Over the past couple of days, this photograph of a questionnaire/survey given to primary school children in East London has been widely circulated on social media.
Statement from the executive head teacher of Buxton school, which is one in a number of schools involved in the pilot programme funded by the European Commission (source: Twitter)
It has been described as a ‘counter-extremism’ survey, consisting of undeniably loaded questions aimed at discerning the religious, ethical and even patriotic beliefs of the children taking part. Worse still, it is evident that this survey is undoubtedly intended for Muslim children primarily, who will continue to undergo interrogation of this kind as part of the new legal obligations upheld by educational institutions, consisting of monitoring potential ‘extremists’, as dictated by the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill that recently passed in parliament. This survey and its wider implications of state-sponsored violence and Islamophobia are disturbing for a number of reasons; however, I want to first focus on what it means to categorise Muslim children as potential ‘extremists’.
To categorise children in such a way is a form of preconceived criminalisation. By categorising Muslim children as potential ‘extremists’, the government can justify violence enacted through laws that essentially treat them as criminals without having to provide any tangible evidence for doing so. In the CTS Bill, this criminalisation is determined by the exhibition of certain behaviours and values displayed by children that the government identify as ‘radical’. These so-called signifiers of ‘extremism’ amongst children appear to be based on symbols of religiousness and increased religiosity. If this is the case, is the government not conflating terrorism with Islam?
If signifiers of difference, including visual symbols of Islamic religiosity such as the hijab, are assumed to be indicators of ‘extremism’, we are essentially forcing Muslim children to conform to mainstream ‘British values‘ that demonise their religion and its followers. In other words, counter-extremism measures dictate that those who do not hold mainstream religious or political beliefs need to be monitored, where the consequence of non-compliance is being labelled a ‘radical’ or even a ‘terrorist’. Taking this type of state-sanctioned violence into schools by instructing teachers to monitor their students creates a hostile atmosphere of mistrust and suspicion, subsequently resulting in the alienation and bullying of Muslim children in schools by staff and fellow pupils.
Consent has also been flagged as an issue in terms of the implementation of counter-terrorism policies in schools. Many Muslim parents are rarely informed or consulted about policy changes within schools that may affect their children. Taking both the lack of transparency by school management and the clear outrage this survey has prompted into consideration, CageUK rightly asks:
‘Equally worrying is what happens to names and information held about individuals. Are they removed from any Police and intelligence lists if there is no threat, or are all those referred destined to be on security lists forever, considered a potential radical and threat to national security?‘ – The Prevent Strategy: A Cradle to Grave Police-State
The criminalisation of Muslim children is only one part of the larger collective punishment our government is enacting on British Muslims for the crimes of a few. The consequences of collective punishment are counterproductive: policies that allow our government to systematically alienate, demonise, detain and torture Muslims, through the War on Terror and its by-products, contribute to the marginalisation of these communities and foster resentment.
We must challenge the notion that Muslim communities are a security threat. We must resist policies that allow Muslim children as young as five to be categorised as criminals. We must examine why our government is so eager to create a ‘McCarthyite’ witch-hunt against Muslims through media hysteria and policies that systematically demonise and criminalise them. This witch-hunt is a divide-and-rule strategy, used to distract the public from the real threats to this country and its people. Namely, right-wing neoliberal governance, which through its restriction of our freedom of speech, increased state-sponsored surveillance, bid to privatise the NHS, greater austerity and welfare cuts, desire to scrap the Human Rights Act and draconian immigration laws, poses the greatest threat of all.
Letter to parents and carers from the executive head teacher of Buxton school here
29/05/2015 Buxton Primary have released a statement signed by the Executive Head Teacher and Chair of Governors, saying they will no longer be participating in the BRIT project
Ananya is a graduate of History and Anthropology BA from Goldsmiths College, University of London. She is a part-time researcher, soon-to-be student of the MPhil Modern South Asian Studies at Cambridge and currently blogs for Tutorhub.com. Her academic interests include neoliberalism, structural violence and Hindu nationalism in South Asia. She writes on intersectional feminism, resistance, issues pervading the War on Terror, capitalism and neoliberalism. Follow her on Twitter @ananya_rm
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