The chairman of the Home Affairs Select Committee, Keith Vaz MP, has told a Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) conference that he would “abolish” the Prevent counter-terrorism strategy and “start again,” writes Roshan Muhammed Salih.
The chairman of the influential parliamentary committee, which examines the activities of the Home Office, said the Muslim community must be in the “driving seat” when it comes to finding solutions to the problem of radicalisation, and it must be Muslims who frame an alternative strategy.
He told his mainly Muslim audience in London today that “only you have the solutions” but he warned: “If you don’t come up with solutions, the government will step in.”
Mr Vaz also advised Muslim organisations not to accept government money but to fund themselves if they wanted to retain their voice.
His comments came during a high-profile MCB conference which was also addressed by the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation David Anderson QC.
Anderson said that counter terrorism policy had to be “effective but not counter-productive.” He said that Britain needed strong laws to prevent terrorism but acknowledged that most successful terrorist attacks actually happen in Northern Ireland and that the mainstream media had “whipped up” anti-Muslim suspicion.
He added that he felt that Prevent was not subject to proper independent review.
For many years British Muslims have been deeply concerned about the negative impact of the government’s counter terrorism and extremism policies.
They say the government has ignored the significant role that its own foreign policy has played in radicalizing some Muslims; they say that it has failed to adequately tackle widespread Islamophobia and disenfranchisement; and they say that it is trying to demonise and criminalise peaceful Muslim activists.
Meanwhile, the MCB’s assistant secretary general, Miqdaad Versi, said that Muslims feel like second-class citizens and that current counter-terrorism policy had alienated them.
“There are many things wrong with the Prevent strategy,” he said. “Starting with the fact that it tries to tackle extremism without defining it properly. Secondly, it has this idea of trying to conflate extremism with terrorism and that if you are an extremist you are more likely to become a violent terrorist. And thirdly, it targets Muslims in its implementation.”
He added that the government had failed to properly engage with the Muslim community.
“When you want to tackle an issue facing Muslim communities it’s important to talk to them and not just listen to those who say ‘yes’ and serve as an echo chamber to the wording and thinking that you have. Rather, you must to listen to diverse voices within the Muslim community who can reflect the real concerns that people have.”
The conference was also addressed by Shelly Asquith of the National Union of Students who said that Prevent had now become statutory in colleges and universities, effectively meaning that lecturers had to report signs of extremism.
She said this had turned what should be arenas of free debate into places where Islamophobia, surveillance and suspicion were rampant.
But Asquith said that it was NUS policy not to cooperate with Prevent even if that meant breaking the law. She added that the NUS had also turned down £100,000 of Prevent funding.
The government says that it is only trying to tackle a terror threat which is all too real and which has been recently amplified by a small minority of British Muslims who’ve gone to join ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
It also says that it is not targeting the Muslim community as a whole, but just those who incite or commit violence.