Ibtihal Bsis explains ten ways in which the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act will affect the Muslim community in Britain.
The Government have been very busy widening the goal posts through the seventh terror legislation since 9/11: The CTS Act 2015 which was fast tracked during the Christmas period finally received Royal assent on 12th February. Much to the frustration of the Muslim community, it is now law.
As a comparatively powerless minority in the West it is difficult for us as Muslims to counter the Counter Terrorism and Security Act and that is no accident.
1. Its Main target is Muslims
This Government is not shy about admitting it. Before it became law, the Bill was being courted during the on- going Syria and Iraq conflicts and was being further justified during the “Charlie Hebdo” shootings.
The Explanatory Notes to the Bill points to ISIL and Iraq not only to justify the legislation itself but to justify the need to fast-track the Bill through Parliament.
This all comes in atmosphere in which David Cameron says that Muslims “must do more” to tackle terrorism in the wake of the Paris shootings thereby making the entire Muslim community guilty by association and solidifying the need for counter terror legislation since there is an entire potentially terrorist community that holds extremist views.
2. It will Prevent Muslims from practicing Islam
Following 7/7 the then Labour Government rolled out the policy of Preventing Violent Extremism, also known as Prevent. This featured the four Ps strategy known as “Contest”. The ex-MI5 chief, Baroness Manningham Buller, recently told the House of Lords “It seems to me that Prevent is clearly not working”.
In recent years, namely in 2011, the prevent strategy was widened to include “extremism” and in 2013 “radicalisation”. Although the strategy is not mentioned in the CTS Act, it has been given a very real statutory spiritual presence in part 5 of the Bill.
The Act places a legal obligation on particular bodies to “prevent people from being drawn into terrorism”. In essence there is no definition of what constitutes being “drawn” into terrorism. This can mean different things to different bodies, and is left to the subjective and arbitrary decisions of individuals who may or may not be suspicions of Muslims. It could be at the point when an individual becomes more observant of their faith and asks for a prayer room, or a woman that returns from Hajj donning the hijab for the first time at her workplace.
The Home Office has recognised that the Muslim Community has been targeted by Prevent. The following was noted in its assessment to create statutory powers:
“Risk that legislating will give greater prominence to criticism that the programme is there to spy on individuals receiving support or that it targets Muslims”.
3. Public services utilised to spy on and identify “extremist” Muslims
The government’s Prevent strategy was already functioning in schools, universities, in the healthcare system and in local authorities. However the reluctance of many to partake in the strategy due to concerns over discrimination due to a person’s belief has meant that the Home Secretary will now have the power to intervene when particular bodies are considered not to be enforcing the Strategy.
Their reluctance or deemed ineffectuality may result in the Secretary of State giving directions and/or overturning decisions. This State power is of particular concern. When such matters are centralised, a body may become concerned with providing enough statistics to fend off such interventions which may also be coupled with headlines in the mainstream press that they are not hard enough on so called extremism.
It is perhaps noteworthy that several university leaders and academics have urged the government to exempt universities from the counter-terrorism bill or risk harming academic freedom. (https://www.theguardian.com/education/2015/feb/02/counter-terrorism-security-bill-threat-freedom-of-speech-universities).
4. De-radicalisation programmes will instill “British values” over Islamic values
Extremism has been defined and is used in Prevent: “is vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs. We also include in our definition of extremism calls for deaths of our armed forces, whether in this country or overseas”.
This rather loose and vague definition does extend to those that believe in Shariah, separate seating for men and women, and those who do not identify themselves as British Muslim, even if they do not hold British Citizenship.
Those considered at risk will be referred to what came to be known in 2007 as the Channel programme. 35% of those referred between 2007-2013 were under the age of 18.
It is not clear as to what qualifies those who are making those detrimental decisions to refer children as young as 7. There are cases in which lecturers have reported students for attending a meeting about Gaza.
5. Withholding consent to de-radicalisation programmes could mean losing our children
If a child talks openly about foreign policy, or their support for the Syrian revolution, this may amount to identifying the child as being “vulnerable to” or at “risk of” being drawn towards extremism or violence. The police, the school and other agencies may then wish to refer the child to the Channel Programme. Any referral for a child under18 must have the consent of their parents.
Section 28 of the Act discusses the support plan and its review. However although the section does not refer explicitly to a lack of consent, there is a worrying proviso concerning the referral of those at risk to social services or a health service provider! Parents could therefore be coerced to give their consent to the panel.
6. De-radicalisation means instilling British values – A contradiction in terms
Whilst the Channel Programme will seek to ensure that Islamic values, such as the belief in a Caliphate, will be replaced by so called British values, Parliament has clearly overseen the obvious, British values are a contradiction in terms.
Included in the definition of British values is the respect for democracy and the rule of law; an irony in itself. How democratic is it to force an entire powerless community to adopt a belief that they do not agree with. How can Muslims be expected to respect such values when they are not adhered to by the authors of this legislation.
The rule of law may amount to no more than a farce when Muslims are not permitted to challenge such loose labels as extremism and they could potentially be forced to give consent based on a subjective referral to a panel that seeks to police and monitor their thoughts.
7. Muslims Could be internally exiled
TPIMs (Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures) replace the old system of control orders. They are used when there is not enough evidence to prosecute. This measure also undermines the rule of law value mentioned in point 6 above. The orders could prevent individuals from using phones and the web or meeting certain associates, and compel them to stay at a certain address, away from their home, for a set number of hours a day, sometimes up to 16 hours a day.
8. Muslims’ Travel to and from Britain restricted
New temporary exclusion orders to control the return to the UK of British citizens suspected of involvement in terrorism-related activity abroad. The orders will be enforced through the cancellation of travel documents and inclusion of the individual’s details on British border “watch lists”, including no-fly lists. Individuals may become stateless and this contravenes International law.
Police and Border Force officers are to be given new powers to confiscate passports and tickets of British citizens at the border, for up to 30 days, if they suspect they are leaving to engage in terrorism-related activities.
Both these measures require suspicion alone and it is not clear what evidence, if any, the authorities have to produce in order to justify their suspicions. The Government has specifically made reference to those returning from Syria and Iraq, but also other territories in which they seek to support the armed struggle in Syria and Iraq by other means such as finance.
9. CTS Act will target those with no previous convictions
The individual that falls foul of the CTS Act will ordinarily be a person of good character, and could remain as such but be controlled and stigmatised under measures such as TPIM. If they are a child under the age of 15 they may be flagged up every time they come into contact with public service providers even though there is no criminal record against their name.
10. The CTS Act will affect every facet of a Muslim’s life
Whether it be through the Prevent Strategy or clauses within the Bill itself, Muslims could feel intimidated and concerned when going about their daily life in places such as:
- Mosques- should the mosque not receive Prevent monies, it will be overseen by the Charities Commission whose current Chair is William Shawcross, a right wing neo-con who was also the Director of the Henry Jackson Society! Needless to say that many Islamic charities are being investigated since his appointment.
- Schools- faith and otherwise that will be under a legal obligation to promote so called British values;
- Finance- Closure and/or freezing of bank accounts by the Prevent Strategy without due process;
- Healthcare- mentioned above
- Local Authority- mentioned above
- Colleges and Universities- mentioned above
- Internet- A requirement for internet service providers to retain data on internet protocol addresses to allow individual users to be identified.
- Travel- mentioned above.
What is clear is that the Government wants to make us feel surrounded and under surveillance, even if we are not. A police state has been unveiled; one that looks for our thoughts through the manifestations of our action and that could be as simple as a young girl who appears at school donning a hijab. Tough times lie ahead for the Muslim community since it is becoming increasingly clear that they are not about to sell their values for the so called “British” ones.
Ibtihal Bsis is deputy women’s media representative of Hizb ut-Tahrir, UK.
You can follow Ibtihal on Twitter @UmmHarith