Delegitimising Terrorism or Delegitimising Muslim Voices?
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Monday May 09 2022
Recently, the right-wing think tank Policy Exchange released a report accusing Muslim organisations of enabling terrorism by opposing the Prevent programme. Former Prime Minister David Cameron, whose government had introduced the current iteration of the Prevent programme, mentioned in the report, “those who refuse to challenge the falsehoods surrounding Prevent are guilty of a form of ‘passive tolerance’”. Furthermore, the report audaciously accused many mainstream Muslim organisations of having extremist links. However it failed to comprehensively address why so many organisations hold this view and conspicuously fails to address the inherent flaws surrounding Prevent that have been highlighted by experts, academics, and activists whilst lackadaisically accusing Muslim organisations of enabling terrorism, which is a form of Islamophobia.
The Prevent programme, which places a statutory duty on public bodies to have “due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”, has been widely discredited by activists, experts, academics, and various Muslim organisations for being institutionally Islamophobic. Previous statisitcs have shown that Muslims are 41 times more likely to be referred to Prevent, and normative Muslim practices have led to referrals, such as visiting Saudi Arabia for Hajj or Umrah. In academic spaces, Prevent has curtailed freedom of speech, leaving Muslim students afraid to speak on topics such as foreign policy and Palestine due to the fear of being considered extremists. Perhaps most significantly, there is a lack of evidentiary basis surrounding the effectiveness of the Prevent strategy leading to many condemning the strategy as counterproductive.
The fact that the report fails to address legitimate and well-founded critiques concerning Prevent highlights the motives of the report. Indeed, there has been room for genuine critique of Prevent in academic and social activism spaces, particularly among non-Muslim voices. However, the report has failed to engage in any scholarly debate surrounding the issues associated with Prevent. Instead, the core focus of the report is on anti-Prevent activism organised by mainstream Muslim organisations such as MCB, Mend, and Cage, while recommending that the government consider such activities when engaging with these organisations. Instead of academically challenging the criticisms of Prevent, the Policy Exchange seeks to delegitimise mainstream Muslim organisations, actively discouraging dialogue between grassroots organisations and the government. Such organisations provide critical insights into the issues facing British Muslim communities, which may even provide long-term solutions to valid concerns of radicalisation.
As such an approach by the Policy Exchange is an overt example of Institutional Islamophobia, marginalising mainstream Muslims from engaging in debate and dialogue.
However, such claims by the Policy Exchange are unsurprising. Indeed, the organisation has consistently attacked and voiced opinions against mainstream British Muslims. Previously, they were vocal in opposing the APPG definition of Islamophobia while accusing British Muslims of having a ‘victim mentality.’ Such a pattern is inevitable considering the endless right-wing links of the staff members at the Policy Exchange. David Goodhart, the Head of Demography, Immigration & Integration for Policy Exchange, is a vocal supporter of the Home Office’s “hostile environment” policy and has said that even his children accuse him of racism. Current Chairman, Alexander Downer, was the architect behind Australia’s ‘harsh immigration’ policy and has advocated for turning boats back to France. He was also appointed as an Immigration adviser by the Home Office earlier this year, which recently introduced the controversial Rwanda deportation policy. While one of the authors of the report, Damon L. Perry, by his admission, was inspired by Lorenzo Vidino for his thesis, an individual known in the US for advocating the anti-Muslim Great Replacement theory.
Ultimately, the aim of such a report is to delegitimise Muslim opposition to Prevent. What worries organisations such as Policy Exchange is that Muslim groups they seek to demonise do have engagement with local police, councils etc. because such organisations understand the need for engagement and importance of working with Muslim communities, not marginalising them further. Indeed the report says the following about MEND,
“But MEND is frequently accepted as a partner at the local level by police services, the NHS, and regional Police only gives credibility to a group and narrative that seeks to undermine the Government’s efforts to counter terrorism and extremism.”
Equating the exercising of the democratic right to disagree with Government policy with somehow enabling terrorism lays bare the real purpose of the report which is to silence mainstream grassroots community voices. Indeed the report openly states that the Government should “seek to empower genuinely progressive forces from within the Muslim community by excluding from official patronage those whose views are inconsistent with liberal democratic social values”. Decoding this into simpler language, what Policy Exchange are advocating is that the Government should only talk to ‘progressive’ Muslim groups that agree with it, i.e. uncritical, compliant, ‘good’ Muslims. This is ironic, since one of the cornerstones of democracy is that Government policy should be open to scrutiny, challenge and debate.
Regardless, MEND will continue to call for the scrapping of Prevent and calls on the government and policymakers to reject the findings from Policy Exchange’s discreditable report.