the UK government introduced a statutory duty on all public sector workers to spot the signs of ‘radicalisation’ in order to stop their charges being ‘drawn into terrorism’. The government uses a system of 22 factors that has been developed to train these public sector employees in spotting signs of vulnerability.
This CAGE report, details for the first time how the government produced these factors in secret, and subsequently relied on an evidence base that was not only unproven, but extended far beyond its original remit. Key among our findings, is the admission by those who wrote the study, that they did not factor political grievance into the modelling, a fact they say was, “perhaps an omission”. Further, the government’s study states that only trained professionals should be using these factors, and yet they have been rolled out nationally under a statutory duty imposed under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 – ultimately being used in what they term the pre-crime space.
Reviewed by 18 academics this is one of CAGE’s most robust reports that have critiqued and shed light on the government’s counter extremism strategy.
Over 140 academics signed a joint letter criticising the ‘science’ underlying the government’s ‘radicalisation’ policy. They also called for the publication of the classified ERG22+ study, which underpins the entire PREVENT agenda.
“This report raises far-reaching questions about evidence base and credibility of the government’s counter terrorism strategy and specifically the idea that ‘signs’ of ‘extremism’ can be listed and categorised.” Professor David Miller.
“You are to be greatly commended for the watchdog role you are currently playing in rigorously scrutinising and critiquing these dubious and harmful practices by the British government. I am glad you are able to put the time, effort and expertise into such an important role.” Professor Richard Jackson, editor-in-chief of the journal Critical Studies on Terrorism.
“This report raises important questions for psychologists. Most importantly, we are reminded that our psychological research can be used for purposes that it was not designed for; and that this can cause great harm.” Dr Leeda Blackwood.