Brace yourself for more lies about Prevent

A spectacular level of disinformation has been disseminated about the Government's counter-terrorism programme, writes David Toube

August 15, 2019 11:05

At the beginning of the year, the government announced an assessment and review of Prevent, the United Kingdom’s innovative counter-extremism strategy.

Prevent is a component of Contest — an integrated and sophisticated response to the deadly threat that terrorism presents to the citizens of this country. The review is to be welcomed. Where considerations which impinge on both public safety and civil liberties are impacted, it is vital that the correct balance is struck.

The government has prudently appointed the former Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, Lord Carlile, as the new Independent Reviewer of Prevent. His professional reputation, combined with his unsurpassed experience, will ensure that the programme is appropriately fine-tuned.

In the 16 years of its existence, a spectacular level of disinformation has been disseminated about Prevent, much of it quite cynical in nature. Some emanates from organisations which are motivated less by a sincere concern for liberty and rather more by their support for Islamist politics.

As a matter of urgency, Lord Carlile must consider the importance of rebutting lies relating to the programme.

Most of us will have heard the story about the boy who was supposedly referred to Prevent because of a spelling mistake: he intended to say that he lived in a “terraced house” but mistakenly wrote “terrorist house”. That story circulated for days on social media, before it emerged that the intervention of the authorities arose from a general concern about the child’s welfare, completely unrelated to Prevent.

The “terrorist house” canard is but one example of many scaremongering campaigns that have proliferated, unaddressed, throughout the history of Prevent.

There is an urgent need for a rapid response unit to be established to counter the deliberate propagation of untruths. Misreporting should be addressed, wherever possible, within 24 or, at the outside, 48 hours. Leave it any longer, and it will be difficult to debunk.

As one might expect, the choice of Lord Carlile has drawn criticism from most of the usual suspects.

First out of the trap was, Azad Ali, the Community Relations Director of CAGE who implied that the appointment was “fishy”. Ali was notoriously filmed by an undercover reporter from Channel 4’s Dispatches stating: “Democracy, if it means not implementing the shari’ah, of course nobody agrees with that”.

He was quickly joined by Baroness Warsi, whose ties to MEND, a controversial advocacy organisation which enjoys a symbiotic relationship with CAGE, have been investigated in this newspaper by the journalist, John Ware. She described the appointment as “misjudged”.

In advance of the announcement of the identity of the independent reviewer, a coalition of Prevent critics issued a letter expressing concern with the process by which the appointment was made and the terms of reference set.

There is something rather disingenuous about this latter complaint. I am told that one of the signatories of the letter — Rights Watch (UK) — has produced a model Terms of Reference, which have been provided to the government; engaged with senior civil servants on this matter; and are indeed involved in a series of community engagements related to the independent review, throughout the country. They have hardly been left out in the cold.

Of greater concern is the composition of this coalition. The signatories of the letter include respectable organisations such as Index on Censorship, the Runnymede Trust and Liberty. But they are joined by both CAGE and MEND.

A flavour of the nature of these outfits can be divined by the company they keep. Both organisations are close to the notorious preacher Haitham Al Haddad, who has defended the execution of women for adultery and apostates, and who has declared: “Why do we need caliphate? We need caliphate because caliphate runs the true Islamic system”. It should be plain that organisations which have promoted such a figure are part of the problem which Prevent was established to address.

As is well known by now, Prevent addresses its attention equally to the challenge presented by both Islamist and far right groups. Were a far right group to complain about the focus on its ideology and the consequent conduct of those who subscribed to white supremacist or neo-Nazi extremism, most sensible people would ignore them. Is it not remarkable, therefore, to see a range of liberal organisations lining up with groups such as CAGE and MEND?

The fight against extremism is a painful and arduous one. It will not be won as long as liberal organisations stand shoulder to shoulder with Islamists.

David Toube is Director of Policy at Quilliam

August 15, 2019 11:05

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