- Tony Blair is ideologically-motivated to impose his worldview and toolset that he has tested with despotic, authoritarian regimes.
- The report produced by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (henceforth “Institute”) has Blair’s neocon ideology shaping its poor methodology, from the way it targets Muslim organisations, to how it establishes, in a deeply totalitarian fashion, its categories or “spectrum of extremism”.
In this piece, examples from the report will be used to demonstrate how the various “extremism” categories identified in the report come together to protect elements of the state and associated actors from scrutiny and police the views of citizens by rendering them potentially terroristic.
Spin and Lies
Due to the flaccid nature of the categories, statements can easily spun to “prove” extremism. Nothing demonstrates the realisation of this risk more than the report itself. In the footsteps of Blair, the paper espouses spin and misrepresentation. Below are some examples of this:
- The report states that CAGE shared content “contending that the West does not see Muslims as human”. The actual Tweet references a thread which discusses the humanisation of non-Muslim terrorists and the intolerance of this where the perpetrator is Muslim. While the thread does reference “the West”, CAGE’s Retweet delimits this to “many Western liberals” (this interpretation is also apparent from the works of CAGE writers).
- According to the report, CAGE states that “government and media agenda was to institutionalise Islamophobia” (p.32). The Tweet actually states, “The agenda was to institutionalise islamaphobia. Lazy & prejudiced media played its full role”. This was a rewording of an article by Peter Oborne titled “Trojan Horse affair: When government and media colluded to vilify the Muslim community”. CAGE, which only refers to the media, is upon the extremist spectrum. Peter Oborne, who accuses the government and the media, is not.
- The report claims that “HT has also sought to justify acts of terrorism” (p.43). Nowhere in the quoted examples is justification for terrorism made.
- The report asserts “MPACUK claimed that according to broader society, there was ‘no such thing as an Islamophobic hate crime’” (p.53). The words “according to broader society” do not exist in the Tweet. This example has the effect of sublimating the highlighting of controversial figures like Douglas Murray who do downplay Islamophobia.
We now turn to the themes that the report censors.
1. Protecting its Financiers – the Islamophobia industry – from Scrutiny
The Islamophobia industry – a network of pro-Israel/neocon think-tanks, media and politicians working to demonise Muslims and Islam as the “Other” – has been well documented. Indeed, as already demonstrated, the actors within the very same network also happens to fund Tony Blairs organisations which have now condensed into the Institute.
The report uses the “victimisation” category to paint references to the Islamophobia industry as “conspiracies” (p.53) and therefore extremist.
2. Criticising PREVENT/Counter Extremism Policy
The paper pervasively categorises any critique of PREVENT, its similitude with authoritarianism and a call for disengagement as a narrative falling in one of the extremism categories.
Highlighting PREVENT is Discriminatory/Draconian
Under the “victimisation” category, the report includes the criticism of counter-extremism and PREVENT as “draconian rules that specifically target Muslims” as fully “extremist” (p.21). It should be noted PREVENT’s inception and continued application discriminatorily targets Muslims.
Language that even suggests that the counter-extremism policy is discriminatory or unfairly targeting Muslims or that it is encroaching on civil liberties is problematic (p.62). This is disconcerting given how common this criticism is.
Opposition to PREVENT
The report consistently uses the “delegitimising the government” category to frame opposition to PREVENT as opposing the government. For example, the paper regards the highlighting of how PREVENT arbitrarily empowers state employees, and references to how such policies can lead to totalitarianism and a police state as “delegitimising government” and therefore extremist (p.34). It also includes comparisons of PREVENT with the Stasi State in East Germany and the USSR as an extremist narrative under the same category (Ibid.).
Professor Arun Kundnani also uses comparisons with the Stasi state in his discussion of American counter-terrorism responses. Charlotte Heath-Kelly, Assistant Professor in the Politics and International Studies Department of the University of Warwick, describing the rollout of the PREVENT duty into public institutions and describing it as “ideological surveillance”, states,
“This is more akin to the totalitarian surveillance undertaken by the Stasi, or the Nazi Party, than to liberal values of free speech and tolerance.”
The Institute for Race Relations has also drawn comparisons with the Stasi.
Are these academics and institutes potential terrorists too?
Criticising PREVENT-based Integration Policies
There has been concern in the Muslim community as to how the “British values”/PREVENT-based integration targets orthodox beliefs and practices, bringing them into the wider discourse of securitisation. The orthodox Jewish community has reflected the same. A look at the discriminatory Casey Review also reveals extensive attempts to re-engineer Islam to what the government deems acceptable. Indeed, the Joint Committee on Human Rights warned in 2016 that the counter-extremism strategy was “targeting religious conservatives and questioned whether they would create a “justified grievance”. Furthermore, criticism for linking integration concerns with counter-extremism have come from the MCB and even (though, problematically) MPs .
The paper considers the above such criticism of the government’s integration plans as delegitimising the government and therefore constitutive of “extremist” discourse (p.48).
Criticism of the Counter Extremism Bill
Contention is also raised with the suggestion that the Counter Extremism Bill is “putting in place the architecture of a Police State” and “curtailing the rights and freedoms of citizens” (p.55).
The Joint Commission on Human Rights commenting on the Bill stated that the measures would require scrutinising the “exercise of core democratic freedoms by large numbers” before describing the measures as “profoundly illiberal”. Liberty further added that the plans amount to shutting down free speech and were “unworkable, fundamentally dangerous and doomed to failure”.
Ironically, even the neoconservative/far-right-connected Quilliam Foundation raised the alarm on the Bill stating that “we can’t let ourselves become totalitarian”.
All upon the extremist’s narrative, I assume!
3. Criticism of PREVENT proponents/Institutions
Given the many fundamental problems with counter-extremism, there is understandable scepticism in dealing with counter-extremism/PREVENT-associated institutions, organisations and their representatives.
Pertinent here is the wielding of the “good Muslims vs. bad Muslims” category. Muslims who are “questioning motives of Muslims with different views” are upon the extremism spectrum.
Incidentally, compare this to how the report encourages challenging “extreme narratives” and fake news, whilst marketing its counter-extremism products in a typical money-making scheme. It urges “critical thinking about the sources of information” (p.12). Critical thinking should only be applied to whatever the Blair Institute deems worthy of interrogation; policies and those that push them should not be subjected to questioning and scrutiny.
The above such categories, however, are used by the report to frame critique of institutions, groups and those associated with the counter-extremism industry as extremist, fusing dissent with disloyalty.
Here is a list of examples in this regard:
- The report frames transparency work around PREVENT which exposes community front organisations overseen by the Home Office targeting the Muslim community as an example of being on the spectrum of extremism (p.33). The Guardian has covered the same disconcerting black propaganda approach.
- Using the categories of “delegitimising the government” and “good Muslim vs bad Muslim”, the report suppresses the call for disengagement with the Commission for Counter Extremism (Ibid.)
- It protects PREVENT proponents from critique. The CCE claimed it was independent of PREVENT. However, drawing attention to the obvious connections, including shining light upon the CCE’s head Sara Khan, who has been PREVENT-funded in the past, is considered extremist under the “good Muslim vs bad Muslim” category (p.33). Further in the report, the inhibition of criticism is extended to Fiyaz Mughal and Tell MAMA both of whom are known to purvey structural Islamophobia and are associated with a network of hate (p.53).
- Raising concerns of representation of the Muslim community and how a fringe element that support/work with PREVENT are solely being engaged by the government is considered upon the extremist nexus (p.47).
- The report frames the terms “surveillance”, “Orwellian”, “police state” and “Stasi state” to describe counter terrorism laws as part of the extremist, conspiratorial narrative (p.48). Such terms have been variously used by academics (see also here and here), political parties, the human rights organisations (see here also), and even the former head of Mi5!
- The report protects the controversial, PREVENT-infused Ofsted and its chief Amanda Spielman from “strong criticism” that the regulator is intrusive and ideological by making this a narrative that delegitimises the government (p.34). It also takes issue with the use of “bullying” to describe Spielman’s targeting of young Muslim girls (p.38).
The trend is consistent; criticism of certain state institutions advocating PREVENT and their representatives are to be considered extremist when articulated by Muslim organisations and individuals, even if the same or similar critiques and comments exist in non-Muslim commentaries.
4. Criticism of War on Terror Ideology
As established in the second piece in this series, the focus on ideology as a primary cause of terrorism was amplified by Tony Blair and the broader, warmongering neoconservative milieu. It is thus fitting that the paper tries to ensure that the constitutive elements of the War on Terror are protected by censuring references to it through invocations of “extremism”.
Thus, asserting that Islamophobia drives the War on Terror is considered extremist. Furthermore, the report misleadingly claims that the reason adduced by CAGE is because “UK and US security establishment continues to thrive and profit from it” (p.33). Whilst this statement is certainly not inaccurate, the reasons for concluding that Islamophobia drives the War on Terror are many and include, as academics have shown, the discriminatory targeting of Islam and Muslims through a culturalist account of terrorism.
5. Highlighting Foreign Policy as a Driver in Political Violence
The paper categorises the highlighting of “western military action as a significant root cause of terrorism” as extremist (e.g. p.49, 43). The mode of delegitimising this understanding of political violence is to couch it as “justifying terrorism” and therefore an “extremist” narrative. The rationale is flawed in that justification, which implies reasonable action, is conflated with explanation.
Using this flawed rationale, however, the paper asserts that such a formation of political violence denies agency of perpetrators (p.34). This effectively curtails critique of foreign policy.
At one point, it even includes calling the US “sponsors of terrorism” within the category of “justification for violence” and therefore extremist. Such applications of the extremism framework would make Noam Chomsky, who called the US “the leading terrorist state in the world” using official definitions of terrorism, an extremist too.
6. Structural Islamophobia and Media Demonisation
The repression extends to highlighting structural Islamophobia – Islamophobia that connects to state institutions and structures. Thus, not seeing anti-Muslim attacks as disconnected “random” events is extremist (p.53). In forcing this conclusion, the report embeds post-racial logics of trivialising anti-Muslim concerns.
For example, the following statement is considered part of the “victimisation” extremism category:
“Muslims are the victims of hate crimes that are fuelled by demonization that we hear from politicians and the media. Islamophobia drips down from the politicians and media, and Muslims bear the consequences on the streets…” (p.47)
The irony here could not be more apparent. As shown in the next section, any “alarmist” rhetoric around anti-Muslim attacks is upon the spectrum of extremism; the alarmist headlines and reports by the media industry are not.
The view that Muslims are undergoing demonization resulting from negative media portrayals, statements by politicians, and the intensification of counter-terrorism initiatives that target Muslims is nothing new, and has been academically deliberated upon (e.g. here, here and here). Islamophobia within sections of the government has also resulted in calls for an inquiry into Islamophobia in the Conservative party.
7. Expressing concerns about anti-Muslim sentiment and attacks
Merely seeking to raise awareness of anti-Muslim behaviour is “mainstream”. Anything beyond this, places one onto the spectrum of extremism. Shockingly, explaining anti-Muslim attitudes as a systemic issue is a “troubling pattern of messaging” which delegitimised “government policies related to Muslims”, and condemns “Muslims who chose to constructively engage with the government” (p.17).
The report brushes over concerns of Muslims around attacks as “alarmist”. For instance, the authors take issue with MEND blaming the “media for promoting Islamophobia” and stressing “that Muslims in the UK feel increasingly vulnerable” (p.61). Learning from the Bosnia genocide as minorities is also a problem for the authors (p.53). It remains to be seen whether members of the Jewish community are to be similarly accused of professing an extremist narrative for expressing the same.
8. Colonialism and Imperial Designs
The report focusses on colonialism and imperialism. Where Muslims see countries that “associate with Western forces or have benefited from colonialism” as illegitimate, this is an example of “good vs. bad Muslim” extremism (p.39). One Tweet that is cited highlights the treacherous actions of the House of Saud – a well-documented historical point.
The following is rendered “extremist”:
- Alluding to “colonial legacies and injustices” to understand present wars and discourse (p.33/47).
- Referencing colonialism to compare statements made in the present (p.47)
- Describing the human rights regime as imperialist – the example cited in the report is from decolonial professor Ramon Gosfoguel.
- Seeing Western presence or engagement in the Muslim world” through the “lens of colonialism and racism”. The example referenced, is a discussion of the Balfour Declaration and its impact (p.40).
9. Criticism of Authoritarian regimes
Given the not-so-subtle cover given to colonialism and imperialism, it follows that criticism of regimes which are under Blair’s guidance are also protected using the extremism framework. Thus criticism of Saudi Arabia’s latest reforms for being “anti-Islamic” (p.39) is highlighted as a narrative that projects the “good Muslim vs. bad Muslim” extremism (of course, the authors express no disconcert over the thousands of prominent political activists and Islamic scholars, intellectuals have been imprisoned and tortured).
10. The Role of Islam
This intolerance of Islam continues through the report. Moral principles of governance and guidance are a part of Islam and Islamic history. However, for the authors, anything that “feeds into their narrative of Islam needing to have a greater role in politics” is extremist under the category “Centrality of Islam in Politics” (p.41).
Several beliefs/actions are thus curtailed as “extremist”:
- Presenting alternatives to secularism, capitalism and liberalism (p.40)…
- … such as the morally-founded Islamic paradigm (Khilafa) (p.38), even if this Islamic self-determination is restricted to the Arab world (p.48). Whether this conception is Sunni (p.34) or Shia (p.48), is also irrelevant. The Ahmadi community’s “Caliphate” fails to get a mention, however.
- The “centrality of Islam in politics” category is also applied tenuously to one Tweet which compares the women’s rights in Islam to how women in Britain are still struggling to get equal pay (p.56). This, for the authors, is “idealising” Islam in politics and therefore “extremist”!
- This category also extends to encouraging Muslims to engage in the UK democratic process with suggestions on what Muslims should focus on (p.56) and scrutinising the views and positions MPs hold. Whilst this transparency exercise is considered to be on the spectrum of extremism for Muslims, it remains to be seen whether the Institute and its author’s would consider the far more sophisticated Israel lobby, which not only penetrates different levels of democracy but has been caught plotting to “take down” UK MPs, extremist.
Not content with the blood of millions on his hands, it seems Blair seeks to foster brain-dead zombies among the living. The above reads like something out of a dystopian novel. All these examples ironically reinforce the very problems inherent in PREVENT/counter extremism: loose frameworks premised upon baseless theories, utilising ambiguous terminology all of which work together to repress legal behaviours and expressions that would be considered largely inconspicuous but for the Muslim identity.
Though the target of this report is the Muslim minority, the above demonstrates that the narratives curtailed are also expressed by people of disparate backgrounds and identities. The repressive strategies targeting Muslims is a dark foreboding for the rest of society. Indeed, the impact of PREVENT has already spread beyond the Muslim community into the academic space.
As such the society-wide resistance to PREVENT and the counter-extremism industry must continue until the suffocating structures of precrime, increasingly embedded in today’s institutions, are rooted out.
 See for example, Nathan Lean’s book The Islamophobia Industry, and Deepa Kumar’s Islamophobia and the Politics of Empire. See also the Center for American Progress reports Fear Inc and Fear Inc 2.0
 Spielman’s association with the neocon Michael Gove is well established. She has been criticised for remarks concerning Muslims and her neocon calls for “muscular liberalism” in schools. Kevin Courtney of the National Education Union stating the “problem” with Spielman is that she is “too political” and that people are “feeling so much pressure from Ofsted” to ban the hijab. The NEU further stated that Spielman’s statements could have a negative impact and lead to attacks on Muslims and girls. Muslim umbrella organisations have similarly raised concerns of “targeting” of young Muslim girls. Shabana Mahmood MP recently also has criticised Spielman’s comments and their impact. The concern around Ofsted and Spielman’s coercive intrusions through “muscular liberalism” have been reflected by the Jewish community, with some members saying they cannot remain in the UK. The concerns of the Jewish community have not been protracted through the securitisation discourse of extremism by politicians, the media or indeed this report.
 David Fromkin in his seminal work on the period, writes that Abdul Aziz Ibn Saud “had expressed a willingness for his domain to become a British client state” (A Peace to End all Peace, p.107) and break Ottoman territory.