Reading extremism initiative opposed by over 20 Muslim organisations and Mosques at Town Hall meeting

Representatives of over 20 Muslim organisations and Mosques in Reading attended a “Community Forum” in Reading Town Hall on Wednesday the 2nd of December regarding the local “Preventing Violent Extremism” (PVE) policy to make sure all communities in attendance know that this work is not being done in the name of, or with the support of the Muslim community.

One of the founding members of the Crisis Group initially alerted community members about this meeting and the need to set the record straight for the benefit of the other faith communities and voluntary sector representative who would be in attendance. This alert was well received and supported by key community organisations and the whole community was subsequently mobilised!

Unable to defend their own position and handling of PVE, the Local Authority in Reading shuttled in a Muslim from the Regional Government Office to give a talk and take questions. During the Q&A session the Regional Government Officer received a blasting from the Muslim organisations and some members of other faith groups. Every single question during the Q&A session, bar one, was critical of PVE and the session was ended despite many questions still outstanding from people who had not had a chance to raise their views despite this event being entailed a “Community Forum“.

The representatives of the 20 Muslim organisations and Mosques all left the meeting after this session and did not take part in the workshops in session two. This was in order in to show solidarity with the people who were able to raise points and to show that they are not interested in discussing the finer details of how to implement the divisive PVE agenda. Interestingly the Head of Reading Police, the Regional Government Officer, Councillors, PVE Police Officers and others involved with implementing PVE abandoned participating in the rest of their own event and joined the Muslim community outside where the debate continued for another hour!

Two of the key questions that were ignored during the Q&A session included:
A challenge from a Muslim professional in the audience that if the Local Authority are not ‘spying’ on the Muslim community through PVE then why don’t they release into the public domain the “mapping” of the Muslim community and the “Rich Picture” profiles of local “Muslim extremists” that are being “developed through PVE/Contest”?
One elder from the community asked what “Community Mapping” and “radicalisation” monitoring are the other Reading communities receiving given that it has been alleged that some have “links” with those serving in the Israeli army/ IDF during the Gaza massacre.

In addition to the 20 Muslim organisations, attendees of the event included members of the local Council, local Police, Race Equality Representatives, Voluntary sector members, other faith community groups, and other groups representing groups defined by ethnicity.

Unlike previous Community Forum meetings and despite the fact that this event was promoted in the local media []. in the days leading up to the event there was no press release issued to the local media by the Local Authority with post event coverage. However one of the attendees recorded some of the calmer aspects of the proceedings. A video of some of the answers to the questions at this event has been circulated and can be viewed below:

Interesting the Regional Government Officer admits at the end of this video that despite being the lead from the Government Office of the South East even he is not privy to the “community mapping” of the Muslim community which the police are undertaking under PVE/CONTEST.

Exclusive Reading Radio debate on PVE – Part 3/3

Part 3/3 of a debate on Reading Radio in September 2009 with Mohammad Jihangir, Mustafa Chaudary, Superintendent
Steve Kirk (Reading Police) and Shah jahan (A founding member of regarding the
governments Preventing Violent Extremism Agenda (PVE) in Reading.

Issues covered in this part include:

  • ‘Islamism’
  • Who are training the PVE police?
  • PVE action plans
  • Concluding remarks

Exclusive Reading Radio debate on PVE – Part 2/3

Part 2/3 of a debate on Reading Radio in September 2009 with Mohammad Jihangir, Mustafa Chaudary, Superintendent
Steve Kirk (Reading Police) and Shah jahan (A founding member of regarding the
governments Preventing Violent Extremism Agenda (PVE) in Reading.

Issues covered in this part include:

  • The prioritiation of PVE in Reading through the adoption of National Indicator 35 (NI35)
  • Are British Citizens that who serve in the Israeli Army targeted by PVE?
  • Local ‘Profiling of Muslims’ that is being shared with Government Agencies
  • The role of the new local Counter Terrorism Intelligence Officer (CTIO)

Exclusive Reading Radio debate on PVE – Part 1/3

Part 1/3 of a debate on Reading Radio in September 2009 with Mohammad Jihangir, Mustafa Chaudary, Superintendent
Steve Kirk (Reading Police) and Shah jahan (A founding member of regarding the
governments Preventing Violent Extremism Agenda (PVE) in Reading.

Issues covered in this part include:

  • Background to PVE
  • Definition of Extremism
  • The continuing changing nature of the PVE agenda
  • PVE Schools Tool-Kit
  • ‘Intellegence gathering’ under CONTEST 2 / PVE

Government anti-terrorism strategy ‘spies’ on innocent

Government anti-terrorism strategy ‘spies’ on innocent

Data on politics, sexual activity and religion gathered by government

The government programme aimed at preventing Muslims from being lured into violent extremism is being used to gather intelligence about innocent people who are not suspected of involvement in terrorism, the Guardian has learned.The information the authorities are trying to find out includes political and religious views, information on mental health, sexual activity and associates, and other sensitive information, according to documents seen by the Guardian. Other documents reveal that the intelligence and information can be stored until the people concerned reach the age of 100.

Tonight Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, branded it the biggest spying programme in Britain in modern times and an affront to civil liberties.

The intelligence is being gathered as part of the strategy Preventing Violent Extremism – Prevent for short. It was launched three years ago to stop people being lured to al-Qaida ideology and committing acts of terrorism.

The government and police have repeatedly denied that the £140m programme is a cover for spying on Muslims in Britain. But sources directly involved in running Prevent schemes say it involves gathering intelligence about the thoughts and beliefs of Muslims who are not involved in criminal activity.

Instances around the country include:

• In the Midlands, funding for a mental health project to help Muslims was linked to information about individuals being passed to the authorities.

• In a college in northern England, a student who attended a meeting about Gaza was reported by one lecturer as a potential extremist. He was found not to be.

• A nine-year-old schoolboy in east London, who was referred to the authorities after allegedly showing signs of extremism – the youngest case known in Britain. He was “deprogrammed” according to a source with knowledge of the case.

• Within the last month, one new youth project in London alleged it was being pressured by the Metropolitan police to provide names and details of Muslim youngsters, as a condition of funding. None of the young Muslims have any known terrorist history.

• In one London borough, those working with youngsters were told to add information to databases they hold to highlight which youths were Muslim. They were also asked to provide information, to be shared with the police, about which streets and areas Muslim youngsters could be found on.

• In Birmingham the programme manager for Prevent is in fact a senior counter- terrorism police officer. Paul Marriott has been seconded to work in the equalities division of Britain’s biggest council.

• In Blackburn, at least 80 people were reported to the authorities for showing signs of extremism. They were referred to the Channel project, part of Prevent.

• A youth project manager alleges his refusal to provide intelligence led to the police spreading false rumours and trying to smear him and his organisation.

• One manager of a project in London said : “I think part of the point of the [Prevent] programme is to spy and intelligence gather. I won’t do that.” In another London borough wardens on council estates were told to inform on people not whom they suspected of crimes, but whom they suspected could be susceptible to radicalisation. One source, who has been involved in Whitehall discussions on counter-terrorism, said: “There is no doubt Prevent is in part about gathering intelligence on people’s thoughts and beliefs. No doubt.” He added that the authorities feared “they’d be lynched” if they admitted Prevent included spying.

Ed Husain, of the Quilliam Foundation, who has advised both Labour and the Conservatives on extremism, said: “It is gathering intelligence on people not committing terrorist offences.” Husain, whose group receives £700,000 in Prevent funding, believes it is morally right to give law enforcement agencies the best chance of stopping terrorists before they strike.

Serious concerns that the Prevent programme is being used at least in part to “spy” on Muslims have been voiced not just by Islamic groups, but youth workers, teachers and others. Some involved in the programme have told the Guardian of their fears that they are being co-opted into spying. They did not want to be named, fearing they would lose their job.

Some groups have refused its funding. In several areas the provision of funding is explicitly linked to agreeing to sharing of information, or intelligence, with agencies including law enforcement.

Traditionally in Britain intelligence is gathered by the police and security services. Prevent is trying to turn community, religious and voluntary groups into information or intelligence providers.

Prevent is run by the Office for Security and Counter Terrorism, part of the Home Office. It is widely regarded in Whitehall as being an intelligence agency.

The OSCT is headed up by Charles Farr, a former senior intelligence officer, with expertise in covert work. Also senior in the OSCT is another former senior intelligence officer. The Guardian has been asked not to name him for security reasons.

Chakrabarti said she was horrified by the revelations. “It is the biggest domestic spying programme targeting the thoughts and beliefs of the innocent in Britain in modern times,” she said.

“It is information-gathering directed at the innocent and the spying is directed at people because of their religion, and not because of their behaviour.”

The Home Office said: “Any suggestion that Prevent is about spying is simply wrong. Prevent is about working with communities to protect vulnerable individuals and address the root causes of radicalisation.”

Communities fear project to counter extremism is not what it seems

The public face of the Prevent programme has included a talking lion teaching schoolchildren how to spot a terrorist and even puppets taking to the streets to push the message about countering extremism.

The official publicity talks of building community resilience against terrorist extremism, and other phrases few would disagree with.

But there has been a growing suspicion among British Muslim communities that Prevent was not all that it seemed.

The programme saw money going to councils with the largest Muslim populations, with the aim of defeating Islamist violent extremism. The government and police wanted information from teachers and lecturers and others including those in the voluntary sector about terrorist activity.

Few would argue with passing on suspicions about terrorist activity. As one imam who receives funding from Prevent for a project said: “It would be a religious duty to inform.”

Youth workers who are being asked to inform on youngsters they work with also said they were under an existing legal and ethical duty to report any suspicions that their clients are involved in terrorism.

The issue with Prevent is the gathering of highly sensitive information about named individuals when they are not suspected of involvement in crime.

As part of Prevent, councils have drawn up information sharing agreements (ISA) which state what data about individuals the groups they fund will share with police.

The Guardian has obtained the agreement drawn up by Islington council in north London and the Metropolitan police. The ISA from Waltham Forest in east London was released under freedom of information legislation. Both reveal that the data or intelligence that can be shared is of the most sensitive kind and about named individuals.

The ISA from Islington is the most explicit about the information to be shared: “Personal data; data which relates to a living individual who can be identified from that data …”

It goes on: “Sensitive personal data; personal data which consists of information concerning racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious or other similar beliefs, physical/mental health or conditions, sexual life, alleged or committed offences, proceedings …”

The types of information to be gathered are repeated later, but this time it is spelt out that they include whether the youth suffered abuse, and “lifestyle, family and associates”. In case that is not enough, it says: “Any other information as required.”

The document states this information will be shared “without the explicit consent” of the individual. It does state it must be secured and marked as “restricted”. It can also be shared across the European Union.

Those supposed to sign up are the police, youth services and community groups working with Arab and Muslim groups in the borough, as well as a local mosque.

The ISA for Waltham Forest, again drawn up with the Met, states the information must be held until the person is aged 100. According to the document: “If a community intervention is required to prevent a crime then personal information processed in this regard is done so as a matter of public protection … information relating to public protection must be retained until such time as the subject is deemed to have reached 100 years of age … the minimum review period for this information is every 10 years.”

Waltham Forest’s Prevent action plan for 2009-10, prepared after government advice, states all young people should have their behaviour screened. They and those deemed to be vulnerable to radicalisation are deemed to be suitable for a “targeted approach” and “an assessment of behaviour changes”.

One source with close knowledge of British counter-terrorism said the programme was mixed: “There is good Prevent and there is bad Prevent.”

A government document prepared in the summer for an international conference in Finland about combating terrorism explicitly states that the security services are involved in the programme. Listing those involved in Prevent, it lists the Department for Communities and Local Government, the Home Office, the Foreign Office, and the intelligence agencies.

Those it wants involved in providing information include local crime reduction partnerships, councils, schools, further education, universities, the UK Border Agency, youth offending teams, the probation service, the health sector, the third or voluntary sector, and the community sector. Prevent currently operates in 82 local councils, rising to 94 by next year.

A report out this weekend from the Institute for Race Relations also alleges Prevent is being used in part to gather intelligence. In its research it held talks in Bradford with managers of Muslim voluntary sector organisations and workers in local authorities. Arun Kundnani, from the IRR, said there was widespread distrust of the Prevent programme, and said: “Many were concerned the programme provided an opportunity for the police to embed intelligence gathering into the delivery of local services, such as youth work.

“Many spoke about the difficulties they had faced when they raised their concerns – some had found they became the target of smear campaigns. A significant number of participants, who had previously worked on the Prevent programme, had decided that they no longer wanted anything to do with it – even if it meant substantial loss of funding for their organisation.”

The details about Prevent revealed today will stoke the worst fears in Britain’s Muslim communities that they are suspects merely because of the God to whom they pray. Sharhabeel Lone, a community worker in Camden, north London, and a member of the borough’s community safety partnership, said: “This is not based on suspicious criminal activity but on religious affiliation.”

One source with knowledge of Prevent, who is broadly a supporter, told of how certain Muslim groups were informing on other groups they dislike. The source told how one northern council was repeatedly told that one sect was extremist and eventually withdrew its funding.

Shami Chakrabarti, director of Liberty, said: “The worst aspect of this scandalous policy is the attempt to turn teacher against pupil, and neighbour against neighbour.

“As other European countries learned in the last century, when the state destroys relationships of trust between ordinary people the result is the very opposite of the democratic values that this agenda claims to promote. It’s a recipe for denunciation by one group or neighbour against another and a great deal of injustice.”

More organisations and Mosques distance themselves from PVE in Reading due to ‘insurmountable’ issues with PVE and CONTEST 2

At a full Council meeting more local organisations and the two remaining Mosques who were still to publicly distance themselves from the PVE agenda submitted a statement in the form of questions to the leader of the council regarding PVE. This statement was independent from the Crisis Group initiative and signatories who were distancing themselves from PVE the first time include; Alexandra Road Mosque, Community Education Trust, Cumberland Road Mosque, IMAAD, Reading Muslim Council & Whitely Muslim Education Trust. All four Mosques in Reading have now distanced themselves from PVE now.

Below are some of the key points from the statement:

‘The undersigned organisations, representing a broad section of Reading’s Muslims, are very concerned that the new CONTEST 2 strategy and NI35 indicators are going to prove counterproductive…. Given that alienation is one of the key drivers for ‘violent extremism’, this strategy is going to have the opposite effect to the one intended….there is strong interest from organisations to continue to work through the mainstream to decrease alienation and marginalisation and increase community cohesion in Reading. However, the undersigned organisations believe this must be outside of and clearly independent from the Prevent framework, as the issues with CONTEST 2 are insurmountable in that it stigmatises all Muslims as potential ‘extremists’ due to their personal beliefs and convictions.’

An additional question was submitted by Mr Khan regarding if the Council will acknowledge that the majority of the Muslim community have rejected the PVE agenda. Unfortunately the answer has much to be desired:

QUESTION NO. 4 Preventing Violent Extremism

Despite the existence of over 20 Muslim organisations and Mosques in Reading there is only one Muslim group that is currently ‘on-board’ with the Preventing Violent Extremism agenda in Reading. This organisation has no credibility at the grass roots regarding PVE as they have not consulted the community that they claim to represent on this issue and it would appear that they are being dictated to. Does the leader of the council acknowledge that the majority of Muslims in Reading are not ‘on board’ with this work and if she disagrees with this assertion can she inform us how the Muslim community can articulate this position such that she will acknowledge it?

REPLY by Councillor Lovelock (Leader of the Council): There has been a range of activities to engage groups across Reading with the direction, shape and delivery of Prevent based work. It is recognised that this is challenging and that work continues to be needed to support knowledge and understanding of the agenda in Reading. It is disappointing that our local approach and activities in response to the national agenda have not been fully clear to some people, and that some misinformation appears to be circulating, which needs to be further explained. We have always understood that there are concerns about the way in which this has been framed nationally. Many people from across all our communities remain in dialogue with us, sometimes in critical dialogue, but are nevertheless supportive of what we are trying to do. We must continue to find ways to engage with the widest number of residents so that people do understand that we are focussed on community cohesion and challenging extremism from all sections of the community and that this work is not just aimed at Muslims. I think it is important for people to understand that the Council and its partners do not have a choice about whether to engage with this national agenda. What we have sought to do is work with a range of community groups to make this appropriate for Reading. We need to ensure that we engage with as many people as possible as we take the work forward.

PVE in Reading and NI35 are “inciting racial hatred”

Muslims target of Government plan

June 24, 2009

A Government plan to counter violent extremism could “isolate, stigmatise and alienate” the Muslim community.

Yet in Reading, the only cases of violent extremism in recent years involved an animal rights activist and a white supremacist.

Last night, the target of general criticism at Reading borough’s full council meeting was Government indicator NI 35 on building resilience against violent extremism.

Tory councillor Jamie Chowdhary said of NI 35: “If ever a document qualified for the charge of inciting racial hatred, then this is it.”

He said it mentioned the word Muslim 180 times and that it would “isolate, stigmatise and alienate one community, my community”.

Reading councillors tried to hammer out an action plan to work within the Government’s agenda which comes with funding of £125,000 this year and a possible £131,000 next  year for community projects.

But Conservative councillors objected to the targeting “of any individual community or ethnic group”.

Councillors across all parties recognised the problems with the NI35 indicator.

For more see Friday’s getreading


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