There were some rich words coming from David Cameron in the Guardian of all papers. It seems when Cameron wants to ride the wave of fear of “immigrants” he uses the Daily Mail, and when he wants to demonstrate his social responsibility for poor “immigrants”, albeit laden with typical neocon doublespeak which dresses up neocon warring and global neoliberal fiscal policies as benevolence, he (ab)uses a lefty liberal paper.
Cameron, in typical neocon hypocrisy tells the Guardian readers that,
“Our aid budget also enables us to promote British values around the world. It helps us to lay the building blocks for prosperity and opportunity – the rule of law, strong and accountable government, gender equality and education for all.”
Rule of law. Accountable government. These two attributes of a just government have been suffering from severe attrition resulting from neocons raining down their policies over the years. The government’s PREVENT Strategy to tackle extremism is one such policy which is indirectly increasing the opacity of the British state.
In my previous article I recounted the various injustices PREVENT is manifesting against children. In this regard, PREVENT is a form of child abuse. One of the cases I omitted was one which did get mainstream coverage (see here, here, and here).
In May this year, London’s Waltham Forest Council – which has connections with the global counter-extremism industry directed by Zionists and neocons – through its Building Resilience Through Integration and Trust (BRIT) project shattered the trust of parents after it was revealed that they had foisted a questionnaire designed to look for signs of radicalisation upon predominantly Muslim school pupils as young as nine. Though the fact that references to “violent extremism” and “radicalisation” were curiously omitted from the BRIT project webpage was reported, what was not reported was that, contrary to claims made by officials from various quarters, the BRIT project operated as a “hidden PREVENT programme”.
Claystone published their report earlier this month entitled, “Building Distrust – Ethnic Profiling in Primary Schools”, covering the BRIT project and exposing another outrageous case of PREVENT-related abuse. The eye-opening report makes for a nauseating read; I genuinely felt like I was reading a retrospective analysis of the early discriminatory treatment of Jews in the period just approaching the reign of the Third Reich. The patriotically named “BRIT” project has more in common with the type of nationalism Nazis utilised: one based on the ethnic profiling of a minority.
How PREVENT led a Council to Lie
Despite school and Council officials claiming that the BRIT project questionnaire had nothing to do with PREVENT nor that it was targeted “at a particular faith”, those involved, including a PREVENT Education officer and the school, were actively discussing specific children requiring intervention after psychometric tests (Claystone report, pp.18-19). Key pieces of evidence garnered by Claystone through Freedom of Information (FOI) requests also demonstrated that the target of these fascist measures were intentionally Muslim pupils aged as young as 10 (Ibid. pp.11-12). Furthermore, the report highlighted that the parents were not even informed about what their children were being subject to. The report damningly concludes that,
“…parents concerned about the project were knowingly misled in statements issued by the council claiming that the programme ‘was not about extremism’ and denied any connection with between the programme and the government’s counterradicalisation policy, Prevent. The council’s statement that the questionnaire sought only to ‘measure the impact’ of a social cohesion programme was false. The questionnaire was also an attempt to screen children for potential radicalisation.”
Why did the Council feel the need to lie to concerned parents? Given the underhanded way in which PREVENT has been already implemented for a number of years against the Muslim minority, it comes as little surprise that bodies would resort to further deceptive measures to ensure state-sanctioned profiling remains hidden beneath the rhetoric of “social cohesion”.
“Neither Confirm or Deny”
Of significance to this article and a point largely ignored by the press is the shocking levels of opacity demonstrated by public bodies. Part of Claystone’s report involved sending Freedom of Information (FOI) requests to 26 authorities requesting information around “extremism”, and in particular, “a list of extremist thoughts, ideas, views, behaviours, influences and outlooks” used to determine potential radicalisation. The response was akin to that proffered by the security services. All 26 authorities refused to disclose the crucial piece of information necessary to scrutinise whether due process has been observed. Both Ofsted and the Department for Education (DfE), formerly run by the neocon Michael Gove and still “back-seat” driven by him, stated that they could “neither confirm or deny” the material information. It would potentially be a “breach of national security” in the case of Ofsted, whilst the DfE used the subjective “public interest” argument stating that adverse effects may come from releasing such information (Ibid. pp.7-8).
If one cannot scrutinise the criteria used to determine “extremism” and radicalisation then evidently the rule of law is violated – citizens are being effectively punished for reasons they do not know or cannot challenge. Moreover, the blunt refusal by the various government bodies clearly demonstrates that accountability is distinctly compromised by a security policy which is discriminatorily targeting children.
It should be noted here that one of the major points of hype during the Trojan Hoax fiasco was the claim made by white supremacist head teacher Tim Boyes, that Trojan Hoax allegations were raised in a meeting with ministers in 2010 (which were officially found to be unsubstantiated). An FOI asking for the minutes of this meeting by a concerned parent affected by the Trojan Hoax lies was refused by the “due diligence and counter extremism division” of the DfE on the basis that “Officials must be allowed space to provide full and frank advice to Ministers unencumbered by concerns about how that advice might be perceived or presented in the public arena”.
The Neocon threat to Rule of law and Accountability
Recently, commenting on the unaccountable nature of PREVENT, Professor Arun Kundnani gave a deeply disconcerting account of how PREVENT data could be handled (which was denied by the Home Office):
“Police officers build a file, including interviews with the family, teachers and social workers. What happens to that data and who has access to it? There is a lack of transparency. Channel referrals are stored in a database held by the police counter-terrorism units. Officers in that unit – and MI5 officers embedded in terrorism units – would all have access to that data.”
Peter Neumann similarly stated that,
“The government is very convinced that the Channel programme works, but have never opened their books to allow independent scrutiny of that.”
Transparency and accountability are notable for the absence with PREVENT and the definitions found within this strategy are similarly broad, again violating the rule of law. All this becomes even more problematic when Muslims are McCarthyistically labelled “extremist” by an ideologically-driven government. With the absence of transparency and due process, challenging something so evasive and slippery through the law courts or judicial review becomes difficult.
It is worth noting that avenues available such as FOI requests and judicial reviews which ensure the necessary checks and balances of executive power are under assault by the neocon government. Plans to restrict judicial review were formed directly as a result of such legal action thwarting state policies: David Cameron blamed judicial review claims for postponing commercial planning developments while the then justice secretary, Chris Grayling, said “leftwing” campaigners had exploited the process of judicial review to frustrate government initiatives. The proposed amendments at that time would have shifted the case admissibility decision to ministers using a “public interest” test. Interestingly, when responding to Claystone’s FOI request, both Ofsted and the DfE used “public interest” in deciding not to release information (pp.7-8).
Cameron and Gove have been pining to prune FOI powers too. Earlier this year, when Prince Charles’ “black spider” letters were published thanks to a Supreme Court decision, David Cameron stated that he wanted to bolster the ministerial veto over FOI requests. Soon after, Gove announced in the Commons that he was intent on reviewing the FOI Act with the intention of protecting ministerial conversations. Index on Censorship recently joined the campaign against the biased Commission on Freedom of Information and the proposals to introduce extortionate fees for tribunal appeals under the Act. It stated,
“We regard the FOI Act as a vital mechanism of accountability which has transformed the public’s rights to information and substantially improved the scrutiny of public authorities.”
The Neocons like Gove are eroding this “vital mechanism of accountability”. The FOI for the Muslim minority has also served to expose the discriminatory treatment being meted out not only in the education sector but the charity sector also at a time when policies like PREVENT are being promulgated and implemented without due process and transparency.
The neocons, whilst promoting accountability as a “British value” abroad, are tearing the concept up at home. The impact, certainly in the context of PREVENT, is resulting in Muslim minority discrimination and even a form of child abuse. PREVENT is but one piece of a jigsaw puzzle where the remainder of the pieces create an image in which the state is desperately keen to protect itself from public scrutiny. Without the necessary measures to ensure transparency, and with the culture of opacity already permeating public bodies, it will become increasingly difficult to challenge obscure and hidden implementations of dangerous policies like PREVENT.