Preventing Needless Hysteria

BY ALEXANDER MELEAGROU-HITCHENS

For the past couple of days, the Guardian has been running scare stories about the Government’s Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) programme.  Gleefully feeding Islamist propaganda about the government’s supposed demonisation of Muslims, it is an irresponsible and potentially dangerous attack.  

PVE is a strand of the CONTEST strategy designed to fight terrorism, and a large part of the PVE strand is the Pathfinder Fund which, through local authorities, allocates funds to local organisations that they assess can help prevent people from becoming radicalised.

The main Guardian report focuses primarily on the use of information sharing agreements (ISA) which have been drawn up between the Metropolitan Police and two councils that receive PVE funding for certain projects.  These ISAs specify that PVE funded projects can share with the police detailed personal information about innocent Muslims, including details about their sex life.  Having got hold of two ISAs, one from Islington and one from Waltham Forest, the Guardian has presented the Prevent strategy as nothing more than a covert dirty tricks programme designed to create a police state for innocent Muslims.

Rather, these shockingly invasive ISAs are much more likely to be an aberration from what Prevent is in fact all about, and yet another example of the error of allowing the Police to take the lead in running this programme.  Looking beyond the immediate hysteria (which the MCB have predictably spearheaded) it is important to keep the following in mind: so far, from a pool of hundreds of local councils and numerous PVE funded projects, the Guardian has presented us with two ISAs.  If the newspaper can provide us with more evidence that the use of ISAs is in fact the rule rather than an aberration, I will be more than willing to retract my current stance that Prevent is by no means an intelligence gathering programme. 

Ed Husain, director of the Quilliam Foundation, has found himself in a spot of bother over this after being quoted by the Guardian as saying “It [Prevent] is gathering intelligence on people not committing terrorist offences. If it is to prevent people getting killed and committing terrorism, it is good and it is right.” In this assessment, he has got one thing terribly wrong: The stated aims of Prevent make it clear that it is not designed to do this, and detailed intelligence gathering is instead the purpose of another strand of CONTEST, namely ‘Pursue’.  Prevent is not an attempt to subvert local community groups that are receiving Pathfinder money, and perpetuating the idea that it is can be hugely damaging.  His failure to properly explain the nature of Prevent must be rectified.

Even more damaging was the article written today by Islamist enabler Robert Lambert, who, rather than criticising the Prevent strategy, tries to put the boot into Quilliam by suggesting that instead of them receiving any PVE money, it should instead go to his Islamist friends.  Before a brief look at his article, here is a bit of background information on Mr. Lambert:

  • As a leading light of the Metropolitan Police Muslim Contact Unit, he handed over the Finsbury Park mosque to, among others, Mohammed Sawalha. Described by the BBC as a ‘fugitive Hamas commander’, Sawalha was also a signatory to the Istanbul Declaration – a pro Hamas statement which not only rejected any possible peace settlements with Israel, but also included indirect support for attacks on British Naval vessels.
  • According to the most recent documents, he is an employee of iEngage, a pro Islamist website headed by Mohammed Ali Harrath – a man who is currently the subject of an Interpol Red Notice for, according to the Interpol site, ‘counterfeiting/forgery, crimes involving the use of weapons/explosives, terrorism.’

In his piece today, Lambert suggests that instead of Quilliam, a far more suitable candidate would be Anas Altikriti, CEO of the Cordoba foundation.  Identified last year as a problematic Islamist organisation by David Cameron, the Cordoba foundation recently sponsored an event in the Kensington and Chelsea town hall which was to showcase a video sermon by pro-al-Qaeda preacher Anwar al Awlaki (the sermon was pulled at the last minute only after immense pressure from the local council).  Awlaki has also been identified by the US Department of Homeland Security as the spiritual leader of three of the 9/11 hijackers.  The author of ‘44 Ways to Support Jihad’, his sermons enjoin Muslims to join al-Qaeda affiliated groups like Somalia’s al-Shabaab militia.  Surely it is not unfair to ask how Lambert could possibly justify promoting a group that sponsors an Awlaki sermon?  It is also worth noting that, despite the controversy about Awlaki’s virtual presence at the event, the front page of Tikriti’s Cordoba website still carries the ad for the event, in which Awlaki is described as an ‘Islamic scholar’.

Lambert also promotes Inayat Bunglawala as a viable alternative to Quilliam, surely it is just a coincidence that Inayat is also his colleague at iEngage…

There are a number of things wrong with Prevent, in particular how PVE funds have very often fallen into the wrong hands (many of them rather inexplicably, are friends and associates of Robert Lambert), but from what information is currently available there is no evidence to suggest that it is a wide ranging sinister programme to invade the privacy of innocent Muslims.  Additionally, the Guardian should have seriously considered the ramifications of discrediting the Prevent strategy in the eyes of truly moderate Muslims, and they better have something more than the two ISAs they have so far come up with.

UPDATE:  Since the posting of this blog, the Cordoba Foundation have removed the advertisement for Awlaki’s video sermon from their website.  A pity that they need to be outed before they realise that promoting a pro al-Qaeda preacher is a bad thing…

UPDATE 8/4/2010

According to news reports, Harrath has now been removed from the Interpol Red Notice list.

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