Given the toxicity of the PREVENT label, the Muslim minority is all too familiar with its problems. Its name results in an anxiety which now simply cannot be dismissed. As the highly problematic report “The Missing Muslims” published by Citizens UK recognised, the “Prevent Strategy on Muslim communities came up in most of the hearings across the country”. To deal with this breakdown, there is now a reversion to a “community-based” approach to tackling extremism and terrorism.
The “community response to terrorism” approach seeks to mask the issue that “buy-in” and trust of the community is absent and therefore the policy is not being co-opted by the community. The solution therefore operates on the assumption that PREVENT, or more accurately, a pre-criminal intervention is not necessarily the problem, and where there are problems, these are simply implementation detail which can be rectified. This is further supplemented by a co-existing effort to produce a response developed by the community in the hope that PREVENT would be rendered obsolete. Both however, posit the community and its exploitation central to the promulgation of pre-crime interventionism.
In this piece, I intend to outline a brief history of this resurgent “community-driven response” trend and highlight some of the organisations that seem to be pursuing this course of action.
Background and Organisations
Over the years there has been a current of thinking working in the background which sought to court a version of PREVENT which was accepted by the community.
In 2014, with the Trojan Hoax neocon pretext operation fully underway and in response to the British Values agenda announcement, Nick Clegg declared that moderate “Muslims in Britain are the best antidote to extremism and much more effective than any number of decisions from Whitehall.” In other words, the Muslim community were best placed to tackle “extremism”, shifting the focus of responsibility and implicit demonisation, to the Muslim minority whilst falling foul of the usual, corrosive “good” and “bad” Muslim politics.
Faith Associates and their Imams Online project came to prominence soon after. Imams Online in particular was dredged up on this “community approach” to “extremism” model. Its strategy was (and still is) to project the ideal “moderate Islam”. It was ostensibly led by Ulama and in particular, the CVE-supporting Shaykh Hamza Yusuf and Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyah. Of course, Faith Associates would be later exposed for receiving Home Office funding to secretly embed PREVENT-thinking into madrassas and mosque governance structures.
Muslim Council of Britain
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) has been courted by establishment PREVENT-whitewashers like David Anderson QC and Keith Vaz to produce a community response to terrorism for some time. In 2015 the MCB hosted the Muslim Response to Terrorism conference. Here, Vaz stated that PREVENT should be abolished and the Muslim community placed in the “driving seat” when it comes to the problem of radicalisation.
Anderson, architecting a false spectrum of acceptability in his keynote speech, posited the MCB as “somewhere in the middle” between Quilliam and CAGE. MCB’s Miqdaad Versi called it a “great speech”. As I highlighted last year, the frankly dangerous Home Affairs Select Committee (HASC) report, “Radicalisation: the counter-narrative and identifying the tipping point”, pitched MCB as the actor fitting the “community engagement” recommendation the report itself made.
This was later followed by a forced and highly problematic MCB press statement. The organisation admitted that MCB was exploring a “grass-roots led response to the challenge of terrorism”. Towards the end of 2016, Versi further elaborated that the government could turn around the failure of PREVENT by working with groups that have genuine community leverage which would help produce a “grass-roots response”.
The aforementioned “Missing Muslims” report (discussed further below) also lists Versi alongside notorious counter-extremists like Qari Asim as a member of the report’s “Muslim Leadership Group”. The report iterates Anderson’s criticism of the government’s failure to engage the MCB.
Averroes is a think-tank that in its own words advances “solutions in counter-extremism, Islamophobia, integration, and British Muslim policy issues”. Its co-director is Muhammad Nizami who is also a regular writer at Islamicate.co.uk. Averroes proposes that any counter-extremism policy would require mutual agreement from the community and expert opinion. Like Imams Online, in the context of religious distortions, Averroes argues for a community response, led by Islamic scholars that are not overtly backed by the state, but maintain a relationship of engagement.
As a think-tank, it operates in the realm of prevailing pre-crime, counter-extremism paradigm and discourse that has become intrinsic to it.
In my previous article on pre-crime, it is shown how identity construction is used to create the divergent or enemy collective which effectively justifies counter-insurgency doctrinal application in the context of Muslims. The discussion of identity and what is “ideal” is central to this construction.
Averroes’ submission to the HASC’s Inquiry into Counter Extremism in Britain states, “Our ultimate aim should be to foster a Muslim identity that is committed to faith, while at the same time being proudly British.” Whilst it says this fostering should not be done through extremism and terrorism, there are indications that issues born from this very epistemology are focussed upon by the think-tank.
For instance, in the last couple of years, there has been a concerted effort to militarise Muslims through a discourse which forges Muslim identity by recounting subservience to the Empire. This selective, damaging discourse excises the reality of colonialism, destruction of the Middle East and South Asia, and omits the resistance Muslims engaged in against Britain’s imperial ambitions.
A couple of tweet/retweets seem to show Averroes leans towards this revisionism. In one Tweet, Averroes reminds its followers about the 400,000 Muslim soldiers who “fought in the Great War”.
Whilst advocacy of such sacrifice on its own is not sufficient to warrant suspicion, a further retweet does. The tweet requests Averroes and the dubious Woolf Institute, to support the “Muslims in WWI” project – a website which catalogues Muslim contributions to World War I on the basis that “extremists” perpetuate a clash of civilisations between Islam and the West, and that the far-right believe Muslims have “done nothing for us”. In other words, promoting a history which exploited the colonised Muslim world and exasperated the destruction of Ottoman Empire is used to show that Muslims are integrated and far-right racism misplaced. The website is a project of Forgotten Heroes 14-19 Foundation. Its non-executive director since October 2015 is Hayyan Ayaz Bhabha. According Bhabha, the website is also meant to be source of identity formation for Muslims:
“I want future generations to know this too. Muslim kids, and those of all faiths and none, will have the confidence to challenge far-right and ‘religious’ extremists’ narratives, while finding a new-found respect for Muslims. We will equip our next generation to be better global citizens. The value of this is immeasurable.”
Presumably, problematic global citizens are those that do not subscribe to the rose-tinted version of a “shared history” of British colonialists and colonised Muslims. Little wonder it is endorsed by John Houghton, a former Chief of Defence Staff who was made an Officer of the Legion of Merit in recognition of his “gallant and distinguished services during coalition operations in Iraq”; Asim Hafiz the Army chaplain also involved in promoting selective “shared history”; and the anti-Muslim, discriminating Police Commander Mak Chishty.
Moving on, Averroes reiterates the now common mantra that there are no set pathways to terrorism and commendably criticises the ambiguity of “British values”. At the same time however, it posits its own definition of “extremism”, which is just as problematic, under the heading “The Real Extremists”:
“There are certainly those who the vast majority of Muslims would agree are extremists, especially in the contempt with which they view British and western society, celebrating the death and denigrating the memory of members of the armed forces and operating just within the law. An epitomisation of this is the radical self-appointed cleric Anjum Chaudary and members of his proscribed organisation Al-Muhajiroon.”
Whilst Muslims will certainly take issue with Al-Muhajiroun, removing them from religious circles and forcing them to the peripheries in an organic reaction to heterodoxy, the application of the politically expedient and pre-crime intervention-justifying label of “extremism” is questionable, for history is our teacher in showing how Al-Muhajiroun were the front behind which the slippery slope to targeting Islam became the overt agenda. Aside from the ideological, there are inhering conceptual reasons for this slippery slope that make this Islam-targeting endpoint a nigh on inevitability. This point will be dealt with in a subsequent article.
Definitional ambiguity persists. Is opposing WWI glorification denigrating the memory of the Armed Forces? And why are people operating within the law problematic? Are actions which are “just within the law” – a phrase borrowed from David Cameron’s draconian 2015 Birmingham Speech on extremism – to highlight a just cause also “extremist”? Why is the legislative process of curbing legal behaviour being skirted in favour of pre-crime, extra-legal interventions? The issue of the politically exploitable ambiguous definition remains.
Again, demonstrating how Averroes’s counter-extremism purport operates within the neoconservative epistemology, the report highlights Britain’s fundamentally problematic foreign and domestic policies (illegal wars, support for Sisi, counter-terrorism laws and policies) as an argument perpetuated by “those seeking an us and them narrative”, and a “perception that already exists in a number of young Muslim minds and needs to be tackled”. The 2013 Task Force on Tackling Radicalisation and Extremism identifies the notion of “us and them” articulated by those who oppose Western Intervention in its definition of “Islamist extremism”.
Aside from the issue of pre-crime regulation, a structural problem with attempting to define “extremist” beliefs is that one needs to be able to pinpoint them and compare them against a “moderate” or “normalcy” benchmark. This leads to the creation of various tests, which, due to the problem of definition already outlined above (and other reasons to be explored in a subsequent piece), results in incoherent applications and unjust disruption of lives. It can also lead to “community-led” solutions repressing differing groups and proposing readings of Islam that are concordant to dominant counter-extremism agendas.
Nizami in a Facebook post identifies Tawhid, Wala wal Bara (allegiance and enmity), Tashabbuh bil kuffar (imitating the disbelievers), khilafah (as a “medieval political construct”), democracy and shirk (polytheism), as concepts that are “over-inflated” and “misconceptualised”. And though he does not regard them as leading to violence per se, he believes they “contribute to a pool in which extremists might wet their toes”. This sounds like the conveyor-belt theory in all but name and reinforces a method that was first vocalised by David Cameron (notably his “conditions for extremism” thesis) and cemented in the much derided Casey Review. Nizami proposes “re-forming our understanding of doctrines that are specifically pertinent to western Muslims”. In one example of this “re-form” effort, Nizami deconstructs “secret Santa” to the point of religious irrelevance. Muslims are told not to “obsess over” its relation to Santa, before relegating those whom hold it is as impermissible as effectively uniformed and jurisprudentially inept. Is this an example of an “antidote” being administered to “religious misunderstandings” whilst being “cognisant of our British context”?
It seems that whilst Averroes’s assertion of mutual agreement from the community and commitment to expert opinion is reasonable to the uninformed at face value, the solutions being formed by them are not entirely new. Ultimately it remains within the pre-crime frame and therefore beholden to its problems.
Mend’s stances on PREVENT, community-empowering approach and fantastic work on Islamophobia have rightly earned it strong support from the Muslim community. Mend’s credibility in this regard supersedes inherent counter-extremism projects like Tell MAMA and bureaucratically-bound organisations like the MCB. Unsurprisingly, this recognition has also earned it the coordinated attacks from the overlapping pro-Israel lobby and the neocon cabal comprising neocon propagandists in the Times, Andrew Gilligan, hate-preachers like Douglas Murray and brown-neocon validators such as Maajid Nawaz/Sara Khan et al. In the face of these repressive disruption cogs and mechanisms, Mend has stood its ground admirably.
All this should not blind the Muslim communities into raising questions about the direction in which Mend is heading. Certain public statements and presentations have raised alarm bells in the context of terrorism pre-crime policy development.
Earlier this year, an image of a slide surfaced which requested donations for “Keeping our Mosques open and tackling extremism” under a “Mosques compliance programme”. Upon seeking further information on this, my sources confirmed that this was simply a “mistake”. This made sense, as after all, Mend is fully aware that there is no evidence that mosques “incubate radicalisation”. Drawing such an implicative link through “compliance programmes” that included “tackling extremism” would be grossly irresponsible.
On the 3rd of June, in a conversation between Inspire, the latest brown champion of PREVENT Nazir Afzal and the founder of Mend Sufyan Ismail, Ismail commented that it was good to see that Afzal valued Mend’s work on “tackling extremism”:
Though benefit of the doubt could be given that this was simply a retort as part of an exchange or perhaps a reference to hate, on June 28th, Chief executive of Mend Dr Shazad Amin confirmed Mend’s position that Mend “accepted that we need to look at an alternative as a community”.
A month later, Ismail wrote an article addressing the Home Secretary Amber Rudd. In it, Ismail rightly highlighted that speaking to neocon-validator organisations was pointless, but then inserted itself and other organisations like MCB as interlocutors for Muslims on discussions on radicalisation:
“You will never resolve the problems of radicalisation by dealing with the wrong people.”
Taken together, particularly in light of Dr. Amin’s public expression, there seems to be more than an indication that Mend is aboard the “community alternative to PREVENT” train with an aim of advising Government on its (newly forming?) radicalisation “expertise”. If this is the case then it is surprising indeed. Given Mend’s focus on Islamophobia and its understanding that this is a systemic phenomenon, surely there should be recognition that the very question of requiring an “alternative” is wrong? That it requires accepting assumptions that are tantamount to internalising systemic Islamophobia?
Also a cause for concern is Mend’s proximity to Sayeeda Warsi. This is evident by her speeches at Mend events as stated on Mend’s own website. Whilst Warsi has highlighted the crude agenda of neocons and aspects of the structural Islamophobia in the corridors of power, she also kowtows to their agenda albeit in a softer form.
Like Mend, Warsi supports the idea of a community-based project. However, her comments on PREVENT are alarming, demonstrating the porosity of pre-crime products and the need to ignore the labels when analysing policy. In an article for the Guardian Warsi said:
“For many years, I have said that the concept of Prevent – upstream intervention led and trusted by communities – is a fantastic idea… It was always supposed to be a programme led by the community and a genuine battle of ideas.”
Warsi does not have a problem with the concept of tackling “extremism”. In fact, she also does not have problem deforming Islam, the usual twin of counter-extremism projects. She has argued for removing minarets thereby pandering to far-right xenophobia and the erosion of a minority’s unique identity; she has similarly advanced the promulgation of a Christianised Islam. This is understandable given she derives her understanding from the premier post-modern decontructionist Tariq Ramadan, calling on Muslims to “reconsider and revisit the teachings of Islam for their application and expression in today’s Britain”. Understandably (and despite her brief criticism), she was positively referenced in the deplorable Casey Review which seeks to deform Islam into nothingness.
Reportedly, she also wanted Muslims to “lead the charge” against the niqab, claiming that the piece of fabric “is not the best manifestation of British Islam”. She falls short of calling for a ban, but given her political position, the remoulding of her public image as a “model for integration”, and neocon whisperings indicating that she is to join the proposed, thought-policing counter-extremism commission, Warsi’s statements carry weight in particular official quarters. Her proclamation of her desire to erase niqabis in the UK will undoubtedly add to the social bullying and hate-crime already experienced by a small section of Muslims (somewhat of a paradox for Mend). Incidentally, considering her “brutal” experience in Westminster despite embodying her dubious “best manifestation of British Islam”, it seems her integration plans are already off to a failing start.
The statements on creating a community solution to radicalisation coupled with Warsi’s outbursts about her government-friendly, aristocratic version of Islam are worrying to say the least. Mend prides itself in its grassroots support and rightly so. But in its gaze upwards it needs to remember that it derives legitimacy from the communities. And this legitimacy is very easy to lose.
A final aspect I wish to briefly discuss in relation to the background noise of “community responses” is the Citizens UK report titled “Missing Muslims”. This slightly-watered down Casey Review report is problematic in many respects, however the focus here will be in relation to counter-extremism. It has been criticised for enforcing the framing of Muslims through the prism of counter-terrorism. It has also been lambasted by the Bradford Council of Mosques for reinforcing the Islamophobic narrative that “Muslims are the problem”. Pertinently, whilst some Muslim organisations on social media rejoiced in its publication and promoted it (such as Faith Associates/Imams Online), the report itself concluded that,
“The Commission’s overriding concern is that the country needs an effective way of tackling extremism and radicalisation. The Commission is of the belief that this would be better achieved with a programme that is more greatly trusted, particularly by the UK’s Muslim communities. This trust, in turn, would lead to better understanding and participation, and enable more collaborative efforts to better tackle a very real problem. There is a need for debate within Muslim communities about what are, and are not, acceptable views for the Muslim ‘mainstream’”.
It recommended that a review of PREVENT be done, a PREVENT advisory group with “local stakeholders” be set up to dissipate discontent and “best practices” of persecuting a minority be garnered from “overseas programmes that tackle extremism”, opening doors to the further commercialisation of counter-extremism. The solution to the problems of PREVENT, in other words, is to continue it with some Botox and encourage a chat show among Muslims about their beliefs. Ground-breaking indeed.
The effect of the report in the discourse of “community responses” is what is important here. What the report manages to do is leverage Muslim organisations as a façade of credibility for the purposes of maintaining the status quo of PREVENT and counter-extremism. It does not even permit “the alternatives” debate. In terms of its political influence, social media activity suggests that its architects are seeking to influence the recently established APPG on British Muslims, a Parliamentary group blessed with the following names: Chair Anna Soubry; co-chair Blairite Wes Streeting; vice chair Naz Shah; and Treasurer Sayeeda Warsi.
There is much good being done by the aforementioned organisations and indeed, the solutions being proposed to the “terrorism problem” may also be in good faith. However, in their attempts to provide an “alternative” to PREVENT under a climate of fear, suspicion and pressure, certain organisations are producing solutions that are resultantly restricted to the pre-crime frame and neoconservative epistemology.
During the course of this article, I have furnished some problems with nurturing a community-based pre-crime response to “terrorism” as understood in the contemporary political landscape. In the next piece, there will be an effort to collate and further elaborate these and other problems, highlighting just how systemically uncertain such solutions are to the detriment of those subjected to them.
 “The Missing Muslims: Unlocking British Muslim Potential for the Benefit of All”, 2017, p.11
 Ibid., p.63
 Written evidence submitted by Averroes, para.37, accessed here: http://data.parliament.uk/writtenevidence/committeeevidence.svc/evidencedocument/home-affairs-committee/countering-extremism/written/23999.pdf
 Ibid, para.3
 Ibid., para.29
 Ibid., para.9
 Ibid., para.10
 “Tackling Extremism in the UK: Report from the Prime Minister’s Task Force on Tackling Radicalisation and Extremism”, 2013, pp. 1–2.
 Fn.3, para.14
 Warsi S, The Enemy Within: A Tale of Muslim Britain, 2017.