The first concern that this raises in my mind is partly related to a sloppy use of language. Words like radicalised and terrorist are starting to lose any meaning as they are applied in increasingly general fashion – what’s wrong, exactly, with holding radical views for instance? There’s a danger that we start to treat different views as always being unacceptable views.
The second concern is around the idea that either the government, or the school, can identify those at risk of developing into “radicals” with sufficient accuracy to be able to target individuals or groups and bring them back onto the path of righteousness. It’s hard to see how any such approach can avoid the danger of branding particular demographic groups as potential radicals or terrorists.
And how do the Home Office known that they have deradicalised anyone? Putting 500 people who might or might not have become terrorists through a targeted programme gives a measurable outcome certainly; but the long-term effects of that program are surely open to question at the very least. An ability to conceal their views and intentions is one of the key factors in the “success” (to misapply a word) of some terrorist activities. I can’t believe that any techniques likely to have been used in the programme – or any program of which I can conceive in a democracy – would overcome that ability.
The intentions behind such programs and proposals are entirely worthy; we all want to think the government is doing all that it can to protect us, as well as protecting potential perpetrators from themselves and each other.
I can’t help feeling though that a line has been crossed when governments claim to be able to identify large numbers of potential terrorists before they’ve actually done anything; and the claim to have prevented people from becoming what they would probably never have become anyway is more than a little dubious.