25 SES 05, Concepts in Children’s Rights Discourse: the ‘Learner’, ‘Vulnerability’ and ‘Growth’
Exemplified in its’ Prevent strategy (DCLG, 2007; Home Office, 2011), British counter-terrorist law, policy and practice rest upon a series of assumptions, arguments and perspectives (which are, in turn, rooted in paradigms of knowledge derived from particular mainstream traditions of social scientific epistemology and inquiry) that purport to provide explanations of the supposed roots of ‘radicalisation’, political Islam and ‘extremist violence’ (e.g. Sageman, 2004; Silke, 2010; Victoroff, 2005; Wiktorowicz, 2003).
As the object of the discursive construction, not only of the ‘Islamic terrorist other’, but also of those supposedly susceptible to ‘radicalisation’, young British Muslims are therefore constituted as ‘vulnerable’ in politically powerful ways, as the ‘would-be terrorist’. This is shaped not only by particular ideologically-charged and contentious ideas about how ‘radicalisation’ allegedly takes place, but also by constructing both the ‘Islamic’ and ‘child’ selves of young British Muslims in very specific ways. It is a process within which essentialised ethnic and racial identities are married to equally problematic constructions of ‘childhood’. Vulnerability is also framed within specific, and again deeply problematic, conceptions of young people’s mental health and wellbeing (e.g. DeMause, 2002; Lifton, 2007).
Devoid of meaningful social and political agency, divorced from the structural circumstances of their lived experiences, and problematized in terms of their mental wellbeing, young British Muslims are thus rendered as appropriate objects for state intervention and surveillance (DCSF, 2008; Youth Justice Board, 2012). Similarly, dominant administrative discourses of ‘child protection’ are deployed to underpin this interventionist ethos and state surveillance practice to produce the ‘Young British Muslim’ as both ‘suspect’ and in need of being ‘saved’.
This is forcefully illustrated in one component of Prevent, the Channel project, which selectively directs resources at organizations to undertake ‘community development’ and ‘anti-radicalization’ work. Youth workers, health workers and teachers are encouraged to collect detailed information about the lives of local Muslims and are trained to spot supposed indicators of radicalization in order to identify ‘vulnerable’ children and young people, who are then referred for therapeutic interventions aimed at stemming their journey towards extremism. Between 2007–2010 Channel project practitioners identified 1,120 individuals as being on a pathway to radicalization. Of these, 290 were under 16 years old and fifty-five were under 12. Over 90 per cent were Muslim (Kundnani, 2012).
The aim of this paper is to challenge the dominant paradigms of knowledge mobilised in this ideological project - specifically, the psychiatrization of British Muslim childhood(s). It will contest the assumptions they purport to ‘legitimize’ and the arguments they present concerning the roots of ‘radicalisation’, the nature of ‘vulnerability’ and the need for ‘protection’ that impact via state practices on the lives and identities of young British Muslims. The implications for the human rights of British Muslim children and young people will be its central concern.
Department for Children, Schools and Families (2008) Learning Together to be Safe: a toolkit to help schools contribute to the prevention of violent extremism, DCSF: Nottingham. Department for Communities and Local Government (2007) Preventing violent extremism – Winning hearts and minds, London: DCLG. DeMause, L. (2002) ‘The Childhood Origins of Terrorism’, Journal of Psychohistory, 29, pp. 340-348. Home Office (2011) Prevent Strategy, London: HM Government. Kundnani, A. (2012) ‘Radicalisation: the journey of a concept’ Race and Class 54(2) pp. 3-25. Lifton, E. J. (2007) ‘A Clinical Psychology Perspective on Radical Islamic Youth’, in T. Abbas ed. Islamic Political Radicalism: A European Perspective, Edinburgh University Press. Sageman, M. (2004) Understanding Terror Networks, Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press. Silke, A. ed. (2010) The Psychology of Counter-Terrorism, London: Routledge Victoroff, J. (2005) ‘The Mind of the Terrorist: A Review and Critique of Psychological Approaches’ Journal of Conflict Resolution, 49, pp. 3-42. Wiktorowicz, Q. ed. (2003) Islamic Activism: A Social Movement Theory Approach, Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Youth Justice Board (2012) Process Evaluation of Preventing Violent Extremism Programmes for Young People. London: Youth Justice Board.
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