Wellbeing and freedom of expression in a Prevent culture

I’m Lisa Downing and I’m here at an event
called ‘Wellbeing and freedom of expression in a Prevent culture’. I’m at The Showroom
in London where the exhibition by Navine G Khan-Dossos ‘There Is No Alternative’ is currently
on show. The art on the walls is based on the logos
of the Prevent strategy which Navine has made into a series of overlapping and repetitive
patterns. Today’s event brings together a group of professionals all of whom are interested
in the ways in which the Prevent strategy impacts upon their working life, the lives
of their patients and communities and the degree to which having to implement the Prevent
strategy may or may not stifle freedom of expression. Events like this are very important because
there’s very much a lack of dialogue around counter-terrorism and Prevent. Interdisciplinary discussion and discussion
about such important matters where people are worried about free speech, I think it’s
all the more important for people to talk openly and publicly about these kind of things.
Otherwise we drift into a world of censorship. We believe for a while that certainly since
2015, Prevent is actually structurally islamophobic and racist in its development, history and
the way it applies to different communities. I think this whole notion of violent extremism
has been very poorly defined, so people don’t really know what they’re looking for and yet
the Prevent agenda is about bringing in all of society into looking for people who are
at risk of violent extremism so I see a very much of a net-widening approach in relation
to state interference in people’s daily lives. My main concern is more that the offenders
who I work with, and perhaps there might be some people who might commit terrorist acts,
may be neglected by the psychiatric profession by being too rebellious against Prevent. Prevent views the whole of the Muslim community
through this prism of counter-terrorism and that obviously engenders a lot of anxiety
amongst people generally. Obviously we have a lot of Muslims working
in the NHS for example and we found anecdotal examples of people self-censoring, certainly
in Prevent training, because they don’t want to be labelled as extremist or terrorist sympathisers
if they question it. I think that women have often sort of been
viewed as the kind of prevention, as a preventative role in terms of terrorism and women have
been encouraged to work with the State in order to sort of police or look at the men
in their families, in their lives, to see if there’s anything going on with those men. I’ve spoken with women who say well actually,
the State doesn’t seem to be very interested in our daily lives, the issues we have around
domestic violence for example, so I think gender issues are massive. If you are seen to criticise it, you are therefore
by definition against safeguarding and against the government’s counter-terrorism policy,
therefore you are pro-terrorism, so the whole of Prevent makes everyone anxious and raises
everyone’s anxiety levels, so we actually start seeing people as potential terrorists
whereas we should be seeing them as pupils, or patients, or whoever we’re having the professional
relationship with. It’s all the more important for people to
talk openly and publicly about these kind of things, otherwise we drift into a world
of censorship or into a world where just very loud noisy people repeat half-truths too often. My interest in freedom of expression comes
from my perception that something that should be an evident good has become in some ways
tainted in much contemporary discourse. In particular it’s often seen as a weapon or
a discourse of the right and the left seems to have somewhat abandoned a defence of freedom
of expression, seeking instead to control appropriate speech to make speech safe. My
perspective is that words are not safe, ideas are not safe, and not protecting freedom of
expression is incredibly dangerous.

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