Home Office revealed to be funding lifestyle site for Muslim teens
Categories: Latest News
Wednesday September 25 2019
“SuperSisters”, an online lifestyle website which targets Muslim teenagers in the UK was revealed by The Observer to be funded by the Home Office’s counter-extremism programme, Building a Stronger Britain Together (BSBT).
BSBT describes itself as a programme providing “funding and support for groups involved in counter-extremism projects in their communities.” It operates under the 2015 Counter-Extremism Strategy, alongside the widely discredited PREVENT strategy, and funds over 230 groups, of which SuperSisters is one.
This revelation is illustrative of how the government’s counter-terrorism strategy is founded upon the idea that, because the magnitude of the terrorist threat is too great to rely on traditional post-crime jurisprudence, measures and policies need to exist that pre-empt violent acts of terror. However, the often-arbitrary application of this approach has led to an overwhelming scrutiny of Muslims through the lens of security and terrorism and increased surveillance of British Muslim communities.
Certainly, counter-terrorism initiatives and funding has infiltrated several aspects of British Muslims’ lives under the guise of security, imposing structurally Islamophobic policies and procedures in the process. By securitising the lives of Muslim communities through the process of targeted mass surveillance, the government has been accused of alienating and ostracising these communities through creating the impression of a community “at risk”.
The counter-terrorism legislative framework needs to be independently reviewed to curb structural Islamophobia that has permeated practically every level of policy development, implementation, and application.
Literature and spoken word has historically been an integral tactic in movements centred upon the liberation of oppressed groups globally. In June 2019, the Bradford Literature Festival – an event which has a reputation for creating a space for discussion and debate, particularly for the historically marginalised and silenced groups in British society – was also found to be receiving BSBT funding. This revelation resulted in many writers and activists withdrawing from the festival. Former president of the National Union of Students, Malia Bouattia, said she had been invited to discuss a chapter she had contributed to in an anthology which explicitly discusses the “destructive effect” of counter-extremism funding on Muslim political spaces. To have a festival celebrating the literary and spoken contributions of members of marginalised groups in the UK funded by BSBT undermines the process of liberation, and further normalises the narrative that Muslims are prone to perpetrating and orchestrating violence.
In August 2019, Middle East Eye covered a story about another social network aimed at young people, This Is Woke, which describes itself as the work of a “media/news company” engaging in “critical discussions around Muslim identity, tradition, and reform”. The reality is that it was created by a media company on behalf of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT) at the Home Office, and is again a project of the PREVENT strategy.
This Is Woke is just one example of initiatives produced in the UK under the direction of the Home Office’s Research Intelligence and Communications Unit (RICU): in other internal documents, the unit says it is working “at an industrial scale and pace”. Former Home Office officials have even said RICU has also been working to influence the arts in the UK. These revelations should concern Muslim communities, as they point towards Muslims being placed under surveillance and viewed through the lens of security as a result of the counter-terrorism legislative framework
Examining RICU’s work offers a valuable insight into the worrying propaganda framework targeting Muslims. A contractor which RICU outsources much of its work to is called Breakthrough Media Network Ltd. Together, RICU and Breakthrough focus on what are termed “Prevent priority areas” in the UK, using keywords and paid-for Google and Facebook adverts to target people whose browsing history suggests they are Muslims. Thus, using what they term “promotion and diversion techniques”, Breakthrough promotes RICU’s messages. These actions suggest the counter-terror legislative framework has paved the path for government bodies to attempt to change the way young British Muslims act and think. Indeed, Breakthrough itself said the purpose of their work is to help the government “promote a reconciled British Muslim identity”.
Ultimately, the UK’s counter-terror strategy has been shown to embed structural Islamophobia within everyday practices, thus legitimising the infiltration of exclusionary practices into nearly every aspect of British Muslims lives. For these reasons, MEND strongly urges policymakers and political parties to commit to independently reviewing all counter-terrorism legislation enacted since 2000 with a view to curbing the encroachment of counter-terrorism policies on civil liberties.