Maybe this is an effect of age, but I find myself increasingly thinking that Peter Hitchens has got a point about law and order. Not, I hasten to add, that I buy the Hitch’s entire bill of goods, with its emphasis on capital and corporal punishment. But I think he has a point in the more general sense, that if a few basic things were working reasonably well – a police service that did what it was supposed to, a criminal justice system that did what it was supposed to, and more solidarity at community level – then we could get rid of a lot of the accoutrements of the surveillance society. But the whole trajectory under New Labour – and there is zero evidence that the Tories will change this – is of an unwillingness to sort out those basics, a project that would take a lot of time and energy for little immediate reward, while responding to screaming tabloid headlines with dopey authoritarian initiatives.
And so it is that putting people like David Blunkett, John Reid and Wacky Jacqui Smith in charge of the Home Office has led to Britain sleepwalking into a sort of liberal Stasiland. On the one hand they’ll pass something decent like the Human Rights Act, then the Mail and the Express go buck mad when dodgy characters avail of it – which might have been expected, because your prosperous suburbanite is unlikely to need the Human Rights Act. And so, as the Human Rights Act is introduced with one hand, with the other you get the culture of Asbos, CCTV, ID cards, enormous DNA databases, fingerprinting of children and all the rest of it.
In the current climate, it’s not surprising that Muslims are getting the fuzzy end of the lollipop. A lot of this has to do with the aftermath of the 7/7 bombings, when it became clear that there was very little intelligence on angry young Muslims, a handful of whom might be prepared to blow themselves up along with whomever else happened to be in the vicinity. A sensible approach might have said that examining the causes of Muslim disaffection might be in order. Actually, since Mohammad Sidique Khan left behind his suicide video, we have a fair idea what he was angry about – Iraq and Palestine. But this falls foul of New Labour’s insistence that radicalisation of young Muslims has nothing whatsoever to do with British foreign policy, but results from “preachers of hate” and the occasional mosque bookshop stocking works by Sayyid Qutb.
As luck would have it, there was a ready-made mould for the new Preventing Violent Extremism (Prevent for short) initiative to be poured into. This was the patronage system operated for decades by Labour councils in inner-city areas. Rather than try and lift Asians in Sparkbrook or West Indians in Brixton out of poverty, or deal with the long-range effects of structural discrimination, it was much easier to hand out grants to anyone who could plausibly claim to be a community leader, and it didn’t hurt that these people would then drum up votes for Labour, in many cases becoming Labour councillors. And this is what Prevent has largely become in practice – a politically corrupt use of the grants system to set up an enormous domestic spying operation.
Much of the outline of this was already known, but Saturday’s Guardian usefully gathered a lot of the information into one place, and it makes for uncomfortable reading:
The government programme aimed at preventing Muslims from being lured into violent extremism is being used to gather intelligence about innocent people who are not suspected of involvement in terrorism, the Guardian has learned.
The information the authorities are trying to find out includes political and religious views, information on mental health, sexual activity and associates, and other sensitive information, according to documents seen by the Guardian. Other documents reveal that the intelligence and information can be stored until the people concerned reach the age of 100…
The government and police have repeatedly denied that the £140m programme is a cover for spying on Muslims in Britain. But sources directly involved in running Prevent schemes say it involves gathering intelligence about the thoughts and beliefs of Muslims who are not involved in criminal activity.
Instances around the country include:
- In the Midlands, funding for a mental health project to help Muslims was linked to information about individuals being passed to the authorities.
- In a college in northern England, a student who attended a meeting about Gaza was reported by one lecturer as a potential extremist. He was found not to be.
- A nine-year-old schoolboy in east London, who was referred to the authorities after allegedly showing signs of extremism – the youngest case known in Britain. He was “deprogrammed” according to a source with knowledge of the case.
- Within the last month, one new youth project in London alleged it was being pressured by the Metropolitan police to provide names and details of Muslim youngsters, as a condition of funding. None of the young Muslims have any known terrorist history.
- In one London borough, those working with youngsters were told to add information to databases they hold to highlight which youths were Muslim. They were also asked to provide information, to be shared with the police, about which streets and areas Muslim youngsters could be found on.
- In Birmingham the programme manager for Prevent is in fact a senior counter- terrorism police officer. Paul Marriott has been seconded to work in the equalities division of Britain’s biggest council.
- In Blackburn, at least 80 people were reported to the authorities for showing signs of extremism. They were referred to the Channel project, part of Prevent.
- A youth project manager alleges his refusal to provide intelligence led to the police spreading false rumours and trying to smear him and his organisation.
- One manager of a project in London said : “I think part of the point of the [Prevent] programme is to spy and intelligence gather. I won’t do that.” In another London borough wardens on council estates were told to inform on people not whom they suspected of crimes, but whom they suspected could be susceptible to radicalisation. One source, who has been involved in Whitehall discussions on counter-terrorism, said: “There is no doubt Prevent is in part about gathering intelligence on people’s thoughts and beliefs. No doubt.” He added that the authorities feared “they’d be lynched” if they admitted Prevent included spying.
It would surely be more sensible and cost-effective to have confidence-building measures aimed at communities experiencing alienation, instead of alienating them further with this sort of “enemy within” stuff. What’s more, the less alienated the communities are, the more likely it is that you’ll get decent intelligence on the tiny minority of headbins who might fancy blowing themselves up. But apparently that is beyond the imagination of the Home Office.
However, one man is rather keen on all this snooping:
Ed Husain, of the Quilliam Foundation, said it was the morally right thing to do, and that waiting until people had fallen prey to extremism and were drawn into terrorism was too late…
Husain said of Prevent: “It is gathering intelligence on people not committing terrorist offences. If it is to prevent people getting killed and committing terrorism, it is good and it is right.”…
Husain said gathering intelligence outweighed civil liberty concerns that prying into the political and religious beliefs of people was a dangerous move towards a police state: “That’s the name of the game. It’s not about doing the right thing by Islamists or by liberal do-gooders, it’s about creating a society where liberal do-gooders survive freely.”
Can it be coincidental that, under the auspices of Prevent, some £700,000 of taxpayers’ money has been handed over to the Quilliam Foundation? I suggest not.
One may hope that, in their current zeal for small government, the Tories might have something more sensible in mind. But no, their plans are even more draconian:
The Conservatives are seriously considering adopting a new policy called Preventing Extremism.
Among those who would be considered extreme under those plans are those who advocate a caliphate, a pan-Islamic state encompassing many countries; those promoting Sharia law; and those who believe in jihad, or armed resistance, anywhere in the world.
This would include armed resistance by Palestinians against the Israeli military and those who fail to condemn the killing of British soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan.
Now, the Tories have been flaying the government for some time on the question of the non-violent Islamist group Hizb-ut-Tahrir. Whilst having a rush of blood to the head, Mr Tony Blair promised to ban the Hizb, but the government backed away from this on the grounds that, while the Hizb say some objectionable things and they aren’t very popular, there was zero evidence of them being involved in violent activity or incitement of same. The Tories are adamant that they will ban the Hizb nonetheless. But it’s worth pondering for a moment just how far-reaching those Tory proposals are. Someone who writes an article or a blog post advocating Sharia law could be blacklisted; so could someone who states that the Palestinians have a right to resist occupation (and note here that we’re not talking about blowing up civilians, but about directly resisting the IDF); and you have to love that “fail to condemn” bit, which summons up images of the Great Loyalty Oath Crusade in Catch-22.
Here’s the kicker:
Ed Husain, of the Quilliam Foundation, who has advised both Labour and the Conservatives on extremism… (emphasis added)
You can find much more on Prevent from this report [pdf] from the Institute of Race Relations, which goes into some detail about how a programme supposedly aimed at stopping radicalisation is in fact increasing Muslim alienation. It also mentions the influence Ed and his mates are having on the Prevent programme.
Inayat Bunglawala puts it well:
In normal circumstances you would have expected British Muslims to wholeheartedly rally behind the stated goals of the Prevent agenda, i.e., to reduce the risk from terrorism and to stop people from becoming terrorists or supporting violent extremism.
In practice, however, under the guise of the Prevent program, ministers at the communities and local department (CLG), including Ruth Kelly and her successor Hazel Blears, attempted to engage in a rather ambitious bit of social engineering and began promoting and funding outfits which had little or no support among UK Muslims, including the Sufi Muslim Council and the Quilliam Foundation, while trying to marginalize far larger and more representative bodies such as the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB). Oddly enough, the views of the government and these new outfits concerning the “war on terror” were largely indistinguishable…
According to The Guardian, the Quilliam Foundation has received £700,000 in Home Office Prevent funding to date. It is an eye-opening figure given that the Quilliam Foundation was only established in April 2008 by two former Hizb ut-Tahrir activists Ed Husain and Maajid Nawaz.
The Quilliam Foundation has earned notoriety among UK Muslims by consistently being seen to smear and attempting to undermine leading Islamic figures and mainstream organizations by labeling them as ‘Islamists’.
And also adding to British Muslim concerns, the Quilliam Foundation has gained the vocal support of a whole gallery of influential neo-conservatives and Zionists including Nick Cohen, Michael Gove, Charles Moore, and Martin Bright. Indeed, the latter, Martin Bright, was the author of a notorious article whose title referred to the holy Qur’an as a ‘great con trick’…
(Ed’s popularity with the Decents is a good spot. He’s also been feted by the neocon Scoop Jackson Society, and hailed as an heroic figure by the Alliance for Workers Liberty. You can go a long way by telling people what they want to hear.)
Many British Muslims have understandably come to view the Quilliam Foundation as constituting a government-backed attempt to destabilize leading Islamic organizations in the UK. An essential and necessary first step to help rebuild relations with British Muslims and increase trust must be for the Home Office to publicly make crystal clear that the government does not in any way condone spying on individuals who are not suspected of involvement in unlawful activities. A second essential step must be to loudly distance itself from the actions and views of the Quilliam Foundation and to immediately cease funding its mischief-making against Islamic institutions.
Well said that man. The two cabinet ministers responsible for Prevent, Alan Johnson and John Denham, are relatively sensible characters who have made some of the right noises in recent months, certainly in comparison to the Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears double act that preceded them. It remains to be seen whether or not they are willing to follow through on those noises. Ceasing to shower enormous amounts of public money on Ed Husain would be a good start.
More thoughts on this from Liam, who is wondering whether now would be a good time to get rid of those Wolfe Tones CDs.