The following question has maintained a concious presence generally for years but particularly so in the last few days: are we, the British people allowing ourselves to be governed in a totalitarian fashion?
A set of reports and leaks from the Guardian (here and here) and CAGE (“We are Completely Independent”) revealed that this totalitarianism had now become all too pervasive: a substantial body of information exposes an intertwining propaganda network which implicates private PR companies, the state and knowing or inadvertent civil society groups.
The details though loosely known, were still shocking to read in black white. I have speculated that the Home Office propaganda unit, RICU (Research Information and Communications Unit), may have been involved in last year’s documentary on “extremism” pumped out by neocon propagandist John Ware. I also brought to attention the connection between Sara Khan and her sister Sabin Khan who was alleged to be working in RICU. This connection since was highlighted in the home affairs select committee as being a source of potential conflict of interest, with Sabin being confirmed as deputy chief of RICU.
The topic of RICU cropped up once more as a series of media reports targeting “Deobandi” Muslims was found to be a product of a seemingly interconnected propaganda network comprised of Whitehall officials and the lead journalist on the Deobandi story, Innes Bowen.
(Little wonder then, that at the time of writing, the BBC has yet to cover the RICU revelations).
RICU Revelations and the Creation of a Neocon-Compliant British Muslim Identity
Now, the Guardian has provided further details on RICU. RICU has been inspired by a clandestine cold war propaganda programme and is integral to the PREVENT programme. It’s express purpose being “to effect behavioural and attitudinal change”. RICU is composed of social psychologists, anthropologists, counter-terror officials and marketing strategists. Its mediums of propaganda comprise social media, online videos, websites, campaigns and leaflets.
The following strategy is fundamental to understand:
“…the key to its counter-radicalisation messages is that they are disseminated through “discreet campaigns supported by Ricu without any acknowledgment of UK government support”.”
Breakthrough Media (BTM) is the PR firm responsible for ensuring the influencing of online conversations by being “embedded within target communities via a network of moderate organisations that are supportive of it’s [sic] goals”.
The article further reveals that,
“Privately, however, Breakthrough says it is providing “Ricu with effective ways of communicating its own messages through credible civil society organisations”.”
“Reconciled British Muslim Identity”
The purpose of this elaborate and sophisticated propaganda campaign? To help the British government “promote a reconciled British Muslim identity” and thought-police Muslims.
This “reconciled British Muslim identity” includes handing over the prerogative of what is and what is not “Islamic” to the Government. According to a further Guardian report, BTM deceptively abused journalists to create a video to counter the notion that Olympics would be considered “unIslamic” because it was held during the month of Ramadan. The covert interference with religion is reminiscent of the tobacco industry’s unethical attempts to reinterpret Islamic teaching and recruit Islamic scholars in a bid to undermine the “extremist” prohibition on smoking in many Muslim countries. Only here, the interference of private religion and thought is perpetrated by the British government.
The “reconciled British Muslim identity” also means having thoughts and views which are in synchrony with the government-approved version of Islam. The CAGE report went a detailed step further and revealed a number of organisations linked in some way to BTM.
The report draws links to notorious anti-Muslim, pro-PREVENT organisations:
“At the DMA Awards, the company Verbalisation was given an award for working with the Quilliam Foundation in the production of the counter narrative short film #notanotherbrother – using the same hashtag formula of Inspire and [Active Change Foundation].
“Although the project was claimed to be delivered by Verbalisation, they had the campaigns manager for Breakthrough Media working on the project with them. Jennifer Hollis, also a campaigner for the Liberal Democrats, wrote a blog post on her website explaining how she had advised on the #notanotherbrother project.”
Disreputable organisations like Quilliam, Inspire, and to a lesser extent Faith Associates are the organisations which the government is using to architect the “reconciled British Muslim identity”; i.e. those who assist in the coerced deformation of Islam and spiritual evisceration of Muslims. ISIS is not the only aim. RICU is part of the PREVENT, and the PREVENT duty is resulting in the deformation of Islam by force. As made crystal clear in Trevor Phillips’ neocon-approved documentary, Islam is the target.
As already noted above, Sara Khan’s Inspire has notable links to RICU. An article in the Middle East Eye further revealed that Sara Khan is to release a book which has been co-authored by Tony McMahon, a consultant for BTM, reinforcing the notion of proximity between Khan and RICU. It quotes one of the authors of the CAGE report, Ben Hayes, as stating that the “relationship is extremely close” between RICU and Inspire, with the feminist Inspire acknowledging Home Office financing of Khan’s confused, lurid “Making a Stand” campaign launched in the pages of the trash paper The Sun.
Quilliam’s reaction to the possible RICU association was revealing. In a flurry of Tweets Haris Rafiq declared CAGE to be liars (see here, here, here, here, here ), an indication that the report had not been properly read, as the quote above from the report shows that a campaigns manager for BMT also “advised” on the Quilliam project. Neither is their crowd-funding denied (though it is questioned), and neither is it asserted that RICU was directly or indirectly involved. However, this association with BTM coupled with the details reported in the Guardian means that despite “editorial control” ostensibly claimed by organisations, the real editorial control remains ultimately with RICU.
The claims of lies are a little rich coming from Quilliam employees however. Haras Rafiq is an individual who has a history of packaging specious nonsense as expert opinion. He has flagrantly denied links to the US neocon/far-right in his evidence to the home affairs select committee despite the information being a matter of public record. Recently, he along with Maajid Nawaz also falsely claimed that a comedian, Sadia Azmat had been “bullied”, a claim she emphatically rejected.
Interestingly, the “lies” from Haras Rafiq and Maajid Nawaz continued in desperation as they insisted that the Guardian reports were seeded by CAGE, despite clarification from the noted Guardian journalist Ian Cobain, that this was patently not the case. Nawaz also took a swipe at the Middle Easy Eye, declaring as statement of fact that it was “Islamist-owned” – a point challenged on Twitter by its news editor Rori Donaghy.
However, what really puzzles is the concerted effort to distance their work from the propaganda unit and associated PR corporation. Quilliam has no qualms about RICU’s secretive operations.
In a Quilliam paper titled Counter-Extremism: a Decade on from 7/7, it is suggested that a separate Executive Non-Departmental Public Body is formed and operated out of the Cabinet Office. This body would amalgamate RICU’s role with the equally controversial, opaque Extremism Analysis Unit to propagate “secular liberal narratives” and British role models (who obviously also propagate this narrative) in order to address “identity” issues. It advises,
“RICU should be the public sector lead in supporting challenges to extremist radicalisation online, and should do so by focusing on the main drivers of radicalisation – ideology, narrative, grievance and identity crisis. Online counter-extremism efforts must identify the Islamist ideology as one root cause of violent Islamist extremism.”
Quilliam not only supports it, but is also making suggestions for its evolution as an even more formidable propaganda organ. A Ministry for Truth no less.
Faith Matters/Imams Online
A response from Imams Online architect Shaukat Warraich also followed off the back of the CAGE report.
The response does confirm BTM’s (and its partner PR agency Horizon PR) involvement, however, this is claimed to be limited to the “design aspect”. However, as highlighted before, it is now well-established that BMT does not work on projects unless it is ultimately approved by RICU.
Omissions in the response reveal more than the actual content. Pertinent to note is that Warraich does not deny his involvement in the CVE agenda and neither does he exactly condemn it. The response notes that Muslims in Britain are at a crossroads with the increase in global violence and Islamophobia. What is not mentioned of course is the Western contribution to the escalation of violence in the world, nor the fact that Imams Online and Warraich are thoroughly engaged with the globalised, imperialist CVE agenda, which has been heavily criticised on the international level for demonising target minorities and perpetuating the far more dangerous political Islamophobia.
Warraich avers that Muslims require leadership and a clear direction. However, this cannot come from organisations that selectively breed thoughts which conveniently conform to imperialist, pro-Israel, neocon-influenced CVE narratives.
Is it the case that Faith Associates is seeking to establish a foothold in the Muslim community through the façade of promoting good governance in order to eventually assume a leadership role whilst acting as a subtle conduit for neocon policies?
If there is a keen sense to distance Imams Online and Faith Associates from PREVENT then why has it on its website given platform to deformists and PREVENT-pushers who are part of circle which effectively perpetuate political Islamophobia? No amount of “non-denominational” and “bridge-building” smokescreens can excuse such alliances. Furthermore, Imam Hamza Yusuf himself disclosed that Imams Online was a government initiative. Is it a counter-extremism initiative or not?
The CAGE report highlights that Warriach also worked in a consultant capacity on the Help for Syria propaganda campaign. This project was expressly “designed, delivered and … maintain[ed]” on behalf of RICU and the Foreign Office to “influence conversations among young British Muslims” and reduce the desire to travel to Syria. According to the report, Warraich was brought into help with the “messaging with Muslim community”.
Warraich not only worked with a PR firm responsible for a psychological war against the Muslim minority but also worked on other projects which were direct products of RICU.
How much did Warraich receive in his consultant capacity? Who paid him? And is he willing to publish his accounts in the name of transparency?
These are questions which require answers, especially when one considers that Warraich’s projects are meshing with the Muslim minority without their knowledge of corrosive associations.
A Propaganda War against British Citizens
It needs to be understood that the RICU revelations have massive implications.
The government is employing what is termed black propaganda. This is a psychological operation where the propaganda purports to emanate from one source but in reality originates from another. It is dependent on the credibility of the purported source. The need to resort to this is perturbing as it is obvious; over the years, PREVENT has become so noxious that any funding, any direction by it and any association with it has resulted in the associated organisation being instantly demarcated as an interface for structurally discriminatory thinking which fosters a surveillance society and ultimately posits Islam and Muslims as the ideological enemy.
Propaganda, or psychological operations such as this are indirect forms of aggression which replaces violence to coerce particular behaviour. Professor Noam Chomsky writes,
“In what is nowadays called a totalitarian state, or a military state, it’s easy. You just hold a bludgeon over their heads, and if they get out of line you smash them over the head. But as society has become more free and democratic, you lose that capacity. Therefore you have to turn to the techniques of propaganda. The logic is clear. Propaganda is to a democracy what the bludgeon is to a totalitarian state.” 
In other words, this is a form of warfare engaged against a whole community. The British government is clearly waging a war against its own citizens: the Muslim minority. And only the Muslim minority.
Extremism Analysis Unit
This disturbing operation does not end here. There is also the secretive, authoritarian Extremism Analysis Unit. There are already indications that the hate-financed, anti-Muslim Henry Jackson Society is influencing this McCarthyite set up. And there are even further suggestions for it to be fused with RICU.
The glimpse of the type of authoritarianism perpetuated by the EAU was seen when David Cameron last year, without due process, proclaimed Muslim activists and organisations as “extremists” whilst smearing a number of universities. Given that, even now the Counter-Extremism Bill is facing obstacles precisely because of the limitations of the term “extremism”, it is extraordinary that the Prime Minister would candidly use terminology which implicates the security apparatus. It is a clear violation of the rule of law and a behaviour shared with tyrants and despots of every stripe.
The EAU, which is using the label of “extremism”, must be dragged into the light, its composition exposed and its activities held to account.
Concluding Remarks: Britain’s Totalitarianism
There is no justification for religious profiling in human rights law. Yet those organisations purported to be “liberals” have had no misgivings about engaging with shadowy government organs directing their efforts upon the Muslim minority.
What has been alluded to in the Guardian/CAGE reports is plain totalitarian tactics in the democratic context.
The expositions by Guardian and CAGE are the right step in halting this dark chapter in Britain’s history. It gives hope that Britain will not sleep walk into a totalitarian Orwellian nightmare so easily. It will not succumb to the whimsical neoconservative attempts to foster a closed society.
However, more will need to be done by the brave individuals and organisations to expose the undemocratic activities of neocons.
 Chomsky, N., Media Control The Spectacular Achievements of Propaganda, Seven Stories Press: New York 2002, p.19-20