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

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  • Guest 123

    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"

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  • New_Friend
    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; 17th December 2009, 04:40. Reason: typos

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  • BeeMyBaby
    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?

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  • Guest 123

    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.”

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  • Guest 123
    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.

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  • Guest 123

    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.

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  • Guest 123
    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.

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  • Guest 123
    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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  • Guest 123
    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.

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  • Guest 123
    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

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  • Guest 123
    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.

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  • Guest 123
    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.

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  • Guest 123
    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.

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  • Guest 123
    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.

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