More power. And if we recall from my piece on human rights and the damaging impact of neoconservatism in Britain, we will come to realise that power is a pursuit before which principles, liberal or conservative, fall by the way side.
Around April 2014, William Shawcross had written to David Cameron asking him for more powers. David Cameron has now announced new powers which will give the Charity Commission sweeping prerogatives to freeze charity bank accounts and suspend or remove trustees. There have been charities which have been investigated for over a year only to then be cleared of problems; if the charity cannot operate during the investigation the damage to the reputation of the charity will be immeasurable, and more fundamentally, it will inhibit charitable acts which the charity is engaged in such as humanitarian aid in critical, dire areas of the world, the impact of which will be catastrophic for the needy. With the direction given by the new Commission chief executive Paula Sussex that charities should not be given the “benefit of the doubt”, the ease with which such powers will be used, is a cause for consternation for those involved in the third sector.
The key issue is the belligerency with which the Commission has been behaving. It is the cold war tactics which have been employed by a body at the head of which is an ideologically motivated individual whose views on Islam and Muslims in conjunction with his pro-Israel, Zionist stance, which is a matter of concern. In an earlier blog on Shawross, I highlighted how discriminatory his view were. He has described the UN as “lynch mob” for condemning Israeli violence and gone on record to state that,
“Europe and Islam is one of the greatest most terrifying problems of our future, I think all European countries have vastly, very quickly, growing Islamic populations…”
Given his ideologically-driven discriminatory views, and the fact that his first major statement as a Charity Commission head highlighted the “deadly” threat of “Islamist extremism”, it hasn’t faired well for Muslim charities. Now, however, his biased views on Islam and Muslims are becoming more public. The perception of disproportionate targeting of charities involving the Muslim communities (which is backed by statistical evidence) has come to light, with chief executives of major Muslim charities like Islamic Relief, Muslim Aid, and the head of Muslim Charities Forum raising concerns which were then aired by Stephen Bubb of charities leader group, AVECO.
It is this pressure which forced Shawcross to state in September that,
“It is emphatically not the case that the Commission is targeting or disproportionately focusing on charities with links to Muslim communities.”
He gives the reason for this notion, rather deceptively, that a video about making informed decisions about which charity to donate to is the cause of this. However this is a smokescreen for the views that he holds. As already highlighted, major established Muslim charities, (not ones which were established after the onset of war in Syria), are complaining of the Commission’s focused targeting. Furthermore, it is the manner in which the Commission has been operating which raises alarm bells: the abuse of power is being exercised already, without the increased powers currently being proposed.
CAGE is a primary example of how the securitisation of key bodies headed by neocons is resulting in ideologically motivated measures being pursued. CAGE, a human rights campaign group had its funding cut through circumvention. It is not a charity, therefore, the only way to stifle its activities was to “remind” the charities funding CAGE about their risk assessment. This resulted in an investigation into a long-established and highly respected charity (Joseph Rowntree Foundation) and a temporary suspension of funding. Additionally various HMRC investigations were launched into CAGE personnel whom have never been investigated before and bank accounts were closed on the direction of the Treasury. The subsequent bank closures of prominent, well-known and reliable charities like Ummah Welfare Trust enforced the notion that government bodies were working in a coordinated, multi-agency manner to “disrupt” individuals and key charities which either espoused government policy dissent (in the case of CAGE) or demonstrated their humanitarian support for Syria/Palestinians and/or condemnation of the Israel. This was, in my view, the PREVENT strategy pilot test for the full legislative measures which will enshrine the PREVENT strategy definitions of “extremism” and methods of “disruption” of “extremists”.
As Theresa May stated before with regards to “measures to toughen up charity rules and powers of the Charity Commission”, PREVENT will be made a statutory duty for all public sector organisations. The Home Office, May said, is to assume responsibility for a new counter-extremism strategy which will be “the responsibility of the whole of government, the rest of the public sector, and wider civil society”. In other words, a quasi-stasi state in which everyone becomes a spy.
The fundamental problem is the constitution of “extremism”. Thus far it has been applied to people who espouse dissent against views, policies and actions of the UK Government/Israel as well as Zionism, mainstream Islamic views, and to distasteful banter on a chat group. Peter Clarke the counter-terrorism “expert” who headed the investigations into the Trojan Hoax claims in Birmingham construed these exact statements and behaviour as “extremism” in his report. The report itself was constructed on subjective judgements, based off uncorroborated, unsworn, unverified statements and allegations. He and his report share neoconservative leanings which in effect was represented in his report. As leading educationalists and academics, noted in a letter published in the Guardian,
“It reflects neoconservative assumptions about the nature of extremism; ignores significant testimony and viewpoints; implies the essential problem in Birmingham is simply the influence of certain individuals; discusses governance but not curriculum; ignores the concerns and perceptions of parents and young people; and is unlikely to bear judicial scrutiny.”
Clarke is on the board of trustees of the Charity Commission. The board, in addition to being in synchrony with the neoconservative persuasion, has further been criticised for being hostile to campaigns, with charity lawyer Rosamund McCarthy saying,
“My concern is that some members of the board of the Commission are at the very best sceptical and at worst hostile to charity campaigning.”
The improvement of governance of charities is important. However, neocons are taking advantage of the situation in the Middle East to pursue their own agenda. The bluster is of terrorism, the reality is abuse of power.
The PREVENT strategy, as has been experienced by the Muslim minority over the years and thoroughly exposed in a report by CAGE, discriminatorily targets the Muslim minority by eroding the Islamic identity through the categorisation of Islamically grounded practices, concerns and unique worldview as “extremist”. Thus the existing abuse of power exercised by government bodies will become even more acute with more powers. The choking of organisations will become easier for the neocons as they seek to silence dissent and restrict humanitarian interventions which carry the risk of discrediting the neocon narratives pumped by the government.