Amal Muhammad introduces a new report by advocacy group CAGE which draws parallels between the US Family Separation Policy, PREVENT and the treatment of indigenous children and families
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Anti-Trump Family Separation Protests – Miami Dade College, Miami Florida (Wikimedia)

It was only months ago that the brutality of US President Trump’s Family Separation Policy was halted in the face of global outrage – an instinctive recognition of the fundamental human need of children to be with their parents.

But while news-cycle images from across the Atlantic of terrified children being hauled away towards caged detention facilities and toddlers representing themselves in court made a mockery of due process, a more covert and altogether more unsettling family separation process has gained momentum closer to home.

A recent report by advocacy group CAGE featuring an academic analysis of wardship cases involving “extremism” in the UK, as well as startling testimonies of parents who have been through attempts to remove their children or have had them removed based on allegations of “extremism” – has revealed the poisonous effects of the government’s PREVENT policy on families, particularly Muslims, in the UK.

Under the guise of counter-terrorism and through the manipulation of political rhetoric and the hijacking of established child safeguarding norms, Muslim families have become the subject of a state-led ‘witch-hunt’ looking to tear away children based on elusive and unsound notions of ‘radicalisation’ and ‘extremism’.

With counter-terrorism police spearheading social care investigations; interrogations of children (some under the age of 7) being conducted in schools and at home, sometimes without the knowledge, permission or presence of parents; the use of secret evidence and closed proceedings in wardship cases, PREVENT’s punitive policy measures are increasingly being seen as an unjustified erosion of the rule of law and the beginning of a self-made crisis.

Removing children from their parents is a legacy of colonisation

Such unconscionable overreaches of state intervention are not a novel phenomena nor are they the unavoidable consequences of twenty-first century geopolitics. Rather they are chapters taken from history – tried, tested and reflected in the stain of imperial colonialism and the legacy of state-led assimilationist policies the world over.

Former St. Michael’s Residential School in Alert Bay, British Columbia. Formerly standing on the traditional territory of the ‘Namgis First Nation, it was demolished in February 2015. (Wikimedia)

After all it was only in 1996 that the last of the 130 residential schools that operated across Canada for the assimilation of 150,000 Indigenous children was finally closed.

The ‘Stolen Generations’ of Australia suffered similar horrors as a result of a succession of oppressive and arbitrary legislative acts sanctioning the forced removal of 50,000 Indigenous children from their homes.

The resultant wave of devastation and shared intergenerational trauma continues to haunt these communities, with high rates of alcoholism, suicide and incarceration compounded by the current “humanitarian crisis” of disproportionate representation of Indigenous children in state care.

In South Africa, the policy of Apartheid which prohibited black adults from living in white residential areas, meant their children were left behind in “homelands” while they went in search of work.

The psychological trauma and wholesale devastation of black family and community life that ensued was the result only of calculated government strategies to maintain power.

Why is the British government adopting the same approach to Muslims?

It is imperative then, given this retrospection, to ask why the UK government has insisted on assuming a pro-separation and aggressive interventionist stance towards the family life of its Muslim citizens.

One mother In CAGE’s report describes the blinkered suspicion with which packing boxes were viewed in her new home by ‘child safeguarding agents’.

A father narrates a family’s devastating three year ordeal with PREVENT, detailing how videos of cycling routes were recorded by officers as ‘extremist material’, the act of buying kitchen knives as exhibiting an intention to attack MI5 and incredulously the absence of a TV in the house (due only to the severe lack of finances) as ‘evidence’ of ‘radicalisation’.

This assignment of meaning and intention to ordinary actions through prejudiced, subjective judgments of Islam rather than engagement in any meaningful analysis of child welfare exposes the superficiality of claims that PREVENT is about “safeguarding” – and points towards something else.

PREVENT is adopting a colonialist approach to Muslims

No account within the report fails to note the centrality of religion and religious observance in the line of inquiry by ‘safeguarding’ officers – adherence to fundamental pillars of Islam such as performance of the five daily prayers have become considered indicative of “radicalisation”.

While judges have paid lip-service to notions of religious tolerance and diversity, religious practice, expression and any genuine diversity is being steadily stifled, rejected and effectively criminalised by PREVENT, with young children dragged unnecessarily through care proceedings and parents coerced into compliance.

This is all despite repeated admissions by both social care workers and judges themselves that the children are well provided for in nurturing and loving homes.

The deliberate decision to place a teenage girl with a non-Muslim family, disallowed from conversing with her parents in Arabic or seeing them unaccompanied contextualises one father’s concerns: “I felt like it was my religion and belief that was on trial. It was not about whether I was caring for the children properly.”

It was not too long ago that Canadian assimilation agendas (the ‘Sixties Scoop’) saw Indigenous children removed from their families under the pretext of ‘child welfare’ and placed with non-Indigenous families. Prohibited from speaking their own languages and practicing their own faiths, the aim was to disrupt the natural transmission of cultural identity and ‘civilise’.

A giant step backwards for a Britain that professes to be multicultural

Much like these colonialist attitudes towards “morally deficient” indigenous communities – the precursor to the mass and systematic separation of families – PREVENT’s paternalistic framework, armed with its model of ideological “radicalisation”, necessitates a counter ideology to neutralise the threat.

A dossier released by the Legal Action for Women recognised that “Removing children from their homes is perhaps the most severe government intrusion into the lives of citizens. It is also one of the most terrifying experiences a child can have. The damage caused by disrupting these ties may be far greater than the harm agencies are trying to avoid.”

With recent numbers indicating that children under the age of 15 constitute a third of all referrals to PREVENT (not to mention the well documented harms which plague state care), it is high time to ask why the social care system is being exploited as a vehicle of encroachment into Muslim family life.

It is through our understanding of history and the acknowledgement of our shared pain, then and now, that we can bring about a unified effort to challenge and remove these policies once and for all.

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Amal Muhammad is a Law graduate with a particular interest in Comparative Law. She has undertaken post graduate studies in Terrorism and CounterTerrorism and is currently a caseworker at CAGE.

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