In a letter to CAGE in September last year, David Anderson, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, told us: “My statutory functions (described on my website) extend only to the review of certain counter-terrorism laws, and not to PREVENT.” Despite that, Mr Anderson was quoted in a front page article in the Evening Standard and wrote a glowing review of PREVENT, a clearly failed policy, simply calling for limited “reforms”. This is surprising, as he has continuously maintained up to now that PREVENT is outside his remit.
His intervention in favour of the discredited policy, brings into question the impartiality of terrorism reviewers, past and present, and whether they provide any genuine opposition or criticism of counter-terrorism legislation.
By failing to even acknowledge the toxic approach at the heart of PREVENT, which facilitates an unequal two-tier justice system – one for Muslims, another for everybody else – Mr Anderson is not advocating real change, but simply calling for PREVENT to be wrapped up in a different guise.
In a swipe at Muslim organisations who oppose PREVENT, Mr Anderson was quoted as saying that criticisms of the policy were partly the result of “‘exaggerated tales’ promoted by ‘Islamist advocacy groups’”.
This ‘Islamist’ smear is an ad hominem attack reminiscent of neoconservative “think-tanks” that seek to whitewash PREVENT and delegitimise community concerns. Like the neoconservative “think-tanks”, Mr Anderson consistently fails to deal with fundamental due process problems with PREVENT.
Furthermore, Mr Anderson’s references to far-right referrals under PREVENT are only intended to dispel what he claims are “rumours about discrimination”. In fact, Muslims represent nearly 70% of all PREVENT referrals and at and a similar percentage of all Channel deradicalisation cases, despite being only 5% of the population.
His shocking claim that far-right extremism is a direct reaction to “Islamist extremism” also puts the blame squarely at the door of Islam, while ignoring British foreign policy’s role in aggravating political violence, as well as the obvious neo-Nazi roots of far-right groups.
Due process violations show PREVENT is rotten to the core
Mr Anderson has also ignored the broader opposition to the PREVENT strategy amongst academics, health practitioners and teachers – presumably because they cannot be disparaged under the ‘Islamist’ label. This opposition can be seen through our widely reported joint statements on PREVENT and ERG22+.
He dismissed examples where PREVENT has violated rights as “exaggerated” despite numerous high profile and well documented cases that demonstrate otherwise. At CAGE we have logged testimonies from hundreds of Muslims who have been denied their due process rights under PREVENT, some of whom have even had their children taken away for choosing not to engage with the policy, as is their right. These case studies illustrate that PREVENT is systemically problematic – from the way it is formulated to the way it is implemented.
Additionally the use of secret evidence gathered under PREVENT – which defendants cannot see or challenge in courts – has now been sanctioned in the Family Courts. This is an issue that should alarm Mr Anderson and any objective analyst or practitioner concerned with justice.
Mr Anderson does not address the relationship between the government’s secretive domestic propaganda unit RICU and PREVENT-funded Muslim organisations, who are paid to influence public opinion, particularly amongst the Muslim community. This form of black propaganda – when false information and material that purports to be from one side but is actually being written by the other – is not even directed at an outside enemy as it was in the Cold War, but it is now being directed at its own citizens.
Honest and genuine engagement is needed now more than ever
Mr Anderson’s support for PREVENT shows that, as the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, he has been too accommodating of government policy. This is compounded by the fact that he appears to have stepped outside of his remit in commenting on PREVENT, creating confusion between his official capacity as a reviewer of terrorism legislation, and his personal position on PREVENT.
Nonetheless, we do agree with Mr Anderson that the government should not view Muslims through a securitised lens and only in the context of counter terrorism, and we encourage genuine debate and discussion around this issue. However, discussions can only involve all stakeholders and must be built on the trust of the community.
Instead, by anchoring his proposals on the back of unjustified attacks on those who engage in legitimate criticism of the PREVENT policy, he further alienates the very community that he says needs to be involved in formulating a strategy that adheres to the basic tenets of a just and free society.
There is no escaping this: PREVENT is a policy that should be abolished altogether in favour of a climate and a commitment to open dialogue and an equal justice system, firmly premised upon due process and the rule of law.
CC image courtesy of hulki okan tabak on Unsplash
(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.)