Reflections on the CAGE report
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Wednesday January 16 2019
The independent advocacy group CAGE has recently published a report titled ‘CCE Exposed: The Islamophobia Industry Policing Thoughts and Beliefs,’ revealing how the theoretical frameworks underpinning the Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) methods to identify and tackle ‘extremism’ are flawed. The analysis also details how organisations and networks affiliated with the Islamophobia Industry have embedded within the CCE’s ‘Expert Group’ creating an inherent Islamophobic bias within the CCE’s epistemological outlook, theories and operation.
The CCE falls under the remit of the Government’s Counter Extremism Strategy (2015) which, in conjunction with the flawed PREVENT programme, has a mission to embed the ‘counter extremism’ framework throughout wider society. According to the Conservative manifesto, the CCE aims to “identify examples of extremism and expose them, to support the public and civil sector, and help the government to identify policies to defeat extremism and promote pluralistic values.” It is worth noting that the CCE was created as an alternative strategy to the Counter Extremism and Safeguarding Bill (2016) which could not produce a legally definitive definition of extremism. The Government’s inability to explicitly define ‘extremism’ has since been inherited by the CCE and remained a strategically convenient linguistic tool, as it enables the state to reconfigure and expand the scope and exertion of its power according to the contemporary political agenda.
The analysis in the report brings attention to the primary failing of the Government’s strategy, namely its emphasis on ‘ideology’ as the catalyst for political violence. The focus on ideology necessitates that adherence to “Fundamental British Values” is the criteria to measure the spectrum of extremism. Nonetheless the vague and ill-defined nature of ‘Fundamental British Values’ does little beyond reinforcing a dichotomy in the public imagination between “British Values” and “Muslim Values.” Furthermore, the report highlights how this tactic conveniently glosses over socio-economic factors that contribute to radicalisation and overlooks the impact of British foreign policy within this process. The focus on ideology legitimises a surge in state policing, coercion and censorship whilst invoking the suspicion of terrorism to silence any resistance or objections.
The report also considers the individual personalities in the CCE ‘Expert Group’ and conclude that the CCE is not operating as an independent body but is instead an extension of the international industry of Islamophobia. Most members of the CCE have links to established Islamophobic and neoliberal/neo-conservative organisations such as The Henry Jackson Society and The Tony Blair Institute for Global Change and are “therefore invested in implemented and cementing its faulty and damaging narratives.” This raises questions of an inherent Islamophobic bias in its leadership, governance and policies with the purpose of presenting a skewed version of Islam to legitimise the War on Terror.
Sara Khan was appointed the lead commissioner of the CCE last year yet remains a controversial and divisive figure within Muslim communities for her endorsement of PREVENT with 100 Muslims signing an open letter objecting to her appointment, for reasons such as her lack of expertise in this area and her lack of credibility within the Muslim community. Some argue that her position is a tokenistic gesture to mask the Islamophobia which is structurally ingrained within stable institutions and policies and to counter other Muslim voices in the public arena.
In line with their findings CAGE advocate a more critical independent approach that ensures Government transparency and accountability which is reflected within its extended institutions. With an unstable premise and subjective interpretation of ‘extremism’ the CCE fosters division and has bleak consequences for the freedoms of religious belief. CAGE, therefore, call for a “complete boycott” of the CCE .