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

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  • #16
    Mahan Abedin:

    October 24, 2009 -- The British government's counter-terrorism policy and its broader agenda of containing so-called violent radicalization and extremism have come under closer scrutiny in recent weeks. The Guardian ran an article on October 16 alleging that the government's "Preventing Violent Extremism" strategy ("Prevent" for short) is being used to gather intelligence about innocent people's political views and other information related to their personal circumstances. In light of these revelations, Mahan Abedin spoke to Dr Abdul Wahid, one of the key players in the British Muslim community. Wahid is the chairman of the executive committee of Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT) in Britain. He has been on HT's executive committee in Britain since 2004. He was born in 1967 in London and has been working with the HT since 1996. He is a medical doctor by profession.

    Mahan Abedin: How do you assess the British government's "Preventing Violent Extremism" strategy in light of media reports that it has been a cover for mass spying on the UK's Muslim communities?

    Abdul Wahid: It comes as no surprise that the "Prevent" strategy has been used to spy en masse on the Muslim community. From the outset, this strategy had sinister aims and an ideological agenda, not a security one. Seen from the local level it is clearly about gaining control over the Muslim community and pushing them to adopt Western liberal norms.

    Mahan Abedin: The director of Liberty, Sami Chakrabarti, has in the wake of the reports labelled "Prevent" "the biggest spying program in Britain in modern times"; do you concur with this statement?

    Abdul Wahid: I think that's probably correct. I hadn't heard of anything like this in my adult life - though I am aware that people were systematically spied upon during the Cold War era. But these are not new revelations as encouraging teachers to spy on children and neighbor to spy on neighbor has been quite openly encouraged for some years. What's more, it's yet another example of how the British government has made Britain a "police state" for Muslims since the start of the "war on terror". In Britain, they have detention without trial for up to 42 days for Muslim suspects; they have had control orders where Muslims can be put under house arrest without any right of defense in a trial or even any right to see the evidence alleged against them.

    Mahan Abedin: What are the immediate practical implications of these revelations insofar as the Muslim community's relationship with the government is concerned?

    Abdul Wahid: In the short term, these measures will rightly make Muslims more suspicious of the government. But there is already evidence that "Prevent" will be re-engineered, re-named and re-launched - probably to counter so-called "extremist" threats from Muslims and right-wing extremists. This will make the policy more palatable to some Muslims because of its seeming even-handedness. But, in my view, it doesn't make the policy right. The fear is that as time goes by, our community leaders will become more complacent and forget this recent experience. The government has offered large sums of money in this program - over £70 million [US$116 million]. Many of our leaders sincerely believe it's their duty to accept this money on behalf of the community. But when you understand what it is for, and what strings are attached, you realize how wrong and dangerous it is to accept money like this.

    Mahan Abedin: Considering the impact of the terrorist bombings on July 7, 2005, was it not inevitable that the government would try to improve local resilience and capacity to detect and deter future bombers?

    Abdul Wahid: You could argue that in such circumstances any government would take law and order measures to protect the public. But that was not what has led to the "Prevent" strategy. Within two to three weeks of the July 2005 bombings, the British government saw the public mood of anger and fear, and realized the climate was ripe to push through a more far-reaching set of objectives. This is where the more draconian and persecutory policies emerged. The same thing happened in the U.S. after 9/11 with the introduction of the Patriot Act by George W Bush. We should be clear, "Prevent" is not a policy that will detect and deter future bombers. It is an ideological agenda built on the false premise that the more Islamic a person is, and the more politicized, the more chance they have of becoming a security threat. This may sound utterly ridiculous, but that is actually the strategy. Earlier this year, a leak to the Guardian newspaper exposed that the government's definition of "extremism" which should raise suspicions includes belief in the implementation of sharia or Khilafah/Caliphate - anywhere in the world; belief that it is legitimate for the Muslims of Palestine, Iraq or Afghanistan to resist occupation; and belief that homosexuality is a sin. So you can see its real aim is to start a coercive assimilation of Muslims - "converting" them to Western values, and subduing them to the will of the state.

    Mahan Abedin: In recent years, the government and its allies have tried to diversify leadership poles in the community - specifically sidelining the Muslim Council if Britain. How successful have they been in this endeavor?

    Abdul Wahid: Their attempts have been most energetic at a local community level than at a national level. It seems, at a national level, they only want to engage with "yes men" - meaning, people who tell them what they want to hear. As soon as you disagree, they close the door. At a local level, there is evidence that the older generation of Muslim community leaders can be bullied by the police and councils. But they have been most dynamic in setting programs for Muslim youth and Muslim women. And these seem to filter off the most motivated young people and filter them off into circles where they are groomed - in much the same way that "elites" in Muslim countries are filtered off and groomed in the West for future leadership - so that when they return they serve Western interests. In fact, there are many parallels between Britain's colonial foreign policy and its domestic policies towards the Muslim community.


    • #17

      Mahan Abedin: How united are Britain's Muslim communities on the important issues of the day; namely, counter-terrorism, integration versus assimilation and foreign policy?

      Abdul Wahid: Looking at the response of Muslims to major events you can certainly draw some conclusions. There has been loud opposition from Muslims over the draconian anti-terror laws that target Muslims and Islamic beliefs - though the same Muslims opposed the killing of civilians in events like 9/11 and 7/7. On the assimilation/integration agenda, I think Muslims by and large live peaceably with their neighbors, but when expected to be silent about insults to the Qur'an or the Messenger of Allah [sallahu alayhi wasallam] they refused - and were very vocal in their condemnation of these insults. Similarly, you will hardly hear a Muslim voice that will agree with British policy towards Afghanistan, Iraq or Palestine. Indeed, there was outrage from Muslims at the British government's silence during the Israeli massacre of Gaza in 2009.

      Mahan Abedin: There is now even a think-tank [namely the Quilliam Foundation] that markets itself as the first counter-extremism center in the UK. What long-term objectives is the government pursuing through the work of the Quilliam Foundation?

      Abdul Wahid: The government's long-term objective is to manufacture a compliant, subdued, secular Muslim community in Britain. They have used many people and styles to push through this anti-Muslim agenda over the years. Some have been high profile, and some low profile. But, almost all have been ineffective, and so end up being replaced eventually.

      Mahan Abedin: Can the community build up resilience against terrorism independent of government direction and interference?

      Abdul Wahid: Your question pre-supposes that terrorism comes from something endemic and systematic in the Muslim community, which I would dispute. It isn't the Muslim community that has caused terrorism. Whatever the wrong actions of some individuals, the much bigger question is how to deal with the major terrorism of our time, which is the foreign policy of colonial nations such as Britain and the U.S. They have launched wars, imprisoned without due process, and tortured many Muslims in places such as Afghanistan and Iraq. They have supported dictatorial regimes which are their first line of defense against Islamic revival. This means that they are the major source of terrorism internationally, and any reactions have to be explained in that context.

      Mahan Abedin: How do you explain the emergence of single-issue far-right groups such as the English Defense League, which purports to counter the growth of "Islamic extremism" in the UK through concerted street action?

      Abdul Wahid: Such far-right groups have emerged in a climate created by mainstream politicians of all parties. Through their war propaganda related to Iraq and Afghanistan they have systematically demonized Islam and created suspicion of Muslims. Their activity presents a challenge for Muslims, who will be caught between being bullied by them into apologizing for Islamic values (which is what they want), or reacting in a rash, immature or violent way (which only plays into their hands and reinforces their false stereotype).

      Mahan Abedin: How should Muslims react to the steady rise of the British National Party [BNP]?

      Abdul Wahid: The BNP are a fringe party and their support base is small. This means their success in European and local elections can't be replicated in any serious way on a national level. Moreover, most people in general society despise them. Hence we should not overreact to them. Rather, Muslims should be wary of politicians who come to them saying "support me or else the BNP will get in". It was not the BNP who led Britain into two wars of occupation in the Muslim world. It was not the BNP who first raised the hostility to Muslim women's dress. These were done by the Labour Party who largely compete for Muslim support. Muslims must not let themselves be fooled by Labour and Conservative politicians who play the "BNP card" whilst propagating anti-Muslim policies.

      Mahan Abedin: Even mainstream British politicians have declared "multiculturalism" to be as good as dead; how will this impact British Muslims at local and national levels?

      Abdul Wahid: I think the demise of the policy of "multiculturalism" has made it easier to vilify Islam. Things can be written and said about Islam and Muslims that could never be said of other races or religions. The net result is that more of the wider society, who are fed this diet of lies and misinformation, view Muslims as a suspect community or with hostility.

      Mahan Abedin: Do you believe a future Conservative government will act any differently towards the community? Discuss primarily in the context of counter-terrorism and multiculturalism.

      Abdul Wahid: The Conservative party is very open about their anti-Islamic agenda! They supported wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have been equally vocal about denouncing mainstream Islamic ideas and Muslim opinions as "extremist". Some of their leading politicians are self-confessed neo-conservatives and have taken policy advice from right-wing U.S. think-tanks.

      Mahan Abedin: What is your advice on young British Muslims who want to change British foreign policy peacefully?

      Abdul Wahid: Sadly, British foreign policy has a very bad track record in the Muslim world for a couple of centuries - with the occupation of India, their attack on the Ottoman Khilafah, the division of Muslim land and the establishment of Israel. This is to say nothing for their support for brutal regimes in the Muslim world for decades. Realistically, this belligerent approach by military and diplomatic means is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Britain views the rise of Islam in the world - in particular the return of the Khilafah - as a threat to its corporate interests and ability to exploit resources in the Muslim world. Our advice to young or older Muslims living in Britain or elsewhere regarding British foreign policy is to follow what the sharia obliges and stay away from that which it prohibits. Islam teaches we are one Muslim ummah [community] across the world. So, if the policies of the country where you live harm Islam and Muslims, you should expose and denounce those policies - even if you live, work or have friends and family there. Furthermore, Muslims should try to convince the ordinary non-Muslims of the truth and correctness of our position on these issues, so they also oppose what is plainly wrong. Also we must redress the vile anti-Islamic propaganda that goes with the foreign policy. Finally, we always urge Muslims to support the work for the Khilafah in Muslim lands. Until our ummah is unified under one leader, as Allah and His Messenger commanded, we will be prey for others to attack. Until a ruler implements the Islamic sharia, which commands that the ruler looks after affairs of the ummah, not Western governments, we will remain open to exploitation. There is a growing call in the Muslim world for this Islamic governance, and those of us living in the West are in a position to articulate what many of our brothers and sisters elsewhere cannot.


      • #18
        Rizwaan Sabir:

        November 4, 2009 -- Kim Howells's call for British service personnel to be withdrawn from Afghanistan will be welcomed on the streets of Britain, most notably because people have realised that Tony Blair's support for George Bush's "war on terror" has cost so many lives, including those of British soldiers, without any real results – other than the fraudulent election victory of President Karzai and the fragmentation of al-Qaida's Afghan core into other countries. Howells's advocacy of re-channelling the millions saved from the conflict in Afghanistan into "more intrusive surveillance programmes in certain communities" in Britain, however, will be far from welcomed or applauded, especially among Britain's Muslims. It doesn't take much imagination to work out who that weasly euphemism "certain communities" is intended to refer to: British Muslims will understand very clearly that Howells believes it is their lives and communities that should come under closer scrutiny by the security services.

        The current measures in place to tackle the threat from violent extremism are already robust and vigorous enough. In fact, they are so robust that they already risk becoming self-defeating and counterproductive in their objective of trying to engage and connect with British Muslims. Only recently did the Guardian report that the Prevent strand of Contest was being used as a method of collating intelligence on British Muslims' political and religious views. This was damaging enough to a group that is under increasing pressure to adhere to the "community cohesion" agenda and the debate of whether they are "British or Muslim" – but Howells's suggestion that increased surveillance is the key to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism is erroneous and naive. We need to ask: how will Howells's recommendation affect British Muslims who are already distrustful and sceptical of the government's and police service's objectives?

        Trust and mutual respect between the government, the police and British Muslims are critical to countering the threat of violent extremism. Yet these are just the relationships that seem to be fast diminishing as Britain's counter-terrorism methods and objectives emerge. More intrusive measures and more surveillance of Britain's Muslims will lead to further alienation and distrust, and make everybody's efforts of challenging violent extremism more problematic. If the small minority of extremists who believe blowing up commuter trains and buses are pious manifestations of their faith are to be confronted, it is imperative that the government, in the strongest possible way, rejects calls for increased covert intelligence practices such as those being encouraged by Howells.

        Trust between British Muslims and the government needs to be fostered by all parties, and that includes Muslims making an effort to recognise the hard work that some police officers and ministerial figures are making. Before this can happen, though, the mistakes and sinister episodes of the past, such as the 2006 Forest Gate raid, need to be acknowledged and accounted for. Howells's suggestion of intruding upon Britain's Muslim communities through "more intrusive surveillance" programmes will hardly accomplish this. On the contrary, his enthusiasm for ramped-up security measures targeted at "certain communities" and the overruling of long-held liberal traditions in the face of a perceived terrorist threat is dangerously naive. The real risk is that the "Howells doctrine" will produce anger and alienation in Britain's Muslim communities that will in turn lead to more, not less, support for violent extremism. At a certain point, turning "certain communities" into terror suspects becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.


        • #19

          December 11, 2009 -- Nursery-age children should be monitored for signs of brainwashing by Islamist extremists, according to a leaked police memo obtained by The Times. In an e-mail to community groups, an officer in the West Midlands counter-terrorism unit wrote: “I do hope that you will tell me about persons, of whatever age, you think may have been radicalised or be vulnerable to radicalisation ... Evidence suggests that radicalisation can take place from the age of 4.” The police unit confirmed that counter-terrorist officers specially trained in identifying children and young people vulnerable to radicalisation had visited nursery schools.

          The policy was condemned last night. Chris Grayling, the Shadow Home Secretary, said that it ran the risk of “alienating even more people”. Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said that it was an “absurd waste of police time”. Sir Norman Bettison, who speaks for the Association of Chief Police Officers on Prevent, the Government’s anti-terror strategy, said that the officer’s e-mail was a “clumsy” attempt to explain it. Sir Norman, the Chief Constable of West Yorkshire, said: “There is absolutely no example, nationally, of the police engaging with nursery-age kids specifically on this issue. That is the age for learning about ‘Stranger Danger’ and ‘The Tufty Club’.”

          The Home Office has disclosed, meanwhile, that a seven-year-old has become the youngest child to feature in a scheme to tackle grooming by extremists. David Hanson, the Police Minister, disclosed in a parliamentary answer that the child was one of 228 people referred to the Channel Project, part of Prevent focused on individuals. More than 90 per cent of those identified by the project have been aged between 15 and 24 and most, but not all, are Muslim.

          Criticism of the anti-extremism strategy is growing. The programme, funded from the £3.5 billion per year security budget, is said to stigmatise communities and encourage Muslims to spy on one another. This week John Denham, the Communities Secretary, said that the programme had to be more transparent to dispel “the fear that by joining a Prevent activity, the organisers or the participants are opening themselves up to covert surveillance, intelligence-gathering and the collection of files on the Muslim communities”.

          The e-mail obtained by The Times was written by a sergeant in response to Muslim community concerns. He was trying to allay fears but seems to have inflamed them. He wrote: “I am a police officer and therefore it will always be part of my role to gather intelligence and I will report back any information or intelligence which may suggest someone is a terrorist, or is planning to be one or to support others. However, my role is to raise the level of awareness of the threat of terrorism and radicalisation and support and work with partners to try to prevent it.”

          Arun Kundnani, of the Institute of Race Relations, contacted the officer and said he was told that officers had visited nursery schools. Mr Kundnani added: “He did seem to think it was standard. He said it wasn’t just him or his unit that was doing it. He said the indicators were they [children] might draw pictures of bombs and say things like ‘all Christians are bad’ or that they believe in an Islamic state. It seems that nursery teachers in the West Midlands area are being asked to look out for radicalisation. He also said that targeting young children was important because they would be left aware of what was inappropriate to say at school. He felt that it was necessary to cover nurseries as well as primary and secondary schools. He said it was a precaution and that he wasn’t expecting to come back with a list.”

          There have been acute worries about radicalisation in the Birmingham area since a terrorist was caught on a surveillance tape indoctrinating his five-year-old son. Parviz Khan, who was jailed for plotting to kidnap and behead a British soldier, was heard threatening the boy with a beating if he did not answer questions correctly. “Who do you love?” Kahn asked. “I love Sheikh Osama bin Laden,” the boy answered.

          The West Midlands counter-terrorism unit confirmed that its officer had visited a nursery school attached to a primary school and had spoken to staff. The unit said that it had 21 uniformed counter-terrorism officer who engaged openly and directly with communities, schools and other public bodies. A spokesman said: “We have been trying to bring counter-terrorism work out of the shadows. It can cause consternation at first when a policeman introduces himself as a counter-terrorism officer. But we are actually trying to get over the accusation that Prevent is about spying by being more open and we are reaping the benefits now with better engagement.”

          Sir Norman emphasised that Prevent was about working with communities to protect vulnerable young people. “It is no different to addressing the harm of drugs or sexual exploitation,” he said. “Prevent is a way of addressing those most vulnerable in an attempt to protect them. “It is easy to give Prevent initiatives a kicking because it is viewed as intrusive but, the next time there is a terrorist outrage involving young people who have been radicalised, there will be a wringing of hands and people will say, ‘What more could we have done?’ ” Quilliam, an anti-extremism think-tank, told a Commons select committee inquiry: “The notion that Prevent is about surveillance and monitoring of Muslim communities is deeply ingrained in some communities and will be difficult to shift.”


          • #20
            So this hasn't really got that much to do with this, but it does a bit...
            When my husband flew back from London (after being in Algeria) to Edinburgh last week, he got stopped and questioned at the airport, had to give his life story, including how often he visited the mosque (he answered something along the lines of 'most Fridays but he regrets ever missing a Friday'), if he ever met up with anyone at the mosque, how religious in general he was... I don't think its fair to ask these questions, would they ask me how often I went to church and who I met up with? The whole thing took about 45 minutes and I was very worried while waiting for him.

            Anyone else got personal experiences of this kind of thing?


            • #21
              fyi...a way to facilitate change

              For those of you in the U.K., just wanted to introduce this relatively new, but excellent, organization that can give you a chance to help facilitate CHANGE:

              The Young Leaders' Integrity Alliance (YLIA)
              is a multinational, multicultural network of young leaders. YLIA builds ethical and effective leadership across the world believing that genuine change depends on changing people.

              Web site:
              Young Leaders Integrity Alliance

              More info on the project's origins:
              Young Leaders Integrity Alliance (YLIA) | The Communication Initiative Network
              Young Leaders Integrity Alliance | Facebook

              I have no connection to this org, other than knowing that John Graham, the founder, is a really great guy! He wa a U.S. foreign service employee who yes, spent time in Algeria:
              Sit Down Young Stranger: One man's search for meaning
              Last edited by New_Friend; 17 December 2009, 04:40. Reason: typos


              • #22

                March 30, 2010 -- An independent investigation should be held into allegations that a government programme aimed at preventing Muslims from being lured into violent extremism is being used to "spy" on them, a committee of MPs will say today. The programme, called Prevent, has been dogged by controversy and is criticised on several fronts in a report published today by the communities and local government select committee, which says the programme has "stigmatised and alienated" British Muslims. Last October the Guardian revealed Prevent was being used to gather intelligence about innocent people who are not suspected of terrorist involvement. The article was denounced as "wilfully misleading" by Alan Johnson, the home secretary.

                Phyllis Starkey, the committee chair, said: "Many witnesses made plain they believe Prevent has been used to 'spy' on Muslim communities. The misuse of terms such as 'intelligence gathering' amongst Prevent partners has clearly discredited the programme and fed distrust. Information required to manage Prevent has been confused with intelligence gathering undertaken by the police to combat crime and surveillance used by the security services to actively pursue terrorism suspects."

                The committee report does not back the government's unequivocal denunciation of the reports of spying and concludes: "We cannot ignore the volume of evidence we have seen and heard which demonstrates a continuing lack of trust of the programme amongst those delivering and receiving services. Based on the evidence we have received, it is not possible for us to take a view. If the government wants to improve confidence in the Prevent programme, it should commission an independent investigation into the allegations made." The all-party report says the government should stop trying to "engineer" a so-called moderate form of Islam and pay more attention to other factors leading to violent extremism, including foreign policy, the higher than average poverty rates faced by Muslims and alienation.

                The £140 million Prevent programme involves the Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG) and the Home Office. "We see a very important role for CLG in continuing such work and acknowledge its contribution to the aims of Prevent. However, we believe that this work can be successful only if untainted by the negative association with a counter-terrorism agenda," the MPs conclude. The report also says the programme should not just focus on Muslims, but tackle rightwing extremism as well.

                The Department for Communities and Local Government said: "We do not think an independent investigation is necessary or appropriate given the lack of evidence to support any allegations found by the inquiry we conducted. We welcome the committee's report in particular the recognition that a targeted Prevent programme is necessary. However, we are disappointed that the report does not reflect the measures put in place during the last year to address criticism of Prevent."

                Caroline Spelman, the shadow communities secretary, said: "It is clear that too much money has been wasted on unfocused and irrelevant projects which have created confusion and increased the risk of alienating the very communities it ought to engage." Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "The Prevent programme alienates and marginalises Muslim communities, and exacerbates racist bias and ignorant views. Everyone wants to combat radical Islamism but that should not mean gathering and keeping intelligence on innocent people."

                The Conservatives spokesperson for Local Government and Communities, Caroline Spelman, highlighted part of the report which said the Prevent programme had wasted money: "It's clear that that too much money has been wasted on unfocussed and irrelevant projects which have created confusion and increased the risk of alienating the very communities it ought to engage. We need a complete review of the Prevent strategy "

                Prevent was branded as the "biggest spying programme in Britain in modern times" by Liberty, the civil liberties organisation. Reacting to the MPs report, Corinna Ferguson of Liberty said: "Every modern society needs a strong civil society and some kind of intelligence infrastructure. But when you blur the two, you sow the seeds of alienation and disunity. The lives of others are not to be needlessly intruded on by those in positions of trust. First they undermined fair trials; then they turned a blind eye to torture. Now Whitehall securocrats score yet another own goal in the War on Terror"


                • #23


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