"We need to properly fund and resource the Prevent agenda." Words by Owen Smith during the second Labour leadership election that left many of us in the Muslim community, and the student movement, furious.
Prevent is part of the Government's counter terrorism bill which claims to attempt to prevent radicalism and terrorism, with particular focus on universities. The Government is implementing this through training of staff members, in the public sector, on how to spot 'radical ideologies' (including Islamic extremism and anti-capitalist agendas) and legally binds them to report these to the authorities. These authorities can then question friends and family, seize any and all academic work by the suspected student, as well as monitor and investigate other aspects of their public and private lives.
While the government postulates itself to be fighting homegrown terrorism through Prevent, groups such as Human Rights Watch are frequently coming out and saying that the anti-radicalisation strategy is becoming a "significant source of grievance" among British Muslims and propagating a deep sense of mistrust between minority communities and the state.
There are many of us who see the strategy as a far more problematic. To us it is as simple as state sponsored Islamophobia and racism. It is therefore particularly concerning to have heard a potential leader of labour party, the party that Muslim communities have most identified with historically, claim allegiance to this strategy. A strategy that Unions such as the National Union of Students, National Union of Teachers and the University College Union have strongly condemned in the last 12 months.
I was disappointed not only as a labour party member and activist, but also as a young Muslim man with a particular interest in the political world. It is becoming increasingly difficult for people like me to engage in the political discourse, and the distribution of such ideas only serve to drive people like me out of civil society. This isn't just theoretical, we are seeing it in practice as the cases of Prevent are growing every day.
Cases such as that of Mohammed Umar Farooq. A student at Staffordshire University studying Terrorism, Crime and Global Security whowas questioned by library security about his views on homosexuality, Isis and Al-Qaida after reading a textbook on terrorism. Library staff told security that "there is a man, who is Asian and with a beard, who is not a student and is reading book on terrorism" and to "check him out".
The student found the incident deeply affecting and he withdrew from his course as a consequence of the experience. Staffordshire University said that the Prevent duty guidance issued by the government "contains insufficient detail to provide clear practical direction in an environment such as the university's" and was to blame.
A young man with all the potential in the world lost to a counter-productive, counter-terrorism strategy.
Cases like the president of a college Student Union being asked to pass on the names of all members of the college's Islamic society to the police. No other society, just the Muslims.
Or the cases like the parents of schoolchildren who were questioned because their children were using 'inappropriate language' in school, such as the Arabic word Alhamdulillah - 'Praise be to God'
These are not just fringe cases, Owen. They are the real practical applications of a government strategy that creates and propagates a narrative of suspicion around an entire community. When we are seen as potential extremist simply because of our religion, our way of life and the colour of our skin; we need our leadership to stand up for us not throw us under the bus in a rabid attempt to unseat a leader.
My family have been Labour party voters for years. I believe that Labour is the party that best represents me and my community. But many of us in the Muslim community had lost faith in the party following the wars on Iraq and the disastrous foreign policy of Blair. I have met hundreds of Muslims in the past year that are just now finding their way back, believing again in the labour vision. Comments like this are only going to hurt these communities and drive them further away from the party that we both love.
I therefore ask of Owen to withdraw his comments and reconsider his support for a policy that is driving a minority community further into the fringes of society.
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