Crosspost: Tom Mills, Narzanin Massoumi, and David Miller
Last week, in a widely trailed speech, the Prime Minister laid out the government’s counter-terrorism strategy for the next five years. It is necessary, Cameron explained, to challenge the idea that political violence is rooted in ‘historic injustices and recent wars, or… poverty and hardship’. Terrorism, he said, is caused by ‘extremist ideology’, which his government is determined to confront.
There was little new in Cameron’s speech, which simply affirmed in strong terms the authoritarian drift of counter-terrorism policy. Influenced by the security apparatus and its supporters in Parliament, and by neoconservative think tanks, such as the Henry Jackson Society, and (partly) state funded propaganda outfits like Quilliam, policy makers have become increasingly preoccupied with ‘non-violent extremism’ rather than political violence. Officially this is portrayed as a political campaign against ‘intolerance’. Thus Cameron claims that his government will be facing down ‘terrorism’ and ‘extremism’ by asserting ‘basic liberal values such as democracy, freedom and sexual equality’.
‘For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society’
On the face of it this seems agreeable enough. But the actual policy is another matter. As was pointed out in a recent letter to which we were signatories, the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 will ‘mean that individuals working within statutory organisations must report individuals suspected of being “potential terrorists” to external bodies for “de-radicalisation”‘. In effect, the government has drawn the entire public sector into its controversial counter-extremist agenda, meaning that public servants once responsible for the welfare of citizens – including children – must now monitor their behaviour, appearance and political views, feeding into the most unaccountable and repressive elements of the state. Since 2014, 400 children, even as young as three-years-old, have been referred to the government’s ‘Channel’ programme for ‘de-radicalisation’. The true political implications of the policy, which has now passed into law, were made clear in May when Cameron told the first meeting of the National Security Council: ‘For too long, we have been a passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens ‘as long as you obey the law, we will leave you alone”.’ So much for liberalism.