The Metro, a British daily, reported a 12-page document released by counter terrorism police in southeast England was intended to give examples of behavior to look out for that could be considered “extremist.”
The document was called “Safeguarding young people and adults from ideological extremism,” and listed several extremist groups. Chief amongst them was Al Muhajiroun group. The organization has already been banned for supporting terrorist groups, but controversy arose over what police considered to be their other extreme views.
The document read: “Al Muhajiroun promotes the view that Muslims are persecuted in the UK by the government and media. You may hear someone state this view or voice concern for ‘oppressed Muslims’ in other countries.”
It was this kind of wide-ranging accusation that lead several Muslim and rights groups to voice concern that freedom of speech could be undermined.
With protests in India over a controversial citizenship law perceived to discriminate against Muslims, and increasing global alarm over Chinese treatment of its Muslim Uyghur minority, the fear was that Muslims could be shut out of debates, already widely reported by mainstream media, for fear of being seen as extremist.
The document did not just include groups like Al Muhajiroun and neo-Nazis. It is also included Extinction Rebellion, an activist environmental group that engage in disruptive civil disobedience to raise awareness about climate change.
A police spokesperson said the document was designed “for a very specific audience” who understood the “complexities” of the environment they work in.
“We are in the process of confirming who it has been shared with and recalling it,” the spokesperson said. “We as Counter Terrorism Policing, along with our partners, have a responsibility to protect vulnerable people. Officers are trained to spot those who may be vulnerable.”
Prevent is a government program to confront far-right and religious extremism. The program requires public sector workers from the National Health Service staff to teachers to tell the government if they feel someone is at risk of radicalization.
The program has been criticized for disproportionately targeting the Muslim community, and has been branded as toxic by parts of the community. Government ministers have consistently stood by the program.
Rights group Liberty said it would be “outrageous” to refer someone under the Prevent scheme if “someone expresses the view that Muslims are oppressed.”
“Prevent has always been a blunt instrument that undermines free expression, embeds discrimination in public services and sows distrust among communities,” said Rosalind Comyn, Liberty’s policy and campaigns officer.
CAGE, another rights group that focuses on Muslim detainees, also condemned the document, and Prevent as a whole.
“Prevent is not only validating Islamophobia, but is entrenching it across the public sector. The leaked Prevent document seeks to determine which forms of political expression are acceptable, or beyond the pale,” said Dr. Adnan Siddiqui, the group’s director.
- Muslim Council of Britain
The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) urged the parties concerned “to ensure that evidence-based views that reflect legitimate concerns by Muslims are not conflated with claims of extremism.”
Speaking about the treatment of Muslims in China, Myanmar and Kashmir, MCB Secretary General Harun Khan said: “This is clear oppression which everyone – not just Muslims – should be voicing concerns about.”
The MCB have been increasingly active in the public sphere lately. The main opposition, center-left Labour Party is currently undergoing leadership elections, and the MCB have published a list of 10 key pledges to support Muslim communities, asking candidates standing for leader to support them.
The pledges are: tackling racism and Islamophobia, defending religious liberty, engaging with Muslim communities, ensuring safety at places of worship, effective health and elderly care services, defending refugees, enhancing minority participation in British economic, social and political life, addressing disparities in the criminal justice system, equality in education, and having an ethical foreign policy.
The five Labour leadership candidates have publicly pledged to support then 10-point program.
The MCB have also been active with regards to the ruling, center-right Conservative Party, having previously accused it of “denial, dismissal and deceit” and having a “blindspot” about Islamophobia.
Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister Boris Johnson had previously promised an investigation into Islamophobia in his party, but the remit was later broadened to include all forms of discrimination in a move derided by critics as watering down the focus on the perceived issue of Islamophobia within the party.
Source: Anadolu Agency