Prevent: A Surveillance Network to stop Muslims Talking about Politics

Experts say that “the point of everything we hear about ‘radicalisation’ ‘extremism’ and ‘terrorism’ is to get us to stop talking about politics. This is happening through the Prevent policy and the wider climate of de-politicisation and de-mobilisation that it is trying to foster.”

 Arun Kundani has authored “The Muslims Are Coming” which is an important book on how Muslims are unfairly treated by policing and surveillance structures

Arun Kundani has authored “The Muslims Are Coming” which is an important book on how Muslims are unfairly treated by policing and surveillance structures

Over 300 academics and experts have signed an open letter taking issue with Prevent and warning that it “will have a chilling effect on open debate, free speech and political dissent. It will create an environment in which political change can no longer be discussed openly”

One of those signatories, Professor Arun Kundani has written the first comprehensive critique of the “War on Terror” at home. “The Muslims Are Coming! Islamophobia, Extremism and the Domestic War on Terror” is based on several years of research and reportage and documents how the Muslim community has become the focus of sprawling structures of policing and surveillance in a way that “the space for radical politics closes so that dissent is automatically extremism and on a continuum with terrorism...words like ‘extremism’, ‘radicalisation’ and ‘terrorism’ shape the limits of discourse through their implicit narratives and assumptions.” 

Kundani documents a wide range of domestic policies employed by the State to achieve this, including “funding specific Muslim leaders to promote an ideological message against extremism on behalf of the government” and “the surveillance of the political and religious lives of Muslims in order to identify what are seen as indicators of radicalisation”.

 

SYSTEMATIC SURVEILLANCE OF MUSLIMS

In this academic article – based on on-going ethnographic fieldwork - Dr. Fahid Qurashi documents how at the heart of delivering Prevent is what the government calls a “partnership approach with Muslim communities” which has in fact “been used to develop infrastructures of embedded surveillance in Muslim communities…that serve to contain and direct Muslim political agency and activism....and mould ideas and behaviours.”

There have been several high-profile public admissions of this surveillance. The Quilliam Foundation is a pro-government “anti-terrorism” think tank headed by Majid Nawaaz, a Muslim figure popular in the mainstream media and who in 2018 was the keynote speaker at the pro-Zionist counter-demonstration to Al Quds Day. In 2009, the Quilliam Foundation received £700,000 for Prevent related work for that year. That same year they said of Prevent, ‘It is gathering intelligence on people not committing terrorist offences’ and that spying on Muslims was “morally right”.

The Quilliam Foundation has a particularly bad reputation in the Muslim community, but it would be incorrect to assume that these surveillance tendencies are unique to these prominent, more controversial outfits. Qurashi has documented how Muslim organisations across the country funded by the Prevent strategy, have claimed that police and Prevent officers regularly request, by pestering and pressuring, for specific detailed information about the young Muslims using their services. As Qurashi notes “surveillance forms an essential feature of the Prevent strategy.”   

More recently, following the terrorist attack on Manchester in 2017, Home Secretary Amber Rudd countered claims on an episode of Question Time, that cuts to police funding may have impeded the prevention of the terror attack. Instead she said, ‘We get the intelligence much more from the Prevent strategy, which engages with local community groups, not through the police’.

Evidence of this intelligence gathering has also been leaked to the press. Documents seen by the Guardian Newspaper show how Prevent “is being used to gather intelligence about innocent people who are not suspected of involvement in terrorism. The information the authorities are trying to find out includes political and religious views, information on mental health, sexual activity and associates, and other sensitive information. Other documents reveal that the intelligence and information can be stored until the people concerned reach the age of 100.”

At the time of this leak, the Human Rights Organisation Liberty, branded it the biggest spying programme in Britain in modern times and an affront to civil liberties. Prevent has been significantly expanded since then.  

2018: EXPANDING SURVEILLANCE IN PREVENT

 In 2018, Theresa May explicitly expanded the surveillance methods of the Prevent Strategy

In 2018, Theresa May explicitly expanded the surveillance methods of the Prevent Strategy

In fact in the latest update to Contest and Prevent Strategy in June 2018, surveillance is explicitly expanded. In the document, Prime Minister Theresa May says:

“…this Strategy has a much greater focus on systemic co-ordination across the public sector. By linking up not just the intelligence agencies but also local authorities, health providers and many others “this new joined-up approach is a...step-change in our domestic investigative capabilities”  including a “renewed importance on our understanding of those individuals who are vulnerable to radicalisation...but who are not currently the subject of any active investigations.”

“We must deliver a much greater effect at a local level...This will require us to share information and data with a much wider set of partners, providing counter-terrorism expertise to target better our local interventions. To do this, we will test more innovative approaches more often, whilst continually seeking opportunities to exploit the advancements in technology”.

“New multi-agency approaches at the local level will enable MI5 and Counter-Terrorism Policing to share more information with a broader range of partners...and build stronger partnerships with communities, civil society groups, public sector institutions and industry to improve Prevent delivery.”

“As part of building stronger community resilience we have been working to increase the diversity, capability and sustainability of our network of civil society organisations. We support small organisations, which have grown out of grassroots”.

A part of the cross-cutting approach of ‘“building stronger partnerships” is a relatively new initiative, that the government launched in 2016; the “Building A Stronger Britain Together” initiative that is currently funding over 160 Muslim organisations that are listed here.  They include key figures in the Shia community.