‘Stasi state’: Muslim group demands ‘full rethink’ of UK terror policy

Islamic Human Rights Commission calls for ‘demonizing’ UK policies to be scrapped; stance is unchanged after Paris attacks

Ben Flanagan
Ben Flanagan - Al Arabiya News, London
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The UK’s policies designed to combat terror are turning Britain into a ‘Stasi state’ and are in urgent need of revision, according to a report published this month.

A survey by the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) found that almost 60 percent of British Muslims feel government policies had a negative impact on their communities – compared to 34 percent who said the same in 2010.

Policies such as Prevent – a program aimed at stopping more people being radicalized – are helping turn Britain into a “Stasi state” with Muslims subject to “increasing levels of repression”, the commission said ahead of its Nov. 17 report.

Arzu Merali, one of the authors and head of research at the IHRC, said there had been an “escalation of the anti-terrorist policies” over the last five years.

“We feel very strongly that successive governments’ anti-terror policies have been highly damaging to Muslim communities and to society as a whole,” she told Al Arabiya News. “There has to be a full rethink.”

Merali said the problem with UK anti-terror policy is “ongoing”, adding that the concerns over its impact on society constitutes a separate issue, and not one that should be linked to individual events such as the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris.

The IHRC said that the level of UK surveillance focused on Muslims means that those in the community are “assumed guilty of terrorism by association”.

Its report – ‘Environment of Hate: The New Normal for Muslims in the UK’ – found that the number of British Muslims who reported witnessing instances of Islamophobia directed at someone else rose to 82 percent in 2014, up from 50 percent in 2010. Those stating that they had witnessed negative stereotypes about Islam and Muslims jumped to 93.3 percent from 69 percent over the same period.

‘Prevent’, a key part of the British government’s counter-terrorism strategy, was stepped up in September, when UK universities and colleges became legally obliged to stop extremists radicalizing students on campus.

But Keith Vaz MP, the chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, told a recent conference organized by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) that the overall strategy is “not working” and needs to be scrapped.

“Prevent, I’m sorry to say, is not an unqualified success. I would probably abolish Prevent and start again,” he said at the conference on Nov. 12, the day before the Paris attacks.

Prevent ostensibly covers all forms of extremism, including that expressed by some far-right groups, as well some aspects of non-violent extremism.

But critics say Muslims feel singled out by the strategy. They point to the alleged absurdity of some of the referrals made under ‘Channel’ – an anti-radicalization program that is part of Prevent – such as the case of a three-year-old child from London who was identified as a potential extremist.

Vaz told Al Arabiya News that British Muslims are becoming “more angry and more anxious” because of the Prevent strategy.

“I think that we should look again at all these various strategies, and fashion a new strategy... We’ve spent billions on these programs and they’re still not working,” he said on Nov. 12.

Vaz told the recent MCB forum – which was held under the theme ‘Terrorism and Extremism – how should British Muslims respond?’ – that local communities should be at the centre of efforts to stamp out extremism. “It is up to the community itself to frame a package of measures and an attempt at a strategy,” he said.

David Anderson QC, independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, said he had received many complaints about the Prevent strategy. He added that Prevent, which does not fall under his remit, would benefit from greater oversight.

“As independent reviewer I get more complaints about the Prevent program than I do about the whole range of coercive powers that the state enjoys,” Anderson said on Nov. 12.

“It would be sensible to have some independent review process… It certainly needs to be looked at very carefully.”

The National Union of Students (NUS) has called for a boycott of the Prevent strategy, under the slogan “Students not Suspects”.

Shelly Asquith, vice president at the NUS, said Prevent was having a negative impact on campuses, claiming it singles-out Muslim students.

“What Prevent is doing is creating a culture of surveillance and of suspicion and division among student communities,” she said at the MCB conference.

Asquith cited cases such as a postgraduate student who was referred to Prevent for reading a book about terrorism in a university library, and another university’s student union that allegedly handed over the names of members of its Islamic society to UK authorities.

“Almost every case we hear of referrals to Prevent involves black, Muslim and international students, especially if they are politicized,” she said.

“Prevent is facilitating Islamophobia in the very spaces which are supposed to challenge, inform and educate students about difference and about tolerance.”

A Home Office spokesperson did not respond to specific criticisms of the Prevent strategy when contacted by Al Arabiya News. But the office did signal the government’s willingness to work with Muslim communities to combat extremism.

“We must work with the overwhelming majority of Muslims who abhor the twisted narrative that has seduced some of our people. We must continue to celebrate Islam as a great world religion of peace,” the spokesperson said earlier this month in a statement.

“We published a Counter Extremism strategy in October which sets out how we will develop a new network, linking individuals and groups around Britain who are already standing up to extremists in their communities. Working with local partners, including local authorities, we will identify the most impactful and relevant groups already doing important work to protect communities.

“In addition, our program to prevent radicalization already involves working with hundreds of mosques, faith groups and community organizations. We have delivered over 180 community-based projects since 2011, and last year we worked with almost 40,000 people.”

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