The arguments put forward by the CCE are inaccurate and damaging, and the very existence of the body and its links to known right-wing concerns is questionable.
The introduction of the Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) and the announcement of Sara Khan’s appointment as its commissioner back in January generated a wave of responses. CAGE has been clear from the outset that we oppose the CCE, irrespective of who leads it.
The British counter-extremism regime has three fundamental problems, which must be addressed.
Firstly, the core assumption that ideological ‘extremism’ leads to active political violence by way of a process of ‘radicalisation’ is theoretically unsound and reductionist;
Second, the government definition of ‘extremism’ – namely opposition to “fundamental British Values” – is a deeply politicised definition that is open to abuse and lends itself to the stifling of political dissent;Third, the political apparatus borne out of extremism, most notably the Prevent programme, is repressive, and has stretched the purview of policing into the space of enforcing ‘thought crime’ .
The CCE is inextricably linked to Prevent
From the outset, Khan and the CCE made it explicit that Prevent is ‘outside their remit’, due to it falling under the government’s counter-terrorism strategy.
The logic behind this decision is flawed; Prevent was the programme through which ‘extremism’ has been and continues to be defined, and one of the primary mediums through which that definition is operationalised.
Furthermore, the CCE accepts the government’s non-legal, and contentious definition of ‘extremism’ as its starting point and looks to expand outwards from there, rather than suggesting a critique of that definition.
So it seems that in attempting to dissociate from Prevent, Khan in fact seeks to augment and contribute to the theoretical underpinnings of Prevent, while seeking to discard the baggage of the programme itself.
An ‘expert’ group of beneficiaries of the British counter-extremism regime
With the aim and intentions of the CCE already shrouded in doubt, the situation has been exacerbated by the ‘expert group’ Khan has gathered for her evidence-collecting mission.
A closer look at these experts, including Fiyaz Mughal’s Faith Matters and the Institute for Strategic Dialogue – both previous recipients of the Building a Stronger Britain Together counter-extremism programme – former counter-terrorism police chief Mark Rowley, author of the discredited Casey Review Louise Casey and CVE pundit Azeem Ibrahim and the Centre for Global Policy, reveals that they resemble more a council of beneficiaries of the British counter-extremism regime, rather than a group of impartial advisors.
When liberal anti-racism reinforces the power of the state
The conflict of interest is clear. The counter-extremism industry – as it should rightfully be called since it is one that makes considerable profit out of fear – is a fundamentally racist one.
It has amassed funding, prestige and political power by honing in on the Muslim community as a political guinea pig, before bringing its fruits to bear on the rest of society through increasingly authoritarian counter-terror legislation that has broadened to more actively target environmental, socialist and pro-Palestinian groups.
Hope Not Hate’s role with the CCE highlights a disconcerting trend by liberal anti-racist organisations to accept the premise and framework of ‘extremism’ and ‘radicalisation’, and try to stretch it to encompass more targets, namely white supremacism and the far-right.
This betrays an analytical blindspot by these organisations which view the state as a defender against ‘extremes’.In turn, their critiques of counter-extremism and policing powers focus on ‘diversifying’ the targets of counter-extremism in form, while leaving their inherently repressive function intact. This often dovetails with the increasingly popular logic whereby ‘Islamist’ and far-right ‘extremism’, and/or terrorism are two sides of the same coin, and mutually reinforcing.
This simplistic ‘clash of the extremes’ narrative ignores the historically distinct conditions within which they each emerged, and helps absolve the state and its policies in creating the conditions for both – far from defending against fringe politics, the state more often, enables and systematises them.
The latest announcement shows a clear desire by the commissioner to draw the existing ‘counter-extremism’ network into the orbit of the CCE, and buttress the theoretically and politically dubious foundations of British counter-extremism.
And, as the counter-extremism regime makes strides to broaden its range and targets beyond Muslims, our opposition must remain principled and focussed so as not to be outpaced by the state – we must demand the end of inherently repressive counter-extremism powers, no matter who they are wielded against.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)