Workers Hammer No. 240
Anti-Muslim Prevent programme:
Danger to everyones rights
Police interrogate two Syrian refugees about their attitude towards Bashar al-Assad and how often they pray: staff at their son’s nursery had reported them because the traumatised child was constantly drawing pictures of planes dropping bombs. A Sikh student overheard reciting a Punjabi prayer in her room later finds that the room has been searched. These are just a couple of examples of the workings of the government’s sinister “Prevent” programme.
Writing on Prevent in the London Review of Books (18 May 2017), Karma Nabulsi describes how: “If you are identified as ‘vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism’, you are reported — or ‘referred’ — to the police. Referrals can come from teachers, council workers, social workers, doctors, university lecturers, nurses, librarians or opticians.” In 2015-16, over 7600 people — including 350 children under the age of ten— were reported under Prevent on suspicion that they were or could become “extremists”. Muslims made up fully 65 per cent of these so-called referrals, 13 times their proportion of the population.
The 2015 Counter-Terrorism and Security Act mandates public employees to report “early warning signs” of terrorist sympathies in individuals they encounter. More than half a million people have been forced to sit through Prevent training on how to pry into the private lives and political thoughts of their students, patients, etc. The consequences include things like the front-page headline of a recent London Evening Standard article (9 November 2017) on Prevent, which blared: “Boy, nine, hails I.S. in London school”. Another potential “terrorist” exposed!
Prevent is explicitly designed to target “non-violent extremism” — in other words, thought crimes — in what is chillingly referred to as “pre-criminal space”, where no law has been breached but individuals are nonetheless investigated by police. “Extremism”, elastically defined as beliefs that conflict with “British values”, can include anything from speaking a foreign language to defending the oppressed Palestinians against Zionist terror.
Arun Kundnani, author of The Muslims Are Coming!: Islamophobia, Extremism, and the Domestic War on Terror (2014), explains how Prevent’s Channel scheme for “individual intervention” works:
“Police officers build a file, including interviews with the family, teachers and social workers. What happens to that data and who has access to it? There is a lack of transparency. Channel referrals are stored in a database held by the police counter-terrorism units. Officers in that unit — and MI5 officers embedded in terrorism units — would all have access to that data.”
— guardian.co.uk, 23 September 2015
While currently directed overwhelmingly against the Muslim population, such policies seek to chill political dissent and regiment the population as a whole; they are ultimately directed against the left and the multiethnic working class.
A case in point is the experience of Jameel Scott. A 17-year-old supporter of the reformist Socialist Workers Party (SWP), Scott was arrested for participating in an April 2010 protest at Manchester University against the Israeli ambassador. Although the criminal charges against Scott were dropped, the North West Counter-Terrorism Unit placed him in Channel. For two years, he was banned from going to demonstrations, was spied on by cops and pressured to reveal information about friends in the SWP and anti-racist groups.
Down with the racist “war on terror”!
Intensified state repression is the domestic expression of the global “war on terror” under which the imperialists ride roughshod over neocolonial peoples around the world. Prevent was first developed by the Blair Labour government in 2003 as part of its Contest counter-terrorism strategy. Not coincidentally, this escalation of the domestic “war on terror” occurred shortly after the US and British imperialists invaded Iraq. The Special Branch, formerly devoted to ferreting out Irish Republicans and “reds under the bed”, was refashioned as a counter-terrorism unit. Over the years, Prevent/Contest has been expanded repeatedly. Between 2003 and 2008, the number of cops deployed on counter-terrorism climbed from 1700 to nearly 3000, while MI5 almost doubled in size.
The man Blair chose to run the Prevent Violent Extremism programme in 2007 was Charles Farr, head of the counter-terrorism department at MI6 and a former covert operative in Afghanistan and Jordan. Addressing a parliamentary committee in 2009, Farr made clear that his target was not those “committed to violent extremism” but “a much larger group of people who feel a degree of negativity, if not hostility, towards the state, the country, the community, and who are, as it were, the pool in which terrorists will swim”. Such comments, along with Prevent’s rhetoric about “winning hearts and minds”, come straight out of the imperialists’ counterinsurgency doctrines which they brutally applied against anti-colonial struggles from Malaya to Kenya.
Indeed, Britain’s current “war on terror” has a long and sordid lineage both overseas and domestically. In Malaya, beginning in 1950 under Clement Attlee’s Labour government, more than half a million Chinese peasants were imprisoned in barbed-wire-enclosed “new villages”. During the Cold War against the Soviet Union, the secretive Information Research Department groomed “left-wing” anti-Communist informants such as George Orwell. During the “Troubles” in Northern Ireland, the oppressed Catholic population as a whole was subject to blanket surveillance and repression, while the Irish in Britain were treated as potential terrorists.
The state’s repressive anti-Muslim campaign has been aided by campus administrations and student unions. After a former student at University College London (UCL) was arrested for trying to blow up an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009, the UCL student union readily handed over the names and personal details of some 900 members or former members of the campus Islamic Society and other Muslim groups at UCL — after the Islamic Society itself refused to do so (independent.co.uk, 1 April 2010). The cops then passed on the list to the CIA.
Young Muslims are a convenient testing group for ramping up state surveillance against wider sections of the population. This country’s bigoted rulers treat British Muslims with the same contempt they heaped on their colonial slaves. Muslims are disproportionately represented among the unemployed and those in prison. They are discriminated against in housing and social services and are subject to brutal physical attack from fascists and the police. Helping to fuel the bigotry that underpins these conditions are manufactured scandals such as the “Trojan Horse” witch hunt in Birmingham in 2014, when hysteria was whipped up over a supposed Islamic plot to take over city schools.
Anti-Muslim bigotry, in addition to providing a cover for increased policing of the population as a whole, also aids the bosses in setting workers of different religions and national origins against each other. It is a matter of their own self-defence for the unions to oppose the “war on terror” and take up the defence of the oppressed Muslim minority. Many teachers chafe at being forced to spy on their students; the National Union of Teachers passed a motion at their 2016 conference calling to withdraw the Prevent programme from schools. But that resolution is a dead letter unless the union movement insists that its members will not participate in Prevent.
The desperate conditions of life in Britain for Muslims and other minorities, as well as the imperialist terror-bombing of predominantly Muslim countries, generate rage and despair, which, especially given the lack of class struggle, can fuel the growth of religious reaction and lead to acts of indiscriminate criminal terror like last May’s Manchester Arena bombing. In fact, perpetrators of such atrocities display the same mentality as the imperialists: identifying the whole population with the policies of the ruling-class oppressors. To end the brutality and degradation bred by social oppression requires putting an end to the imperialist system that perpetuates that oppression. It will take nothing short of proletarian socialist revolution to do that.
Reformism and the state
The Labour Party manifesto in last June’s election called for a review of Prevent’s “effectiveness and its potential to alienate minority communities”. Jeremy Corbyn has criticised Prevent because it “is seen to target the Muslim community, not anybody else”, pleading that it also deal with “far-right extremism” and racism (Independent, 26 March 2017). In fact, “far-right extremism” was added to Prevent’s menu in 2011 in response to similar complaints, without in any way changing its fundamental character.
The bourgeois state consists of special bodies of armed men who defend the rule and profits of the capitalists against those they exploit and oppress, in particular against the working class, the only force with the potential to overthrow capitalist class rule. During their heroic year-long strike in 1984-85, members of the National Union of Mineworkers saw the Thatcher government deploy against them the dirty tricks and police-state measures the British state had long used to suppress the Catholic population in Northern Ireland. We Marxists oppose any expansion of the bourgeois state’s apparatus of repression — even laws against the fascists will ultimately be used against the workers movement.
Corbyn, in line with the outlook of Labourite reformism, sees in the “democratic” capitalist state not an enemy of workers and minorities but a vehicle for social progress. Thus the Labour manifesto called for greater military spending and more cops, prison guards and border police. Likewise, Corbyn seized on the criminal Manchester bombing to attack the Tories for cutting back on the number of cops on the street. This criticism of the Tories from the right is an expression of Labour’s fundamental allegiance to the British capitalist order, whose “democratic” trappings are a cover for the class dictatorship of the exploiters. (Those democratic trappings were certainly never on display in Britain’s colonial possessions, which were ruled by naked state terror.)
Writing in 1935, Labourite academic and writer Harold Laski noted in his treatise The State in Theory and Practice:
“how accidental was the union of capitalism with democracy. It was the outcome, not of an essential harmony of inner principle, but of that epoch in economic evolution.... It would offer social reforms so long as these did not jeopardize the essential relations of the capitalist system.”
The only rights sacred to the bourgeoisie are its rights to rule and to reap profits.
Having gutted industry, increased the exploitation of the working class and slashed social programmes benefitting poor and working people over the last several decades, Britain’s rulers are quite cognisant that they are sitting on top of seething discontent. In fact, it is this discontent that propelled Corbyn’s rise. But Labour, a bourgeois workers party with a base in the unions and a pro-capitalist programme, seeks only to divert workers’ anger back into the safe channels of parliamentary shadow-boxing.
If the proletariat is to triumph over its exploiters, it needs a steeled and disciplined revolutionary vanguard party at its head, a party of the kind forged by Bolshevik leader VI Lenin in Russia. In Britain, such a party will be built by breaking Labour’s working-class base away from its pro-capitalist misleaders, left as well as right. Rather than the Labour Party’s broad church, infected with chauvinism and ruling-class scorn, the workers need a party that will champion all the exploited and oppressed.