PREVENT Reality: Police Chief Warns of “Police State”

Photograph: Stefan Wermuth/Reuters

It seems the problems with regards to the definition of “extremism”, and its abuse by neocons is finally starting to be discussed, although it may be too late given that the new counter terror bill has already been through its second reading in Parliament. Given the toxic implications of the Bill which I have briefly discussed here and here, one wonders why there is no outrage against what is an assault against the “democratic values” often propagated through military means around the world.

Peter Fahy in a frank and welcome warning highlighted that the battle against “extremism” could lead to a “drift towards a police state” in which officers are turned into “thought police”. Below are some of the excerpts which deserve being reproduced in full from the Guardian:

“If these issues [defining extremism] are left to securocrats then there is a danger of a drift to a police state”. He added: “I am a securocrat, it’s people like me, in the security services, people with a narrow responsibility for counter-terrorism. It is better for that to be defined by wider society and not securocrats.”

Fahy said officers were also having to decide issues such as when do anti-gay or anti-women’s rights sentiments cross the line, as well as when radical Islam veers into extremism: “There is a danger of us being turned into a thought police,” he said. “This securocrat says we do not want to be in the space of policing thought or police defining what is extremism.”

Under the Conservative-led coalition government, there has been increased focus on countering extremist thought and rhetoric, even if espoused by non-violent groups, based on the theory it helps people to be radicalised and then move on to supporting terrorism or wanting to carry out violent acts. The theory is disputed.

Fahy said elected politicians and civic society needed to ask and answer questions about free speech’s limits: “When does anti-Israeli protest become antisemitic? How far is it OK to challenge homosexuality, women’s rights? How far is it OK to advocate violent action abroad?”

He added: “These are difficult issues for Muslims and the Catholic church … Extremism is not just about Muslims, there are a lot of rightwing extremists.” He gave another example about the opposition some fundamentalist Christians have to homosexuality: “If that speaker, says all homosexuals are sinful, are mentally defective and need reprogramming and are threat to society, is that preaching hatred?

Fahy said police had agonised over the definition and he accepted the definition can change.

These are some profound analyses, especially from a person in his position. Despite this however, he does agree with the theory which undercuts PREVENT: the conveyor-belt theory to terrorism. This deeply flawed theory postulates that certain ideas lead to terrorism. However the issue is circular – what may constitute “extreme” in the mind of an Etonian neocon may not necessarily be regarded as extremist by the rest of the public or indeed by the minority which holds such beliefs. Interestingly Fahy acknowledges this point where he alludes to anti-gay Christians. The crux issue is the conflation between the criminal and the idea.

The criminal is he who abuses an idea for criminal ends, not necessarily the idea itself. Thus targeting those who articulate normative Islamic beliefs (as Michael Gove, Ofsted and the media has done thus far) for instance is a rational absurdity and demonstrates the ugly nature of the conveyor-belt theory. Using this logic, it can be legitimately argued that those liberal internationalists and neocon hawks who advocate “spreading democracy in the Middle East” and “regime change” through wars should be treated as potential terrorists given the inherently violent nature of what is propagated at a governmental level. After all it is an ideological pursuit implemented through violent wars. And their distorted narratives on Muslims for instances, like Eurabia and the clash of civilisations are shared with far-right terrorists (see here, and here). The anti-Muslim climate however deflects from the issues around neoconservatism and the link to the far-right.

Educationalists, activists, academics and now the enforcement officers themselves are airing their concerns. There is a lot wrong with the PREVENT underpinned counter-terror bill. It needs a drastic rethink as it seeks to criminalise a minority and their beliefs against human rights and international norms on minorities.

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