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An activist’s guide for Policy Exchange and the former Prime Minister on how to actually understand Islamism and Prevent

16 MAY 2022

My response to the report on how Prevent is apparently being besmirched by Islamist extremists.


Some may have read by now the ‘report’ by the right-wing thinktank that has been backed by David Cameron, the former Prime Minister of this country. A thinktank is not automatically independent just because it claims to be so — if anything, this is just further evidence of the complicated network of connections and allies on which the Government can draw at a moment’s notice. 


It will come as no surprise that I am among those who are horrified but sadly unsurprised at the gall of those allied with the Government to continue to support such an untenable position, and insult those who disagree. Though, I was surprised at how long it has taken to respond to the People’s Review of Prevent — to which I submitted evidence — which published its report nearly three months ago.


The title of the report itself, referring to “The Activist Campaign” harks back to not so long ago when human rights lawyers were called “activist lawyers” and framed as ‘Enemies of the People’ simply for pointing out that the Government’s terrible human rights record and doing their job as judges. That resulted in death threats and trolling on social media. 


I have in-depth knowledge of the inner workings of Prevent from having worked with the strategy for a number of years. I know how toxic the entire system is and how the British counterterrorism strategy is discriminatory towards Muslims. I have continued to speak out and raise awareness of the many problems with Prevent after severing connections, even despite endless personal attacks that have included threats against my life, funding withdrawn from my charity, and doubts being cast over whether I even actually survived the 7/7 London bombings.


It was therefore galling to read the pure hypocrisy and irony in the report calling out “personal attacks” on people involved in ‘scrutinising’ Prevent that are, in reality, simply legitimate questions asked about the known personal allegiances and connections with the Government Sara Khan — which would call into question any claims of independence — in her role as Lead Commissioner for Countering Extremism. 


Critics of Prevent are genuinely independent, and the writers of the report seem to have no response beyond suggesting that those who criticise Prevent are all “Islamist extremists”. Interestingly, the report both namedrops a slew of campaigns and organisations that have been vocal against Prevent over the years and calls this a “small but vocal” minority. Unless these are just the same tiny group of people who are in multiple places at once and do nothing else without their time, both situations cannot both be true. I have had sight of similar ‘dossiers’ that include the very same organisations called out by name in this report, which suggests that Policy Exchange is not the only body behind this report and that there are various individuals behind it. 


It is also worth remembering that among those whom the report would like us to believe are untrustworthy and unreliable are academic experts in their field and UN Special Rapporteurs, who specialise in scrutinising a particular topic area across member nations. 


Even though they’re supporting a proposal to create what seems to be highly dubious misinformation unit more akin to a propaganda arm for the Government, Policy Exchange concedes that the Government needs to do more research into extremism and terrorism. The Government is already engaging in underhand discourse manipulation tactics through the Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU), which some would say is the shady arm of counterterrorism in the UK. Is another full unit dedicated to making the ugly look good really the best way to spend government money, when the most vulnerable in society are already being deprived of essential services and the healthcare system is on the brink of collapse?


Someone who should know better is the Right Honourable David Cameron, the former Prime Minister. He knows that critics are not all “Islamist extremists”. 


He has been out of the loop for too long if he seriously believes that Islamist extremism is our greatest threat, above far-right extremism, or that Islamist extremism is underrepresented in Prevent.


Cameron’s foreword and supporting piece in The Times wax lyrical about cohesion and the UK being “a country where everyone feels at home”. Diversity is one of the characteristics that makes this country what it is, but it is a truth universally acknowledged by any well-informed person that this country has never treated all communities equally.


Anyone who thinks that the UK is mostly a tolerant, equal society is in the privileged position of not needing to see the truth or having never seen racism rear its ugly head against a child or young person who thought they could consider themselves English or British. 


The former Prime Minister suggests that “society fails to interfere in minority communities for fear of appearing racist”. Society interferes frequently, in fact, but it’s about how this is done. His wording is itself revealing. Society appears racist because this is done from a racist, discriminatory, paternalistic stance that interferes in the community and prescribes a course of action, as opposed to productively engaging in open dialogue with a community to listen to their concerns. 


I lead a charity that works on tackling FGM and forced marriage, both issues mentioned by the former Prime Minister, and the problem is not a fear of appearing racist, but a lack of specialist, culturally sensitive knowledge that results in racist assumptions and attitudes against victims and families of potential victims.


It may well surprise Government allies how much work can be done simply by engaging in open dialogue with minority communities, with prior assumptions left to one side and the only aim being to exchange ideas on a level playing field — and not one that constantly compares an “Islamist extremist narrative” 


Comparing an “Islamist extremist narrative” with an “anti-Prevent narrative”, and often mentioning the two side by side in the same sentence, is dangerous and extremely insulting. Are they implying that I am an ‘extremist’ for being against Prevent? If this is what they are implying, they should come out from behind their smokescreens and say this with conviction — and expect for me to not take this lightly. I am sure that they know the definition of defamation or libel. 


If anything, this obsessive fixation on Islamist extremism reveals the foundations of Prevent in Islamophobia and targeting Muslim communities. 


This is an endemic problem within Prevent and will not go away unless we repeal Prevent. If Prevent remains, we could well risk young people from minority communities becoming radicalised by the idea of a strategy that targets them for their religious beliefs. The Muslim community deserves better. Our country needs better.

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