By Hamid Chaudry- Governments Prevent Strategy - Surveillance And Entrapment Of Muslims
CagePrisoners ventured ‘up north’ with a clutch of well informed speakers to talk about their work in the context of the Governments Prevent Strategy. The event was well attended by a cross section of the local community, as well as some further afield, including convert to Islam, Daud Musa Pidcock the Chairman of the Islamic Party of Great Britain, and former Principal Intelligence Analyst for South Yorkshire Police – Tony Farrell.
A brief overview of the talks follows:
Credit goes to the ‘radical, extremist’ Sister Anjum Anwar and Women’s Voice for arranging the event. Anjum hosted the event capably in her own unique style… including fundraising for CagePrisoners at the end.
Asim Qureshi , Executive Director of CagePrisoners was first on, sharing a brief run through the evolution of terrorism policy in the UK since 9/11. Important, as Muslims, whether we realise or not, are victim. It began with indefinite detention of foreign nationals – effectively detention without charge, trail or any reason. The only justification being ’these people are a security risk; they dangerous people who need to be locked up’ e.g. Abu Qatada, who since his detention in 2002, has never once been questioned by authorities. As foreign nationals, such people were easy targets. Then came control orders. This was essentially detention without charge, without the rigour of criminal charges. Within the remit of civil law, they required a lower standard of evidence, and allowed ‘secret evidence’.
7/7 – the Government was able to argue the problem was much more deep-rooted than violent extremism. Given these were British born citizens, who at face value led normal lives, they were somehow radicalised. The focus shifted to the Muslim communities – their lives, segregation, lack of integration etc. The conversation moved from ‘extremist plots’ to the Muslim psyche – their devout lifestyle (growing beard, wearing niqaab), segregation (language, Muslim schooling / madrassahs). These were seen as deep-rooted major problems. The focus was on the Muslims and their belief system. Islamophobia increased. The possibility that the host community was itself responsible in some way – actually segregating themselves also – e.g. white flight’.
With the lower standards of evidence, false allegations were now possible – the Old Trafford Plot, ricin plot. The two successful convictions – Operation Crevice and the Airline Plot could have secured successful convictions under the existing criminal justice system – specific anti-terror legislation was not necessary.
The Coalition Government revamped Prevent, promoting a more ‘sophisticated’ strategy, focusing purely on ideology. The target was no longer violent extremism, but extremism…which is obviously subjective. Who defines what is extreme? However, this allowed profiling on belief alone. All Muslims were now potential extremists, irrespective of their appearance, political viewpoint or adherence to the faith. Having a Muslim name was sufficient for airport detention and interrogation.
Prevent 2.0 – epitomised by the case against Ahmad Faraz, who was convicted for selling books which are widely available on Amazon and other High Street bookshop. These were books by renowned Islamic Scholars, which many of us have on our shelves… by the likes of Syed Qutb, Ibn Taymiyah. The Government is now criminalising individuals for merely listening to lectures.
In truth, Prevent impacts every aspect of our lives: it is part of the Government’s attempt to define Islam for Muslims, by creating an environment where certain aspects of the belief are discourage, outlawed and prosecuted. Monitoring is widespread… schools, colleges, university, and even your local GP or health professional.
Rizwan Sabir, one of the Nottingham Two, spoke as a victim of the Government’s approach to anti-terror policy. In 2008, Rizwan was studying for a PhD in the evolution of global militant Islam at University of Nottingham. As part of his research in comparing military tactics, he legitimately downloaded a book from the US Justice Department website known as the Al-Qaeda Training Manual. What transpired is that senior staff at the University undertook a campaign of sabotage against Rizwan and an academic colleague. Security staff had been monitoring his movement and actions. This information was freely passed on to the Police and security establishment, which led to the arrest and subsequent harassment of both academics. He was released a week later without charge, as Rizwan states, due to ‘divine intervention’. Upon his release, Sabir stated: “the power of the state hit me as hard as it could”, and described his experience as “the most degrading, dehumanising encounter [he had] ever experienced”. According to reports by Al-Jazeera, Sabir stated he was “subjected to psychological torture” and believed that “If [the UK] is trying to stop the radicalisation of Muslims the way to do that is not by locking away innocent people… That will only exacerbate the problem.”
Rizwan re-iterated the revised Prevent approach 2011, being a shift to emphasis on the Islamic ideology. It is being used to spy, and collecting information on political attitudes. This is new Prevent Programme.
Neighbourhood Policing does not exist for the neighbourhoods benefit. It exists to gather information on the community. This is community intelligence, to determine where the ‘problem’ lies. What is the community thinking? What are young Muslims attitudes to the world events? Such information is put onto criminal intelligence files. Any anti-western attitudes are monitored. Police share this information with security establishments, and with law enforcement authorities throughout Europe. These form the basis of the RICH Picture Project. Up to eight thousand individuals are being tracked through this covert programme. Works based on intelligence, not evidence. Channel Project – children are covertly referred here if they are perceived to be at risk of influence towards extremism. Has your child been referred? Do you know? Are their rights being infringed?
Harris Farooqi, son of Munir Farooqi, convicted for allegedly recruiting jihadists from a dawah stall in Longsight, Manchester, for fighting against British soldiers in Afghanistan. Harris outlined how covert officers ‘accepted Islam’, and built a friendly relationship with the family – visiting the family home, praying together, eating together, gifts were given to the men, all manner of issues were discussed. Through this relationship, the family was monitored, effectively spied upon, and this secret evidence was used as a basis for the conviction. Discussions and comments were taken out of context.
A regular contributor to Bayyina Foundation, Jahangir Mohammad, Director of the Centre for Muslim Affairs think-tank… outlined that the purpose of Prevent was always known. Its evolution was planned from the outset. It was based on the belief that the problem lay with Muslims and the Islamic belief, rather than the actions of the West and their foreign policy decisions in Muslim countries. There was allegedly something hard-wired in the Islamic belief that encouraged terrorist activity.
Every aspect of Islamic life in the UK was targeted. Schooling, madrassah, community centres. Islamic ideas and beliefs themselves were criminalised. Under the cover of research, communities were ‘mapped’ – including Blackburn itself. Local police co-ordinate this activity. This thinking is based on a neo-conservative view of the world. Many activities are criminalised – protests, downloading of material, owning and reading specific texts, rigorous debate and questioning etc.
Moazzam Begg, ex-Guantanamo detainee and Director for CagePrisoners. Moazzam spoke about his recent visit to Syria. He indicated that what the western world was trying to prevent through its Prevent strategy and foreign policy, they would not be able to prevent. He spoke of the change in the Muslim world, in ideas, sentiment and actions. The Islamic world was witnessing a revolution, both of mind and politically. That which the West is trying to prevent, Muslims are returning to like a magnetic force. After trying many others ‘isms’, Muslims are returning to their faith as a solution for society. It is well known that the western nations backed the tyrants in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, and even Syria when it suited them. Moazzam related to his time in incarceration in Bagram and Guantanamo – he was threatened with transfer to notorious prisons, in Egypt and Syria where torture was routinely practised, if he did not co-operate with authorities. This was done with the clear knowledge and involvement of British authorities, demonstrating their compliance with the dictatorial and blood-thirsty regimes.
Moazzam ended with a note of hope. He reflected that it is the ‘terrorists’ and ‘extremists’ of the past, who are now coming to power around the world. This is a lesson to the western regimes, that they should have engaged in dialogue with these people decades ago, rather than supporting their captivity, torture, and even death. As examples he cited Nelson Mandela, who was a convicted terrorist held on Robben Island for almost two decades – is there anyone today who views Mandela as a terrorist? Today, whether in Northern Ireland, or Egypt, or Morocco, the jailed extremist of the past are now being voted into power through popular support and transparent electorate process.
The authorities may be watching the Muslim communities.
But know that through organisations like CagePrisoners, Muslims are also watching right back and holding Governments accountable.