On the 25th of August, Hurricane Harvey struck areas in and around the US leaving 71 confirmed deaths and an estimated economic loss approaching $180 billion dollars – eclipsing Katrina – in its wake. Five days later a tropical cyclone developed into the category 5 “Hurricane Irma”, hitting the Atlantic basin and unleashing destruction. With Irma now weakening as I write, its carnage has taken at least 24 lives, with a further five people perishing in the US. Major cities including Jacksonville, Florida, and Charleston, South Carolina have been flooded, leaving millions without power.
PREVENT continues to attract significant criticism. A northern-based human rights organisation – JUST Yorkshire – is to launch a report supported by the Open Foundation on the 29th of August. It concludes that PREVENT is built on a “foundation of Islamophobia and racism”, with a “reliance on stereotypes”, contributing to a “climate of fear”, self-censorship and discrimination. These are findings which are have been repeated through the years by, academics, organisations like CAGE and SACC, and reported by teaching and student unions. In this piece, contrary to the PREVENT propaganda pumped by the Home Office, it will be shown that these are natural outcomes based on inhering conceptual problems.
I found the title of this soon-to-be published report particularly interesting however. The title “Rethinking PREVENT: A Case for an Alternative Approach” plays on the trends that see efforts to develop “an alternative to PREVENT”, which is community-owned. It is my assertion that there is no “alternative approach” to PREVENT, be it ostensibly rooted in the community, civil society or the state. Further, it is not PREVENT that requires a rethink because it is symptom of a much bigger problem. It is the injection of “pre-crime” into laws, policies and the criminal justice system as a whole. It is the encroaching sceptre of pre-crime that is producing new risks and threats across society that not only needs to be re-thought, but arrested and reversed – de-precriminalised if you will. And it is in this vain that I endeavour to critique the misguided call for a “community-based” response to the state-defined threat of terrorism.
Given the toxicity of the PREVENT label, the Muslim minority is all too familiar with its problems. Its name results in an anxiety which now simply cannot be dismissed. As the highly problematic report “The Missing Muslims” published by Citizens UK recognised, the “Prevent Strategy on Muslim communities came up in most of the hearings across the country”. To deal with this breakdown, there is now a reversion to a “community-based” approach to tackling extremism and terrorism.
The “community response to terrorism” approach seeks to mask the issue that “buy-in” and trust of the community is absent and therefore the policy is not being co-opted by the community. The solution therefore operates on the assumption that PREVENT, or more accurately, a pre-criminal intervention is not necessarily the problem, and where there are problems, these are simply implementation detail which can be rectified. This is further supplemented by a co-existing effort to produce a response developed by the community in the hope that PREVENT would be rendered obsolete. Both however, posit the community and its exploitation central to the promulgation of pre-crime interventionism.
In this piece, I intend to outline a brief history of this resurgent “community-driven response” trend and highlight some of the organisations that seem to be pursuing this course of action.
The background to this and subsequent blog to be published are the subtle transformations taking place in the context of pre-crime counter-terrorism policies and their interaction with Muslims. Over the past few years there have been an increasing number of voices which seek to mask gaping criticisms of PREVENT by reviving previously failed strategies. The history, details and identification of events and organisations engaged (inadvertently or otherwise) in this revival will be outlined in a further detailed piece but suffice to say, the aim seeks to develop a “community-based” response to terrorism (and extremism) in order deal with the criticism that PREVENT lacks “community buy-in” and “trust”. From within the community, the argument goes that if Muslims develop their own responses then the significance of PREVENT diminishes and religious rights for Muslims are protected.
In response to this I will proffer some further points of discussion in order to determine whether such exercises are beneficial to the Muslim minority. This piece in particular will focus on restoring pre-crime policies like PREVENT as a method of control firmly within the discourse of colonial power relations. Pre-crime, it will be shown, is an exemplar of the colonial continuity.
Recent weeks have seen a sustained campaign of repressive bullying tactics against a Muslim doctor and vocal anti-racism, pro-Palestinian voice Dr Siema Iqbal by pro-Israel activist organisation North West Friends of Israel (NWFOI). The retweets by Dr Iqbal, which were contested as “anti-Semitic”, were clarified three years ago.
Despite this, NWFOI has resumed its harassment.
Recently, Dr Iqbal was invited to read a statement on racism at the Assembly of Greater Manchester Citizens UK. Seemingly unable to stomach a Muslim woman with strong pro-Palestinian views, NWFOI restarted its harassment, this time led by the Jewish Leadership Council (JLC), an organisation which Alastair Sloan highlights has defended Israeli leaders from the principles of universal jurisdiction and therefore accountability of potential war crimes. Declaring Dr Iqbal’s tweets/retweets anti-Semitic despite being political in nature and directed in response to the Israeli government’s aggression against Palestinians in Gaza, the JLC seems to have pressured Citizens UK into distancing itself from Dr Iqbal. These statements were then circulated in the Jewish Telegraph (complete with a statement from the NWFOI), Jewish Chronicle and the Jewish News, and shared by the far-right-linked Quilliam Foundation’s Haras Rafiq.
So what do we know about the NFWOI?
“Had We sent down this Qur’an on a mountain, verily, thou wouldst have seen it humble itself and cleave asunder for fear of Allah. Such are the similitudes which We propound to men, that they may reflect.” (Surah Hashr, verse 21)
Ramadan reconnects the servant with Allah and places the precepts and primacy of Islam in the minds. This conditioning process should imbue us with the ability and desire to consciously practice Islam, and to never compromise upon its particulars in the face of difficulty. The fast during the day taxes the body whilst the iftar replenishes and relaxes the body.
Another attack and another opportunity to demagogically exploit emotions of the public and catalyse the rising far-right by presenting an authoritarian like, machoistic “strength”. Theresa May has explicitly expressed her intention to “rip up human rights laws” that impede new terror legislation dealing with suspects. In other words, those that have not committed any crimes will be targeted at the expense of human rights. She stated,
“I mean doing more to restrict the freedom and movements of terrorist suspects when we have enough evidence to know they are a threat, but not enough evidence to prosecute them in full in court.”
There are a number problems with this statement. If the burden of proof is not satisfied then per the rule of law nothing illegal has been committed. If there is evidence that a suspect is a “threat”, then they should be prosecuted or dealt with under the “pursue” strand of Britain’s counter-terrorism strategy. Principles like the rule of law and legislation like the Human Rights Act are there to safeguard citizens from arbitrary power and arrests. It is precisely this type of bombastic, fascist rhetoric which it guards against. It is a very short slippery slope for the state to target those it does not like. Right-wing papers are hell-bent on labelling the opposition leadership “terror-apologists”. If a law is brought in which violates human rights and requires little to no evidence to action, will measures be placed against the opposition leadership too?