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Pro-Prevent lobby goes into overdrive

Pro-Prevent lobby goes into overdrive

Categories: Latest News

Wednesday October 12 2016

The Times yesterday published yet another article trailing the Louise Casey review report with a column by Rachel Sylvester claiming the “hard left are sabotaging anti-extremism plans.”

Sylvester opens with the case of a Muslim pupil who was supposedly marked out for the Channel intervention programme – part of the Government’s prevent strategy – for mis-spelling “terraced house”.

Not all is what it seems, she declares, noting that the police response was in relation to “a series of concerning comments by the boy” and not, as reported, because of the innocent spelling error.

Sylvester uses this single example of a misdirected rage at the Government’s Prevent strategy to claim that it is being undermined by civic activism on the left and the right.

She berates the National Union of Students for standing up to the Government’s attempt to undermine free speech on campuses and curtail critical debate by publishing unverifiable and unchallengeable accounts of “extremist” behaviour or speech.

The Government’s Extremism Analysis Unit which “named and shamed” universities for not complying with the Prevent statutory duty neither puts into the public domain the basis for its assertions nor allows those who stand accused of infringements the right to challenge the official designation of their “extremist views”. Such Kafkaesque smoke and mirrors would be derided in any open society but not one, it seems, Sylvester believes in.

She even cites the EAU’s having “significant concerns” about mend in her paragraph about the prospective mayor of Manchester, Andy Burnham’s appearance at our fringe event at Labour conference last week and his criticisms of Prevent.

What are these “significant concerns”? Nobody knows. Least of all Sylvester who is content to repeat the claims but offers no evidence at all that they are justified. It is enough for Government to throw the accusations around like confetti it seems except that civil society and Muslims demand more robust responses to exacting questions than conjecture and falsehoods bandied about by ministers and civil servants. It’s a sad day for the fourth estate when journalists will repeat Government lines without scrutinising them.

Indeed, such is the operation of the EAU’s secretive work that questions asked about its budget, membership, remit and operation are ignored by ministers and refused under FOI disclosure rules. None of this stops Sylvester from quoting a source there.

It may perhaps interest Sylvester to learn Dame Louise Casey has been in touch with us to request a meeting to discuss her report. We wonder if Sylvester sought clarification on this from Casey herself before mounting such a staunch defence of the Prevent programme and the work of the EAU without, it would appear, knowing all that much about either.

While Sylvester uses the example of the one pupil whose case made headlines after his “terrorist house” story became national news to highlight the perils of reading too much into a single incident, she ignores the numbers of pupils who have been referred under the Channel programme to the authorities, with the numbers rising rapidly after the introduction of the statutory duty.

Five children a day” was the headline in The Times in June 2016. With the National Police Chiefs Council figures from last year revealing that 80% of such referrals are declared void, the impact on British Muslim schoolchildren is of a far greater magnitude than Sylvester cares to imagine. No mention in her column, of course, of the brilliant report by Rights Watch UK detailing the infringement of child rights by Prevent. Who should care about such things as human rights when the Extremism Analysis Unit is busy establishing its own metrics on judging the parameters of liberal rights in an open society.

Nor does she stop to consider the warnings of select committees ranging from the Women and Equalities committee to the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the Home Affairs select committee, about the impact of Prevent on Muslim communities and the erosion of trust in institutions. Then there are the critical perspectives advanced by the UN’s Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of associationMaina Kiai, the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI) and the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson QC, all of whom have criticised the Government and its Prevent strategy on the basis of evidence emerging from Muslim communities about its impact on alienation and marginalisation.

It is notable that much of Sylvester’s defence of Casey’s report refers to aspects of it that deal with Muslim communities. For example, there is reference to state schools “closing early” on Fridays for the Friday prayers, about “persistent patriarchal or misogynistic attitudes” with references to “women forced to sit separately from men or discouraged from learning English”. Casey’s views on the wearing of face veils garners a mention as does shari’ah tribunals, but there is no comparable mention about Beth Din courts indeed of anything where Muslim rights to religious freedom present the same dilemmas for other faiths, Christian and Jewish.

Sylvester argues “the fight against terrorism can no longer be treated as a political football.”

She’s right of course. And Muslims who have borne the brunt of being kicked left and right, top and bottom by defenders of Prevent should take note that the desperation evident in columns like one published by The Times yesterday is proof the heat is on.


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