The Prevent agenda and its discontents

As a teacher I have to be seen to be incorporating the government’s Prevent legislation when teaching and organising classes and part of this is promotion of British values:  democracy, the rule of law, tolerance for other beliefs and religions and the prevention of extremism.  To give the government its due, it includes anti-semitism, holocaust denial, far right groups, animal rights activists, homophobia and a range of other belief systems under extremism, and doesn’t explicitly mention Islamic extremism.  I agree with most of it.
Although animal rights activists?  Hunt sabs?  Ok yes, people who bomb the homes of scientists.
Actually that word Activist in the list; that really gives me pause.
One enormously important British value is precisely the protesting of injustice and the struggle for equality.  Activism is a part of this and a vital part.
Such activism has all too frequently been accompanied by violence against the protesters on the part of the government of the day.   (The Peasant’s Revolt, Tolpuddle, the Levellers, the Miner’s Strike, Votes for Women, Can’t Pay Won’t Pay, The Battle of the Beanfield…… to name but a few)
But since the Prevent legislation is being heavily promoted by the current government of the day, what account will they take of the role of real political activism and opposition, I wonder. Or what spin will they put on it?
If the rule of law is a British value and so is democracy, then what becomes of protest against unjust laws?  The right to protest peacefully, the right to disobey the law as a political protest; can these now be interpreted as extremist behaviour?
“We are a democracy, there was a general election; the government was lawfully and democratically elected. So you have no business disagreeing with them”.   ???
The obvious answer is, or should be, no, but I’m starting to think that the real answer will increasingly be yes.
I don’t know if you heard about the primary school age child so 10 or 11, presumably from an Islamic family, who was reported a couple of weeks ago to the Prevent authorities for writing about his house and misspelling terraced as terrorist.  (“I live in a terrorist house.”)  An easy mistake to make, when you think about it and a classic of its kind, normally the kind of mistake to be listed as a classroom howler.
The really frightening thing about this is that the teacher, rather than asking the child to explain exactly what he meant (and maybe draw a picture?), and clarifying that these were homophones  (at least in  the local accent) with different spellings and different meanings, went straight to the authorities.    The whole household then found itself under suspicion. That’s the level of anxiety now operating in the education system about the Prevent agenda and our duties to prevent terrorism.  Straws in the wind…
My response to being told I must promote British values is to have my hackles rise, yet I fervently believe in what I understand as real democracy, cooperative action for the common good, and the rights of ordinary people.  But I do wonder if that’s what the government actually has any interest in protecting.

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