Twitter talk and feverish Facebook frenzy over the newly announced Commission for Counter Extremism (CCE) has continued for the past few days, but perhaps disproportionately for the wrong reasons. The government’s announcement of the Commission came alongside the announcement of the lead commissioner Sara Khan of Inspire, a self-styled feminist who counters “extremism” has triggered vociferous responses in the media. MEND led a petition against her appointment and whilst it opens with a question as to why the Commission is necessary, it goes onto attack Khan on the condition of it existing, rendering the opening statement somewhat incidental. Mend CEO Shazad Amin also centred on Khan, reinforcing this perception.
There are certainly problems with Khan (these will be elaborated upon in a subsequent, detailed piece), however, they are an extension of far more important concerns that need to be raised.
Much of the discourse has failed to adequately raise some fundamental questions about the direction in which the British government is increasingly heading. From coercing people to live in a particularly government-defined way, to erecting a mass surveillance state in all but name and now the systemised entrenchment of thought-policing into the bureaucratic state structures. There is a worrying indifference to this slide towards totalitarianism.
The Foundations of the Commission
The official press release stated that it would “provide independent advice to the government”. This independence is woefully challenged on both epistemological as well practical levels.
The Commission (if the name of the Commission does not already make it obvious), will continue to operate in the warring, class of civilisations, neoconservative worldview. After the Queen announced the CCE in her speech, on the 27th of June 2015, the Minister of State at the Home Office, Susan Williams, elaborating the role of the CCE, stated in Parliament,
“Challenging extremism is not a new government objective. The new commission will build on the comprehensive programme of work set out in the counter-extremism strategy. This strategy is all about working with communities, standing up for our fundamental values, supporting integration and striving to defeat extremism. However, there is more that we can and must do. The Commission for Countering Extremism will play a crucial part in supporting future efforts to stamp out extremism in this country.”
The 2015 Counter Extremism Strategy forms the basis from which the Commission will further encroach into and govern legal spaces, contributing to a sprawling all-encompassing, paternalistic sate. The shocking document in many ways articulated what was already covertly taking place. In my critique of the document, the following was highlighted:
- Following neoconservatism, the Strategy continued to caste the public as a susceptible, vulnerable child-like entity that needed protecting by an ideologically intrusive state.
- Introduction of mandatory referrals to the Channel brainwashing scheme in certain cases.
- Establishing a network of individuals of groups to fight extremism (this manifested in the Community Engagement Forum which consistent of PREVENT-touting individuals and those implementing the deformation of Islam project concordant to state objectives).
- An investigation into foreign-funding and how it relates to “extremism”.
- Regulating broadcasts through the PREVENT prism.
- Rooting “extremists” from the civil service and the NHS.
- Promotion of intra-community surveillance through an “Extremist Trigger”.
- It focussed on “Islamist extremism” as understood through a Michael Gove lunacy frame, tokenistically mentioning the far-right, and obviating any mention of Jewish/Zionist/Buddhist/Hindu “extremisms”.
To further give an indication as to the Islam-targeting nature of the Strategy, it is worth noting Gavin Robinson’s statements made in Parliament on the 20th of January 2016:
“The Government recently published a counter-extremism strategy. When I asked why Northern Ireland, which has a fair number of extremists, was not included in the strategy, I was told, “Don’t push the issue too far. It is really a counter-Islamic strategy.”
To this, Gerald Howarth replied,
“Indeed. Everything is being done so that the Government can pretend that they are being even-handed. We cannot be even-handed between those who do not threaten our national security and those who do. We have to be specific.”
The Counter-Islam strategy, as Robinson called it, forms the basis of the CCE.
“Extremism” and Pre-crime
To fully grasp the problematic nature of the CCE, the major problems with the very concept of “extremism” need to be considered. Extremism, as it is understood in the current political landscape relates to state-defined undesirable ideas. It constructs the evil, enemy other and props it up against the British Values-homogenised “norm”. It cements a teleological linearity in two directions. In one direction, focus and intervention drills further into the demonised communities (Muslims) and their beliefs, due to an unfounded link to “extremism” courtesy of an absence of what the state and its cohort of neocon “experts” call “social cohesion”. Focussing on “extremism” shifts the focus on conduct to identity, from crime to enemies, from evidence to intelligence, from the individual to the enemy, thereby making the demonised attack on the (Islamic) beliefs (under the rubric of “mindset”) inevitable. In the other direction, a predetermined out of come terrorism is presumed in a way academics have called, ‘crystal ball-gazing, ‘sacrificial astrology’ or ‘medieval witchcraft and inquisitorial non-sense’”. It is one of the plethora of reasons I have already outlined in three core articles deconstructing pre-crime interventions such as counter-extremism, PREVENT and CVE, explaining why such measures should be resisted and the language of “extremism” to denote problematic trends and beliefs completely avoided. (See here, here and here.)
Simply put, the discourse of “extremism” carries a specific, neoconservative-oriented meaning which subverts traditional criminal justice systems and checks and balances that ensure the innocent remain innocent until proven guilty. It makes unjust policies of assimilation and the erosion of civil liberties an inevitability. As the editors of What is Islamophobia? rightly identify, “We regard… the sprawling official ‘counter-terrorism’ apparatus, to be absolutely central to production of contemporary Islamophobia. “Extremism”, which is constitutive of the official Counter Terrorism policy, is thus an incredibly loaded term. The idea that “all forms of extremism” ought to be tackled is a platitude which practically holds little meaning due to the inherent way in which the “extremism” discourse has been developed. “Counter Extremism” globally now relates to population control and regulation as evidenced through implementations in the West, Africa, Egypt and now UAE/Saudi. Using the term “extremism” to describe other problems risks obfuscating or hiding problems which rightly need to be dealt with (albeit with precision), such as Islamophobia and state abuses and excesses, the latest example of which is the CCE.
The Commission: Independent and Impartial
There are repeated, desperate assertions that the Commission will be independent and impartial.
The very basis of the Commission as adequately established above is not exactly the paragon of “independence”. This is hardly surprising given it has been set up under Amber Rudd. It is worth recalling that she sat on the political council of the anti-Islam and Muslim, neocon Henry Jackson Society, before having her name swiftly removed once this was exposed. If she disassociated in name, she has more than associated in deed. The appointment of Khan also only serves reinforce the notion that this yet another neoconservative operation to give existence to their closed society.
Neocons take a worrying likening to McCarthyism. In early 2017, the neocon Niall Ferguson wrote a comment piece regurgitating the usual coterie of neocon myths about Islam and Muslims. Pertinently, he referenced his wife Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s report in which she stated her belief that the “reversion” to “libertarian insistence on First Amendment rights” from McCarthyism and the “The Subversive Activities Control Board” has made the United States “exceptionally handi-capped”. The SACB was established in 1950 through the Internal Security Act to investigate peoples engaged in “subversive activities” or “promoting Communist ideologies”. It was also mandated to facilitate registration of organisations associated with Communist ideologies. Declared unconstitutional when an organisation engaged in civil disobedience (The Albertson Case) and refused to register, the statute was eventually repealed and the SACB dismantled against a backdrop of anti-war sentiment. Similar inquisitional activities were carried by the House of Un-American Activities, which investigated alleged “anti-Americanism”.
This ambivalent neocon call for reinstitution of McCarythism to target Islam is evoked when one examines what the CCE is tasked to do. The following are notable features:
- It’s intrusive surveillance remit will permeate all levels of society: “government, the public sector, and civil and wider society”.
- The neocon propaganda generated will be sold to the government as “impartial, external advice” for policy formation.
- It will “support” every level of society to “confront extremism” and promote British values. In other words, the Commission will seek to brainwash and homogenise Britain’s population concordant to the state’s political religion. “Support”, if how schools and charities have been treated are anything to go by, should be read as “bullied”.
- It will produce a “a strategic assessment of the threat extremism”.
To properly understand points 2 and 3, consider Susan Williams’s elaboration:
“The commission will play a key role in supporting communities and the public sector to identify and confront extremism.”
The above is a disconcertingly broad, thought-policing set of operations. Targeting nationally, the Commission will be driving the embedding of public surveillance, whilst producing shoddy, shadowy black lists passed off as “extremist threat assessments”. To be clear, the likes of Quilliam Foundation and the Henry Jackson Society (HJS) have been doing this covertly through a revolving door in the Home Office for a considerable period of time. However, the systematisation of this through a Commission marks a key milestone in officialising the closed, McCarthyistic, society governed by a Straussian-Schmittian state.
The parallels with McCarthy-era policies are stark: “extremism” is the enemy-manufacturing contemporary reincarnation of the “subversive” and the“un-American”. Like that era, and as the Salman Butt case exposed, allegations and “assessments” produced by neocons like the HJS will be sufficient to designate someone an “extremist” with legal challenges being difficult. In fact, the CCE goes a step further: the SACB was established through a statute; the UK government has announced the creation of the Commission without any statutory basis and more critically, without any legal definition of what “extremism” is. From a due process perspective at least, it is more unjust than the SABC.
Spin: Consult Widely?
You can detect the government’s insecurity in announcing the Commission. The government has been variously describing the Commission as “independent”, “impartial” and “external” to mask its blatant ideological warring. Another spin tactic it used is to state that the Commission will “widely and openly enter a discussion about extremism”. It gives the impression that Commission will consult widely on matters related “extremism”. However, the press release goes onto ostensibly contradict itself by stating that it will have this discussion with individuals it “independently” selects to engage with. Sara Khan is then quoted as saying that she is eager to collaborate and engage with those who “recognise the harm and threat extremism”. In other words, the CCE will be charged with selecting and engaging only those whom have been indoctrinated with PREVENT-thinking.
If the shocking endorsements for Sara Khan do not give an idea to what type of individuals the CCE will consult then statements made in Parliament certainly do. On the 3rd of July 2017, Sarah Newton, the then Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Home Office, responding to a question as to whether Commission will work with the neocon-connected, far-right-funded Quilliam Foundation, answered,
“…the Government want to work with the Quilliam Foundation and any other organisation that seeks to stand up to extremism and terrorism and fight against evil ideology, to keep us all safe in our country.”
Spin: Commission Not part of PREVENT?
PREVENT has been criticised by hundreds of academics, for its lack of scientific basis, and the glaring absence of a causal link between “extremist views” and terrorism. Consequently, the spin-doctors in the Home Office quite understandably wish to distance themselves from such a negative association. However, the spin put out to achieve this was utterly ridiculous. During the barrage of criticism facing Khan, she gave the following statement to the BBC:
“The work that I am doing in the commission is not part of Prevent. This is about preventing extremism. Prevent is part of the countering terrorism strategy.”
PREVENT practically defines the British Values agenda that sits at the heart of the Commission. Moreover, her boss at the Home Office, Rudd, updating Parliament regarding her 2016 G6 visit to Rome stated that she “shared UK’s experience of countering extremism and radicalisation and highlighted the work of the Prevent programme”. RICU, the government’s propaganda messaging department, needs to get its house in order.
It has been disappointing to see the lack of commentary targeting the very concept of the Commission itself. Studying the Parliamentary debates concerning the establishment of the CCE, it became manifest that resistance within Parliament to its establishment was also minimal. Last year, Jenny Jones, a major figure of the Green Party, made formidable comments exposing the structural problems of extremism in the context of the CCE:
There is also a proposal for a commission on extremism. The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Max Hill QC, has said that we do not need new laws to tackle the current terrorist threat… The simple fact is that it is impossible at the moment to agree a definition of what constitutes an extremist—a terrorist, yes; an extremist, no. One person’s non-violent extremist is another’s political hero… In the past the police have wasted large amounts of their time on monitoring Greenpeace campaigners or people like me, and one can imagine all sorts of people being labelled “extremists”, particularly in the current political climate. Why should I be a domestic extremist but not the DUP? …We especially do not want our own distinctively British brand of McCarthyism.”
There is an urgent need to re-focus efforts and not be distracted by state-groomed facades. As I write there is an embarrassing circus show taking place with sulking deformist/pro-PREVENT brown faces (Nazir Afzal, Shaista Gohir and Sayeed Warsi to name but a few) tearing at Khan with one hand whilst hanging of the lead commissioner role or it’s management with the other. The colonialist dynamic of the role, where the colonisers enlisted people from the colonised to repress them, does not phase them. It does, however, reveal some interesting fissures within the deformist/pro-PREVENT movement.
It’s basis, it’s functions and it’s “independent” masks behind which hide enablers of repression all point to a necessary conclusion: the Commission for Counter Extremism must be opposed and communities must refuse to engage with it.
 Dixon P., Surveillance in America: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, and the Law: An Encyclopedia of History, Politics, and the Law, p.420
 Ibid., p.435
 Ibid. p.420