Are the government’s “Prevent” anti-extremist policies well-crafted and working for the country? One way to find out is to look at the arguments of Prevent critics. If they are laughably poor, we are on the right track. Just look for dubious methodology, exaggerations, distortions, and outright lies.
Well, today the charity “Just Yorkshire” will publish a report which should have Prevent supporters cheering, for it is transparently shambolic.
“Racism and Islamophobia”
“Prevent is built upon a foundation of Islamophobia and racism” is one of the report’s headline conclusions.
This is completely out of order and outrageous. Senior politicians, including the former and current Prime Ministers, have repeatedly noted that terrorists make up a tiny minority of the Muslim population while hardcore Islamist extremists are on the fringes. Any fair reading of government statements will show that Muslims in general are not the government’s target in anti-extremist policy work.
After the London Bridge attacks, for example, Theresa May said this (emphasis added) in a Downing Street statement:
First, while the recent attacks are not connected by common networks, they are connected in one important sense. They are bound together by the single evil ideology of Islamist extremism that preaches hatred and promotes sectarianism. It is an ideology that claims our Western values of freedom, democracy and human rights are incompatible with the religion of Islam. It is an ideology that is a perversion of Islam and a perversion of truth.
This is notable when the statement was relatively tough in tone, including the widely cited “enough is enough” line.
May’s language is part of an established approach. Look back to David Cameron’s important speech in Munich in 2011:
We have got to get to the root of the problem, and we need to be absolutely clear on where the origins of where these terrorist attacks lie. That is the existence of an ideology, Islamist extremism. We should be equally clear what we mean by this term, and we must distinguish it from Islam. Islam is a religion observed peacefully and devoutly by over a billion people. Islamist extremism is a political ideology supported by a minority.
It is vital that we make this distinction between religion on the one hand, and political ideology on the other. Time and again, people equate the two. They think whether someone is an extremist is dependent on how much they observe their religion. So, they talk about moderate Muslims as if all devout Muslims must be extremist. This is profoundly wrong. Someone can be a devout Muslim and not be an extremist. We need to be clear: Islamist extremism and Islam are not the same thing.
In fact, Cameron attacked what he called the “hard right” in his Munich speech:
On the one hand, those on the hard right ignore this distinction between Islam and Islamist extremism, and just say that Islam and the West are irreconcilable – that there is a clash of civilizations. So, it follows: we should cut ourselves off from this religion, whether that is through forced repatriation, favoured by some fascists, or the banning of new mosques, as is suggested in some parts of Europe. These people fuel Islamophobia, and I completely reject their argument.
The point is this: the ideology of extremism is the problem; Islam emphatically is not. Picking a fight with the latter will do nothing to help us to confront the former.
These are rather strange words for an “Islamophobe”, aren’t they.
“Far-right extremism is downplayed”
This is another preposterous and outrageous headline claim by Just Yorkshire.
The condemnations of the Finsbury Park attack, to cite one example, were very forthright. In addition, Theresa May made a point of attending the Finsbury Park mosque in solidarity, even though its leader Mohammed Kozbar is close to the Muslim Brotherhood and Hamas and his mosque has hosted extremist speakers.
Mohammed Kozbar all smiles with Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Zahar, who is known as a hardliner even within the terrorist group
Furthermore, it is widely known now that far right cases make up almost one third of Channel referrals, even though the number of Islamist attacks and plots greatly outnumber far right security cases. If anything, one could argue – though I wouldn’t in the current security environment – that the authorities are “overplaying” the far right threat.
“A climate of fear and self-censorship”
Just Yorkshire laments Prevent creating “a climate of fear and self-censorship”. Really? Don’t be absurd. Many Islamist extremists in the UK promote repugnant and dangerous views in the open and on video. They include:
– Support for the most brutal sharia punishments, including the death penalty for apostates from Islam, homosexuals, and “fornicators”. The “not here, not now, only in an Islamic State” qualifier which is sometimes added is worthless. The very ideas are horrific. And just in case you haven’t noticed, folks, there are people in the Middle East advancing this very vision in gruesome reality. Hundreds of British Muslims who know your preaching have swelled their ranks.
– Backing for jihadi “resistance” in overseas conflicts, including the killers of British troops deployed in conflict zones.
– Outright rejection of secularism and democracy. Or strictly tactical acceptance of these western concepts, provided they are used to advance Muslim interests alone rather than the public interest. Muslim MPs in particular must toe the Islamist line and those who do not are outside the faith. Furthermore, the ultimate goal remains a caliphate enforcing sharia law, not secular democracy.
– Ludicrous conspiracy theories, such as claims that Islamic State is an Israeli or American plot to make Islam look bad. Those who believe such incendiary claims must be at risk of serious radicalisation.
– Vicious hatred of Ahmadi and Shia Muslims.
– Fervent support for Mumtaz Qadri, the man who assassinated the Pakistani politician Salman Taseer for “blasphemy”.
– Rank antisemitism, right up to calling Jews “apes and pigs” and blaming “Zionists” for the Grenfell Tower fire.
– Disturbing calls on Muslims to refuse all co-operation with police officers and the security services as they try to keep us safe.
– Shameless use of terrorist attacks to demand changes in “foreign policy”, effectively giving terrorists a veto on what we do in the world. Note that people pushing this line would not demand changes in, say, immigration policy after a far-right racist terrorist attack.
These views would never be heard in open forums if there really was a “climate of fear”.
By the way, here’s Just Yorkshire on the most brutal form of “censorship”:
So I would like to declare that ‘Non je ne suis pas Charlie’– ‘No, I am not Charlie’ because the hashtag asserts White and Western privilege; it arrogates the values of freedom and liberty to some mythical notion of Western moral superiority; and in the end it is reductive, polarizing and hypocritical.
The report’s methodology is questionable. The charity says 36 interviews with “young people and stakeholders” were conducted and the views gathered form “substantive sections of the report”. The interviewees included “professionals with experience of working with Prevent, academics, teachers, faith leaders, race equality practitioners and charity representatives”.
The report does not indicate how these people were selected. Nor does it detail any effort to make the views representative of Muslims in general.
If a highly critical set of people is selected, the conclusions will inevitably be negative. That does seem to be the case here. Among the few named interviewees, one finds Azad Ali of MEND, who is quoted five times in the report. Asim Qureshi of Cage is quoted twice. Both are notorious extremists who are determined to wreck the government’s anti-extremist measures. Ahmed Saad is also quoted. He served as an imam at the Finsbury Park mosque for several years.
Tellingly, not one of the interviewees is broadly positive about Prevent. The authors did not make any attempt to strike any balance.
Don’t look for any self-awareness. The report is based on numerous contributions from Islamists but the authors still complain that critics of Prevent are described as Islamists:
Critique of Prevent is often dismissed, particularly in the right wing press, but increasingly too by politicians and political commentators, as the work of ‘Islamists’ or ‘Islamist sympathisers’. Such criticisms ignore the opposition and resistance to Prevent from across section of society, often from individuals committed to the values of human rights and social justice.
Report Author Waqas Tufail’s Links to Extremists
In fact, one of the report’s authors, Waqas Tufail, has close links with far left and Islamist activists. In June 2016, for example, he took part in a “Students not Suspects” event at Goldsmiths alongside Moazzam Begg of Cage, among others.
In February 2016, Tufail spoke alongside Begg at a “Stand Up to Racism” event in Sheffield.
In 2014, Birkbeck cancelled an event organised by the Khomeinist IHRC. Tufail signed an open letter accusing Birkbeck of “breeding Institutional Islamophobia”.
In 2013, Tufail criticised Manchester Metropolitan University for cancelling an event featuring a Cage activist.
Just Yorkshire’s “Bad Muslims”
The report laments what it claims is the government’s divisive “good Muslim, bad Muslim” thinking. It then proceeds to put its own “bad Muslims” in the dock. Sara Khan is dismissed as some sort of sinister propaganda tool of the Home Office while the Quilliam Foundation is “distasteful”. Like the government, anti-extremist Muslims seek to “demonise” the community:
It was observed that some ‘good Muslims’ deliberately demonise the collective Muslim community and are given legitimacy by the wider public as providing an insight into ‘their own’, whilst not being given any legitimacy by the Muslim population generally. The government-defined ‘good Muslim ‘further alienates a population that does not see itself in the caricatures being held up as acceptable:
“I think what Prevent has managed to do really, really well is bring to the surface a bunch of people up and down the country who have got, let’s say, let’s call them ‘distasteful agendas’ and it’s done that exceptionally well. So organisations that we can call out are ‘Quilliam’ ..and there’s a few others out there, but I think organisations like that, who make it their daily job, their bread and butter to demonise Muslims and actually call out Muslim organisations who, that are actually trying to defend grassroots individuals on the ground, like we are.”
This is simply scurrilous. Sara Khan’s Inspire has already responded:
The authors, Dr Waqas Tufail and Dr Bano Murtuja claimed that Inspire “were funded directly by the Home Office and managed by a professional public relations company called Breakthrough Media, despite their claims of being grassroots and independent.”
The report then quoted an “anonymous source” claiming Inspire is “managed by Breakthrough Media” and as a result have been given a media platform that we otherwise would not have had.
We reject these false and entirely inaccurate accusations Just Yorkshire have made about us.
Inspire is an independent, non-governmental organisation. We have been in existence for almost ten years; founded by Muslim women who sought to focus on the realities of terrorism, extremism and gender inequality within Muslim communities, when others did not want to. As a result and directly because of our work, we have always had interest from the media and have pro-actively engaged with them. The suggestion we are “managed” by a media firm is as absurd and condescending as it sounds.
Yes, countering the threats we all face and helping Muslim families in trouble, that’s “demonisation”, isn’t it.
The Just Yorkshire Funders
The Rowntree Quakers are Just Yorkshire’s main backer. The charity says it was “set up by the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust in 2003”. Over the last four years the Trust has granted it £216,665. The charity also identifies Oxfam and the Lloyds TSB Foundation as funders on its website.
Its latest annual report to the Charity Commission lists three further funders. They are the Open Society Foundations of George Soros (£16,765 in the year to September 2016), Samosa Media (£1,000), and Operation Black Vote (£5,000).
The Rowntree Trust was widely criticised for backing Cage in the recent past. It should be criticised again for backing an organisation which has produced a terrible report that amounts to nothing more than Cage propaganda.
The government has responded to the report:
The security minister, Ben Wallace, said: “It is no wonder people are concerned about Prevent when reports such as this peddle falsehoods and create myths. Anonymous and misleading quotes riddle this report. Are we really to be expected to stop safeguarding vulnerable people from being exploited because of this flawed report?
“At its heart Prevent is about safeguarding. In the age of the internet and social media people of all backgrounds and religions are vulnerable to being exploited. The Prevent duty sits alongside the duties to protect people from sexual, bullying or criminal manipulation.
“As a parent if my children were being targeted by bullies or terrorists or paedophiles at school I would expect that such occurrences were reported and dealt with. But this report seems to suggest such reporting be stopped when it relates to exploitation by terrorists. We all have a stake in delivering safeguarding in society and I am pleased we are seeing really successful results.”
Good. Carry on.