The Spectrum of Repression: A look at the Methodology Underpinning the Tony Blair Report

In the previous piece, I established an intertwining set of connections between PR companies involved in the Iraq war, the Islamophobia industry, the comical Commission for Countering Extremism and the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (“Institute”).

Whilst the Institute’s report – “Narratives of Division – The Spectrum of Islamist Worldviews in the UK” – should not be taken seriously on account of it being advocated by the degenerate Blair, the issue remains that the framework outlined in the report will most likely influence the evolution of the “extremism” discourse. The report’s method is not disconnected from PREVENT. It is in fact a consistent set of ideas employed by neocons and followed by some Muslim organisations also.

It is important, therefore to critique the proposed methodology and outline its draconian trajectory.

Problematisation of Muslims as a Basis

The paper reinforces PREVENT, its divisiveness and resulting ideological assumptions and takes it as its basis. Its focus is purely on Muslims. The only other group referred to is one which the paper treats as a product of the “Muslim problem”:

“far right and Islamist extremists seeking to divide communities with a false narrative that being Muslim is incompatible with British values and our way of live” (p.15).

“British values” remains the ridiculous, placid barometer which Muslims must adhere to lest they become extremists or rather, potential terrorists. The far-right are granted the excuse of behaving the way they do because Muslims do not adhere to “British values and our way of life”.

Definitions

This becomes more concerning when one considers that, like PREVENT, the paper utilises loosely-defined jargon which allows neocons and the far-right, for instance, the broadest of latitudes to claim division is afoot and “extremism” has been perpetrated by a Muslim.

Those who argue that British institutions and society have rejected and demonised Islam and Muslims are referred to as “groups we can broadly refer to as Islamists” (p.15). They happen to perpetuate narratives which are “divisive”, “extreme” and “troubling” – terms deployed throughout the report, without a clear definition (p.12-13). This is “troubling” (to borrow the paper’s terminology) considering the paper bemoans the lack of a “basic vocabulary to discuss these actors and their ideas”, and which the paper sets out to resolve.

As we shall see in the next piece, the breadth of ideas/views encompassed within this jargon is staggering.

For now, we shall examine the three components which constitute the methodology.

  1. “Spectrums of Extremism” or the Conveyor Belt?

The first component relates to how material is to be categorised as “extremist”.  In the absence of precise definitions, the report examines the “messaging” of the banned Al-Muhajiroun to create a “worldview” (p.20) constituted of six (still imprecise) benchmark themes:

  • Victimisation
  • Good vs. bad Muslim
  • Islam vs. the West
  • Delegitimising the government
  • Centrality of Islam in politics
  • Justification of violence

If a Muslim organisation under analysis shares a little, some, most or all of the narrative, then they are tagged accordingly along the extremism spectrum.

There are serious problems with this approach.

How do the researchers establish the spectrums of “extremism” across the identified themes? The report states,

“We identified a range of narratives for each theme ranging from views that are accepted in the mainstream to those that could be classed as extremism narratives”. (p.27)

Nowhere does it state how these ranges are identified or indeed, how the “mainstream” is established.  Instead the “mainstream” is imposed as a priori, forcing all other views into the realm of “extremism”.

The report also presents a contradiction in how the ranges are meant to be understood. It states that the range of narratives are not meant to “imply that there is an inevitable progression from divisive to extreme ideas or that any of the groups would eventually support the more extreme narratives”.  Despite this disclaimer, the ranges are immediately treated in a linear fashion.  Thus, the ranges also demonstrate how “divisive ideas” relate to “more extreme narratives” and how extreme narratives can draw upon a “foundation of divisive ideas” (p.27). The same is found in the conclusion where the “conveyor-belt” theory is distanced, before asserting that there is a “relationship” between “divisive activism”, “nonviolent and violent extremism” (p.68).

The report relies on the widely discredited conveyor-belt theory in all but name. The contradiction is accentuated when one understands that PREVENT/counter-extremism is based upon precautionary logic, which necessitates a teleological, linear process towards violence.

Additionally, there are problems with the idea of shared discourse leading to terrorism. Simply put, correlation does not mean causation. Where is the scholastic basis that supports the notion that certain “bad ideas” lead to political violence? Increasing academic consensus opposes the primacy of ideas as a cause in the formation of political violence.

Neocons Obsession with Spectrums

What seems to be informing the structure of the method in the report is the dogmatic, fascist neoconservative worldview. The neocon Michael Gove includes in his 2006 book Celsius 7/7the following understanding of “Islamism”:

  • A “restored Caliphate”
  • Jihad
  • That “Islam should govern human relations”
  • “Western notions of equality between sexes are an offence against nature”
  • “That sovereignty belongs to Allah alone”
  • That “Islam is a total way of life” that “guides society and culture”
  • Being at “odds with the values of the liberal West”

He further adds that the above beliefs are “shared by a broad spectrum of Muslim opinion”. Both the notion of a spectrum or levels of “extremism” as well as the six themes are covered in Gove’s expression of “Islamism” throughout his book. Furthermore, like the report, Gove uses Al-Muhajiroun (prior to it being banned) as his reference point for “Islamism” (Gove, 2006, pp. 10-11).

Similarly, the “original neocon” Tony Blair in his 2014 manual for global war identified “spectrums of opinion which stretches far further into parts of Muslim society” in his discussion on “Islamists”.

Following in the footsteps of his guide Tony Blair and friend Gove, David Cameron articulated the neoconservative conception of problematic ideas.  Speaking at the Global Security Form in 2015, Cameron outlined a “chain of causation” that leads individuals to ISIS. Such people who (what Cameron says) “quietly condone” a set of caricaturised Muslim beliefs, in part or otherwise, are on the pathway to “murderous intent”.

From the above, it becomes apparent that the report is effectively thesis-driven research – the report’s findings are made to fit a preconceived enemy category of beliefs defined by neocons with no academic rigour or support to speak of.

  1. Al-Muhajiroun

The report states that Al-Mujahiroun’s messaging enabled the researchers to “identify the major themes and narratives that constitute the backbone of UK-based Islamist extremism”. (p.19)

By invoking Al-Muhajiroun, the authors are able to sweep large chunks of legitimate issues, grievances and concerns under the catch-all rug of “Islamist extremism”.

Choudhry’s remarks were known for exaggeration and distortion. When the Guardian interviewed him, for instance, Choudhry drew attention to the deaths of Muslims in Iraq, blaming them entirely on the US-led alliance forces.  While this is not entirely true, the concern of Muslims civilian deaths resulting directly or indirectly from the War on Terror hitting over 1.2 million is a pain the exists with upright Muslims.   Due to Choudhry’s intervention on the same topic albeit in imprecise terms and amidst broader provocations, this concern is repressed through an “extremist narrative” smokescreen.

Moreover, just because Al-Muhajiroun has provided support for a particular issue, does not necessitate that the said issue is “extremist”. The report outlines opposition to PREVENT in Al-Muhajiroun’s “messaging”.  PREVENT is opposed by a broad cross-section of society. Are all who oppose PREVENT “extremists”? Are those Conservative MPs whom wish to restrict immigration potential terrorists like Anders Breivik?

There is a fundamental inconsistency here on the part of the authors of the report. When it comes to determining the level of “extremism” for a given organisation, the possibility of “legitimate issues” being “mobilised” and “twisted” to promote an agenda is examined (p.35). The risk of this happening as part of the very process to identify levels of “extremism” is not considered at all. In fact, this is precisely what the report does.

The concern of legitimate issues being curtailed through the repressive label of “extremism” is further exacerbated with a whole range of positions established to determine proximity to Al-Muhajioun’s messaging. These points will be further delved into when discussing the repressively broad, sweeping nature of the categories in the next piece.

  1. State

The third component of the methodology relates to how the report identifies groups to target for its ideological crusade.

The report sets out limitations of its research. The limitations themselves are laughable, focussing on why they did not choose certain Muslim organisations and how they gathered the “messaging”, instead of addressing more systemic, fundamental methodological problems already highlighted above.

Pertinently, however, it outlines how, out of a preliminary list of “36 highly varied organisations”, it only chose to analyse those groups “who had been the subject of concern for authorities including government officials, law enforcement figures and MPs”, because “these allegations held more weight” (p.69).

Furthermore, the report considers the government as largely an entity that is blame-free, referring to examples that do point to state repression as “anecdotal examples” which support “intolerant worldviews”.

In other words, the state is right and those who hold it to account are “intolerant”.

The report’s assumption that the state can be trusted is without foundation when one considers constitutional principles such as the rule of law, separation of powers, the human rights weltanschauung, as well as academic works on state repression and totalitarianism.  One need to only look to the “The Subversive Activities Control Board”, the Stasi state of East Germany, and the Third Reich prior to it, to see how allegations of undermining the state based on ideas can turn into repression and a climate of fear.

As the baseless Trojan Horse incident as well as Education Secretary’s now overturned “extremism” bans against Muslim teachers and governors show (Holmwood & O’Toole, 2018), such trivialisation and allegations that emanate from state organs and its whitewashers cannot be taken as an indication let alone evidence to justify public policy of any kind.

Quite clearly – and in line with Blair’s day job whitewashing despots – the paper is a boon for those regimes that wish to maintain their power by making the public transparent and the government opaque, all the while portraying those who do dissent from the government-defined status quo as “intolerant”, “extremist” and in need of China-style state intrusion and mental reprogramming.

Concluding Remarks

There is nothing new here. The report’s methodology attempts to provide a deceptive veneer of scientific justification to an ideologically-driven script that continues Blair’s commercial modus operandi – repression of political activism, grievances and religio-political discourse that dissents against government-prescribed ideas and beliefs.

Whilst this is deeply disturbing and totalitarian in flavour, the examples cited as being on the spectrum of extremism are even more shocking. It demonstrates how such loose frameworks premised upon academically baseless, ideological thinking results in a descent towards unadulterated repression.  These will be brought to light in the next piece.


References

Gove, M. (2006). Celsius 7/7. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.

Holmwood, J., & O’Toole, T. (2018). Countering Extremism in British Schools? The Truth about the Birmingham Trojan Horse Affair. Bristol: Policy Press.

 

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