View Full Version : MPs demand investigation into Muslim 'spy' allegations against Prevent

03-30-2010, 09:55 AM
Communities and local government select committee says Prevent programme has 'stigmatised and alienated' British Muslims.

An independent investigation should be held into allegations that a government programme aimed at preventing Muslims from being lured into violent extremism is being used to "spy" on them, a committee of MPs will say today.

The programme, called Prevent, has been dogged by controversy and is criticised on several fronts in a report published today by the communities and local government select committee, which says the programme has "stigmatised and alienated" British Muslims.

Last October the Guardian revealed Prevent was being used to gather intelligence about innocent people who are not suspected of terrorist involvement. The article was denounced as "wilfully misleading" by Alan Johnson, the home secretary.

Phyllis Starkey, the committee chair, said: "Many witnesses made plain they believe Prevent has been used to 'spy' on Muslim communities.

"The misuse of terms such as 'intelligence gathering' amongst Prevent partners has clearly discredited the programme and fed distrust. Information required to manage Prevent has been confused with intelligence gathering undertaken by the police to combat crime and surveillance used by the security services to actively pursue terrorism suspects."

The committee report does not back the government's unequivocal denunciation of the reports of spying and concludes: "We cannot ignore the volume of evidence we have seen and heard which demonstrates a continuing lack of trust of the programme amongst those delivering and receiving services. Based on the evidence we have received, it is not possible for us to take a view. If the government wants to improve confidence in the Prevent programme, it should commission an independent investigation into the allegations made."

The all-party report says the government should stop trying to "engineer" a so-called moderate form of Islam and pay more attention to other factors leading to violent extremism, including foreign policy, the higher than average poverty rates faced by Muslims and alienation.

The £140m Prevent programme involves the Department of Communities and Local Government (CLG) and the Home Office.

"We see a very important role for CLG in continuing such work and acknowledge its contribution to the aims of Prevent. However, we believe that this work can be successful only if untainted by the negative association with a counter-terrorism agenda," the MPs conclude.

The report also says the programme should not just focus on Muslims, but tackle rightwing extremism as well.

The Department for Communities and Local Government said: "We do not think an independent investigation is necessary or appropriate given the lack of evidence to support any allegations found by the inquiry we conducted.

"We welcome the committee's report in particular the recognition that a targeted Prevent programme is necessary. However, we are disappointed that the report does not reflect the measures put in place during the last year to address criticism of Prevent."

Caroline Spelman, the shadow communities secretary, said: "It is clear that too much money has been wasted on unfocused and irrelevant projects which have created confusion and increased the risk of alienating the very communities it ought to engage."

Chris Huhne, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, said: "The Prevent programme alienates and marginalises Muslim communities, and exacerbates racist bias and ignorant views."

"Everyone wants to combat radical Islamism but that should not mean gathering and keeping intelligence on innocent people.

The Conservatives spokesperson for Local Government and Communities, Caroline Spelman, highlighted part of the report which said the Prevent programme had wasted money: "It's clear that that too much money has been wasted on unfocussed and irrelevant projects which have created confusion and increased the risk of alienating the very communities it ought to engage.

"We need a complete review of the Prevent strategy "

Prevent was branded as the "biggest spying programme in Britain in modern times" by Liberty, the civil liberties organisation.

Reacting to the MPs report, Corinna Ferguson of Liberty said: "Every modern society needs a strong civil society and some kind of intelligence infrastructure. But when you blur the two, you sow the seeds of alienation and disunity. The lives of others are not to be needlessly intruded on by those in positions of trust. First they undermined fair trials; then they turned a blind eye to torture. Now Whitehall securocrats score yet another own goal in the War on Terror"

Muslims pray at a mosque in east London. Photograph: Odd Andersen/AFP/Getty Images



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03-30-2010, 09:58 AM
Article from the Independent

03-30-2010, 02:27 PM
Comment by Phyllis Starkey:

Mishandling Muslim communities

When government scheme Prevent – responsible for cohesion in communities – is accused of spying, something needs to change.

Tackling the contemporary al-Qaida-inspired terrorist threat is a serious challenge for which the UK needs a targeted and sophisticated strategy. No argument. But should the government department tasked to promote better community cohesion and curb social exclusion also take a leading role in delivering such a counter-terrorism initiative? Clearly not, if such a programme stigmatises and alienates those in our communities that it's most important to engage.

Prevent – one of four strands in Contest, the UK's counter-terrorism strategy – is a cross-cutting policy led by the office of security and counter-terrorism at the Home Office. The communities department contributes to the delivery of all elements in this strategy but it currently leads the community-based response to violent extremism.

Prevent is intended to try and stop radicalisation, to reduce support for violent extremism or terrorism and to discourage people from becoming terrorists. However, as the communities and local government select committee heard very clearly from many witnesses during our recent inquiry into this programme, the close association between Prevent and the government's wider counter-terrorism strategy has bred profound distrust on a community level among the majority of British Muslims and has tainted a raft of other positive community cohesion projects.

A significant number of organisations who have encountered the Prevent programme now clearly believe the government has used this initiative to engineer a "moderate" form of Islam, promoting and funding only those groups which conform to their favoured model and demeanour.

Moreover, it is widely argued that the main basis for this approach is a preoccupation with the theological basis for radicalisation when, in reality, the evidence suggests that UK foreign policy, deprivation and alienation are equally important factors.

Another serious problem threatening Prevent is a view that information collected for the purposes of project monitoring in fact amounts to "spying" on Muslims. Community mapping efforts required to target project delivery have become confused, in the minds of both those in local authorities and voluntary organisations delivering the programme and those at whom it is aimed, with the kind of "intelligence gathering" undertaken by the police (to combat crime) or the security services (to pursue terrorism suspects).

These perceptions retain widespread credibility within many communities. They pose a huge challenge to the viability of Prevent.

The select committee concludes in its report that if the government wants to improve confidence in the programme, it should commission an independent investigation into the allegations of spying undertaken by Prevent. Going further, we argue that the government must now develop an entirely different approach to tackling violent extremism in our communities: one where any elements within Prevent that are in essence about crime prevention are brought under the remit of the Home Office.

Take for example the Channel project, a programme started in 2007 to support vulnerable individuals who are being recruited to the cause of violent extremism, and which has been the cause of much controversy because of its direct association with counter-terrorism. We argue elements such as these should be removed from the Contest strategy and placed within other crime prevention initiatives.

Where we believe the communities department should retain responsibility is for the delivery of an entirely separate programme of initiatives focused on tackling the underlying factors that foster all forms of extremist violence and communal hatred. Under this programme, a proportion of funding currently provided through Prevent could, for example, be directed to projects aimed at encouraging currently excluded groups to directly participate in democratic means of debate.

These and other projects aimed at fostering community cohesion need to be acknowledged as a much sharper tool in the fight against terrorism and other violent extremism. But experience has shown that labelling them as counter-terrorism initiatives will backfire. Let the communities department do what the communities department does well; let the Home Office do what the Home Office does well; and both can contribute effectively to protecting the UK against extremist violence in all its guises.


Phyllis Starkey is Labour MP for Milton Keynes south west and chair of the communities and local government select Committee.

03-30-2010, 02:28 PM
The Report: http://www.publications.parliament.u...mloc/65/65.pdf

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03-31-2010, 08:43 PM
The Big Question: Are efforts to tackle home-grown Muslim extremism backfiring?

03-31-2010, 11:26 PM

My, you are resourceful!

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