Heather Bellamy spoke with Debra Green, the executive director of Redeeming Our Communities, about Prevent, the Government scheme aiming to protect people at risk of radicalisation and how we can build safer, kinder communities.

Debra Green
Debra Green

Heather: What is Prevent? How does this scheme protect children and people generally?

Debra: Prevent is looking at the whole issue of radicalisation and extremism. We're all aware of the increase we've seen in both radicalisation and extremism in the UK and around the world in the last year or so. How do we prevent that?

It's a complex subject and the agenda of Prevent isn't always well received by every member of the community. But the idea behind it is to look at what causes that disenfranchisement with community, or people feeling that they don't belong, or people feeling that they're misunderstood, or their voice isn't heard. Some of those kinds of things can start quite early in life; people feeling they're quite angry and that they haven't got a voice. They're an easy target for being recruited into something that would give them more meaning, or more of a purpose. We know sometimes that isn't the case. Prevent is about how do we walk alongside people in the community who are most at risk and help them find that meaning and that belonging.

Heather: How does Prevent do that?

Debra: Prevent does that by raising up people in the local community who will be ambassadors by sharing what we've just been talking about. Primarily it's about making people aware that this is happening and not just what we read in the news. This is happening in communities. There are groups of people, younger people in particular, who're more vulnerable to be targeted to become extreme in their views.

We're not just talking about Islamic extremism, it would be wrong of us to say that that was the only thing Prevent is looking to address, it's also right wing extremism, groups of men who are angry and campaigning about their values that are not being expressed, or lack of work and lack of employment opportunities. Any of those kinds of things; the fact that other people are coming into our nation to take our jobs, the kinds of things that lead them to having angry expressions, extremist views and prejudice towards other people.

Heather: Would those extremist views lead to an end point of violence, or even terrorism, or is it just opinions, even if they would never be violent at all?

Debra: I don't think it always leads to violence, but if groups of people are encouraged to gather around an ideology, there's more chance of violence being one of the outcomes to that, because people begin to emulate other people's behaviour. There's somebody there explaining why you have the right to be angry and have the right to fight for your territory, why you're being displaced or misunderstood. To fight back is a message that comes through in that whole process of radicalisation and extremism. There's usually a ring leader, there's usually somebody who wants to explain the injustices that have gone on for a particular group of people and why there's a need to react to those injustices.

Heather: How big a problem would you say this is in the UK?

Debra: With what we read about in the media, it depends on whether you're looking at some of the incidents that have happened in the last year and that those things are present in every community. They're probably not present in every community. Sometimes the fear and perception of those things is just as big an issue as the extremism itself. However, I do believe that it is a serious problem that we're facing as a nation; that we need to come together as communities.

The only way to combat prejudice, violence, extremism and radicalisation is to understand one another and understand one another's ideologies, despite whether or not we agree. Just being able to come together and that's why we're looking at our ROC Conversation model as an opportunity to bring communities together.

We're also hosting a special conference called We Stand Together in Cheshire on November 16th, where we're inviting different members of different faith groups from across Cheshire to come together to look at how we can work together in the community and overcome some of those prejudices. A lot of it comes from ignorance. We don't really understand one another, therefore we have a tendency to misrepresent that other group.

Heather: In terms of the goal being to try to deal with radicalisation, terrorism and extremism, there's no agreed definition yet on extremism. Does that concern you at all, because when you're getting a lot of people across a nation trying to deal with that, people can interpret it in different ways? I know many people in the climate now, might believe a lot of traditional Christian views are extreme and would be labelled extremist, when they're the most caring, loving people and would never harm anyone. But the general population might start to label them as extremist, thinking they should be dealt with in the same way. Does that concern you that we've got a programme trying to tackle something that hasn't yet been defined?

Debra: Yes, I was talking about this quite recently at a meeting I was in at Westminster and we were talking about everybody being tarred with the same brush. It's almost political correctness to give all people of different faiths an equal hearing and then to give all people of different faiths an equal blame. To share the blame out to everybody so that anybody with any kind of faith becomes extreme.