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MDX Psychology lecturer wins Mildred Blaxter New Writer Prize

Dr Tarek Younis's paper on Islamophobia in the NHS in relation to the Prevent policy duty on health workers is "timely, provoking and powerful," writes one reviewer

MDX Psychology lecturer Dr Tarek Younis's paper “Islamophobia in the National Health Service: an ethnography of institutional racism in PREVENT’s counter-radicalisation policy” is one of two winners of the 2020 Mildred Blaxter New Writer Prize, awarded by the journal Sociology of Health & Illness.

The prize, named after a pioneer of medical sociology, is for a new writer who submitted their article to the journal within 5 years of completing their PhD. The judges are a subcommittee of the journal’s Editorial Board.

Tarek’s paper, co-authored by his post-doctoral supervisor Sushrut Jadhav - Professor of Cultural Psychiatry at UCL's Department of Psychiatry and Consultant Psychiatrist for Focus Homeless Outreach Services for Camden and Islington NHS Foundation Trust - is a development of his PhD thesis and grew out of his interest in how British healthcare professionals enact their counter-radicalisation brief.

Based on an ethnographic study of the Prevent policy, which imposes a duty on the NHS to identify “patients vulnerable to radicalisation”, it presents a series of vignettes that show how racist constructs are reinforced.

Oxford University Professor of Medical Sociology Catherine Pope, who sat on the judging panel, says that Tarek and Sushrut’s study is “deeply shocking and challenging” in portraying the “contortions” healthcare workers go through in their duties, leading one interviewee to conclude Prevent is geared not, as it purports, towards preventing violence, but only the violence of particular groups and ideologies.

“The policies take a colour-blind approach, but by trying to get everyone acting on gut feelings, they end up raising race”, says Tarek. “It’s important to document the trajectory from policy to training to actual clinical examples”.

Raised in Germany and studying in Canada before he came to the UK, Tarek says he has always been interested in the role culture plays in psychology. For his PhD on Islamophobia, he looked at the phenomenon in terms of the political climate, not just explicit racial discrimination.

Among questions he addresses in his work are how to understand racism beyond individualised hostile expression, and how institutional racist discourse and policy are perpetuated. He's worked with medical campaign group Medact, trade unions and grassroots organisations. The prize-winning article came out at an opportune time, he suggests, as people were taking institutional racism more seriously.

Professor Jadhav says: "Tarek Younis's work under my supervision is cutting edge research at the borderland of mental health and anthropology".

"His painstaking ethnography and analysis clearly demonstrate that mental health professionals need to be aware and reflexive about how their own identity and social-cultural context, within which they think and intervene, can never be neutral. This work also builds upon existing research and teaching at the Division of Psychiatry, UCL, arguing that Euro-American psychiatry is no less culturally constructed than mental health concepts and intervention elsewhere in the globe, and that it is crucial for clinicians to examine how their own cultural identities and social institutions shape theory and practice, rather than exclusively focus on the cultural identities of their patients".

One reviewer wrote: "This paper is timely, provoking and powerful. It should be required reading for NHS trust boards - and probably others deploying Prevent. The authors are open, laying out the practical difficulties, owning the limitations and not shying away from their own biases and influence, and this enriches an already outstanding paper".

MDX Pro-Vice Chancellor and Executive Dean of Science and Technology Sean Wellington said: “Middlesex has a strong commitment to equality, diversity and inclusion. I am thrilled that Tarek has won this award and for such an important piece of work.”

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