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'Prevent' - UK government anti-terrorism strategy 'spies' on innocent Muslims

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  • 'Prevent' - UK government anti-terrorism strategy 'spies' on innocent Muslims

    August 10, 2009 -- The Government’s flagship scheme on tackling extremism is alienating Muslim communities and should be scrapped according to a new report. The New Local Government Network (NLGN) think tank is calling for the £45 million scheme to focus on tackling all extremism – including far-right extremists – rather than just focusing on Islamic extremism. The Government set up the Prevent scheme in 2006 to help local councils to tackle violent extremism at a local level. Currently 94 local authorities receive funding from the scheme. NLGN’s independent report argues that whilst the scheme has helped in some areas, overall it risks alienating some local communities and particularly Muslim communities. The report calls for the Government to allocate resources to tackle all extremist ideologies, arguing that the recent increase in far-right extremism is as much of as a challenge for local communities as Islamic extremism. In July this year Scotland Yard warned that far-right extremists are planning a “spectacular” terrorist attack in Britain to try to stoke racial tensions and that more resources need to be targeted to tackle this form of extremism. It also calls for reform of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) to allow an expert on ‘home-grown’ terrorism to sit on the Committee. It suggests that the Communities and Local Government department should have a permanent seat on the JIC alongside the seven other government departments on the Committee and that experienced local authority Chief Executives should be consulted when assessing potential security risks. Author of the report, Anna Turley argues that reform of Prevent is vital to rebuilding confidence within local communities:

    “While Islamist extremism remains a very serious threat to our security, this kind of extremism is not the only threat to the stability and security of our communities. Prevent is too prescriptive from the centre, undermines broader community cohesion objectives and lacks sufficient integration with police and security services at local and national level. Concern has also been acknowledged over the agenda’s impact on relations with Muslim communities and whether it unfairly stigmatises an entire community. While it is too early to assess the success of the Prevent agenda in terms of outcomes, the lack of support from within the Muslim community, as well as the changing threat of wider extremist voices mean that it is time to review whether the separation of the Preventing Violent Extremism approach from wider community cohesion approaches is still relevant.”

  • #2

    August 28, 2009 -- Any acknowledgement of the Government’s ill-conceived Prevent strategy being fatally flawed is to be welcomed. Recognition is the first pre-requisite to scrap the flagship programme that effectively stereotypes the whole of the Muslim community as potential terrorists. New Communities Secretary, John Denham, said he wanted a fresh start in the Government’s relationship with Muslims. He said that it had “never been” any intention to define relations with Muslims through the prism of terrorism. But Denham’s pledge seems to be limited to addressing all forms of extremism rather than the current policy of singling out only Muslims. It coincides with the publication of a report by the New Local Government Network (NLGN), calling for the Prevent strategy to be reassessed because it was alienating the country’s two million Muslims. The NLGN, an independent think-tank founded by senior local government figures in 1996, warned that the multi-million pound programme undermined broader community cohesion objectives by focusing only on Muslims. “Prevent is too prescriptive from the centre, undermines broader community cohesion objectives and lacks sufficient integration with police and security services at local and national level,” said the report’s author, Anna Turley.

    A reassessment to include the rising threat from extreme right-wing groups is long overdue but it misses the essential point in that it fails to tackle the underlying causes. In addition, NLGN supports the general Government policy of targeting the whole Muslim community rather that just violent extremists as it suggest for white extremists. The issue that NLGN does not understand is that one cannot consider the whole community as a group of potential terrorists. Furthermore, it fails to specifically highlight our misguided foreign policy, which is radicalising many young people. Some £90 million is being spent in creating and funding new and unrepresentative Muslim groups of the Government’s liking. No change is being made in the structurally-flawed strategy, which only generates more divisions by ignoring grassroots organisations. The Muslim Council of Britain, an umbrella organisation of over 500 organisations, has warned that the policy placed Muslims “at the mercy of a handful of cynical ideologues that have appeared out of nowhere, but are now the benefactors of a massive stimulus package to the ‘Prevent economy’.” The dangerous result has been to stigmatise all Muslims through the narrow focus of security. Prevent has been one of the Government’s key pillars in counter-terrorism strategy since 2006, but like other misguided initiatives, it needs to be dismantled not just changed in tone. Pledges have been made to adjust the singling out of Muslims in police stops and searches, but even children under the age of 10 are being targeted. With time running out before the next general election, the Government unfortunately appears to be missing another opportunity to redress many of the mistakes in its counter-terrorism strategy that have wreaked so much damage on community relations.


    • #3

      October 16, 2009 -- The government programme aimed at preventing Muslims from being lured into violent extremism is being used to gather intelligence about innocent people who are not suspected of involvement in terrorism, the Guardian has learned. The information the authorities are trying to find out includes political and religious views, information on mental health, sexual activity and associates, and other sensitive information, according to documents seen by the Guardian. Other documents reveal that the intelligence and information can be stored until the people concerned reach the age of 100.

      Tonight Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, branded it the biggest spying programme in Britain in modern times and an affront to civil liberties. The intelligence is being gathered as part of the strategy Preventing Violent Extremism – Prevent for short. It was launched three years ago to stop people being lured to al-Qaida ideology and committing acts of terrorism. The government and police have repeatedly denied that the £140 million programme is a cover for spying on Muslims in Britain. But sources directly involved in running Prevent schemes say it involves gathering intelligence about the thoughts and beliefs of Muslims who are not involved in criminal activity.

      Instances around the country include:

      In the Midlands, funding for a mental health project to help Muslims was linked to information about individuals being passed to the authorities.

      In a college in northern England, a student who attended a meeting about Gaza was reported by one lecturer as a potential extremist. He was found not to be.

      A nine-year-old schoolboy in east London, who was referred to the authorities after allegedly showing signs of extremism – the youngest case known in Britain. He was "deprogrammed" according to a source with knowledge of the case.

      Within the last month, one new youth project in London alleged it was being pressured by the Metropolitan police to provide names and details of Muslim youngsters, as a condition of funding. None of the young Muslims have any known terrorist history.

      In one London borough, those working with youngsters were told to add information to databases they hold to highlight which youths were Muslim. They were also asked to provide information, to be shared with the police, about which streets and areas Muslim youngsters could be found on.

      In Birmingham the programme manager for Prevent is in fact a senior counter- terrorism police officer. Paul Marriott has been seconded to work in the equalities division of Britain's biggest council.

      In Blackburn, at least 80 people were reported to the authorities for showing signs of extremism. They were referred to the Channel project, part of Prevent.

      A youth project manager alleges his refusal to provide intelligence led to the police spreading false rumours and trying to smear him and his organisation.

      One manager of a project in London said : "I think part of the point of the [Prevent] programme is to spy and intelligence gather. I won't do that." In another London borough wardens on council estates were told to inform on people not whom they suspected of crimes, but whom they suspected could be susceptible to radicalisation. One source, who has been involved in Whitehall discussions on counter-terrorism, said: "There is no doubt Prevent is in part about gathering intelligence on people's thoughts and beliefs. No doubt." He added that the authorities feared "they'd be lynched" if they admitted Prevent included spying.

      Ed Husain, of the Quilliam Foundation, who has advised both Labour and the Conservatives on extremism, said: "It is gathering intelligence on people not committing terrorist offences." Husain, whose group receives £700,000 in Prevent funding, believes it is morally right to give law enforcement agencies the best chance of stopping terrorists before they strike.

      Serious concerns that the Prevent programme is being used at least in part to "spy" on Muslims have been voiced not just by Islamic groups, but youth workers, teachers and others. Some involved in the programme have told the Guardian of their fears that they are being co-opted into spying. They did not want to be named, fearing they would lose their job. Some groups have refused its funding. In several areas the provision of funding is explicitly linked to agreeing to sharing of information, or intelligence, with agencies including law enforcement.

      Traditionally in Britain intelligence is gathered by the police and security services. Prevent is trying to turn community, religious and voluntary groups into information or intelligence providers. Prevent is run by the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism, part of the Home Office. It is widely regarded in Whitehall as being an intelligence agency. The OSCT is headed up by Charles Farr, a former senior intelligence officer, with expertise in covert work. Also senior in the OSCT is another former senior intelligence officer. The Guardian has been asked not to name him for security reasons.

      Chakrabarti said she was horrified by the revelations. "It is the biggest domestic spying programme targeting the thoughts and beliefs of the innocent in Britain in modern times," she said. "It is information-gathering directed at the innocent and the spying is directed at people because of their religion, and not because of their behaviour."

      The Home Office said: "Any suggestion that Prevent is about spying is simply wrong. Prevent is about working with communities to protect vulnerable individuals and address the root causes of radicalisation."


      • #4

        October 16, 2009 -- The public face of the Prevent programme has included a talking lion teaching schoolchildren how to spot a terrorist and even puppets taking to the streets to push the message about countering extremism. The official publicity talks of building community resilience against terrorist extremism, and other phrases few would disagree with. But there has been a growing suspicion among British Muslim communities that Prevent was not all that it seemed. The programme saw money going to councils with the largest Muslim populations, with the aim of defeating Islamist violent extremism. The government and police wanted information from teachers and lecturers and others including those in the voluntary sector about terrorist activity. Few would argue with passing on suspicions about terrorist activity. As one imam who receives funding from Prevent for a project said: "It would be a religious duty to inform." Youth workers who are being asked to inform on youngsters they work with also said they were under an existing legal and ethical duty to report any suspicions that their clients are involved in terrorism.

        The issue with Prevent is the gathering of highly sensitive information about named individuals when they are not suspected of involvement in crime. As part of Prevent, councils have drawn up information sharing agreements (ISA) which state what data about individuals the groups they fund will share with police. The Guardian has obtained the agreement drawn up by Islington council in north London and the Metropolitan police. The ISA from Waltham Forest in east London was released under freedom of information legislation. Both reveal that the data or intelligence that can be shared is of the most sensitive kind and about named individuals. The ISA from Islington is the most explicit about the information to be shared: "Personal data; data which relates to a living individual who can be identified from that data …" It goes on: "Sensitive personal data; personal data which consists of information concerning racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or other similar beliefs, physical/mental health or conditions, sexual life, alleged or committed offences, proceedings …" The types of information to be gathered are repeated later, but this time it is spelt out that they include whether the youth suffered abuse, and "lifestyle, family and associates". In case that is not enough, it says: "Any other information as required." The document states this information will be shared "without the explicit consent" of the individual. It does state it must be secured and marked as "restricted". It can also be shared across the European Union. Those supposed to sign up are the police, youth services and community groups working with Arab and Muslim groups in the borough, as well as a local mosque.

        The ISA for Waltham Forest, again drawn up with the Met, states the information must be held until the person is aged 100. According to the document: "If a community intervention is required to prevent a crime then personal information processed in this regard is done so as a matter of public protection … information relating to public protection must be retained until such time as the subject is deemed to have reached 100 years of age … the minimum review period for this information is every 10 years." Waltham Forest's Prevent action plan for 2009-10, prepared after government advice, states all young people should have their behaviour screened. They and those deemed to be vulnerable to radicalisation are deemed to be suitable for a "targeted approach" and "an assessment of behaviour changes".

        One source with close knowledge of British counter-terrorism said the programme was mixed: "There is good Prevent and there is bad Prevent." A government document prepared in the summer for an international conference in Finland about combating terrorism explicitly states that the security services are involved in the programme. Listing those involved in Prevent, it lists the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Home Office, the Foreign Office, and the intelligence agencies. Those it wants involved in providing information include local crime reduction partnerships, councils, schools, further education, universities, the UK Border Agency, youth offending teams, the probation service, the health sector, the third or voluntary sector, and the community sector. Prevent currently operates in 82 local councils, rising to 94 by next year.

        A report out this weekend from the Institute for Race Relations also alleges Prevent is being used in part to gather intelligence. In its research it held talks in Bradford with managers of Muslim voluntary sector organisations and workers in local authorities. Arun Kundnani, from the IRR, said there was widespread distrust of the Prevent programme, and said: "Many were concerned the programme provided an opportunity for the police to embed intelligence gathering into the delivery of local services, such as youth work. Many spoke about the difficulties they had faced when they raised their concerns – some had found they became the target of smear campaigns. A significant number of participants, who had previously worked on the Prevent programme, had decided that they no longer wanted anything to do with it – even if it meant substantial loss of funding for their organisation."

        The details about Prevent revealed today will stoke the worst fears in Britain's Muslim communities that they are suspects merely because of the God to whom they pray. Sharhabeel Lone, a community worker in Camden, north London, and a member of the borough's community safety partnership, said: "This is not based on suspicious criminal activity but on religious affiliation." One source with knowledge of Prevent, who is broadly a supporter, told of how certain Muslim groups were informing on other groups they dislike. The source told how one northern council was repeatedly told that one sect was extremist and eventually withdrew its funding.

        Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: "The worst aspect of this scandalous policy is the attempt to turn teacher against pupil, and neighbour against neighbour. As other European countries learned in the last century, when the state destroys relationships of trust between ordinary people the result is the very opposite of the democratic values that this agenda claims to promote. It's a recipe for denunciation by one group or neighbour against another and a great deal of injustice."


        • #5


          • #6

            October 16, 2009 --The government should be spying on Muslims even if they are not suspected of committing crimes, in order to hunt down terrorists before they strike, the head of an anti-extremist thinktank has said. Ed Husain, of the Quilliam Foundation, said it was the morally right thing to do, and that waiting until people had fallen prey to extremism and were drawn into terrorism was too late. The foundation received £700,000 from the government for its counterterrorism work as part of a strategy called Prevent. That included £400,000 from the Office for Security and Counterterrorism, which finances projects trying to counter extremism on UK campuses and monitoring websites that appear to endorse Islamist violence. Husain said of Prevent: "It is gathering intelligence on people not committing terrorist offences. If it is to prevent people getting killed and committing terrorism, it is good and it is right." Prevent was created to increase the security services' knowledge of extremism in Britain, he said. "If those thoughts and beliefs are linked to killing people in a democracy, the state is the only actor in a democracy that can prevent violence. "It would be morally wrong of a taxpayer-funded programme designed to prevent terrorism if it was not designed to gather intelligence in order to stop that terrorism from happening. The alternative is to let the buggers do what they wish, until they appear on the violence radar, which is too late. If you are in the business of counterterrorism, you must want your intelligence services to know what is going on." The balance between liberty and security is an issue Britain has grappled with since London was bombed by al-Qaida-inspired terrorists on 7 July 2005, resulting in the deaths of 52 people and 750 injuries. Husain said gathering intelligence outweighed civil liberty concerns that prying into the political and religious beliefs of people was a dangerous move towards a police state: "That's the name of the game. It's not about doing the right thing by Islamists or by liberal do-gooders, it's about creating a society where liberal do-gooders survive freely."

            The government has made repeated attempts to get people who are not police or intelligence officers to inform on those they feel are suspicious. Ministers wanted lecturers and university staff to inform on suspect students, fearing that campuses had become fertile recruiting grounds for extremists. Their plans were leaked to the Guardian in 2006, creating a backlash that forced the government to back down. Today's revelations about Prevent comes amid a debate about how to tackle terrorism. After the July 2005 attacks on London, there was little intelligence about threats posed by al-Qaida-inspired terrorists or about British Muslim communities. The MI5 security service had never really believed that an attack by British-born suicide bombers was likely. The focus turned to hunting down terrorists, but now the debate focuses on whether any Islamist extremism, even behaviour falling well short of advocating violence, must be tackled. The Conservatives are seriously considering adopting a new policy called Preventing Extremism. Among those who would be considered extreme under those plans are those who advocate a caliphate, a pan-Islamic state encompassing many countries; those promoting Sharia law; and those who believe in jihad, or armed resistance, anywhere in the world. This would include armed resistance by Palestinians against the Israeli military and those who fail to condemn the killing of British soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan.


            • #7

              October 17, 2009 -- The implementation of the Prevent strategy might make perfect sense from the perspective of a Whitehall desk. Properly mindful of the small but real band of would-be Islamist terrorists, bureaucrats feel obliged to do whatever it takes to reach into a community with which they have precious little connection. Officials may be dimly aware that British Muslims are poorer, sicker and less well-housed than their compatriots, but the pressing need to avoid blood on the streets in a repeat of 7/7 always seems rather more urgent than worrying about any of that. Our revelations today – concerning, among other things, the "deprogramming" of a nine-year-old boy and the bankrolling of community projects where staff agree to snoop – might thus be met in SW1 by a world-weary shrug of the shoulders. Surveillance, it will be said, is nasty but necessary, an essentially shady business which is never going to look attractive when thrust into the cold light of day.

              Recall, however, that colonialism also once made perfect sense from the vantage point of Whitehall. Dividing, ruling and all the rest of it seemed the most effective way to rescue non-western minds from barbarism. It hardly needs saying that it would be incredibly dangerous if innocent Muslims were to come to believe that comparable tricks were now being deployed against them, whether through the recruitment of agents or overt spying operations. Yet when, as we report, the authorities are actively seeking information on sexual activities, this must surely be a risk. What use could such data have apart from blackmail? How is news of its collection to be explained, other than in terms of a desire to dominate?

              The government is not made up of Islamophobes or swivel-eyed imperialists. The instructions to youth workers to pry, and the reporting of students concerned about Gaza, is the dirty water that results when the pure mountain spring of concern for public safety flows into the grimy town of real life. Distant, ignorant and understandably anxious about terror, the authorities make a panicked grab for information without stopping to think about whether the tactical advantage is outweighed by the strategic damage done by garnering it so sneakily. But that damage is likely to prove very important indeed. When, for instance, word gets out – as it inevitably will in the end – that a social project is providing surveillance, many of its users will walk away, undermining its ability to strengthen community ties and eroding its power to address poverty. Likewise, blundering attempts to identify potential jihadis by placing peaceable Muslims on an ideological spectrum – on the basis of daydreams about caliphates, enthusiasm for sharia law or hostility to Britain's foreign entanglements – not only requires unacceptable snooping but also emphasises the manifold differences that divide the Islamic and secular mainstreams.

              In recent years general concerns about privacy in Britain have been greatly inflamed by the disappearance of personal data and great rows over planned mega-databases. The public increasingly perceives information collected for official convenience as a malign intrusion. And fears of recreating The Lives of Others are all the greater when the others in question are also "the other" in cultural terms. Muslims read every day about western fighting in Muslim lands. This week they heard MI5's director trot out a less-than-reassuring reassurance on torture of mostly-Muslim terror suspects, and this morning they read that the foreign secretary has been covering up what the government knew in one such case. Already angered by the sense that the ordinary rules no longer protect them as they do everyone else, many more followers of Islam may be tempted to succumb to militant rage if they feel they have been singled out for special snooping. Surveillance aimed at gauging the extent of a problem could end up making it very much worse.


              • #8

                October 18, 2009 -- A powerful committee of MPs is likely to hold a formal hearing into allegations that a government anti-extremism programme is being used to gather information on innocent Muslims. The home affairs select committee meets on Tuesday and will discuss widening its inquiry into the £140m Preventing Violent Extremism scheme, also known as Prevent. The hearing follows a Guardian investigation that revealed allegations that the programme, whose public aim is to prevent Muslims from being lured into violent extremism, is being used to gather intelligence about innocent people not suspected of involvement in terrorism. Information the authorities are trying to ascertain includes political and religious views, information on mental health and sexual activity and associates, according to documents seen by the Guardian. Other documents reveal that the intelligence and information could be stored until the people concerned reach the age of 100.

                The all-party committee of MPs will consider offering private evidence sessions for whistleblowers and those who believe they were affected. Some of those making the accusations, including people involved in running Prevent-funded projects, fear losing their jobs or reprisals for speaking out. In a further move, the civil rights group Liberty is examining the prospect of suing the government over the scheme because it may breach a guarantee of a right to privacy in the Human Rights Act. A leading counter-terrorism expert said the scheme was trying to brand non-violent Muslims as "subversives", which if maintained would lead to the Prevent scheme backfiring. The government denies that Prevent involves spying on the innocent.

                Keith Vaz, a Labour MP and chairman of the home affairs committee said: "We will be inquiring into these allegations. It's very important this engagement takes place, but that does not mean innocent people are targeted. In the end that would be counter-productive. We have the power to offer private sessions to those who wish to bring to parliament's attention issues concerning Prevent and its alleged gathering of sensitive information on the innocent." Reacting to the investigation, Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, called Prevent the biggest spying programme in Britain in modern times and an affront to civil liberties. She said today the group would consider suing if whistleblowers came forward, which they could do confidentially. Chakrabarti said: "We're inviting people who feel they may have been affected to come forward to us, and we will consider litigation," she said. "We also invite anyone who has been working on these projects and has concerns."

                Prevent is a cross-department programme, run by the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism. Its head, Charles Farr, is a former senior intelligence officer. He was reported to be the choice of some of his peers to be the next head of MI6, but lost out to Sir John Sawers. A former Scotland Yard counterterrorism officer has warned the government about its tactics. Robert Lambert headed a special branch unit countering extremism by working with Muslims whose views the government disliked. His Muslim Contact Unit gained respect from arch-critics of the police. Lambert said: "Not only is it morally reprehensible to treat law-abiding Muslim citizens as a subversive threat, it is also hugely counter-productive. If ministers continue … they will begin to jeopardise social cohesion as well as effective and legitimate counter-terrorism in the UK." Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "Prevent must not become an intrusive spying programme that destroys relationships within the Muslim community and between Muslims and the rest of society. Combating radical Islamist ideas is one thing; gathering and keeping intelligence on the innocent is another."


                • #9
                  Arun Kundnani:

                  October 19, 2009 -- Under the guise of tackling Islamic extremism, the government has created one of the most elaborate systems of surveillance ever seen in this country. As this newspaper revealed on Saturday, the Preventing Violent Extremism programme, known simply as Prevent, is being used to gather intelligence about innocent people who are not suspected of involvement in terrorism. Researching the programme myself over the last six months, I discovered that a range of agencies – such as schools, colleges, youth and community services – in areas with significant Muslim populations are expected to gather intelligence about the young people they work with. Youth workers, for instance, are under pressure to provide to counter-terrorism units detailed information about those whose religious and political opinions are considered extremist – a vague term that can include things like religious literalism or anger at British foreign policy. Muslim youth workers who have been unwilling to involve themselves in this kind of information sharing, because of legitimate concerns about professional confidentiality, have themselves come under suspicion and, in at least one case, become the target of a smear campaign.

                  The government describes Prevent as a community-led approach and believes that by selectively directing resources at moderate Muslim organisations to carry out community development and anti-radicalisation work it can empower them to unite around shared British values to isolate the extremists. While the government denies the programme has a surveillance element, this is contradicted by its adviser Ed Husain of the Quilliam Foundation, who says intelligence gathering is a part of Prevent. He also believes it morally right that professionals such as teachers should alert the authorities to those who hold views considered extremist. Indeed, through its Radicalisation Awareness Programme, the foundation is receiving significant public funds to advise local authorities on how extremist views among Muslims can be identified by public service workers.

                  Of course, it is appropriate that the police and intelligence services have placed a number of Muslim individuals under surveillance. It is also right that channels should be made available for youth workers and teachers to provide information to the police if there are reasons to believe an individual is involved in criminality. What is at issue is whether professionals providing non‑policing local services should be expected to routinely identify to the police not just individuals who might be at risk of committing a criminal offence, but also those whose opinions might be deemed unacceptable. Not only are the professional distinctions between the teacher or youth worker and the police officer being confused, but policing itself is being widened to include the surveillance of radical opinion.

                  Expecting teachers and youth workers to identify extremists in this way undercuts trust between Muslims and providers of public services. And trust is an essential ingredient in counter-terrorism. Young people need to be able to speak openly with teachers and youth workers about the issues they feel strongly about. If schools and youth clubs can no longer be relied on to provide a venue for such discussions to take place then where will young people go? The likelihood of their turning to those already committed to violence will only be increased. Ultimately, the real alternative to terrorism is not the official promotion of state-licensed British values but a democratic process that is capable of listening to views that the majority may find offensive or discomforting. Unfortunately, the Prevent programme is doing the exact opposite.


                  • #10
                    Jonathan Githens-Mazer & Robert Lambert:

                    October 19, 2009 -- Ed Husain of the Quilliam Foundation argues that the government's Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) strategy, also known as Prevent, should target Muslims he describes as Islamists whether or not they are suspected of terrorism or violent extremism because, he says, they are extremists and "provide the mood music" for the 7/7 bombers and others who threaten the British public with violence. Although there is no credible evidence to support this view it is one that Husain shares with influential thinktanks including Policy Exchange and the Centre for Social Cohesion in the UK and Daniel Pipes' Middle East Forum in the U.S. On this account, regular Comment is Free bloggers Inayat Bunglawala and Anas Altikriti are described as "extremists" and "subversives" who should be targeted and stigmatised in the same way as terrorists inspired or directed by al-Qaida.

                    Charles Moore and Dean Godson of Policy Exchange, have explained that this is a re-make of a 1980s Thatcherite counter-subversion strategy in which Husain is cast in the role of Frank Chapple the "moderate" trade union leader who was, they suggest, used to discredit and undermine the "extremist" miner's trade union leader Arthur Scargill. Husain, they argue, can help defeat Altikriti, Bungalwala and their colleagues in the same way. If well known political activists like Altikriti and Bunglawala are treated as subversives then thousands of lesser known politically active Muslims will suffer the same fate. By funding Husain's Quillian Foundation the government has moved PVE from counter-terrorism into counter-subversion. Not only does this risk stigmatising innocent Muslims, it is also counter-productive in terms of countering a significant terrorist threat posed to UK residents, especially those who live or work in big cities. To fund the Quilliam Foundation is also to undermine excellent Muslim community projects, both PVE funded and unfunded, that have achieved success against al-Qaida influence in the UK without spying on communities and without stigmatising politically active or minority Muslim groups. It is no coincidence that successful community partners in many of these ventures are the very same Muslims Husain describes as extremist and subversive.

                    There is a proven model for effectiveness and legitimacy in this dangerous and demanding arena and it was first highlighted in a report Demos presented to Home Office and CLG officials in 2006. The Demos report offered an alternative model for PVE in which mainstream Islamists are seen as civic partners not as enemies or subversives, and certainly not as informants or spies on their communities. Instead, on the Demos account, successful partnership projects between police and minority communities that steer young people away from gun crime, knife crime and street crime generally are extended to the field of violent extremism. In these partnerships it is explicit that community youth workers do not spy on communities but respect client confidentiality and discharge their normal civic duty to report criminal activity to police if the occasion arises. As Arun Kundnani explains, "it is right that channels should be made available for youth workers and teachers to provide information to the police if there are reasons to believe an individual is involved in criminality". More recently the Demos approach has been endorsed by researchers at the University of Birmingham (.pdf file). Here again many of Husain's subversives are shown to be pro-active and effective civic partners.

                    This was the partnership principle adopted by the Metropolitan police's Muslim Contact Unit when it worked successfully with Altikriti and his colleagues to rid the Finsbury Park mosque of violent extremists in February 2005. The success in that case pre-dates PVE and highlights another flaw in Husain's argument. Abu Hamza and other violent extremists associated with the Finsbury Park mosque have been convicted in British courts of violent, extremist hate crimes, including incitement to murder. Rather than providing the "mood music" for these violent extremists, Altikriti and his colleagues publicly and consistently challenged their violent propaganda face to face and toe to toe. As a result of their bravery and civic mindedness a once notorious centre of violent extremism is now a model mosque. Both our community research and practitioner experience confirms that this success by the Finsbury Park mosque trustees against the violent extremism of Abu Hamza and his close associates was achieved without spying on or alienating local communities. On the contrary it was achieved with their co-operation and the full support of local MP, Jeremy Corbyn, a respected champion of the rights of minority communities.

                    When Rachel Briggs launched the Demos report in 2006 she was flanked on the platform by Rob Beckley, a senior police officer, and prominent Muslims including Tariq Ramadan and Salma Yacoob who all supported the recommendations of the Demos report. Like Altikriti and Bunglawala, Ramadan and Yacoob are the positive Muslim role models the Quilliam Foundation and its influential backers now re-cast as subversives and extremists. The government will need to reject the Quilliam Foundation's counter-subversion approach and return to the Demos model of genuine community partnerships if it wants Muslims to help tackle al-Qaida influence in the UK without creating and targeting suspect Muslim communities. By doing so the government will also distance itself from an influential strand of conservative thinking evidenced in Michael Gove's book Celsius 7/7 that is solidly wedded to Moore and Godson's counter-subversion strategy. It is not too late to get this right and re-build trust in Muslim communities in the way Demos recommended in 2006. Not only is it morally reprehensible to treat responsible and law-abiding Muslim citizens as a subversive threat, it is also hugely counter-productive. If ministers continue to follow Ed Husain's advice they will begin to jeopardise social cohesion as well as effective and legitimate counter-terrorism in the UK.


                    • #11
                      Rizwaan Sabir:

                      October 19, 2009 -- In a recent article published by the Guardian, it was reported that the Prevent strand of Contest 2, the British counterterrorism strategy, was being used to collate intelligence on Muslims who were innocent, or who had no suspected involvement in terrorism. This may come as a surprise to members of the public who do not really have much to do with the subject of counterterrorism, but for those who study, analyse or take an interest in this subject, it is hardly a surprise.

                      On Thursday, I attended a policing conference in St Andrews. Speaking to two academics there, our conversation quickly progressed on to British counterterrorism and Prevent. I remember saying that there was something "not quite right" about Prevent, but I couldn't put my finger on what this was and decided that maybe it was just paranoia and cynicism on my part. Less than 24 hours later, I was reading the Guardian and saw the article titled "Government anti-terrorism strategy 'spies' on innocent". Reading it, I found that "the government programme aimed at preventing Muslims from being lured into violent extremism is being used to gather intelligence about innocent people who are not suspected of involvement in terrorism".

                      Eureka! I could finally put my finger on it. The government, through its policy of trying to stop Muslims from becoming radicalised, whatever that means, is collating intelligence and information on their "political and religious views, mental health, sexual activity and associates". This reveals some disturbing assumptions behind government thinking.

                      Firstly, the government still thinks that a correlation exists between acts of indiscriminate killing and the religion of Islam, even though it's a well-known fact that indiscriminate killing is not condoned by Islam, but rather justified through a flawed, restrictive and manipulated understanding of Islam, unless you're Geert Wilders. Why else would it be trying to collate intelligence on people's religious views? So it can fund the construction of more mosques?

                      Secondly, the government is now thinking that the reason why some individuals may carry out violence is not because of overzealous policing, disproportionate counterterrorism measures and a foreign policy that has led to thousands of deaths, including British service personnel, but is somehow caused by the mental condition of British Muslims.

                      Thirdly, the government thinks that collecting information on the sex lives of British Muslims could indicate a potential link between acts of violence and British Muslims. Essentially this means that British Muslims who "aren't getting any" are more vulnerable to radicalisation.

                      And fourthly, the government is playing a very sinister and dangerous game of guilt by association. It is presuming that if you are in contact with certain individuals, you have the potential to become a terrorist or have to the potential to adopt a violent methodology for change. Does this mean that every Muslim in touch with suspected terrorists or individuals convicted on terrorism charges should all be monitored, snooped upon and intercepted? Maybe they should. Maybe then the government will actually be able to justify its £3.5bn yearly counterterrorism budget.

                      However, what this will not do is build bridges between the government, the police services and the Muslim community, where distrust, anxiety and fear are rife. To build bridges, the British government must rethink the prejudiced manner with which it views young Muslims, their attitudes towards world events and their desire for a more just and peaceful world. Just because they view Israel as an occupying power or believe that the west has a hypocritical foreign policy, does not mean that they are terrorists or will take up jihad. The government needs to engage with Muslims on all levels, rather than merely with those who dance to the tune of their pipe, such as the Quilliam Foundation.

                      Fighting militancy and violence is a serious problem that must be confronted. But spying on innocent people and viewing them with a deep antipathy and suspicion because of their faith is not the way to do it. The government must stop viewing all Muslims as potential terrorists or individuals that have an innate potential to resort to violence. Only then can work on rebuilding a bridge between British Muslims, the police services and the government recommence.


                      • #12
                        Pauline Neville-Jones:

                        October 20, 2009 -- Arun Kundnani wrote in the Guardian that the government's Preventing Violent Extremism programme (Prevent for short) "is being used to gather intelligence about innocent people who are not suspected of involvement in terrorism". His report for the Institute of Race Relations says that the government treats "the Muslim population as a suspect community". Confusion lies at the heart of the problem. The police have a legitimate and necessary mandate to help tackle radicalisation. To do this they have to have access to intelligence about individuals. The argument is whether, as a part of the Prevent strand, their interlocutors in the community should be expected to contribute to the acquisition of that intelligence. Their interlocutors see themselves as having a different function in Prevent: strengthening community cohesion. In this, being asked to supply detailed information about those they are in contact with is liable to undermine rather than create trust. The allegations now being made about Prevent – that it is a covert mechanism for spying on innocent individuals – demonstrate the point. This confusion is undermining the chances of success in Prevent and it is right that the home affairs select committee should seek to air the issues involved.

                        Arun Kundnani's report raises the issue of how policing and intelligence fit into Prevent. The challenge faced is how, before individuals are ready to use violence, to intervene in a way that does not criminalise them but is effective in moving them away from ideas that could lead to criminal behaviour. The role of the police is to share information about local vulnerability and extremism with community leaders and institutions such as schools, colleges, youth and community services. It is to these institutions that the task of promoting democratic values, through their everyday activities, falls. In the process they should certainly inform the police if they have good reason to suspect criminal behaviour but they should not be expected to provide detailed information about individuals on a systematic, untargeted and identifiable basis.

                        Radicalisation is the long-term challenge to democracy and shared values in this country, so getting Prevent right is very important. I have said before that a Conservative government would immediately conduct an evidence-based review of Prevent. Is it succeeding in its objectives? This is partly to do with funding: how do we know that the projects Labour has funded are actually reducing vulnerability to extreme ideas and radicalisation? Where is the evidence? But there is also a broader problem. Labour continues to treat people according to ethnicity and creed. They see Muslims as people who need special attention and special funds. They are now doing the same with rightwing extremists. But how does this create a sense of belonging and shared identity? Prevent should not be a stigmatising "add on" with a separate fund. Citizens should not be branded as potential violent extremists in need of funding to induce better behaviour: it is the role of government, local authorities, schools and others in the public sector to promote and encourage democratic values everyday. Government should treat all people as equal citizens and it should encourage interaction between them. Where voluntary groups seek funding, this should be provided on the basis that the project is inter-faith and inter-cultural. In other words, Prevent should be aimed at bringing citizens and communities together.


                        • #13
                          October 20, 2009:

                          Your article (Anti-terrorism strategy 'spies on innocent Muslims'), was wilfully misleading. Prevent is categorically not about spying, and assertions to the contrary damage the good partnership work undertaken at community level. Our detailed and publicly available guidance is clear on this point and on data sharing. We will investigate fully where there is any suggestion that practitioners have not followed this guidance correctly. Where necessary, we will issue a reminder to all local partners that there is a clear legal framework within which they must operate and that any information shared has to be necessary, proportionate and lawful. Prevent is about addressing the root causes of radicalisation and about protecting vulnerable individuals. Prevent can only be successful in addressing the longer term threat by working together with communities to develop and sustain trust and mutual respect. It is disappointing that your article could potentially do much to damage that.

                          Alan Johnson MP

                          Home secretary

                          • • •

                          The Newham Prevent strategy is based on our approach to community cohesion: work programmes to bring diverse communities together. We do not apologise for working with the police in pursuance of our common objective of deterring terrorism. But there is another strand. With West Ham United we are promoting the mayor of Newham's Unity football and cricket tournaments, reaching out to thousands of young people. With the help of educational charities and using a government schools kit we hope to take a positive message of hope, mutual respect and tolerance into schools. Local groups will be encouraged to develop their own anti-extremist programmes through Prevent. Not exactly spying!

                          Councillor Unmesh Desai

                          Vice-chair, Labour group, London Borough of Newham

                          • • • 

                          Whatever the reality of the activities of Muslim extremists, I can't believe the values that drive them are a great deal more offensive and contemptuous of diversity than those expressed by Ed Husain and quoted in the Guardian (Spying morally right). Unlike Muslim extremists, however, Mr Husain is apparently charged with "keeping safe" the population of the UK, including "liberal do-gooders" (presumably meaning those who, like me, believe all people have something to offer society, and that treating people with respect rather than contempt is how to bring out their potential). Yet if Mr Husain's words can lead me – a white, middle-class, married, mortgaged parent – hurtling towards a feeling of revolt against him and the government that sponsors him and his work, what on earth must a member of his real "target" population think? Because I'm the type of person I am, I restrict myself to writing letters to the Guardian, but there are other routes for anger to take. By his every word, every action, Mr Husain drives the development of extremism rather than prevents it.

                          Dr Andrew Whitworth

                          Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire

                          • • •

                          The government's Prevent programme is disastrous. It is based on deeply flawed and offensive assumptions. The programme is said to be "aimed at preventing Muslims from being lured into violent extremism". Muslims, however, are not a homogeneous group and the notion that communities should be implicated in, held accountable and punished for the actions of a few is both problematic and unacceptable. In targeting Muslim communities in this way, government is forcing otherwise diverse majorities to become an "us" or a "them". It requires us to assume or accept a particular identity as our dominant identity, thereby subsuming our many other identities. The polarising effects of this policy will succeed only in silencing those voices from all communities that challenge such a false dichotomy. A deeply repulsive and divisive strategy will not unite us; it will do nothing to make any of us safer and everything to put all of us at increasing risk. We will reap what government sows.

                          Jackie Turner

                          Isleworth, Middlesex


                          • #14
                            Maajid Nawaz, Director of the Quilliam Foundation:

                            October 21, 2009 -- Is it right to spy on Muslims? The hypocrisy of the pro-extremist, paralysed guilt-driven reverse-racism brigade over the recent "spying" controversy is repugnant to say the least. First of all, no one, least of all Quilliam, advocated a police state, or spying on Muslims en masse as a community. Quilliam has a strong track record on human rights issues. Quilliam opposed the extension of anti-terror laws, opposed banning Hizb ut-Tahrir in the UK in favour of challenging them to debate instead, at a time when government policy was officially to ban them, and has spoken out again and again on the Iraq war, torture and extraordinary rendition. Quilliam has consistently aimed to differentiate Islam from Islamism and has time and time again advocated empowering everyday Muslims in the struggle against the extreme Islamist ideology. Consequently, it makes no sense for Quilliam to suddenly decide that all Muslims are potential terrorists. What then, is it that should be considered carefully in the ashes of this debate?

                            Pauline Neville-Jones has taken a consistent stance. It is one that I may differ with in some areas, but it broadly asserts a coherent "citizenship" model. She is critical of Prevent both when it singles out white communities to tackle far-right extremism and Muslim communities to tackle Islamism. My issue is with those whose ideologically motivated stance leads to a double standard. To claim that Prevent stigmatises Muslims when it aims to tackle Islamism, yet to suddenly turn pro-Prevent when dealing with white people and the far-right smacks of colonialism. The only explanation for this type of double standard is an ideologically driven, not principled, objection to the government's counter-extremism policy. Some, such as Arun Kundnani, in the pro-Islamist brigade argue that the BNP's rise is "fuelled by racial sentiment across our political culture" – read ideology – and that this is the problem to tackle, rather than "white working-class alienation" – read grievances. Yet they argue the exact reverse for Muslims by calling for "not interfering with those whose opinions might be deemed unacceptable". Many from this brigade would rather blame "overzealous policing, disproportionate counterterrorism measures and a foreign policy that has led to thousands of deaths" for Islamist extremism rather than acknowledge the role of ideology. Again, a glaring double standard.

                            Furthermore, this same pro-Islamist brigade, among them Robert Lambert, seems to voice no disagreement when the English Defence League (EDL) or British National party (BNP) are actively infiltrated and monitored by intelligence agencies or journalists, even when they have not yet broken the law. Conversely, when it is suggested that extremist groups operating among Muslims should also be monitored by all levels of society, they suddenly cry "police state". For the pro-Islamist brigade to call for far-right racism to be tackled by "a more coherent strategy that fights not just the parties themselves but also the environment of 'respectable racism' in which they thrive", while simultaneously claiming that the "real alternative to terrorism is not the official promotion of state-licensed British values", and that a policy that would aim to tackle the "environment" in which extreme Islamism thrives somehow demonises normal Muslims is absurd. For them to argue a "zero tolerance" approach to racism, with anything less being "appeasement", and yet to argue that intolerant Islamists must be "understood" and engaged with is absurd.

                            Such a patronising and frankly dangerous attitude advocating that Muslims are to be somehow held to lesser standards than the rest of our society due to some guilt-driven colonial complex is guilty of the very colonialism it attempts to reject. It is inverse racism to hold Muslims to lesser standards. It is the colonial mentality that led to poor "natives" being deemed less able to comprehend modern civilisational standards. Muslims may, in general, hail from less-affluent areas of the UK, but that is not because they are Muslims. It has to do with other socioeconomic factors. Their white working-class counterparts suffer from similar problems and some are expressing these frustrations through similarly extreme reactions. One standard should apply to all.


                            • #15
                              Douglas Murray:

                              October 23, 2009 -- Last week the Guardian revealed that Ed Husain, co-director of the government-funded thinktank the Quilliam Foundation (QF), believes that spying on British Muslims who are "not committing terrorist offences" is "good and right". He has expressed some pretty extreme views in the past, but this is beyond anything that anyone who believes in liberal democracy could extol. Some years ago, in a speech in the Netherlands, I said I wanted the culture of extra rights to stop, and for the rights of Muslims to be brought in line with those of all other people. Long after the fact and purely for positioning reasons, QF has condemned me for this. So it is striking to me that I can imagine no action, and would never endorse such an action, more likely to make life harder for Muslims than to treat all UK Muslims in the manner advocated by Husain.

                              QF subsequently issued a press release and its other director, Maajid Nawaz, wrote an article of strange double-speak proclaiming that QF does not in fact support "mass spying" nor "a police state". Well here is how his co-director described the Prevent strategy that funds QF. "A government initiative backed by millions of pounds. It's got access to tens of thousands of people's emails, phone numbers, etc etc. Isn't the government going to use it? Of course it is. And it should use it." These statements strike me as quite appallingly illiberal: wrong in principle because the police should not investigate innocent people and very obviously damaging in practice. However, Nawaz has clearly decided that the best way to deal with the authoritarian pronouncements of his co-director is to divert attention under the belief that contradiction is better than retraction.

                              The importance of this episode is that it highlights something that has become increasingly clear: that QF has become part of the problem rather than the solution. This is additionally embarrassing because Robert Lambert – himself an apologist for Islamism – has now lumped some of the rest of us in with Husain's anti-liberties outburst. The nature of QF and its funding arrangements ought to be a source of concern to all British taxpayers, no matter what their political or religious opinions, and finally be brought out in the open. I know very well how these people work because I used to employ some of them. Around the time Ed Husain came to public notice, I recruited him to work with me (through Civitas, the organisation that originally hosted the Centre for Social Cohesion). He liked my views and I had great hopes for him to become a source for real reform. This gave him the time and financial freedom to set up QF. But the increasing oddness of his opinions (particularly relating to my own freedom of speech) meant that eventually we parted ways. What is scandalous is that QF – set up to counter extremists such as their former colleagues in Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) – has done nothing substantial to challenge HT in the UK or radicalisation on UK campuses, the things it was actually set up for.

                              So what are we getting for our money? Husain said that "It would be morally wrong of a taxpayer-funded programme designed to prevent terrorism if it was not designed to gather intelligence in order to stop that terrorism from happening." It is striking that someone who has received almost £1 million directly from the Contest agenda and Prevent strategy is under the impression that Prevent is about spying. This is certainly not what Prevent is about. Husain also seems to be under the impression that if a Muslim seems "suspicious" to anyone, the police should be called straight away. In fact it is social workers, youth-offending teams and other such bodies who are supposed to be the focal point of any such concern. Unless a crime has been committed or is about to be committed there is no reason why any innocent person should be reported to the police. Husain, in particular, ought to know the difference between a police state – especially since his co-director was until recently in such a state's prisons – and a developed liberal democracy.

                              This anti-extremism organisation seems entirely unaware of the tenets of the society it is paid to extol. Anyone who has any knowledge of how counter-terrorism was practised in Northern Ireland or elsewhere knows that the bar for monitoring people (let alone, as the Guardian has reported, the collection of information on innocent peoples' personal lives) has to remain exceedingly high for society to retain any semblance of freedom. It strikes me that perhaps QF's ex-fundamentalists feel we're all under the same risk of extremism as they once were. Perhaps they feel more scrutiny should have been exerted on them in their formative extremist years. Do they blame society for not stopping them getting involved in their college days? In the case of Husain and Nawaz (related in their books, The Islamist and In and Out of Islamism), perhaps they blame the security services for failing to prevent them creating an atmosphere which, by their own accounts, contributed to the murder of another student.

                              QF is currently cosying up to the Conservative party to ensure its role under the next government. It would not be a bad thing if that party's first cost-cutting exercise was to stop funding an organisation that has come to represent the toxic juncture at which intense personal ambition and government propaganda meet. Why does this matter? Because QF is now using public money to advocate increasingly totalitarian attitudes towards the general public and judging Muslims by their own early standards.


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