Throughout my blogs I have highlighted how the PREVENT strategy has effectively created an Orwellian-style Stasi state. Yes, most of us live our lives freely. Yes, we can go out happily and shop till we drop. And yes, there is no marshal law with tanks rolling down our streets. But start asking the wrong questions, questioning establishment narratives, or airing views which contradict the neocon public policy then the sheen of liberty and freedom quickly wears off to reveal a state which increasingly seeks to govern our ideas, creates mistrust and spreads fear – crucial tools to oppress a people.
Governance of “ideas” is the most crucial aspect of neoconservative thinking. For Irving Kristol, the “godfather” of neoconservativism, ideas are important “social facts” because they define “the way reality is perceived”. “What rules the world”, he wrote, “is ideas.” And whoever governs the ideas, controls the public perception of reality.
Thus, inevitably, the control of ideas becomes imperative in the pursuit of an abstract, neocon-defined “greater good”; a pursuit which eschews individual liberty. In Britain, we have the imposition of “British values” (Michael Gove a neoconservative, pushed this concept through into education on the basis of “ideas” which essentially support the State – I will be elaborating on this in detail in a later article), an arbitrary criteria, to which a non-subscription would be tantamount to being an extremist worthy of having rights restricted. Of course this strategy, created in a soup of which the key ingredients of fear, distrust and spin, primarily targets the Muslim minority.
There was no great concern or a sense of urgency amongst the British public about the potential threat to their liberties for, after all, it was aimed at catching those bad guys who are mainly brown and Muslim.
Earlier in the year though, laws like Schedule 7 started to affect journalists who started stepping out of line, exceeding the (low threshold) red-line of scrutiny which our government permits. Over time, Moazzam Begg, an activist, was also gagged through detention. Reports of Green Peace politicians on “domestic extremism” (according to one definition is “serious crime motivated by ideology”) databases rocked the liberal minds a little. The reality is however that the PREVENT definition of “extremism” in the most part does not even relate to serious crime but rather, to “ideas”, thus broadening the remit considerably and violating a non-derogable, jus cogens norm of international law: freedom of conscious and belief. The definition through its imposition, contradicts itself.
“Extremism” becomes the means by which “ideas” are controlled. An example of this can be seen in David Cameron’s own suggestion, that those who question the official narrative of 9/11 and 7/7 for instance are “extremists”. The government narrative on Lee Rigby has changed considerably since his murder took place. The original narrative of blaming (Islamist) ideology solely, despite the Michael Adebelajo’s own claims which point explicitly to foreign policy, are somewhat undermined by recent revelations that the security services may have been complicit to his torture in Kenya, and had heckled him for a number of years before he went on to carry out his act. Perhaps the Independent, which published an article on this entitled, “Lee Rigby murder: Were we told the whole truth?” are also extremists.
With the latest proposals which target “extremists”, Universities will have to demonstrate they have policies in place to tackle “extremist” speakers. In my brief analysis of the proposals I highlighted that Malcolm X would not have been able to engage in the debate at the Oxford Union as he did in 1964.
Some of the effects of the PREVENT strategy, which has been unofficially implemented for some years now, has been reported by the Guardian. According to the report, police officers on campus were taking photos of two posters on the president of the student union’s office window. One read “Not for Shale”, the other: “End Israel’s attacks on Gaza”. Note that anti-Israel/anti-Western stances in Peter Clarke’s implementation of the “extremism” definition in the Trojan Hoax report, was interpreted as “extremism”. Later the police officers confirmed they were essentially monitoring to determine the views of the students.
Interestingly, the student highlighted what parents at a Birmingham school claimed in my previous blog. The threat of a PREVENT referral was allegedly used to silence the parents’ contribution to a school development plan. Here, the student, Lauren Clayson says the police used an “intimidation tactic” by highlighting that they knew of her “history”. She even felt anxious giving the interview fearing consequences possibly with the police.
If this is happening before the proposed counter-terror Statute has even come into force, only time will tell what further abuses are in store. As Peter Scott, professor of higher education studies at Institute of Education, writes in his incisive article,
“There is so much wrong with the new legislation. The key terms such as radicalisation, extremism and terrorism will be defined by politicians who are advised by securitocrats, cowed by tabloid-inflamed public opinion and influenced by electoral advantage… These definitions will not only, and inevitably, be politicised but are also likely to be expandable and open-ended. Those who express their opposition to UK interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and now Syria, possibly in ill-judged rhetorical language, could well be caught in the net… Mission drift is also inevitable.”
Condemned by the Muslim minority, and now university students, academics and professors, the bite of the PREVENT strategy continues to widen. The time is nigh for it to be scrapped.
 Kristol, I, Two Cheers for Capitalism, New York: Basic Books, 1978, p.129