The Home Affairs Select Committee report on counter extremism (“Radicalisation: the counter-narrative and identifying the tipping point”) was never meant to be more than a theatrical designed to stem the gaining momentum tearing apart Britain’s Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) agenda. The momentum against PREVENT, constituted of Muslims on the ground, countless academics and a number of unions required arresting. The tactic was to take control of this spiralling situation through a “review” where there is token acceptance of issues that are then carefully spun away and the course set upon by neoconservatives in collectively punishing the Muslim psyche through the neo-imperialist CVE project is resumed.
The evidence for the effort to maintain the course of PREVENT is evident from the way the review was framed:
“Our concern was that families and communities were being deeply affected by recruitment of young men and women to fight in Iraq and Syria. We therefore decided to examine the Government’s strategy for tackling extremism to assess whether it is effective and reaches the members of society who are most vulnerable to radicalisation.”
Implicit within the above statement is the focus on the singular “pathway” to political violence: “extremism”. When the report’s author aver that they sought to examine the “major drivers of, and risk factors for recruitment to terrorist movements” – this analysis is firmly limited to the dominant pro-Israel/neoconservative-designed lens of ideology and extremism.
The Problem with “Extremism”
This is despite the fact that the report acknowledges that “there does not appear to be any clear template for the factors which might lead to radicalisation”. It further records the problems with term “extremism” itself:
“Home Office officials are also reportedly struggling to find a definition of ‘extremist’ to be used in the Bill that will not immediately be challenged in court. A definition in the Government’s strategy which focuses on ‘vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values’ is believed to be regarded as too broad and could be legally challenged as constraining freedom of speech.70 The national police lead, Chief Constable Simon Cole, is also concerned that the plans may not be enforceable and risk turning police officers into “thought police”. He said “unless you can define what extremism is very clearly then it’s going to be really challenging to enforce.””
Given the fluidity of the term “extremism” to effectuate potential sanctioning measures, the free speech implications, and the fact that academic opinion largely discredits the focus on ideology, it is perilously illogical to then build further measures and legislation which solely focus on “extremism” and ideology.
But Extremism, Extremism, Extremism…
The review should have halted right there. The pseudo-science behind counter-extremism should have been investigated. Instead, the report borders on obsession in “countering extremism” to the extent that it almost views the much derided forthcoming Extremism Bill as a potential area in which the “perceived problems” of PREVENT can be remedied (para.53). How can you counter something you cannot define? With orthodox religious beliefs and political views have attracted the ire of the PREVENT machine, fighting “extremism” has already proven to be highly censorious and discriminatory against Islam and Muslims.
The report makes several statements and highlights action being taken on extremism without questioning the ramifications of looking for something indeterminate and largely sketched by a climate of Islamophobia:
“vulnerable people can easily be exposed to extremist materials that are readily accessible online, and radicalised by extremist views”
“In the UK, the public can report online content they suspect may be of a violent, extremist or terrorist nature direct to a specialist police unit hosted by the Metropolitan Police, the Counter Terrorism Internet Referral Unit (CTIRU).”
“…CTIRU has secured the removal of more than 120,000 pieces of terrorist-related content. This includes action to suspend the accounts of those propagating terrorist or extremist views and taking down of websites promoting this type of content.”
“We need to win the cyber-war with terrorist and extremist organisations.”
Committee links Conservatism with Radicalisation
In fact, the report’s authors demonstrate the problem with extremism by groundlessly linking “conservative” homes with radicalisation in what is the most repugnant example of an orientalised perspective on the Muslim household:
“We believe that an additional concern is that the Prevent materials do not show sufficient understanding of the lure for young girls raised in conservative homes, with little freedom, who then choose to embrace their notion of faith and travel to a war zone.”
If this was said regarding any other faith the Committee would have been entirely discredited. As it is however, Islam and Muslims are game for sweeping statements made by a patently anti-Muslim establishment.
Fostering the Neocon Closed Society Modelled on Israeli Authoritarianism?
The recommendations in the report are staggering given the equally staggeringly shoddy assumptions on radicalisation. The report suggests coercing internet companies like Facebook and Twitter to remove “extremist” material. To facilitate this it proposes that,
- Law be passed to force accountability and cooperation with CTIRU;
- Home Office, MI5 and major technology companies, be co-located within an upgraded CTIRU facility,
- Force companies to be “transparent” about their actions on “online extremism”,
- Companies be willing to give trusted status to smaller community organisations [to remove extremist material], thereby empowering them in the fight against extremism.
It is pertinent to note that the authors rely on Joanna Shields in drawing some of these recommendations. Shields is a tech magnate who was the CEO of Tech City UK and is currently Minister for Internet Safety and Security. Shields is quoted in the report calling for the internet industry to “match the efforts made by the Government to tackle online extremism” and for companies to “automate the identification and removal of dangerous extremist content”.
In 2013, celebrating “two years of success”, the UK-Israel tech hub had Shields travel to Israel “to highlight technological cooperation between the two countries”. She also had no qualms about a racist prime minister of Israel coming to Britain a year later to “celebrate UK-Israel Tech Hub/Tech City UK”.
The founder of the UK-Israel tech hub, Matthew Gould, was once the British ambassador to Israel, and is now the director of Cyber Security at the Cabinet Office. Further, in summer 2014, Theresa May visited Israel to meet Israeli experts on cybersecurity where she discussed internet safety and security. It was organised by the UK-Israel tech hub. The link to Israel is important because the suggestions in the Committee report seemed to be based on the authoritarian model adopted by Israel.
Israel’s authoritarian approach to cyber security has been to merge military, spy agencies, corporations and academia to tackle cybercrime. The “driving force” behind the sector is IDF’s Unit 8200, Israel’s equivalent of Britain’s GCHQ. Israel is developing a new “cyber-city” near Ben-Gurion University, which will be comprised of major multinational corporations, Unit 8200, and disturbingly, Israel’s internal security agency Shin Bet.
With the report not only forcing compliance with government agencies but “co-locating” the security services with web companies, the draconian closed society where privacy no longer remains precious is being called for. In Israel, companies are already required to supply information on individuals who may be connected — even circumstantially — to a crime. Google has even supplied police in Israel with information about hundreds of political activists.
The step from removing material to handing over information to the security services on the basis of “suspicion of extremism” (p.37, para.16) is short one indeed.
Reading through the report, one gets an impression that there seems to be a distinct lack of understanding of the theories driving the CVE discourse, the “extremist” neoconservative organisations shaping it and the fascist ideology overlooking it. Certain aspects of the report demonstrate plain incompetency; there are conflations between extremism and terrorism, hate crime and inciting violence – the first being a political term with subjective meaning, and the latter set of terms being legally established crimes. Towards the end, it even throws in “violent extremism” as a distinct term from terrorism. One gets the sense that the authors of the report have little clue as to what they are dealing with and yet assume the position of arbiters or, rather, glorified cherry-pickers of a plethora of information submitted to them.
There is much else that can be said, however most is covered in CAGE’s brilliant autopsy of the report.
Far from reigning in the abuses born from the neoconservative-framed “extremism” culturalist discourse, and questioning the dubious theory which is driving it, the report rubber stamps the assumptions and builds on PREVENT, creating the neocon ideal society of a fascism-based closed society.
The message to the establishment held captive to neocon ideas is clear: face-lifting a corpse will not bring it back to life.