23 Nov Prevent: Radicalisation, The Role Of Criminal Gangs And The War On Drugs.

Back in August I wrote an article for CLEAR entitled “The Real Dark Side Of Prohibition” (Read it here). It focused on the way prohibition encourages people to into secretive lifestyles

Being involved in illegal sub-cultures has a set of rules: In order to keep your contacts secure obviously there has to be a code of silence, you are also at risk of being exposed as a criminal yourself should you speak out. In addition to the penalties the law carries comes social exclusion, ruined careers and destroyed lives. Because of all of this involvement in underground cultures has to be an all or nothing involvement, everything you see and witness has to be accepted and tolerated because you are all in this together. The harsher the law is, the more this code of conduct becomes important.

All of that is true, but in the light of recent events the extent to which this can lead to social exclusion and the new buzzword “radicalisation” should become a serious cause for concern. Disaffected young people feeling alienated from society make easy recruits for those offering solutions mixed with a sense of purpose and belonging.

Now there are obviously many forces at work here and it would be simplistic to claim any one aspect has a dominant role, but clearly the more alienated young people feel, the more likely they are to look for a sense of identity based – however corruptly – on their cultural backgrounds.

The roles of the war on drugs in driving social exclusion is pretty obvious with the state and normal society becoming the enemy. This is so obviously an undesirable situation it is hard to understand why is has not received far more attention to date, but politicians simply refuse to acknowledge the problem they have created. Drugs may well be dangerous and highly undesirable, but to create a vast army of disaffected youth made subservient to organised crime in an effort to protect them is a recipe for disaster.

Figures were provided by the UK Home Office this week: National Statistics Police powers and procedures England and Wales year ending 31 March 2015 which show how strongly drugs law enforcement is involved in confrontational encounters with the police. Even though the number of stop searches has dropped significantly in recent times, the proportion of drug searches has increased greatly.

Stop search statisticsReasons for Stop and Search

Drugs searches – the vast majority of which are for cannabis – accounts for almost two-thirds of the stop searches in the UK. Every one of those stokes the fire of alienation and teaches the person being searched that the police are the enemy. To put this in context in England and Wales in 2014/15, the police stopped and searched someone for a drugs offence every 1.5 minutes and arrested someone for a drugs offence every 6 minutes.The searches are also racially biased, with people from minority cultures far more likely to be stopped and searched than White British

MBE stop searchesHow Stop Search impacts minority communities

The red dotted line is the likelyhood of being stopped and searched for white British people. If young people from minority ethic communities feel victimised by this, it should come as no surprise.

If we are serious about wanting to prevent radicalisation, we first need to stop alienation and taking drugs out of the equation would be a good first step. There are of course very good practical reasons for wanting to do this if we want people from minority communities to help prevent radialisation. We need their help and that will only come if they think of us – which means the institutions of our society – as being on their side and, in short, as being trustworthy. In this respect stop search is an utterly corrosive and damaging tactic and should only be used for the most serious of reasons.

Stop and Search – Socially highly corrosive

The British government’s response to all this is a programme called “prevent” and it has a website called “Let’s talk about it“. There is much on the site to commend it, however the underlying message is pretty clear and is explained on the “about” page:

The police also play a significant role in Prevent, in much the same way as they do when taking a preventative approach to other crimes.

The problem here is that the underlying message is “tell us if you think someone is being radicalised”. In order for that to happen the police must be seen as the “good guys” who don’t pick on people because of their ethnicity.

But it isn’t just about the alienation of young people. Radicalisation wouldn’t matter so much if it wasn’t also fueled by a flow of weaponry and the supply of that stuff has nothing to do with preachers of hate, other than the fact they are paying for it.

AK47 gun

In parallel with the growing alienation of whole sections of society there is also a highly developed ‘black market’ network of trade built largely on the supply of prohibited drugs. Over the past 20 or so years thanks in large part to prohibition we have nurtured two highly destructive contributing factors: Social exclusion and ‘black’ market economies run by organised criminals.

The big point to be made is ‘black market’ networks are only interested in one thing – making money. They don’t have social agendas and don’t ask questions, they will supply cannabis or guns, as long as they can make money from them. The more opportunities for business that exist, the more money they can make and the more money they can make the stronger and better organised they become. In this way the prohibition of cannabis and other drugs helps fuel the importation of weapons and the cycle of violence increases.

One of the most best ways to begin to fight the weapons trade is to undermine the ‘black’ market’s ability to earn money and the big thing we can do is to remove their ability to earn money from the drug trade. Author and journalist Misha Glenny explained this very concisely when he was interviewed on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on November 17th

So what are our government doing? In terms of undermining the ‘black’ economy, absolutely nothing. Actually more than nothing, they’ve set their minds against any move to end organised criminal involvement with the drugs trade and so are in effect protecting it. With all the confidence of a sleepwalker they refuse to consider arguments against the prohibition policy. This is surely something even they will have to face up to soon, whether they like it or not.

There are three ways to put a fire out – remove the fuel, remove the heat source or remove the oxygen. The metaphor holds quite well for radicalisation and at least two of those aspects are something we can begin to address quite easily: stop alienating people and stop providing the eye watering profits to organised crime. Enforcing prohibition is enormously damaging to police community relations and diverts profits to organised crime, it is thus a large part of the problem.

No, it won’t address the wider issues and ending prohibition will not bring about world peace, but it will help get our own house in order.

Derek Williams