The ‘criminalisation’ of our children
It is clear that the ‘counter-extremism’ questionnaire/survey given to primary school children in East London undeniably consists of loaded questions aimed at discerning the religious, ethical and even patriotic beliefs of the children taking part. Worse still, it is clear 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 is disturbing for a number of reasons not least because it looks to categorise Muslim children as potential “extremists”. This is a form of what one commentator called “preconceived criminalisation” where the government can essentially treat these kids as criminals without having to provide any evidence for doing so. According to the CTS Bill, this can be determined through the exhibition of certain behaviours and values displayed by children that the government identify as ‘radical’. It seems, therefore, that the signifiers of ‘extremism’ being used as symbols of religiousness and increased religiosity will clearly conflate terrorism with Islam. Take a look at the few questions being asked for instance. One asked respondents to pick three words that best describe them from a defined list, mixing labels such as “Student” and “British” alongside three faith identities — Christian, Hindu, and Muslim. Another instructed students to mark whether they agreed, disagreed, or weren’t sure about hypothetical statements, such as “I believe my religion is the only correct one,” “God has a purpose for me,” and “I would mind if a family of a different race or religion moved next door.” Several Muslims and other Londoners found the leading questions, which were administered to children as young as nine years old, shocking and inappropriate. “[The test is] creating a climate of fear/ mistrust. Marginalizing Muslims and ethnics. Mandatory acceptance of ‘British Values’” one online commentator tweeted. As controversy brewed, the Buxton School attempted to calm anxious parents by publishing a statement on May 22 from the Executive Head Teacher. The letter explained the exam was part of the Building Resilience through Integration & Trust (BRIT) project, a voluntary pilot program for schools in the area paid for by the European Commission. “As parents you will be well aware of our inclusive ethos and be surprised that this project, aimed at developing a cohesive community, has been misunderstood,” the letter read. 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 asked: “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?” Now is this criminalisation of Muslim children part of a 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, contributes to the marginalisation of these communities and fosters resentment. The government must therefore be opposed in this regard by all right thinking individuals.