Preventing Prevent 2.0

Does Trump plan to implement a US version of highly controversial British counter-extremism strategy?

Via “Exclusive: Trump to focus counter-extremism program solely on Islam – sources” by Julia Edwards Ainsley, Dustin Volz and Kristina Cooke, Reuters, February 2, 2017:

The Trump administration wants to revamp and rename a U.S. government program designed to counter all violent ideologies so that it focuses solely on Islamist extremism, five people briefed on the matter told Reuters.

The program, “Countering Violent Extremism,” or CVE, would be changed to “Countering Islamic Extremism” or “Countering Radical Islamic Extremism,” the sources said, and would no longer target groups such as white supremacists who have also carried out bombings and shootings in the United States.

As covered on this blog, the unintended consequences from the British government’s own counter-extremism programme – the much-maligned Prevent strategy – have proven to be deeply troublesome, and the strategy is frequently criticised by students’ groups and free speech organisations as a threat to academic and religious freedoms.

Of particular concern is the government’s loose definition of “extremism,” which essentially provides legal remit for authorities and British institutions such as schools and universities to shut down political dissent (one Yorkshire council even used Prevent to target anti-fracking environmental protesters).

Yorkshire anti-fracking protesters (source)

According to Prevent duty guidance, the government defines “extremism” as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British Values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.”

In an interview with the Guardian in 2015, Metropolitan Police commander Mak Chishty expanded on the government’s definition to include subtle changes in behaviour, such as the shunning of certain shops, claiming there was a need for authorities to “move into the private space” of Muslims.

Asked to define “private space,” Chishty said: It’s anything from walking down the road, looking at a mobile, to someone in a bedroom surfing the net, to someone in a shisha cafe talking about things.”

Conservative MP Lucy Allen put it best: “Prevent…sounds positively Orwellian.

Metropolitan Police commander Mak Chishty (source)

The clincher is that much of the data used to support Downing Street’s premise that British institutions are “hotbeds of “extremist activity, was taken – without attribution – from a misleading report by “right-wing think tank the Henry Jackson Society.

preventing-prevent

July 2015 report by Student Rights director Rupert Sutton (source)

Via my December 2015 public records request, Downing Street was still in the process of collecting case studies about extremism just five days before the updated strategy came into force, and appears to have ignored a request from an internal fact-checker to amend figures about the number of events featuring “hate speakers” held on university campuses in 2014.

The strategy is currently facing a legal challenge from British Muslim activist Dr. Salman Butt, who claims the government breached his free speech rights when it branded him an “extremist” in a 2015 press release.

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