Memorandum from Quilliam (PVE 16)

Quilliam is the world's first counter-extremism think tank. Located in London, our founders are former leading ideologues of UK-based extremist Islamist organizations. Quilliam stands for religious freedom, human rights, democracy and developing a Muslim identity at home in, and with the West.

Quilliam welcomes the 'Prevent' programme as one strand of several in the government's counter-extremism policy but believes changes are necessary, including to certain of its underpinning assumptions.


Taking preventative measures against violent extremism is vital but the Prevent programme needs a sharper focus on preventing violent extremism as a debate about ideas. In other words, the government should recognise that violent extremism is always preceded by political and religious extremism. Prevent's work should serve to bolster liberal democratic values against such extremism rather than being distracted by youth sporting activities.


When looking at radicalisation, Prevent should address the complex identity issues stemming from a failure to access a shared British identity, a failure which leaves some people vulnerable to radicalisation.


Prevent should move away from talking about separate faith "communities" and "community cohesion" and instead focus on creating national cohesion whereby every British citizen is considered primarily as a British citizen, not only as a member of an artificially constructed "faith community", which homogenises identity and denies individuality.


Many civil servants working both in national and local government lack the necessary advice and expertise to properly understand the complex ideological and theological issues surrounding extremism and therefore to properly support the Prevent programme. Assessing whether a group or speaker propagates dangerous ideas should be carried out centrally by people with experience, expertise and the executive power to transparently and accountably disrupt extremist groups' gatherings.


Whilst cases like that of Andrew Ibrahim demonstrate that there has been some success in involving mosques in aiding the Prevent programme, many of the people most important to Prevent are yet to be impacted by it.


The government must communicate better the goals of the Prevent programme. This is a process which has been undermined by some government partners who have misrepresented Prevent and its objectives to the public.


Prevent must foster a sense of belonging amongst all British citizens by developing an understanding of shared values. The struggle to prevent all kinds of extremism must be understood as the struggle to create national cohesion through developing an accessible British identity based on shared universal values, principally freedom of speech, equal rights for all, accepting that no one religion has a monopoly on influencing law in our secular public space and that sovereignty is for the people. Fostering such an identity and defeating extremist ideologies of all types is the best preventative measure against violent extremism.


1. Is the Prevent programme the right way of addressing the problem of violent extremism, or are there better ways of doing it?


a. Prevent is a vital strand of Britain's strategy to prevent violent extremism but this role is being undermined by its unfocused implementation. The only way in which violent extremism can be eradicated is if the ideas and ideologies which justify it are defeated. This will only occur through debate and so the Prevent strategy must support that side of the debate which stands for shared universal values antithetical to violent extremism.


b. The fact that this is a debate about ideas means that Prevent must have a sharper focus on supporting those individuals and groups who promote shared universal values. Kickboxing classes and football leagues, however well intentioned, do not help to propagate the crucial ideas which can undermine and defeat violent extremism. Prevent should take as partners organisations committed to furthering this debate about ideas and, in particular, encouraging belief in those ideas which tie people together in modern Britain.


c. Choosing partners on the basis of their claim to represent all members of one group tends to empower only politically active, male, middle-aged members of a diverse population. It also undermines parliament as a body which represents us all as equal citizens. This is of particular importance at present as the new secretary of state for Communities and Local Government, the Rt Hon John Denham MP appears to have shown some sympathy for the politics of 'community representation' in the past.


2. How robust is the Government's analysis of the factors which lead people to become involved in violent extremism? Is the 'Prevent' programme appropriately targeted to address the most important of those factors?


a. Whilst it is to be welcomed that Prevent acknowledges that there is no single cause of radicalisation[1], its emphasis on real and perceived grievances[2] heavily outweighs the more fundamental question of identity[3]. In the video he recorded before carrying out the 7/7 suicide bomb attacks, Leeds-born Mohammad Sidique Khan addressed the British public saying: "Until we feel security, you will be our targets. And until you stop the bombing, gassing, imprisonment and torture of my people we will not stop this fight."[4] The fact that Sidique Khan felt no loyalty or connection to other British citizens, identifying only with Muslims, was crucial in allowing him to murder innocents.


b. The argument that radicalisation is driven by grievances, in particular about foreign policy and the idea that of a "War on Islam", is a popular one but one that is undermined by a comparison between Britain and America. If British foreign policy feeds into a narrative of a "War on Islam" then America's foreign policy must also equally or more so. Yet, despite American Muslims sharing British Muslims' concerns about a "War on Islam"[5], America has seen nothing like the home-grown 7/7 attacks. This can be explained by the greater accessibility immigrants to America have to a shared identity built on universal values than is granted to immigrants to Britain.


c. Furthermore, the idea that violent extremism is driven by concerns about foreign policy is belied by how such violent extremism occurs. Targets in Britain chosen by Islamist terrorists have included nightclubs, airports, underground trains and buses - none of which have any connection to foreign policy. Thus, whilst radicalisers exploit such grievances to manipulate vulnerable members of society and to justify violent extremism to those who do not share their ideology, the radicalised were vulnerable to manipulation because of their failure to access a British identity based on shared universal values. Changes to British foreign policy would not eradicate the existence of extremist ideologies which legitimise and encourage violence.


3. How appropriate, and how effective, is the Government's strategy for engaging with communities? Has the Government been speaking to the right people? Has its programme reached those at whom it is-or should be-aimed?


a. The question of "engaging with communities" is the wrong premise for countering violent extremism. We need to look at a wider "national cohesion" rather than more limited "community cohesion"; the British society which we would hope to build and which would be truly resilient to violent extremism is not a Balkanised one of separate communities existing apart within the same country like the Ottoman millet system. Rather, we must build a society where all citizens are equally integrated and involved through the democratic structures of the state.


b. The idea of engaging with any single Muslim "community" or even separate Muslim "communities" within Britain is part of a narrative which suggests that there can be "community leaders" and "community representatives". Giving them a voice occurs at the expense of integrating individual Muslims fully into British society through the democratic structures of the state. This is not to say that Prevent should not operate with partner organisations; groups like Radical Middle Way, the Mosques and Imams National Advisory Board and the British Muslim Forum facilitate access to and communication with large numbers of mosques and Muslims around the country without claiming to speak for them. However, these bodies tend to lack the organisational infrastructure of a group like the Muslim Council of Britain whose leadership, in claiming to speak for all Muslims in their dealings with the government, actually co-opt and deny individual Muslims' voices.


c. In terms of gaining access to and influencing those people who are most at risk of radicalisation, Prevent has seen little success. For example, three groups which are particularly vulnerable to radicalisation (students, prisoners and Somali youths) have seen little benefit from Prevent spending, partly as a result of unfocused approaches to identifying priority areas for activity. For example, when deciding which universities should be prioritised for attention as part of the Prevent strategy, the decision is made purely according to the size of the establishment's local Muslim community.[6] Thus prioritisation for Prevent attention is decided not on the basis of evidence of radicalisation occurring nor even on the basis of the number of Muslims studying at the establishment but on a much more arbitrary basis. Durham is an example of a university with few Muslim students and few local Muslims yet Hizb ut-Tahrir is very active on campus there. Prevent is a very important and delicate programme which necessitates a focus on the most vulnerable people in society and on establishments where radicalisation is occurring, not aimed carelessly at areas which simply have many Muslims resident in them. This strategy risks alienating British Muslims by playing into the hands of groups which claim that Prevent is aimed against all Muslims, not just extremists.


4. Is the necessary advice and expertise available to local authorities on how to implement and evaluate the programme?


a. The Prevent strategy is concerned with addressing complex ideological and theological issues which local authorities are ill-placed to understand. The recent case where Kensington and Chelsea Council did not prevent the broadcast of a video message by Anwar al-Awlaki, an English-speaking jihadist preacher who advocates an al-Qaeda worldview, at Kensington Town Hall until his appearance was highlighted by politicians and campaigners shows that local authorities lack the advice and expertise to implement the government's commitment to disrupting radicalisers and making it harder for them to operate in the places they use[7].


b. It is therefore vital that central government provide clear guidance and advice to prevent such a situation arising in the future and to help with identifying suitable partners for 'Prevent' who are committed to shared British values. Furthermore, decisions about whether a certain speaker should be allowed a platform in council premises should be taken centrally where experience and expertise in counter extremism exists whilst clear advice and guidance must be given to local authorities and police about how to choose partners who promulgate shared universal values. At present, the Department for Communities and Local Government is funding local authorities' Prevent work with 45 million over three years but how this money is spent remains in the hands of local authorities which lack the expertise to choose partners effectively. This leads to the situation where money is handed out by the local authorities with no means to assess whether it is furthering the Prevent agenda or not.


c. Of the 12 million already distributed by local authorities to fund community group run Prevent projects, around 850,000 has been given to affiliates of the Muslim Council of Britain, whose deputy director-general signed a declaration supporting Hamas and understood by some to advocate attacks on the Royal Navy.[8] 38,000 was also allocated to the Cordoba Foundation, only 4,000 of which was withdrawn[9] despite the Cordoba Foundation sponsoring the recent event at Kensington Town Hall which was supposed to feature a video message from Anwar al-Awlaki, and the fact that it has also hosted Dr Abdul Wahid, UK chairman of Hizb ut-Tahrir. Bristol council gave 3,180 to the 1st Bristol Muslim Scout Troop for "camping equipment"[10] and large sums of money have been distributed by Enfield[11]and other councils to fund purely sporting groups. How such projects contribute to combating the ideologies which justify and promote violent extremism remains unclear. Systematic measures must be taken to ensure that such lapses do not occur and that all money spent on Prevent contributes to preventing extremism.


5. Are the objectives of the 'Prevent' agenda being communicated effectively to those at whom it is aimed?


a. Prevent has certainly seen some successes; the case of Andrew Ibrahim, whose plans to launch a suicide bomb attack with a homemade device were discovered after his local mosque reported that he had burn marks on his hands and arms,[12] demonstrates this to be the case. However, other opportunities were missed to identify Ibrahim as a threat including his college failing to take further the concerns of a visiting lecturer after Ibrahim asked questions about "the best" biological agents for killing people. This shows that the objectives of the Prevent agenda are still not being effectively communicated to all necessary people.


b. This situation has been exacerbated by misinformation about Prevent, in particular Contest 2, which has been spread by some individuals and organisations, some of whom are government partners. Figures associated with prominent organisations like the Muslim Council of Britain have misrepresented Contest 2 to the public by continuing to organise public meetings about an imaginary version of Contest 2, published in the Guardian and alleged to be a draft but which did not become part of the Prevent agenda.[13] To avoid the alienation of those whom Prevent aims to support, measures must be taken to ensure that Prevent partners are giving Muslim and non-Muslim members of the public accurate information about it.


6. Is the Government seeking, and obtaining, appropriate advice on how to achieve the goals of the 'Prevent' programme?


It is impossible to say whether or not "the Government" as a whole is receiving appropriate advice on achieving the goals of Prevent as different departments appear to be applying different standards to their choosing of partners in the Prevent programme. Whilst the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and Home Office both appear to have implemented measures to ensure that it is seeking advice on Prevent from partners who promote shared British values, Communities and Local Government continues to cooperate with Saudi-funded and Islamic Forum Europe and Jamaat-e-Islami dominated East London Mosque. Furthermore, leading politicians from both the Labour and Conservative parties have paid uncritical visits to East London Mosque, with then Communities Minister Sadiq Khan visiting the mosque in February of this year[14] followed by Conservative mayor of London Boris Johnson in September.[15]


7. How effectively has the Government evaluated the effectiveness of the programme and the value for money which is being obtained from it? Have reactions to the programme been adequately gauged?


At present it is difficult to see what measures have been taken by government departments to evaluate the effectiveness of their programmes. Certainly, without rigid systems for careful monitoring of how money is distributed to Prevent partners and how those partners contribute to countering extremist ideologies, some would argue that the government is failing in its duty to British tax-payers to check that results are being achieved from spending public funds.[16]


8. Is there adequate differentiation between what should be achieved through the Prevent programme and the priorities that concern related, but distinct, policy frameworks such as cohesion and integration?


When looking at the Prevent programme it is vital to remember that violent extremism cannot be defeated except by defeating the underlying issues which encourage it to develop and the ideologies which feed on those issues. This entails fostering a sense of belonging based on shared values, principally to freedom of speech, equal rights for all, accepting that no one religion has a monopoly on influencing law in our secular public space and that sovereignty is for the people. "Cohesion" and "integration" should be understood in reference to these values rather than more superficial matters such as clothing, work or speaking English. Thus groups and individuals who are committed to these values should be understood to be "integrated" whilst those who reject these values should not, even if they show superficial signs of integration. People who reject these values, although they are not being criminalised, must be recognised as undermining national cohesion and thereby the objectives of the Prevent programme.


9. Conclusion


The government's strategy for defeating terrorism is made up of four strands, Pursue, Prevent, Protect and Prepare. There is no debate about the necessity of continuing Pursue, Protect and Prepare yet the most important of these strands, Prevent, is in disarray. Nearly five years after the suicide bombings of London Underground and buses the government is yet to set in place effective preventative measures against the radicalisation of British citizens. Indeed, some money allocated for Prevent has actually undermined national cohesion through promoting separatism and thereby preventing the creation of a British identity based on shared universal values. There is also little evidence that the government has acted on its commitment to "challenge those who want to work against our shared values."[17] It is vital that Prevent money be used only to support shared values


September 2009


[1] Contest 2, 5.19, p41

[2] Contest 2, 5.20-5.23, pp41-42

[3] Contest 2, 5.24, p42


[5] Christian Leuprecht, Todd Hataley, Sophia Moskalenko and Clark McCauley, "Winning the Battle but Losing the War", Perspectives on Terrorism, 3:2 (August 2009) Terrorism Research Initiative, p27

[6] Contest 2, Footnote 148, p172

[7]Contest 2, 9.22, p89


[9] p1

[10] p10

[11] pp18-19


[13] Daud Abdullah, deputy director general of the Muslim Council of Britain spoke at an event called "Putting Contest 2 in Context" in Hounslow on 11th July 2009. Flyers for the event made reference to "leaked drafts" of Contest 2 rather than to Contest 2 in its published form.



[16] This argument was recently made by the TaxPayer's Alliance in 'Council Spending Uncovered', p1

[17] Contest 2, p87