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Accusations Of Spying Do Not Help Our Fight Against Extremism

This is a guest post by Khuram, cross-posted from The Spittoon

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On Saturday the Guardian published a front page article by Vikram Dodd on the Governments PREVENT strategy. This article claimed there were concerns that the agenda was being used to spy and to gather information. On Sunday another article by Dodd stated that influential MPs were going to investigate these allegations. Interestingly, Dodd was also behind what was claimed to be a leak of the new Contest 2 strategy back in February 09, the actual strategy did not include anything of what was alleged. Two important questions need to be asked then: is PREVENT really about spying and is it effective?

On 07/09/09 three British Muslims were found guilty of the Liquid bombing plot. Had the plot gone ahead seven planes would have exploded in mid-air at the same time. The carnage would have exceeded the September the 11 attacks. The would be Bombers were under surveillance for some time, but was it wrong to spy on them? Several months prior, on 17 April 09, Isa Ibrahim, a convert to Islam, was arrested in Bristol and later charged under the terrorism act. Ibrahim was in possession of an explosive substance and was intent on committing a terrorist act. The tip off came from the local Muslim community. Was the local community in Bristol wrong to tip of the Police? Was this an example of unacceptable prying (spying) into an innocent individual’s life? Of course not.

Having been involved with community groups that have worked on PREVENT, I know its strengths and weaknesses. Anyone who has read the strategy properly will know that it doesn’t encourage spying, rather it promotes ways of identifying and tackling extremist ideologies. It encourages people to be vigilant and resilient against those who wish to cause harm to our society. The Andrew Ibrahim case was hailed as the first visible success of the strategy. One perceived weakness in the strategy was that it didn’t go far enough in naming some of the groups that were pushing extremist ideology in the UK. An attempt was made, however, to clarify this in the later CONTEST 2 strategy.

So why all the fuss about PREVENT? There are groups which feel threatened by this strategy and have opposed it all along. These are mainly Islamists who feel threatened because the agenda exposes their ideology and their allies, some leftists, who mistakenly perceive Islamists as allies in a continuing post-colonial struggle. Dodd’s misleading Contest 2 ‘leak’ has been picked up by Islamists and used to spread fear amongst Muslim communities. An example of this was a talk arranged in Hounslow on 11/07/09 called Putting Contest 2 into Context. The government needs to make sure it doesn’t inadvertently help such groups either by funding them or by consulting them on policy making decisions. There should be no empowering of Islamists, even if they claim to be non-violent, when their world view can be used to justify violence or encourage the mistrust and separatism that is so damaging to our whole society.

Extremist Islamist ideology in the UK has been around for at least three decades and it’s not going to be undermined overnight. Over the course of the past year a lot of hard work has been put into tackling extremist ideologies. There is no doubt in my mind that the police, public sector workers and community groups are far more aware of what this ideology is now than they were prior to the PREVENT strategy being launched. Accusations of spying do not help and only undermine the hard work that is being done to protect our society.

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