The Neocon Method of Suppressing PREVENT Dissent: Label it “Extremism”!

henryJacksonSocietyTearingapartDemocracyThe perpetuity of critical blows to the inimical PREVENT Strategy seems to be registering with the neocons, although not in the manner in which one might logically presume.  That presumption would be on the basis that, given experts have brought to attention the blatantly unsound academic basis of the PREVENT Strategy (see here and here) coupled with the condemnation of the policy by over 200 academics, PREVENT and its accompanying enforcement apparatus (Channel) would be scrapped and genuine experts – not pseudo-experts who derive their credentials from dubious former alter egos, or seek to implement a “closed-society” courtesy of neoconservatism – consulted.

These would be the logical next steps.

The response, however, from the government and their associated mouthpiece organisations which butter government policies by producing supporting “reports” has been typically neoconservative: ignore sound research and concerns of Muslims, propound deceit and suppress legitimate, academically-supported critique.

Quilliam

Quilliam Foundation recently published their review of PREVENT. Reading like a business plan to bolster company revenue, it highlighted the need to prevent the “preventing PREVENT” dissenting voices. It also noted that Hazel Blears had organised a roundtable event in January this year, hosting James Brokenshire, government Security Minister, and over 40 others involved in counter-extremism, in which they concluded that,

“…the branding of Prevent is a particular weakness of the government’s approach to counter-extremism”.

After declaring the reality that PREVENT targets Muslims a “perception” which is a “misconception” we begin to witness the emergence of a new “prevent” strategy to prevent PREVENT critique: associating it with “Islamists” and “extremists”.

“The roundtable event also identified the ‘Preventing Prevent Lobby’ as an informal coalition that actively targets counter-extremism practitioners and smears all efforts to challenge extremism… This coalition is spearheaded by many Islamist individuals and organisations including CAGE and MEND, and organisations they have influenced through entryist strategies, such as the NUS. For this reason, while we should be objectively critical of Prevent, we should not be swayed by ideological or strategic criticisms of it.

According to Quilliam, MEND and CAGE are “Islamist” organisations which are “swaying” organisations such as the NUS who clearly do not have a mind of their own – a laughable claim which serves to only reinforce the neocon world view: neocons are defining extremism; neocons are deciding who extremists are; and neocon puppets determine which criticisms of PREVENT are “strategic” and “ideological” and therefore to be ignored.

Henry Jackson Society (HJS)

The above theme is built upon and taken a step further in the HJS report. It effectively casts aside most of the issues with PREVENT by associating them with “extremists”. The report itself is notable for possessing the traits of invisible, or colour-blind racism, where, for instance, criticism by Muslims are regarded as “extremist”, whilst the same issues agreed upon by the professoriate and other MPs like Vince Cable and Nick Clegg result in Rupert Sutton (the author) advising that such concerns are to be addressed (p.62-3).

CAGE’s Response

The report is also methodologically weak. CAGE, the organisation which is attacked in the HJS report, has responded to the childish issues raised. CAGE also draws attention to other symptoms of colour-blind racism inherent in the HJS report:

“…the correlation that the report is suggesting is not that attending the events is a potential radicalising factor, or even that being enrolled in the same university is, but rather that simply being a Muslim student at a UK university while these events are held may be a cause of radicalisation.”

CAGE’s response systematically tears down the HJS report to show that evidence has been forced to fit an agenda. It is certainly worth a read (see here).

CAGE also points out that the HJS report effectively endorses and encourages the continued suppression of dissent on campus.  It does not, however, delve into the details, which are humorously absurd were not for the fact that these reports actually influence people in Parliament. Indeed up until recently, HJS was representing the APPG for domestic and homeland security, before being comprehensively exposed by researchers at Spin Watch. Spin Watch’s report shone light on their lack of transparency, connections to the Zionists/far-right and funding links to the transatlantic Muslim-hate promoting industry.

“Misleading” Criticism

For HJS, criticisms of PREVENT are, in some way, connected to a conspiracy by CAGE/Islamists who propound “deliberate misinformation”. For instance, the NUS motion against the Counter Terror and Security Bill and PREVENT brought to attention the fact that PREVENT may stigmatise the mentally ill, because “mental health issues” are seen as a “psychological hooks” potentially leading to a pathway to terrorism. The report explains the “misleading” element thusly:

“The phrase supposedly taken from the Prevent strategy, and which subsequently appears in many student motions opposing the programme (on the basis that it stigmatises those with mental-health issues), does not actually originate from or appear in there at all; instead, it is listed in a Channel guidance document as one of thirteen reasons why an individual may be susceptible to “engagement with a group, cause or ideology” related to extremism.”

A look at the Channel Vulnerability Assessment Framework, which is what is being referred to here, states the following:

“Channel is a key element of the Prevent strategy.”

Hmmm. Quite the misinformation!

Shared Criticism = Islamist Influence!!!

The report then proceeds to label this contention “extremist” because CAGE have raised it in their earlier published works, and because it reveals a “deeply conspiratorial mindset” (sic):

“That this narrative has since surfaced within student criticism is another example of how extremist viewpoints have influenced student opposition to Prevent.”

In other words, without evidence, the report concludes that “extremists” have somehow influenced opposition to PREVENT purely on the basis of a shared critical analysis. One of the major criticisms of PREVENT is the definitional flaccidity of key terms used, namely “Islamist” and “extremism”. Indeed the Trojan Hoax affair has shown us that a direct application of the PREVENT definition in Peter Clarke’s report roped in religious views on homosexuality, and anti-Israel rhetoric in the discourse of “extremism”. This has translated into reality, with PREVENT-trained teachers censuring pro-Palestinian activism, and PREVENT officers describing pro-Palestinian views as “terrorist-like” beliefs. This is in addition to a catalogue of events which profile Muslims and their children in the education sphere. The belief in Shari’ah has been characterised as “extreme” by Derbyshire Constabulary, evidently showing that discrimination on the basis of religious belief is being effected beneath the guise of PREVENT “safeguarding”.

Incidentally, Quilliam’s report also brings to attention the problems of definition in PREVENT. It cites neocon Shiraz Maher of the pro-Israel International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation (ICSR), who notes that, “key terms such as ‘extremism’ or ‘Islamism’ are still poorly defined – too broadly in some cases, and too narrowly in others” (p.29). It further references the Youth Justice Board and Valentina Soria of RUSI, both of whom also bring to attention the issue of vague terminology.

The issue for the facist neocons at HJS is that politically-aware Muslims are raising these issues:

“Extremists have similarly and frequently used the argument that Prevent does not define its terms well enough”.

The criticism is subsumed into the “extremist narrative”. The HJS report then justifies the attacks on Islamic beliefs by arguing that “extremists” are categorising “extreme Islamist beliefs” held by a “small minority” as normative Islamic beliefs. As shown above however, these “extreme Islamist beliefs”, extend to the Shari’ah (which derives from the two primary sources of Islam, the Qur’an and Sunnah).

Transparency = Hindrance

In the context of student responses to PREVENT, the report notes that,

“There is also substantial recent evidence of student unions actively working to hinder Prevent delivery.”

Apparently, student activism for the neocons is equivalent to hindering PREVENT by damaging trust between institutions and their student-unions. The report makes note of the following “hindrance”:

A student-union official at the University of Birmingham, for example, leaked a university document on engagement with Prevent – and claimed that the process was part of an “Islamophobic” attempt to “secretly pass policy to help spy on Muslim students”

The more germane question is, why was the PREVENT document so secretive in the first place that a student-union official felt obligated to leak it. Of course such issues – the democratic type – are of little value to neocons when it works against their policies.

Discriminatory PREVENT

The report attempts to explain away the criticism that PREVENT is “racist” and promotes surveillance, as articulated in various student-union motions passed over the past year.

The HJS report seemingly justifies the targeting of Muslims:

“Claims that [focus on “Islamism”] is evidence of racism ignore the fact that “[e]xtreme right-wing terrorism in the UK has been much less widespread, systematic or organised than terrorism associated with Al Qa’ida””.

This theme continues in the context of external Muslim speakers:

“These claims are informed by perceptions that there is greater focus on who Muslim students invite onto campuses than there is for other student groups. However, it is important to note that this is in part due to the fact that the presence of right-wing extremism on campuses is an extremely rare occurrence.”

The above claims ignore the glaring reality that PREVENT from its inception has targeted Islam and Muslims. Professor Arun Kundnani has gone as far as stating that “Prevent became, in effect, the government’s Islam policy.”[1] International human rights norms strongly inform states to ensure that security policy, even in the context of terrorism do not discriminatorily target a group. In this way HJS themselves fall foul of the PREVENT definition of extremism by attempting to explain away the discriminatory focus of PREVENT.

Furthermore, neocons have been obsessively focussed on Muslims and predominantly apply the “extremism” label to Islamic beliefs exclusively; indeed were the same degree of surveillance and subversion tactics applied to the Christian and Jewish communities, the findings would certainly be interesting. The Union of Jewish Students, for instance, organises the “Manhigut” (leadership) trip to the Zionist entity where they meet, among others, spin-doctor Mark Regev – known for his expertise in whitewashing Palestinian massacres in which experimental munitions are used, and someone who is a spokesperson for a racist Prime Minister who has promised a Jewish state based on Talmudic law. Fertile grounds for “extremism”.

The discriminatory nature of PREVENT is difficult to deny, thus we find this contention being undermined through an association with “extremism”:

“These erroneous accusations are, instead, reflective of language and strategy used by extremists to deflect and silence criticism of their activities….”

The report even cites an article I have written, which was cross-posted on Islam21c.com, and which refers to “the discriminatory PREVENT Strategy” (see p.53 footnote 236). I am touched. Of course HJS will never engage with the arguments directly, because they full well know that not only will their deceitful claims crumble, but I will damningly expose their vile neoconservative ideology and the bigoted fascist statements of their associate director, Douglas Murray. In my cited article, I not only highlight the Guardian findings which prove that PREVENT is focussed in areas in which there is high Muslim demography, I also cite Paul Thomas, a professor at University of Huddersfield, who states “the latest version of Prevent maintains the overwhelming focus on Muslims.” I then add “In any sane world, this would be termed religious profiling, which is explicitly condemned in the context of government security measures in the UN Human Rights Security Council Resolution 16/19.”

If anything, this once again demonstrates the rather visible invisible racism permeating HJS’ report: the neocons not only refuse to believe the discriminatory focus of PREVENT, even when evidence is presented, they paint any Muslim making such a claim as devious extremists “influencing” the gullible good white folk.

Spying

With regards to the claim that PREVENT promotes spying, once again in HJS-land “this perception is also a key part of the extremist narrative against Prevent’s role in higher education”. The report conveniently neglects to mention that GCHQ had penetrated PREVENT from the earliest stages of the programme.[2] GCHQ was encouraging “intelligence analysis” and development of engagement with “specifically the intelligence” community. The HJS report states that “poorly informed commentary” has not helped bat away allegations of spying and highlight as an example Quilliam cofounder Ed Husain claiming that PREVENT was “intelligence on people not committing terrorist offences.” (p.55)

It seems he was more informed than the Machiavellian HJS would have one believe.

Lecturers and Student-Unions

This theme of dressing PREVENT critique with the garb of “Islamist extremism” continues with free speech concerns raised by lecturers. Concerns raised by lecturers are more difficult to set-aside hence the report states that “it should be accepted that government messaging on this subject has not been sufficient, and that documentation should be produced which addresses this”.

Continuing the monotonous pattern of the document, this concern too “reflects extremism”:

“it is also important to note the extent to which this charge is one which reflects extremist narratives to the greatest degree…”

The report tries incredibly hard to correlate the usage of arguments against PREVENT with “extremists” to the point of stupidity. In a final example, the report identifies that Hizb ut-Tahrir argue PREVENT “casts the Muslim community as a suspect community” and that this is,

“…using virtually identical language to the University of Warwick Student Union (UWSU) policy on CONTEST” (p.54)

The report continues by stating that the “suspect community” narrative “appears to have been heavily influenced by the narratives of extremist groups such as CAGE, the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC), and Hizb ut-Tahrir (HT)”.

The poor research really shows here. In a report published in 2011, Professor Kundnani traced the notion of “suspect community” to a 1993 study investigating the treatment of the Irish and the rise of the “secret state”.

The undertones of anti-Muslim discrimination is once again exemplified here; one which categorises Muslim political activism as “malicious”; a fifth column “influencing” poor, infantile (adult, educated) university students through the ridiculously spurious basis that words are shared between student-union statements and a Muslim organisation.

HJS Proposals to Challenge Criticism of PREVENT

The report presents advice to various government organs. This is a mixture of not amending PREVENT, but rather, issuing more guidance on how to dress up concerns about PREVENT as safeguarding, for instance. To the government, the report proposes that a solution to the curtailment of free speech and spying on students is the provision of guidance about information on “pathways to extremism” and more PREVENT training.

On the blatantly baseless basis that “student criticisms of Prevent which were used to justify non-participation appear to have been influenced by the narratives of extremists”, it proposes that,

  • OSCT should “develop a support plan for sector-specific civil-society actors who challenge extremist attacks on Prevent” (i.e. Quilliam, Inspire and other discredited organisations which have no credibility in the Muslim community),
  • Propagandise civil-society actors to universities,
  • The OSCT takes an uncompromising opposition to “extremist criticism of PREVENT” and other counter-extremism policies,
  • The “value of community policing with regard to universities, including the regular presence of police officers on campus” is promoted,
  • There should be university “oversight” of social networks of student-societies for “extremist” material. (p.71)

In short, based on unempirical assumptions, students must learn to love police presence on campus, be regulated more, and if they share extremist material, which now includes “extremist criticism of PREVENT”, societies should be referred to the Charity Commission.

Textbook “closed-society” neoconservatism then.

Concluding Remarks – A Further Parallel with the German Stasi

Increased regulation without basis, widening of the application of “extremism” to arguments which criticise government policy and a continued imposition of neoconservative ideological assumptions on wider society. The neo-Stasi future HJS posit is troubling indeed.

It is certainly no coincidence that two of the most reviled organisations are “sharing the narrative” on the need to suppress critique of PREVENT, effectively operating as supporters of authoritarianism. The strategy is somewhat unoriginal: either associate criticisms with strategic “Islamists” critique, or like HJS, put the hammer to it by declaring it “extremist” because politically active Muslims also employ the same arguments to highlight the oppressive targeting of their beliefs. Through this association the argument is “smeared” and delegitimised.

I drew a parallel of PREVENT with the German Stasi, which securitised civilian professions. This parallel needs to be drawn again to place into perspective the Orwellian nightmare being legitimised by Quilliam and HJS. Whilst trivialising or explaining away criticisms as “extremist” and “misconceptions”, neoconservatives propose that universities and associated bodies are to be “educated” about PREVENT, recasting the public surveillance programme as “safeguarding”. This proposal disturbingly strikes a resemblance to Stasi methods. As Barbara Mills explains:

“…the Stasi was equally keen to continue convincing them [the informers] that there actions were morally and politically justifiable.”[3]

It is important to note that this “education” of unofficial Stasi operatives ultimately failed. HJS’s deceptive, Machiavellian proposals will also fail. I shall end with the poignant words of a former Stasi informer:

“There was always this broken morality, it’s for a good cause – order and security – and we have to protect the country, it all sounds fair enough… until you think about the fact that you’re involved in something that when it comes down to it isn’t politically or morally justifiable.”[4]


References:

[1] Kundnani, A., The Muslims Are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror, London: Verso Books, 2014, p.157. Regarding previous iterations of PREVENT, he further adds,

“Funding was allocated in direct proportion to the number of Muslims present in each area… It was a formula that constituted a form of religious profiling and would have been vulnerable to legal challenge under antidiscrimination laws had it been made public at the time”, Ibid. p.159

[2] Further light is shone by Professor Arun Kundnani, who writes,

“With Prevent, political policing had come back in a new form. Britain’s security bureaucracy once again widened its reach to a stance that focused on political subversion (now billed as radicalization) rather than on threats of violence to the civilian population. Prevent was, in effect, an experiment in new forms of countersubversion for the twenty-first century, with young Muslims as a convenient testing ground. Because the old deference to the security apparatus had weakened, it was harder for MI5 and the police to operate without scrutiny, as they largely did during the cold war. But by drawing a range of nonpolice agencies into their intelligence-gathering web and wrapping their work in the language of antiextremism, they were able to introduce wide-ranging surveillance of people identified on the basis on their political beliefs and lawful activities.” Ibid. p.170

[3] Mill, B., Narratives of Guilt and Compliance in Unified Germany: Stasi Informers and their impact on Society, Routledge: Oxon, 2014, p.44

[4] Ibid.

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