In Britain, a new program has teachers reporting students to anti-terror cops. What could possibly go wrong?
According to the Independent, 200 children in the UK, some as young as 13, have had files opened on them by the British anti-terror cops as potential terrorists based on reports by their teachers. The 18-month-old "Channel Project," started by the Association of Chief Police Officers, encourages teachers, parents and other authority figures to keep a vigilant eye on students' school work, journals and conversations and report those "susceptible to extremist beliefs" to the police.
The program was apparently partly inspired by one of the bombers in the 2005 London subways, because, according to one detective, "when we went back to his teachers they remarked on the things he used to write. In his exercise books he had written comments praising al-Qa'ida. That was not seen at the time as being substantive. Now we would hope that teachers might intervene, speak to the child's family or perhaps the local imam who could then speak to the young man."
Once they've been reported, in addition to getting written up, the kids get a sinister-sounding "programme of intervention tailored to the needs of the individual" which can apparently involve cnversations with parents and religious leaders and, oh yeah, cops. Says a Home Office rep,
The whole ethos is to build a relationship, on the basis of trust and confidence, with those communities...With the help of these communities we can identify the kids who are vulnerable to the message and influenced by the message. The challenge is to intervene and offer guidance, not necessarily to prosecute them, but to address their grievance, their growing sense of hate and potential to do something violent in the name of some misinterpretation of a faith...We are targeting criminals and would-be terrorists who happen to be cloaking themselves in Islamic rhetoric. That is not the same as targeting the Muslim community.
The obvious objections to this plan would seem to involve privacy violation, criminalization of children, unjust targeting of the Muslim community, loss of trust between educator and student, and a heightened sense of hysteria. All that's to say noting of various Sci-Fi regimes, Shirley jackson stories, police states, Red Scares, and The Prisoner. Look, obviously early intervention with alienated young people is always a better policy than mere criminalization - and radicalization is indeed a very real issue in Britain - but that's when we're talking about actual criminals, or at least certifiably "at-risk" individuals, not some 13-year-old whose teacher has been eavesdropping on him. The potential for abuse, for vigilante craziness, for casual racism, seems enormous. As a rule, citizen soldiers (with their uniformly sophisticated grasp of religious and cultural distinctions!) seem like a very dicey proposition, even in far less problematic cases than this, and on a very practical level, it seems like making angry kids feel like they're being spied on by trusted authority figures, and treated as adversaries by police, isn't exactly the best way to decrease feelings of alienation. And for those who are, perhaps, already involved in actual radical activity...won't this merely prompt them to be less forthcoming with, say, "comments praising al-Qa'ida?" Just a guess. But if that's good enough for the cops...!
Police Identify 200 Children As Potential Terrorists [Independent]