Prevent Tragedies: A case study in female-targeted strategic communications in the United Kingdom’s Prevent counter-terrorism policy
Keywords:Women, Prevent, Strategic Communications, Syria, United Kingdom
While international revolutionary groups have frequently attracted international support, the declaration of the caliphate by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi in 2014 and the subsequent growth of foreign fighters leaving their home countries to fight in Syria created a significant concern for Western governments. The United Kingdom was a major source of this foreign fighter flow, becoming a significant concern in 2014 and by 2015 accounting for some 700-760 fighters with the majority affiliated to the Islamic State and with a growing amount of females joining the group. While Prevent, the preventative pillar of the United Kingdom’s counter-terrorism strategy, was in 2014 already well accustomed to intervening in cases of male radicalization, it was not well prepared to handle female radicalization. This article provides a case study of the UK police response to the above concerns. In 2014 the Metropolitan Police and Counter-Terrorism Policing HQ began work on the Prevent Tragedies campaign, a strategic communications campaign. The campaign sought to encourage women, primarily mothers, to talk with younger women and discourage them from travelling to Syria. It also sought to make these women aware of the government’s Prevent policy, and to encourage them to submit reports to Prevent should be they concerned about the radicalization of persons close to them. Using documents obtained by Freedom of Information requests, and material gathered from the Prevent Tragedies website, this article explores how the idea of the “mother” as a nurturing and caring subject was utilized to try and counter female radicalization. It analyses how stereotypical ideas about pacific femininity and female political naivety were utilized to further the narrative of “groomed” women who were unaware of the brutal nature of Islamic state, and therefore could not have ideologically supported the organization when they travelled to Syria. While this undermines ideological support for Islamic State, it simultaneously draws on – and exposes – a current in U.K. counter-terrorism that underplays female radicalism, hampering our full understanding of gendered radicalization.
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