After years of silence in the face of demonization, UK elites are fighting back against an Islamist campaign to abolish Prevent, an imperfect, but hugely necessary counter-extremism program established in 2010 to reduce the threat of terrorism.
The opening salvo of this counterattack came on April 26 when the Policy Exchange, a non-partisan think tank issued a report titled “Delegitimizing Counter-Terrorism: The Activist Campaign to Demonise Prevent.” The report details how “a number of inter-related, well-organised, and media-savvy campaigns […] have sought to undermine Prevent and counterextremism efforts.”
“The end goal of these Islamist-led campaigns is the scrapping of Prevent and the counter-extremism programme,” the report states. “They effectively seek to eliminate from official analysis and policy the role of Islamist ideology in terrorism and harmful, extremist social practices.”
In his forward to the report, former Prime Minister David Cameron stated that UK officials who have failed to respond to these Islamist attacks “are guilty of a form of ‘passive tolerance’, whereby society fails to interfere in minority communities for fear of appearing racist. Such passive tolerance is what allowed female genital mutilation and forced marriage to flourish in this country. We must not let it jeopardise our fight against extremism.”
The report highlights the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), Muslims Engagement and Development (MEND), and Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) as the central players in the campaign to abolish Prevent. (Prevent is a government program that monitors individuals at risk for extremist violence and then sends them to mentors to bring them back into the fold of mainstream society.)
Earlier this year, a FOSIS official attacked Prevent while speaking at the annual conference of the National Union of Students (NUS). The FOSIS official told NUS delegates not to report anyone they were concerned about to Prevent.
In a recording obtained by radio broadcaster LBC, you can hear FOSIS speaker stating: “You report it to the right person in the right way and have that assurance that you’ve to be confident they’re not going to go to Prevent.”
Once the story broke, FOSIS leaders engaged in damage control, declaring “We believe that any incident of concern which actually delves into the realm of criminality, is best dealt with by the designated authorities and not the Prevent agenda.” The organization reiterated its longstanding complaints that Prevent’s efforts are “racist and discriminatory.”
FOSIS had to say something. The NUS remarks came two weeks after the Islamist jihadi Ali Harbi Ali – a Prevent client – was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of Conservative MP Sir David Amess. Ali stabbed the MP more than twenty times as revenge for voting for airstrikes in Iraq and Syria in 2014 and 2015. Ali had ambitions to travel to Syria to join the Islamic state but instead carried out his jihadi ambitions at home.
Amess’s murder demonstrated the need for Prevent — and its limitations. Prevent needs to be fixed, not eliminated. But instead of assisting officials in efforts to improve counter-extremism efforts in the UK, Islamist groups use accusations of racism and discrimination to halt them altogether.
These accusations don’t seem to hold much water with most British Muslims according to Listening to British Muslims: policing, extremism and Prevent, a report published by another UK think tank Crest Advisory. According to this report 64% of British Muslims trust the police — albeit not as much as the rest of the British population, 71% of which have confidence in law enforcement.
But when it comes to dealing with terrorism, 64% of British Muslims trust the police while only 59% of the general public trusts them. And when it comes to Prevent’s counter-extremism strategy, 56% of British Muslims had not heard of it. However, when given a neutral explanation of it, 80 per cent of British Muslims gave it qualified (33%) or unqualified (47%) support. Islamist groups simply don’t represent Muslim opinion in the UK on these issues.
Now that UK elites have finally pushed back against the efforts to abolish Prevent, responsible Muslim leaders can step into the breach. They can do this by encouraging law enforcement officials to treat all members of the public equally regardless of color, religion or race. And they can promote Prevent’s strategy as a means of safeguarding the general public. By doing these things, they will counter Islamists who spread false fears of colluding with a “racist policy.”
If successful, the Islamist campaign to abolish Prevent will promote a sense of triumphalism on the part of Islamists and jihadis in the UK and engender a sense of distrust in the wider society.
It cannot be allowed to succeed.
Wasiq Wasiq is a journalist specializing in defense and terrorism. You can follow him on Twitter: @WasiqUK