A protester moves a balloon with David Cameron's likeness at the recent G7 summit. Photo: Getty Images
Show Hide image

Government policy has long seen British Muslims as bystanders at best, suspects at worst. Today is just more of the same

David Cameron’s call this morning for “Muslims” to be vigilant about terror in their midst did not come from a clear blue sky. 

David Cameron’s call this morning for “Muslims” to be vigilant about terror in their midst did not come from a clear blue sky. Government policy towards British Muslim has long treated those communities as at best passive and at worse complicit.

The new Extremism Bill, announced during the Queen’s Speech, comes from a similar place. It includes banning orders, closure orders and the introduction of employment checks. Significantly, the new bill also includes the creation of extremism disruption orders, which would give the police powers to apply to the high court to limit the “harmful activities” of an extremist individual, where harm includes risk of public disorder, harassment, alarm, distress or creating “a threat to the functioning of democracy”. These powers, dubbed extremism ASBOs by some, were first proposed last March, but were vetoed by the Liberal Democrats.

Just a few days before the bill was announced, Scotland Yard commander Mak Chishty said that countering the Jihadi threat required a move to the ‘private space’ of Muslims in order to catch non-western sentiment early and stop radicalisation. This move to the private place includes the need to monitor subtle changes in behaviour, such as refusing to shop at Marks & Spencer and sudden negative attitudes towards alcohol and western clothing. The new Extremism bill and Chishty’s comments did not happen in a vacuum. They in fact represent the logical next step in the ever-expanding Prevent programme.

The Prevent programme is the branch of UK counter-terrorism concerned with stopping people from becoming terrorists. It has grown from a modest proposal in 2006 to effectively becoming law in 2015. For years, Prevent has framed Muslim communities as being, at best, passive about, and at worst, complicit with extremism. This has resulted in an increased logic of intervention disproportionately affecting the Muslim community.

For example, until 2011, Prevent funding was distributed local authorities in priority areas to help them fight extremism. But these priority areas were decided based on demographics. Local Authorities with a Muslim population of at least 8% was automatically given Prevent funding. Figures from the 2001 census put the UK Muslim population at 2.97%. This means priority areas were those where there was almost triple the national average Muslim population. Several of the priority areas produced reports released under the Freedom of Information Act claiming that there was no evidence of extremism in their area, even though they automatically received Prevent funding. As such, British Muslims were considered targets of counter-terrorism strategy whether or not there was evidence of extremism. The rationale of Prevent was set: Muslims were the new suspect community.

Consequently, a sense of scepticism and doubt has been cast on the Muslim community as a whole, affecting projects unconnected with Prevent. For example, in 2010, 150 ANPR cameras were installed in two predominantly Muslim areas of Birmingham, three times the number of cameras used to monitor Birmingham’s city centre. Named Project Champion, the cameras were purchased with a £3 million grant from the Terrorism and Allied Matters (TAM) fund. TAM is a government fund administered by the Association of Chief Police offices and not associated with Prevent. However, Project Champion followed the Prevent rationale: Muslims must be monitored and controlled. The council argued that the cameras were to be used to monitor general criminal activities and anti-social behaviour, but the funding criteria for TAM states that the police force must prove a project will deter, prevent or help to prosecute terrorist activity. Following public outcry, Project Champion ceased within a few weeks and the cameras were removed after never being switched on.

Prevent was reviewed in 2011, and the demographic-based funding was abolished. Information on Prevent implementation after 2011 has been difficult to come by. In August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to the 30 local authorities in priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. The requests were denied on the grounds of national security. Prevent is now surrounded in secrecy, but its effect can be felt everywhere.

It was the 2009 version of Prevent that first introduced the language of shared values to UK counter-terrorism which is now commonplace. After all, the new Extremism Bill was introduced with the explicit aim of stopping extremists promoting views and behaviour that undermine British values. Moreover, the 2011 Prevent review directly connected extremism with identity, arguing that terrorism is caused by a failure to fully belong in British society. This is the sentiment echoed in David Cameron’s famous Munich Speech of 2011, when he said that many Muslims are drawn to terrorism due to a failure in their identity. But explaining terrorism through identity is problematic. Not only does it exclude historical and geopolitical factors from the equation, but it makes everyone who shares the ‘failed’ identity a potential threat.

And that is precisely what Chishty’s comments and the Extremism Bill represent: new powers to intervene and control the Muslim community based on a rationale of automatic suspicion. More so now than ever, since Prevent has been brought into statutory footing in the Counter-terrorism and Security Act 2015. This has resulted in the requirement that specified authorities, including nursery schools, have the duty to stop people from being drawn into terrorism. This is a sentiment echoed by Chishty when he suggested children as young as five need to be watched for signs of extremism. Moreover, just this month, a ‘counter-extremism’ questionnaire’ was distributed to children as young as nine in a school in East London. With the age of criminal responsibility at ten years of age in England and Wales, this arrangement sees children being monitored before they can even be held criminally accountable for their own actions. They are monitored with a view to crimes that they are seen as having a predisposition to commit in the future.

Ironically, these terrorism measures are likely to increase alienation and division, furthering the identity problems considered to be at the root of terrorism. Extremism ASBOs, employment checks and monitoring children are just the next logical step when terrorism is considered to be solely about religion and identity. It is then not surprising that Islamophic attacks on the Muslim community continue to rise. By consistently and continuously associating the Muslim community as a whole with terrorism and extremism, Prevent has ensured that this connection is engraved in the public and political psyche. These new developments in the UK counter-terrorism program are thus simply the next steps of the Prevent strategy, and just as likely to continue the controversial and problematic legacy of the last decade. 

Maria Norris is in the final stages of completing her doctorate at the LSE. She tweets as @MariaWNorris

Dr Maria Norris is a political scientist researching terrorism and national security. She is a Fellow at the  London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.

 

Getty
Show Hide image

Labour’s renationalisation plans look nothing like the 1970s

The Corbynistas are examining models such as Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and John Lewis. 

A community energy company in Nottingham, a credit union in Oldham and, yes, Britain's most popular purveyor of wine coolers. No, this is not another diatribe about about consumer rip-offs. Quite the opposite – this esoteric range of innovative companies represent just a few of those which have come to the attention of the Labour leadership as they plot how to turn the abstract of one of their most popular ideas into a living, neo-liberal-shattering reality.

I am talking about nationalisation – or, more broadly, public ownership, which was the subject of a special conference this month staged by a Labour Party which has pledged to take back control of energy, water, rail and mail.

The form of nationalisation being talked about today at the top of the Labour Party looks very different to the model of state-owned and state-run services that existed in the 1970s, and the accompanying memories of delayed trains, leaves on the line and British rail fruitcake that was as hard as stone.

In John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn’s conference on "alternative models of ownership", the three firms mentioned were Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and, of course, John Lewis. Each represents a different model of public ownership – as, of course, does the straightforward takeover of the East Coast rail line by the Labour government when National Express handed back the franchise in 2009.

Robin Hood is the first not-for-profit energy company set up a by a local authority in 70 years. It was created by Nottingham city council and counts Corbyn himself among its customers. It embodies the "municipal socialism" which innovative local politicians are delivering in an age of austerity and its tariffs delivers annual bills of £1,000 or slightly less for a typical household.

Credit unions share many of the values of community companies, even though they operate in a different manner, and are owned entirely by their customers, who are all members. The credit union model has been championed by Labour MPs for decades. 

Since the financial crisis, credit unions have worked with local authorities, and their supporters see them as ethical alternatives to the scourge of payday loans. The Oldham credit union, highlighted by McDonnell in a speech to councillors in 2016, offers loans from £50 upwards, no set-up costs and typically charges interest of around £75 on a £250 loan repaid over 18 months.

Credit unions have been transformed from what was once seen as a "poor man's bank" to serious and tech-savvy lenders where profits are still returned to customers as dividends.

Then there is John Lewis. The "never-knowingly undersold" department store is owned by its 84,000 staff, or "partners". The Tories have long cooed over its pledge to be a "successful business powered by its people and principles" while Labour approves of its policy of doling out bonuses to ordinary staff, rather than just those at the top. Last year John Lewis awarded a partnership bonus of £89.4m to its staff, which trade website Employee Benefits judged as worth more than three weeks' pay per person (although still less than previous top-ups).

To those of us on the left, it is a painful irony that when John Lewis finally made an entry into politics himself – in the shape of former managing director Andy Street – it was to seize the Birmingham mayoralty ahead of Labour's Sion Simon last year. (John Lewis the company remains apolitical.)

Another model attracting interest is Transport for London, currently controlled by Labour mayor Sadiq Khan. TfL may be a unique structure, but nevertheless trains feature heavily in the thinking of shadow ministers, whether Corbynista or soft left. They know that rail represents their best chance of quick nationalisation with public support, and have begun to spell out how it could be delivered.

Yes, the rhetoric is blunt, promising to take back control of our lines, but the plan is far more gradual. Rather than risk the cost and litigation of passing a law to cancel existing franchises, Labour would ask the Department for Transport to simply bring routes back in-house as each of the private sector deals expires over the next decade.

If Corbyn were to be a single-term prime minister, then a public-owned rail system would be one of the legacies he craves.

His scathing verdict on the health of privatised industries is well known but this month he put the case for the opposite when he addressed the Conference on Alternative Models of Ownership. Profits extracted from public services have been used to "line the pockets of shareholders" he declared. Services are better run when they are controlled by customers and workers, he added. "It is those people not share price speculators who are the real experts."

It is telling, however, that Labour's radical election manifesto did not mention nationalisation once. The phrase "public ownership" is used 10 times though. Perhaps it is a sign that while the leadership may have dumped New Labour "spin", it is not averse to softening its rhetoric when necessary.

So don't look to the past when considering what nationalisation and taking back control of public services might mean if Corbyn made it to Downing Street. The economic models of the 1970s are no more likely to make a comeback then the culinary trends for Blue Nun and creme brûlée.

Instead, if you want to know what public ownership might look like, then cast your gaze to Nottingham, Oldham and dozens more community companies around our country.

Peter Edwards was press secretary to a shadow chancellor, editor of LabourList and a parliamentary candidate in 2015 and 2017.