We live in an age where those who work towards realising idealised principles of the rule of law, transparency and due process are smeared by their governments and press.
Julian Assange is the most recent case in point. In the face of the categorical UN ruling that Assange was being subjected to arbitrary detention, the British press has been focussed on his rape allegations. David Cameron has deflected that Assange “should stand trial in Sweden, a country with a fair reputation for justice” so there could be an “end to the sorry saga”. What has been forgotten is that the Swedish prosecutor refused to go to London to interview Assange for more than four years before being questioned by a Swedish court for her failure to progress investigations into what Helena Kennedy QC said was “unlikely to lead to conviction”. Then of course there is the ever so minor detail that Sweden refuses to issue safety guarantees to the Wikileaks founder which would prevent extradition to the US to face potentially the death penalty.
Edward Snowden is another prominent example of a smear campaign. Western security agencies have strongly tried to associate his actions of accountability with the secular blasphemy that is the threat to national security. Incidentally, he also exposed previously unknown British activity with regards to bulk surveillance, and now there is an attempt by Theresa May to ex-post facto legalise the gross invasion of privacy via the Investigatory Powers Bill and in particular the recent, criticised investigatory powers tribunal ruling on GCHQ bulk surveillance.
Glen Greenwald regarding Snowden had noted,
“In every single case over the past four to five decades, when there are revelations of wrongdoing that is done in secret, what the strategy of the U.S. government is is to try and come out and scare the American public into saying, ‘these people have jeopardized you, there’s going to be a terrorist attack.’”
Of course, Snowden, for exercising this particular expression of his “freedom” does not feel very free. In fact, he fears the death penalty in the US. It seems Western governments are willing to kill for merely exercising “freedom”.
Here in Britain, a similar smear campaign has been initiated against individuals who are standing up and speaking truth to power. I have addressed this in an earlier piece in detail. In sum, parts of the press have seemingly adopted the neoconservative spin bible to suppress criticism of the failing PREVENT Strategy. The approach of complicit media has been to associate criticisms of PREVENT with “terrorism” and “Islamist extremists”.
The most spectacular example of this is the Daily Mail’s vitriolic smear report targeting CAGE and, specifically, NUS’s vice-president for welfare, Shelly Asquith. Opposition to PREVENT was casted as “extremism”. Examples of this “extremism” were statements against PREVENT from Jim Wolfreys, a senior lecturer at King’s College London, NUS Black Students’ Officer Malia Bouattia, and academic Hilary Aked in an embedded video. The report made a pointed effort to note that the critique of PREVENT occurred “without an alternate view present” – implying that the statements made by the aforementioned were “extremist”. The pathetic attempt to suppress PREVENT dissent, however, spectacularly backfired in that it only served to expose the totalitarian nature of PREVENT and its broad application beyond the Muslim minority and “poisonous ideologies”.
Recently there have been a number of events which are collectively signalling the death knell of the failed PREVENT Strategy. They are early indicators, but strong ones nonetheless.
Education and Rights of the Child
The impact on children by PREVENT is something that I have endeavoured to bring to light on this blog (see here and here). Indeed, the treatment of children in some cases amount to nothing short of child abuse and a violation of the rights of the child. Thanks to organisations like PreventWatch, the documentation of this abuse has become more systematic, however the focus in the dominant discourse has eschewed the perspective of the rights of the child. The Institute of Race Relations taking on this perspective published a report towards the end of January this year, titled “Prevent and the Children’s Rights Convention”. The grim conclusion noted,
“all the indications are that the strategy is undermining professional standards, educational independence, children’s rights to freedom of thought, expression and association and principles of non-discrimination, and is alienating Muslim young people and communities…”
Moving further up the education chain, sharp criticism also came in from Ken Macdonald, warden of Wadham, Oxford, who highlighted the “chilling impact” on a free exchange of ideas, including anti-democratic thinking.
The CAGE Leak
Then came CAGE’s contribution to the British rule of law landscape. And as ever, the previously dead right-wing media which failed to invoke their various “investigations units” and smear the likes of Macdonald, were brought in to spin CAGE’s actions.
CAGE, once again doing a public service in the pursuit of transparency, conducted its biggest leak of PREVENT resources to shed light on the murky world of a neo-Stasi policy. The immediate reaction from both state and press was one of silence, followed by strenuous and tenuous smearing. It has been an unmitigated catastrophe for PREVENT, throwing the social engineering policy into disarray.
The leaked PREVENT materials are available here.
The UKIP-supporting Daily Express was pole position to launch its spin salvo claiming that CAGE’s leak of PREVENT material made them subject to the accusation that they were “aiding Islamic State militants”. Moreover, the leak, it was claimed, could help “extremists slip through the net”. The fantastic spin was then deconstructed by none other than the Home Office, with a source stating,
“More than 350,000 people over the last five years have taken part in the Wrap training. There is no way it was secret.”
Hilariously, the Home Office itself by the paper’s logic has been aiding ISIS militants and helping extremists slip through the net for a while! The alleged Home Office statement also undermines the decision to reject repeated FOI requests to release the PREVENT training materials to the public on the grounds of national security. If this wasn’t a secret, why was it being rejected in the first place? Were those responding to FOI requests lying? Was the national security card being dropped for no reason?
As RICU propagandists go back to the drawing board (again) to determine how best to shape public opinion on accepting totalitarian policies supported by reductionist training materials deduced from defunct radicalisation theories, PREVENT continues to discredit itself.
Profiteering from PREVENT
Based on the CAGE leaks, Simon Hooper has drawn attention to the precarious situation of private companies marketing training materials off the back of the PREVENT duty to educational institutions for them to fulfil their obligations under PREVENT. In one of the presentations produced by a consultancy, Marshall E-Learning, discrimination based on Islam is justified and Palestine is listed alongside ISIS as issues which require “careful monitoring”. Whilst not directly produced by the Home Office, the finding is disconcerting, especially given that a teenager has already been harassed by a school and police for supporting Palestine. Is it a coincidence that that a private firm is also promoting a pro-Israel slant in countering “extremism”? And why is the government not parading the same level of zealotry in regulating private companies and their content as it does when seeking to regulate the Muslim mind vis-à-vis counter-extremism?
PREVENT Helping Hostility and Prejudice
The biggest stake in the heart of PREVENT, though, came from yet another letter published in the Guardian. Commending the review of PREVENT announced by David Anderson QC, it slammed the PREVENT duty as,
“…undermining the very ethos and relationships of mutual trust and openness that are fundamental to education and our public services while endangering other legal rights and protections. It is eroding civil liberties and deepening discrimination against Muslims.”
It further added that the counter-terror policy was fuelling a climate of hate crimes against Muslims:
“…policies like Prevent are helping to create hostility, sowing fear, division, mistrust and prejudice by reinforcing racist stereotypes, stigmatising Muslim communities and in effect encouraging ethnic profiling.”
Noting the endemic aversion to recognising political causes of political violence and the excessive focus on “extremism”, the statement asserts that this approach is resulting in politically engaged organisations like CAGE, MEND and IHRC to be routinely attacked in the media.
Prevent, the letter concludes, is not making anyone safer. Giving the sledgehammer weight of credence to the statement are 380, mainly academic signatories.
Recalling Greenwald’s poignant point towards the beginning of this piece, the strategy to smear proponents of accountability and rule of law, is an old one. Organisations like CAGE and activists and academics opposing a neocon policy are evidence of this. More is certainly to come. However, what is also true is that lies and spin can only last so long before they are exposed for their defence of what is the destruction of civil liberties and the establishment of a closed society. Who has a moral compass and who behaves amorally eventually becomes distinguishable.
As RICU is spinning new propaganda and injecting it into PREVENT officers and the media to counter the increasingly vocal criticisms of PREVENT, one cannot help but think that the effort is like propping a corpse and dressing it up to prove it is alive and well. It is a futile exercise. Curing the symptoms of a virus will not remove the virus.
The state of PREVENT is shifting from bad to worse. Indeed, the end of this failed, discriminatory strategy has begun.