I have now ploughed through all 120 pages odd of the Government’s new Prevent Strategy, which manages to be even more illiberal and more turgid than the original. It claims that the last Prevent Strategy was misguided – but for all the wrong reasons. Rather amusingly, it starts with a message of endorsement from Lord Carlile – who also endorsed the last strategy which it criticises so strongly. The truth is, Carlile will endorse anything for any government which gives him status – he loves status – “It has my considered and strong support” he concludes his endorsement – you have to imagine saying it with marbles in your mouth and a degree of insufferable pomposity – “It has my considered and strong support”- wanker.
The report has many errors. but its fundamental flaw is iits explicit assumption that terrorism is actuated by a hatred of democracy.
” There is evidence to indicate that support for terrorism is associated with rejection of a cohesive, integrated, multi-faith society and of parliamentary democracy. Work to deal with radicalisation will depend on developing a sense of belonging to this country and support for our core values. “
That may in part be true; but with stunning intellectual dishonesty the government refuses to tackle in the report the fact that terrorism in the UK has been driven by disgust at British foreign policy, and especially the invasion of Iraq, and the continuing occupation and civilian deaths in Afghanistan. This is not speculation on my part; the 7/7 bombers not only referred to this specifically in suicide videos, they also indeed cited extraordinary renidition and torture as motives of their actions.
The Prevent Strategy ignores this and instead chooses to adopt the stupidly simple mantra of George W Bush to explain terrorism; “They hate our freedoms”. This is precisely the sole cause of terrorism which the Prevent Strategy defines as the problem. When the problem is defined fundamentally wrongly, you can hardly expect the solutions to be correct.
And those conclusions are stunningly illiberal – much more so than the mainstream media has picked up This is a direct quote. I am not making it up:
But preventing terrorism will mean challenging extremist (and non-violent) ideas that are also part of a terrorist ideology.
The (and non-violent) is there in the original. Really.
So peaceful support for a united Ireland should not be allowed, because it is “also part of a terrorist ideology”? That is absolutely the implication of the report. But it is plain it only applies to Muslim groups, on the grounds that they “pose the greatest threat” to the public,
So what it means is that believing that the UK should be governed by Sharia law, even if you hold that belief totally lawfully and without violence, and wish to campaign for it through democratic means, should not be allowed.
But it goes further than that. Universites, healthcare providers, NGOs and faith groups are to be vigilant in searching for those who hold such beliefs, and reporting them to the police. We have already seen where this leads. At Nottingham University two students were thrown out for researching information on Al Qaida on the State Department website, and then a lecturer was sacked for defending them.
Pages 15 to 19 cover support for terrorism and the drivers for it. There is one single phrase in five pages that acknowledges western foreign policy as a motivator for terrorism, but this is then ignored, while all the other factors are treated at great length. The opinion polls cited on pages 16 to 17 on Muslim attitudes to terrorism refrained from asking any question about western foreign policy or giving any chance for respondents to refer to it.
There is an accidentally hilarious part of the report where it denies that Prevent is used for spying on Muslim communities. That, they say, falls under a related programme called Pursue, and should not be confused with Prevent! But twenty odd pages after their lengthy passage claiming Prevent has been unfairly accused of spying, which is the task of Pursue, we find:
“Taking action against propagandists and radicalisers requires careful coordination between work in the Pursue and Prevent areas” p. 52
Which is something of a giveaway.
There is also yet another example of the Tories fulfilling their pledge to reach the target of 0.7% of GDP spent on development aid, by classifying war and “security” expenditure as development aid.
The Department for International Development (DfID) also has a role to play. Although its main purpose is to reduce poverty, overseas development work in some areas can help to build resilience to terrorism through programmes that strengthen governance and security,
With my interest in the university sector, it is some of the stuff on universities I find most chilling. It is full of reasonable sounding propositions that reveal the feeble grasp of a limited intellect:
Universities and colleges have an important role to play in Prevent, particularly in ensuring balanced debate as well as freedom of speech.
There is no obligation on universities to provide “balanced debate”. Do they have to have a creationist speaker at every lecture on evolution? There is still less of an obligation on them to ensure balanced debate in the extra-curricular activities of their students. Does there have to be a Tory speaker at every meeting against the cuts? And remember, that the Prevent Strategy makes plain that the “extremist speakers” they wish to guard against specifically include speakers with a non-violent ideology.
But the great news is, that restrictions on what you are allowed to think at university are all for your own good:
to ensure that all institutions where there is risk of radicalisation recognise their duty of care to students to protect them from the consequences of their becoming involved in terrorism, and take reasonable steps to minimise this risk;
This incredible piece of Orwellian justification for the end of academic freedom is breathtaking in its audacity. The practical consequences could easily be transposed into a manual of the Third Reich, of Stalin’s Russia or Pinochet’s Chile. Again I am not making this stuff up, this is what the report says about universities:
work with the police and other partners to ensure that student societies and university and college staff have the right information and guidance to enable them to make decisions about external speakers.
support local police forces in working with those institutions assessed to be at the greatest risk;
Under New Labour I had the peculiar experience of finding myself banned from entering a Cambridge University building, and therefore delivering a speech to a large crowd of students who gathered in the foyer to hear me as I shouted through the open doorway. I honestly did believe that the Lib Dems and even the Conservatives would be better. I was very, very wrong.
This new Prevent Strategy is a document which sadly proves that the staff of MI5 and the Home Office are, on average, not very bright, and will always favour their own power over liberty. Media reports have focused on the decision to withdarw government funding from those organisations viewed as “extremist”, because that is what the government press release said, and no mainstream journalist will ever actually read the report.
In fact I favour withdrawing that funding. Personally I don’t think the government should fund any faith group or institution.
One organisation which will still receive plenty of government funding under the Prevent programme is the Quilliam Foundation,. This taxpayer funded body attempted by subterfuge to gain personal financial details from me. That says all you need to know about Prevent, which is a secret service led programme.
In fact, if the government got much smaller, and stopped funding attacks on foreign countries, we would all be vastly safer, which would be a real “Prevent Strategy”.