From Trojan Horse plots to tales of children going to Syria, those who work in the public sector will not be strangers to counter-terrorism law. Lois JC considers where counter-terror policies come from, their racist roots, and how we confront them in our workplaces. This article was originally published in the Summer 2015 issue of the rs21 magazine and here.
The War on Terror
The War on Terror has disproportionately affected the Muslim community. Since 2001 it has been waged on a global scale. A recent report calculated that during the last 12 years there have been approximately 1.3 million people killed in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan alone. This war does not just involve bombing Muslim countries, but also draconian legislation and the whipping up of Islamophobia. In the UK, there have been five major pieces of legislation dedicated to terrorism since 9/11, the most recent of which is the Counter‑Terrorism and Security Act (CTSA).
While the CTSA has many worrying features, its most concerning aspect is Part 5, which implements the Prevent strategy on a statutory basis.
The Prevent strategy was developed in response to the London bombings in 2005. It claims to stop terrorism by identifying people on the path to radicalisation. Even though this has already been implemented in many quarters, the CTSA would require teachers, doctors, nurses and other workers to spy on their students, patients and co-workers. They would have to refer them to specialist Prevent trained officers if they suspect they are becoming ‘radicalised’.
What is radicalisation?
According to the government’s own assessment framework, radicalisation includes factors such as ‘feelings of grievance and injustice’, ‘being at a transitional time of life ‘and ‘a desire for political and moral change’. These factors can be seen in nearly all teenagers! Radicalisation, according to the Government, leads to extremism. Extremists are defined as those who do not adhere to ‘British values’. These values according to Theresa May include ‘respect for the rule of law, equality, free speech and respect for minorities’. But values change, and are interpreted differently according to whoever is in power. The War on Terror itself has led to violations of all the ‘values’ that Theresa May herself insists upon.
The concepts of ‘radicalisation’ and ‘extremism’ are often skewed by the media. For example, the ‘Trojan Horse’ story alleged that schools in Birmingham were ‘taken over’ by ‘radical interpretations’ of Islam. The Commons Education Select Committee investigated the allegations and found that these claims were groundless, essentially pushed by the former secretary of state for education Michael Gove.
The Prevent strategy is pitched as protecting vulnerable people from the threat of extremist ideology and from groups who are seen to target new ‘recruits’. Similar concepts – ‘safeguarding’, ‘grooming’ – are taught to those combating child sexual abuse. We all want the most vulnerable in society to be protected, but the Prevent strategy does not do that. Firstly, the current situation has political causes. The roots of terrorism lie in Guantanamo Bay, and in the millions dead in Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. There cannot be a solution that does not address these roots; it is not the same as abuse. Secondly, the government is not trusted. It is clear Theresa May’s answer to this is not rehabilitation and support but locking people in prison after a trial with secret evidence. Muslim families who have been subject to harassment by Prevent do not feel that their best interests are considered.
Prevent officers commonly claim that they do not just target Islamic extremism but “far right extremism” too. It is clear, however, that non‑muslims and the far right are not targeted in the same way. Ryan McGee was a soldier and member of the English Defence League who was caught with a nail-bomb and had written “I vow to drag every last immigrant into the fires of hell with me”. He was sentenced to two years, and avoided a terror charge. Solicitor Imran Khan said “It seems that if you are a Muslim, justice is not blind”.
What is the cause of violence?
The War on Terror is based on the idea that violence is rooted in ideology and the faith of Islam. But there is no evidence that faith causes terrorism. Even a leaked government memo said:
“It is sometimes argued that violent extremists have progressed to terrorism by way of a passing commitment to non-violent Islamist extremism … We do not believe that it is accurate to regard radicalisation in this country as a linear ‘conveyor belt’ … This seems to both misread the radicalisation process and to give undue weight to ideological factors.”
Successive governments refuse to acknowledge the role of imperialist wars by the West in Muslim countries, the curtailing of human rights, and the support given to brutal regimes that torture and kill their own people. Even Baroness Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former director of MI5 said that “Our involvement in Iraq radicalised, for want of a better word, a whole generation of young people.”
What can you do?
We need to be able to argue that these policies are not about protection but about surveillance and targeting of Muslims. Union meetings covering the War on Terror and Islamophobia can be useful to start a discussion with people at work about the wider context. Many unions have been addressing this issue at their conferences. The National Union of Teachers warned that these guidelines were shutting down debate and forcing teachers to ‘act as stormtroopers’ to spy on their students. The National Union of Students at its most recent conference adopted a motion to tackle Prevent and the CTSA. There are already plans for resistance to the CTSA once it is fully in place. It is also linked to other issues and campaigns like ‘Students not suspects’, “Cops off Campus”, and campaigns against police brutality. Never forget Jean Charles de Menezes was killed by police at Stockwell tube because he was thought to be Muslim. These links of solidarity are vital to strengthen resistance to the War on Terror.