Securitization: CVE, Prevent, and Mental Health- An Interview with Dr. Tarek Younis

Securitization: CVE, Prevent, and Mental Health- An Interview with Dr. Tarek Younis

Dr. Tarek Younis is a Senior Lecturer in Psychology at Middlesex University. His research and writings include securitization and mental health. He is the author of the recently published book The Muslim, State and Mind: Psychology in Times of Islamophobia. In this interview, Dr. Tarek Younis explains key points every Muslim should know about CVE, Prevent, and securitization. This includes the harmful effects of securitization in the mental health field.  


Danish Qasim: Can you explain what CVE and securitization more broadly are?

Dr Tarek Younis:  The concept of extremism is not a novel one. Fanaticism, in particular, has long been associated with Islam and Muslims. Western colonial and imperial projects frequently featured discussions of Muslim fanaticism, particularly in relation to Muslim insurgencies that resisted colonization. Today, counter-extremism is a logical continuation of these counter-insurgency strategies. However, in the context of this discussion, the focus of counter-extremism strategies is on the surveillance and management of Muslims in the global north. Counter-violent extremism strategies seek to identify and prevent Muslims from engaging in harmful behavior, and are often referred to as pre-crime strategies. This concept is similar to the notion of pre-crime in the movie Minority Report, which involves identifying and preventing future violence.

Securitization is a process whereby issues are elevated to the level of national security. This is particularly relevant in the context of CVE, or countering violent extremism. Muslims have long been a topic of discussion in Western society, with questions arising about their ability to integrate into secular or liberal values. These debates were often reduced to the simplistic choice of either integrating into society or returning to their countries of origin. However, in the post-9/11 era, these debates became securitized, with the sentiment shifting to “either integrate into our values or potentially pose a security threat.”

In Britain, policies such as Prevent have introduced fundamental British values as a key element of school curricula. The assumption here is that if Muslims identify as national citizens and espouse national values, they are less likely to radicalize or become vulnerable to radicalization and terrorism. This is just one example of securitization, which is occurring not only in Britain but around the world. Another example of securitization is the focus on mental health services.

Why are mental health services being linked with CVE harmful?

The underlying idea here is that individuals who are susceptible to radicalization are psychologically vulnerable in some way. There are various purposes and functions to this link, which I will discuss in my ratings. For instance, referring to our shared human psychological vulnerability has enabled CVE (Countering Violent Extremism) policies to become colorblind and develop as a comprehensive, population-based approach. By doing so, the racist link between threats to national security and Muslims/Islam, as well as other extremist ideologies like far-right or misogyny, is being erased and completely dismissed. This is critical because some people assume that a policy targeting white people is not racist. However, the reality is that the threshold for referring a Muslim for counter-extremism is much lower compared to a white person.

We must consider the growing wave of fascism in the Global North, where politicians are running on platforms of xenophobia and Islamophobia, and these extreme views are increasingly seen as part of mainstream political thinking. Conversely, we observe Muslims who may wear headscarves or grow a beard, or even mention the word Jihad in class versus white people, who typically would have to be actively seeking out explicit extremist material online or belonging to prescribed groups. Despite the colorblind approach, policymakers and interveners should recognize that colorblind strategies are not anti-racist solutions but instead enable them to deny charges of racism while implementing CVE strategies.

With the current emphasis on vulnerability, mental health services in the UK are being tasked with identifying and reporting individuals they suspect may be susceptible to radicalization. Unfortunately, this is occurring in troubling ways that I will highlight below.

Firstly, unscientific counter-extremism measures are being incorporated into risk assessments in some mental health settings. Essentially, every patient is being screened for potential vulnerability to radicalization, including things like “us and them thinking”. This is deeply concerning.

Secondly, there is a unique and unprecedented relationship between the police and the National Health Service. This has led to the creation of “vulnerability support hubs” (also referred to as “mental health hubs”) where individuals who are thought to be susceptible to radicalization may be referred for mental health assessment. However, an NGO called Medact discovered that Muslim young adults are the majority of referrals to these hubs. This is problematic for a variety of reasons, including the racism inherent in the concept of extremism and the pathologizing of legitimate political concerns, such as Palestine

There are also concerns that Muslims may feel less safe and secure in sharing their vulnerabilities in public mental health settings. All of these issues are troubling and must be addressed.

If Muslims just align with programs like CVE will it keep them safe?

There is little evidence that CVE programs are effective in keeping people safe. Independent and critical analysis of the strategies is scarce, and the results are often based on anecdotal evidence. Regarding Muslims, there are two safety considerations: aligning with CVE for political reasons and assuming that CVE will protect them from threats such as far-right extremism.

Aligning with CVE for political reasons falls under the framework of respectability politics, which many Muslims have engaged in to be perceived as “good Muslims” playing their part in the war on terror. However, even after more than 20 years of the war on terror, public perception of Muslims has not improved, and the safety and security of the Muslim community have not been significantly enhanced. Moreover, it is easy for a “good Muslim” to be maligned and fall into the image of a “bad Muslim” when expressing certain ideas or concerns that are not well-received, particularly regarding Palestine. The recent Shawcross review of the prevent strategy in the UK confirms this phenomenon. The review aimed not only to identify “bad Muslims” in British society but also to point out that many “good” Muslims working with CVE are actually “bad” and should not receive prevent funding if they express views on Zionism. Therefore, the category of a “good Muslim” is unreliable.

Furthermore, assuming that a wider CVE mandate will protect Muslims from white supremacy and nationalism is a superficial and ahistorical way of understanding how white supremacy operates in the global north. The attack on Christchurch exemplifies this point. Across Europe and the global north, Islamophobic and xenophobic platforms are now mainstream, and they are not included in CVE strategies, nor can they be, as they have become normalized within political discourse. However, this normalization has led to many attacks on Muslims. CVE can only address the absolute fringes of violent and hostile ethnic nationalist movements, and in doing so, it only gives the impression that something is being done when the issue is far more profound than what CVE can address.

We have Muslims who are in favor of CVE/ aligning with securitization efforts. If our youth stay connected with them and avoid other leaders, won’t they be spared government harassment?

As previously explained, people may use CVE as a strategy to avoid government harassment, regardless of their intentions. However, many Muslims engage with CVE because they believe it benefits both the Muslim community and society at large. Therefore, it is important not to solely focus on negative intentions. Nonetheless, the moment a Muslim engages with CVE, they are given a privilege that reproduces a binary of “good” versus “bad” Muslims, which has been discussed extensively. Those who engage with the war on terror receive many privileges, but inadvertently disregard the concerns of those who are critical of CVE. This outcome is inevitable when playing a role within a racist system that privileges “good” Muslims over others. Although this privilege may not be their intention, it is the consequence of engaging with a system that perpetuates this binary.

How would you respond to the claim that we need Muslims on the inside of these programs to minimize their harm?

I believe this argument has some legitimacy, but unfortunately, it doesn’t hold much weight. When we participate in a strategy that is racist and harmful, we are essentially participating in an industry. This is why I often refer to CVE as the CVE industry because it is part of a highly profitable and expanding commodity of security. Even if we are critical of this market from within, we are still reinforcing the importance of this product. Instead, we should follow the historical examples of resisting racist strategies and institutions by engaging in wholesale solidarity against them. There is no effective way to reduce harm in a racist strategy, aside from extending the strategy to other groups or making it colorblind, which still does not make it less harmful to Muslims in practice. Rather, both of these approaches only affirm the need for such a strategy and the logic of surveillance and security industry, which harms not only Muslims but everyone in society. It’s important to note that CVE is growing alongside a broader societal trend towards wholesale surveillance, both digital and otherwise.

There is a tendency in some neo-traditionalist circles to treat CVE as a simple matter of ikhtilaf (difference of scholarly opinion) and that we should leave it to the scholars to make their own decision. How would you respond to that?

Some scholars argue that we need people on both sides of the CVE line, those working to improve it from within, and those critical of it from outside. While I understand this perspective, it’s important to acknowledge that being for CVE and being against it are not the same thing. Here is an example from my autobiographical chapter, which you can find here:

If someone is aligned with and affiliated within the war on terror, we can see the privileges it bestows upon them, such as smoother border crossings. For instance, I shared my story about my affiliation with the Montreal police and how I could show my card to a border agent to prove that I’m a good Muslim. Those outside the industry of CVE do not have the same opportunity. However, if Muslims were to use this card to receive better treatment because of their work for the state, they are immediately throwing all other Muslims who do not participate under the bus.

Therefore, we need to appreciate that framing CVE as a difference of opinion is a depoliticized way of understanding how the war on terror affects all Muslims. We must recognize that there is a process by which engaging with CVE, even critically, reinforces the importance of this harmful product.

What are some ways in which we may reproduce the logic of CVE? Securitization exists with and without CVE. CVE was just one program, but the issues go on. What do we need to pay attention to stay aware of this?

I believe that the logic of CVE is based on the securitization of various issues, such as model citizenship. Even if it’s not about CVE, if a Muslim were to display the national flag and condemn terrorist acts continually, as expected of them, it’s important to recognize that these are not apolitical actions. They serve the specific purpose of being viewed as legitimate and good. The issues with CVE go beyond security policies. For example, nationalism is linked to CVE. Therefore, we should question how national exceptionalism has influenced Muslim consciousness and contributed to the division of communities by nationality (e.g., British Muslims, American Muslims, French Muslims, etc.). Furthermore, CVE reflects the growing neoliberal arrangements, particularly the rise in austerity policies across the global north. Muslims are being made responsible for taking care of themselves, but in very specific ways that conform to how the Muslim community should look and function. This isn’t entirely security-related, but it underscores the need to understand the wider sociopolitical climate that Muslims inhabit in the global north.


For more from Dr. Tarek Younis you may visit his website:
His new book,
The Muslim, State and Mind: Psychology in Times of Islamophobia, published by SAGE is available at


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