Fortnite – Muslim boy, 4, was referred to Prevent over game of Fortnite | Prevent strategy
A four-year-old boy’s referral to the government’s anti-extremism Prevent strategy after talking about the popular Fortnite video game at his after-school club has prompted fresh calls to abolish the controversial scheme. The boy, who is from the West Midlands and is a Muslim, was referred to Prevent in September 2019 after saying that his father had “guns and bombs in his shed”.
However, transcripts of a conversation with a club worker reveal that the reference to weaponry was linked to Fortnite. The child’s mother believes that if her boy were white and not a Muslim he wouldn’t have been considered at risk of radicalisation.
In the first (anonymous) interview from a parent of an under-six referred to Prevent, she described her upset at police turning up at the family home at 10.30pm. “It could have gone really wrong. I worry armed police could have come to my house and, you know, arrested the parents, with social services getting involved.”
The case has amplified disquiet over the scheme, which has been labelled anti-Muslim and called discriminatory and divisive. Last week, the anti-extremism strategy was criticised again after the appointment of William Shawcross, a former head of the Charity Commission, to lead the ailing review of Prevent that was announced two years ago this month.
He has made a number of contentious comments about Islam. Almost 10 years ago, when he was director of neoconservative thinktank the Henry Jackson Society, he said: “Europe and Islam is one of the greatest, most terrifying problems of our future.”
Meanwhile, figures obtained under freedom of information laws by the Observer reveal that the four-year-old is one of 624 under-sixes referred to Prevent between 2016 and 2019 . During the same period, 1,405 children between the ages of six and nine were also referred to the scheme.
The scale of referrals is linked to the obligation on public bodies, including nurseries and schools, to report concerns about radicalisation, which in itself had provoked fears that the scheme had become too intrusive.
The case will raise fresh questions over why the government’s review has yet to fully start.
Following the four-year-old’s referral, it was soon established that he had been at his father’s house the previous night, where his cousin was playing Fortnite, which has more than 350 million registered players and involves characters collecting guns and bombs.
After making the Fortnite comment, he told a worker at the care club about his cousin playing the game. “The office sent me all the information, including the transcript of that conversation. It’s quite clear he mentioned Fortnite,” said his mother. “He’s just a little boy with an imagination. The teachers should know in this setting that [children] have imagination. They know exactly what kids are like, and what young boys are like. I do think that if it was a white boy, they wouldn’t have actually gone to that extreme of referring him to the Prevent scheme.”
Latest Home Office figures reveal that the largest number of referrals related to far-right extremism. The police officer who turned up at the boy’s house appeared, according to the mother, uneasy but explained he had to “follow the Prevent flowchart”.
She added: “But he was in the same place as me really. You know: ‘Why have they done this?’. He said if they had any major concerns, they wouldn’t have sent him by himself.”
Referrals thought to pose a real risk are escalated to the Channel programme, which involves counter-terrorism police. Between 2017 and 2019, only 42 of the under-sixes referred to Prevent were moved on to Channel.
“Prevent gives a bad image of Islam. For people who don’t really know much about Islam and Muslims, they just believe what they hear in the media, it is all very negative,” said the mother.
Layla Aitlhadj, director at the community outreach project Prevent Watch, said: “It’s difficult to fully appreciate the impact this experience can have on a family.” She said that rather than Shawcross’s review pressing ahead, her group wanted the scheme to be abolished.
Tabetha Bhatti, spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain, said: “These latest figures and the example of the four-year-old Muslim boy reaffirm our view that Prevent is a flawed policy, presenting fundamental issues that must be subjected to a robust and truly independent review.
”Rosalind Comyn, Liberty policy and campaigns manager, said: “We should all be free to express ourselves and go about our daily lives without being monitored for what we think or believe – and to grow up in a society where we feel safe to express our thoughts and opinions.
“That’s why it’s so worrying that hundreds of children barely old enough to tie their own shoelaces are being profiled as potential future criminals based on things like the video games they play or the perceived views of their families.”
A Home Office spokesperson said: “Where someone is concerned a child may have been deliberately exposed to harmful terrorist narratives, it is right that they refer them to the necessary authorities. Prevent is first and foremost about safeguarding, and through this referral, the child will be able to receive the vital support they need.”