Comment on the “Don’t Hate, Debate” Discussion: Nazi Era and Britain as a Police-State

The above panel discussion was exemplary in the balance and respect afforded to one another despite the quite often opposing views being propounded. BBC should take note.

I wished to make a couple of points.

War on Terror

Firstly, Moazzam Begg highlighted a number of occasions during the discussion the importance of the War on Terror as a context from which certain expressions of “free speech” contributed to the stigmatisation of the Muslim minority. As expected, it resulted in dismissive responses from some of the panellists (who were not Muslim). This was noted in the context of the discussion around Charlie Hebdo and its expression of free speech. Begg highlighted the effect of the Nazi-era publication Der Stürmer. However, this was, again, dismissed (the response was something along the lines of “how can you compare them to Nazis?”).

Although the point was to draw parallels with an era which led to the genocide of the Jews, the comparison even in terms of content is very real. The process with the Jews was one of dehumanisation of a minority group over a long period of time and the initial target was religion. Begg’s identification of Der Stürmer as an example is notable. Certainly, by the standards of the Nuremberg Trials, the Charlie Hebdo editor would be classed as a war criminal, like the editor-in-chief of the Der Stürmer. As I wrote soon after the killing of Charlie Hebdo staff,

“Take for instance the paper’s incredibly disgusting image depicting a caricaturised Egyptian protester being riddled with bullets by the Egyptian army.  Mocking one of the worst massacres of protestors in recent history, the writing on the cover translates as “killing in Egypt – the Qur’an is s**t – it does not stop the bullets”. The propaganda image at the very least normalises the killing of Muslims and wanton attacks on the Qur’an, at a time when Muslims were being massacred by the military. It is purely Nazi-esque. In 1946, Julius Striecher, editor-in-chief of the anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer, was convicted by International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg. According to the Tribunal,

“Striecher’s incitement to murder and extermination at the time when Jews in the East were being killed under the most horrible conditions clearly constitutes persecution on political and racial ground in connection with war crimes… and constitutes a crime against humanity”.

Britain as a Police-state

My second and last point relates to the nonchalant dismissal of the usage of “police-state” to describe developments with the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 and the PREVENT Strategy.

The dismissal is understandable: from the three panellists who dismiss the police-state accusation, one is a Daily Telegraph journalist, one is a humanist and the other is right-winger. All are white and all are non-Muslim. It is important to understand that the effects of a police state need not be felt on the rest of society. Often, caricaturised notions are imagined with tanks rolling down streets with militarised police officers enforcing a curfew, when the words “police state” are heard. This is but on dimension of a police-state.

The modern notion of a police-state, where the government exercises arbitrary power through the police thereby restricting the freedoms of people, is certainly applicable to the British state in the context of its treatment of, primarily, the Muslim minority.

Brian Chapman outlined a number of dimensions of a police state, amongst them being “penetration”. Chapman says this is the, “… encroachment of the police apparat, under one pretext or another, on the general police powers of other institutions – licensing, social security, the professions, education, the media…”.[1]

Michael Brogden explains this as “the degree of colonisation and penetration of other state apparatuses.” Brogden further states that this penetration occurs also in the institutions of civil society, including the educational and “recreational” realms:

“It represents an attempt to re-structure – and thereby modify and control – a potential problem population”.[2]

The PREVENT Strategy focusses on routing out “extremism”. I have explicated the definitional issues of “extremism” elsewhere on this blog. Based on this ethereal concept, public bodies such as the NHS and educational institutes are now statutorily obligated “to have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.” The framework which has been in use to identify radicalisation and “extremism”, is the PREVENT-based Channel programme. Individuals identified as “extreme” are referred to the Channel deradicalisation programme via “PREVENT Officers”. According to the Thames Valley police website, “the Prevent department now has Prevent Officers (POs) who are police officers with an enforcement role as well.”

It is well-established that PREVENT discriminatorily targets the Muslim minority (see here, and here for instance). The academic, Arun Kundnani states in his bookThe Muslims Are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror, (2014),

“Not only is the Channel project raise substantial issues of privacy; it is also discriminatory. Since it seems to function in part on the basis of treating religious behaviours as indicators if extremism, and because over 90 percent of its cases have involved Muslims, it appears to be a form of profiling based on religious identity.”

Despite the PREVENT Strategy not explicitly mentioned in the CTS Act, PREVENT is the framework currently being used.

Through PREVENT and Channel the police have “encroached” on “other institutions”, effectively making public bodies an extension of their surveillance activities of policing thought. Given the simultaneous promotion of “British values”, the opposition to which constitutes “extremism” according to the PREVENT Strategy, we have the overt attempt to “modify and control” the thought patterns of the Muslim minority (see here, here and here).

Yes, the white, non-Muslim, pseudo-liberal toeing the neocon government-line is not living in a police-state. Life is bliss. For many Muslims however, aspects of the police-state in Britain have become an ominous reality.


[1] Brogden M., The Police: Autonomy and Consent, Academic Press Inc., London, 1982, p.22

[2] Ibid. p.23

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