LETTER: PREVENT will have a chilling effect on open debate, free speech and political dissent – The Independent

Indy_Eagle_RedCircle_850Here’s a public letter I was one of many signatories to voicing our concerns about the new PREVENT duties. The letter was published in the Independent at the weekend and can be found by clicking here. The letter is also available via the website Protecting Thought.

PREVENT will have a chilling effect on open debate, free speech and political dissent

We, the undersigned, take issue with the government’s Prevent strategy and its statutory implementation through the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 for the following reasons:

1. The latest addition to the United Kingdom’s counter-terrorism framework comes in the form of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 (CTS Act). The CTS Act has placed PREVENT on a statutory footing for public bodies to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism by tackling what is claimed to be ‘extremist ideology’. In practice, this will mean that individuals working within statutory organisations must report individuals suspected of being ‘potential terrorists’ to external bodies for ‘de-radicalisation’.

2. The way that PREVENT conceptualises ‘radicalisation’ and ‘extremism’ is based on the unsubstantiated view that religious ideology is the primary driving factor for terrorism. Academic research suggests that social, economic and political factors, as well as social exclusion, play a more central role in driving political violence than ideology. Indeed, ideology only becomes appealing when social, economic and political grievances give it legitimacy. Therefore, addressing these issues would lessen the appeal of ideology.

3. However, PREVENT remains fixated on ideology as the primary driver of terrorism. Inevitably, this has meant a focus on religious interaction and Islamic symbolism to assess radicalisation. For example, growing a beard, wearing a hijab or mixing with those who believe Islam has a comprehensive political philosophy are key markers used to identify ‘potential’ terrorism. This serves to reinforce a prejudicial worldview that perceives Islam to be a retrograde and oppressive religion that threatens the West. PREVENT reinforces an ‘us’ and ‘them’ view of the world, divides communities, and sows mistrust of Muslims.

4. While much of the PREVENT policy is aimed at those suspected of ‘Islamist extremism’ and far-right activity, there is genuine concern that other groups will also be affected by such policies, such as anti-austerity and environmental campaigners – largely those engaged in political dissent.

5. Without due reconsideration of PREVENT’s poor reputation, the police and government have attempted to give the programme a veneer of legitimacy by expressing it in the language of ‘safeguarding’. Not only does this depoliticise the issue of radicalisation, it shifts attention away from grievances that drive individuals towards an ideology that legitimises political violence.

6. PREVENT will have a chilling effect on open debate, free speech and political dissent. It will create an environment in which political change can no longer be discussed openly, and will withdraw to unsupervised spaces. Therefore, PREVENT will make us less safe.

7. We believe that PREVENT has failed not only as a strategy but also the very communities it seeks to protect. Instead of blindly attempting to strengthen this project, we call on the government to end its ineffective PREVENT policy and rather adopt an approach that is based on dialogue and openness.

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Comment: An Ideological Struggle Between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’ – JUST West Yorkshire

JUSTHere’s a piece I wrote for JUST West Yorkshire’s newsletter last week (apologies for the delay in getting it posted on here. To read the original piece, click here – to read the newsletter, click here.

An Ideological Struggle Between ‘Us’ and ‘Them’

The tenth anniversary of 7/7 rightly drew our attention to the sheer horror of the terror attacks, the carnage and chaos that resulted in 52 civilians being killed and more than 700 being injured. From memorial services attended by the British political hierarchy through to more people-led initiatives such as #WalkTogether, the day’s focus was on remembrance and commemoration.Aside from this, it is necessary to reflect on the legacy of 7/7, the profound changes it wrought and how this has impacted on the way we live our lives, as individuals and communities and also a nation.On one level, this can be seen in the relatively mundane, for example in the form of increased security checks at airports, more CCTV cameras in our towns and cities, and the reinforcing of public buildings. 7/7’s legacy has a much greater reach however, seen in how new counter-terror legislation has placed a duty on public sector workers to spot ‘tell-tale signs’ of extremism or how schools are required to promote a greater sense of ‘British values’.

The ‘tell-tale signs’ also illustrate the rather more insidious legacy of 7/7. Having been first posited a decade ago by the then Home Secretary, John Reid, he told Muslim parents that they needed to be more vigilant in looking out for the ‘tell-tale signs’ of extremism in their children. Oft repeated since, no politician has yet been able to produce a definitive list of what these might be. Unsurprisingly, neither does the new PREVENT guidance.

Such an approach is, of course, as naïve as it dangerous in that for some, the ‘tell-tale signs’ of extremism will be largely equitable with being ‘more Muslim’. Whether visual – in growing a beard or wearing the hijab for example – or vocal – being more religious or speaking out about British foreign policy or Palestine for instance – those who just look ‘Muslim’ may find themselves increasingly being perceived to be extremists.

This is borne out in the findings of a YouGov poll published this week which showed that more than half of Britons now regard Muslims as posing a threat to the UK. Worryingly, this is higher than it was in the immediate aftermath of the 7/7 attacks. In trying to explain this one must go back to the fact that the bombers were British born, popularly referred to as ‘home-grown’. Because of this, especially in the wake of the botched 21/7 attacks a fortnight later, the threat felt much closer and far more real. Prompting an initial backlash where British Muslims were treated with greater suspicion and mistrust, this has since been allowed to ferment not least through political discourses that have routinely reified the notion that extremism is inherent within Britain’s Muslim communities. So much so that accept without question the view that Muslims and Islam pose a direct threat to ‘our’ culture, ‘our’ values, ‘our’ institutions and ‘our’ way of life. ‘They’ are clearly against ‘us’.

To continue reading, click here.

Journal: ‘People hate you because of the way you dress’ – understanding the experiences of British Muslim women victims of Islamophobia, International Review of Victimology

IRVMy new article, “‘People hate you because of the way you dress’: understanding the invisible experiences of veiled British Muslim women victims of Islamophobia” is now available online via the journal, The International Review of Victimology. It can be read by clicking here (NB: as with many academic journals, there my be some restrictions involved – sorry).

For those of you who want to know more, the abstract is reproduced below:

Chakraborti and Zempi (2012) argued for the need to increase awareness of the gendered facets of Islamophobia in order to shed light on and improve understanding of the overlooked and negated ‘invisible’ victimisation of veiled Muslim women in the public spaces of contemporary western society. In seeking to shed light and improve understanding about this process, this article sets out the findings from a project that interviewed 20 veiled British Muslim women who had been victims of Islamophobia and had reported their experience to the British government-funded service Tell MAMA (measuring anti-Muslim attacks). Reflecting on what is contemporarily known about Islamophobia, and in particular what is known about Islamophobia’s relationship with gender, this article sets out the thematically considered empirical findings from the project in order to better understand why Islamophobic incidents against veiled Muslim women are ‘neither seen nor heard’. In doing so, the article considers the ways in which the visibility and invisibility of veiled Muslim women function in order to reduce and essentialise veiled Muslim women through the symbolism of the veil, thereby becoming seen as the physical embodiment of all that is considered to be problematic and threatening about Muslims and Islam per se.

To read the article in its entirety, click here.

Comment: Tenth anniversary of 7/7 bombings – College of Social Sciences, University of Birmingham

COSSThis is a piece for the University of Birmingham’s College of Social Sciences news page that was reworked from my earlier Huffington Post article. To read the original piece, click here.

Tenth anniversary of 7/7 bombings

The tenth anniversary of the 7/7 London terror attacks will rightly focus on the sheer horror of the day’s unfolding events and tragic loss of life. One cannot forget the shocking images of carnage and chaos that accompanied the news that four bombs – three on Underground trains, one on a double decker bus – had killed 52 civilians and injured more than 700 others.

The legacy left by these events has, however, been more far-reaching than might have been expected, having had something of a profound impact on how we live our everyday lives. From more security checks at airports and the increased monitoring of social media, the new counter-terror measures requiring public sector workers to play a greater role in combating extremism, and schools being required to teach ‘British values’, 7/7’s impact has been significant.

A less obvious impact however can be seen in relation to Britain’s multiculturalism and how we perceive our diversity.

To illustrate this, one only has to think about the day before 7/7. On that day, 6 July 2005, Britain won the right to host the 2012 Olympics in London. As celebrations took place in Trafalgar Square, many acknowledged how Britain’s multiculturalism – ‘The World in One City’ – had been a distinctive and critical factor in the decision-making process.

24 hours later and Britain’s multiculturalism was under a very different spotlight. Following the news that all of the 7/7 bombers were British-born, or ‘home-grown’ as it has been commonly referred to since, many began to search for answers about how this could have happened. For many, it was the inherent failings of Britain’s multicultural social model that was to blame, so much so that a forceful political response to it was required.

To continue reading, click here.

Comment: 7/7’s Legacy on Multiculturalism and Muslims – Huffington Post

huffington-post-logoMy latest piece in the Huffington Post can be read in full by clicking here.

7/7’s Legacy on Multiculturalism and Muslims

The tenth anniversary of the 7/7 London terror attacks will rightly focus on the sheer horror of the day’s unfolding events and tragic loss of life. One cannot forget the shocking images of carnage and chaos that accompanied the news that four bombs – three on Underground trains, one on a double-decker bus – had killed 52 civilians and injured more than 700 others.

The legacy left by these events has however been more far-reaching than might have been expected, having had something of a profound impact on how we live our everyday lives. From more security checks at airports and the increased monitoring of social media through to the new counter-terror measures requiring public sector workers to play a greater role in combating extremism, and schools being required to teach ‘British values’, 7/7’s impact has been significant.

A less obvious impact however can be seen in relation to Britain’s multiculturalism and how we perceive our diversity.

To illustrate this, one only has to think about the day before 7/7. On that day – 6 July 2005 – Britain won the right to host the 2012 Olympics in London. As celebrations took place in Trafalgar Square, many acknowledged how Britain’s multiculturalism – ‘The World in One City’ – a distinctive and critical factor in the decision-making process.

To continue reading, click here.

Comment: University of Birmingham expert on 7/7 bombings – ITV Central News

ITVHere’s a short piece I wrote for ITV Central News (a condensed version of my Huffington Post piece). To read the original, click here.

University of Birmingham expert on 7/7 bombings

As we approach the 10th anniversary of the 7/7 terror attacks, attention will rightly focus on the sheer horror of the unfolding events and the tragic loss of life.

The legacy left by these events has, however, been more far-reaching than expected, having a profound impact on how we go about our everyday lives. From more security checks at airports and increased monitoring of social media, to new counter-terror measures requiring public sector workers to play a greater role in combating extremism and schools being required to teach ‘British values’, the impact has been significant.

Maybe, though, the greatest impact is in terms of Britain’s multiculturalism. Blamed by some for having created a raft of different social problems, the past decade has seen many, including David Cameron, call for the death of multiculturalism.

The consequences of this can be seen in research showing that as well as people becoming less tolerant of each other, levels of racism are at a 20-year high.

Similarly, research shows that we are less trusting and more suspicious of different communities, especially Muslims. As a result, Muslim communities feel under greater scrutiny and increasingly marginalised.

With British society becoming ever more diverse, and with new challenges presented by young British Muslims going to fight in Syria and Iraq, the shadow of 7/7 is likely to remain for the foreseeable future.

To read the original, click here.

Journal Article: “Controversy, Islam and politics: an exploration of the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ affair through the eyes of British Muslim elites”, Ethnic & Racial Studies

ERSThe article I co-authored with Arshad Isakjee has finally been published in the journal, Ethnic and Racial Studies. You can read it by clicking here.

While a very good journal, access is unlikely to be free unless you are able to go through an institutional provider (I hope that makes sense). This is of course a shame as I would love the piece to be read by as wide an audience as possible.

To whet your appetite, I have pasted the abstract below:

Controversy, Islam and politics: an exploration of the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ affair through the eyes of British Muslim elites

In September 2012, a video entitled ‘Innocence of Muslims’ was uploaded to YouTube. The fourteen-minute clip featured actors playing the Prophet Muhammad, his companions and wives, and while production values were amateurish, aided by airings on Egyptian national television and others elsewhere, the video went viral. Recalling the Rushdie affair two decades beforehand, angry protests took place across the world. In the UK, the response from Muslims was markedly different. This article traces the ‘Innocence of Muslims’ affair from the eyes of those involved in formal Muslim-governmental relations. It explores what the new controversy tells us about the representation of Muslim communities in the process of political engagement since the Rushdie affair. It considers the experiential disconnect that exists between Muslim and political actors in contemporary Britain before exploring three important political factors – the cultural, representational and geopolitical – that influence and impact upon Muslim–governmental relations.

To find out more, click here.

Article: APPG Universities, A Comment – College of Social Sciences, University of Birmingham

COSSTo read the original piece, click here:

APPG Universities: a comment

I was invited to the House of Lords to talk to the All Party Parliamentary University Group (APPUG) on Tuesday 23 June about the impact of counter-terror policies on the experience of Muslim students. Established since 1994, the APPUG brings together Members of the House of Commons and Lords with Vice Chancellors and other university representatives to discuss matters affecting Higher Education.

Yesterday’s meeting was in response to the new statutory duties that are to be placed on universities following changes to the Government’s PREVENT programme by the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. Identifying universities as ‘special authorities’ in trying to prevent people from being drawn into violent extremism and terrorism, universities will – among other things – be required to provide specialist counter-terror training for staff, carry out risk assessments on students that are identified as being vulnerable to extremist ideologies, and provide appropriate welfare programmes for them.

The rationale for this is that university staff are uniquely placed to see the ‘changes’ in the behaviour and outlook of those who have been radicalised. 

As I told the APPUG, this was not the first time that the notion of identifiable ‘changes’ had been posited. In fact it was a decade ago that the then Home Secretary, John Reid informed Muslim parents of the need to be vigilant in watching their children for the ‘tell-tale signs’ of extremism. Oft repeated since, no politician has yet come up with a definitive list of what these ‘tell-tale signs’ might be. Unsurprisingly, neither does the new PREVENT guidance.

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Article: Radicalisation on campus – why new counter-terror duties for universities will not work, The Conversation

Universities - ConversationFollowing my invitation to present evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Universities Group (APPUG) on Tuesday, I was invited to write this short piece for The Conversation, click here to read in full.

Radicalisation on campus: why new counter-terror duties for universities will not work

The government’s attempts to prevent university students from being drawn into violent extremism and terrorism could backfire. From July 1, there will be new duties placed on universities following changes to the government’s PREVENT programme in the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015.

Universities will now be required to provide specialist staff training on radicalisation, carry out risk assessments on the vulnerability of students and have appropriate welfare programmes in place, among other things. While I am acutely aware of the dangers of students being drawn towards extremist ideologies of any persuasion, my concerns are that these new measures will be counter-productive.

One rationale for the new duties is that university staff are uniquely placed to see the changes in the behaviour and outlook of students who have been radicalised. The notion of easily identifiable “changes” have been around for a while, first posited by the then home secretary, John Reid a decade ago. Back then, he was telling Muslim parents about the need to be vigilant in watching their children for the “tell-tale signs” of extremism.

Oft-repeated since, no politician has yet set out exactly what these “tell-tale signs” might be. Neither does the new PREVENT guidance. Unsurprising because in essence, when “changes” or “tell-tale signs” are referred to they are in many ways little more than mere code for becoming “more Muslim”. Whether visual – growing a beard or wearing the niqab for example – or vocal – practising your religion more openly or developing political views about British foreign policy or Palestine for instance – it is the recognition of more Muslim-ness that is problematic.

Read on by clicking here.