The Prevent Strategy – an exchange with Lord Carlile

Dear Lord Carlile,

Paragraph 8.7 of the Prevent Strategy 2011 (the drafting of which you oversaw) states:

“Challenging ideology is also about being confident in our own values – the values of democracy, rule of law, equality of opportunity, freedom of speech and the rights of all men and women to live free from persecution of any kind. Challenge must be accompanied by advocacy of the very systems and values which terrorists in this country and elsewhere set out to destroy.”

On the basis of the statements made by Islamists who have committed acts of violence in the UK, however, the motivation would seem to be less a desire to “destroy” UK values, and more a desire to influence UK foreign policy. Some examples:

“I and thousands like me are forsaking everything for what we believe. Our drive and motivation doesn’t come from tangible commodities that this world has to offer. Our religion is Islam, obedience to the one true God and following the footsteps of the final prophet messenger. Your democratically-elected governments continuously perpetuate atrocities against my people all over the world. And your support of them makes you directly responsible, just as I am directly responsible for protecting and avenging my Muslim brothers and sisters. 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. We are at war and I am a soldier. Now you too will taste the reality of this situation.” (Mohammed Sidique Khan)

“What have you witnessed now is only the beginning of a string of attacks that will continue and become stronger until you pull your forces out of Afghanistan and Iraq. And until you stop your financial and military support to America and Israel.” (Shehzad Tanweer)

“The only reason we have killed this man today is because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers, and this British soldier is one. It’s an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. By Allah, we swear by the Almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you until you leave us alone. So what if we want to live by the Sharia in Muslim lands. Why does that mean you must follow us and chase us and call us extremists and kill us? Rather you lot are extreme. You are the ones. When you talk of bombs, do you think it hits one person? Rather your bomb wipes out a whole family. This is the reality. By Allah, if I saw your mother today with a buggy I would help her up the stairs. This is my nature. But we are forced by the Quran in Sura at-Tawba, through many, many ayah throughout the Quran that we must fight them as they fight us, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. I apologise that women had to witness this today, but in our lands our women have to see the same. You people will never be safe. Remove your governments. They don’t care about you. Do you think David Cameron is gonna get caught in the street when we start busting our guns? Do you think the politicians are going to die? No it’s going to be the average guy like you and your children. So get rid of them. Tell them to bring our troops back so we can-so you can all live in peace. Leave our lands and you will live in peace. That’s all I have to say. Allah’s peace and blessings be upon you, as-salamu alaykum.” (Michael Adebolajo)

The above statements in mind, I wondered if you could clarify the evidential basis of the claim that “terrorists… seek to destroy [our values]?
I look forward to hearing from you.

Yours sincerely,

Joe Sucksmith

PS – For information, I am a member of staff within Higher Education, so have a particularly keen interest in the Prevent Strategy.

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Dear Mr Sucksmith

You have been extremely selective.

The basis of the ambitions of, for example, Hizb-ut-Tahrir is the creation of a Caliphate across the Middle east, and the imposition of Islamic values on our society. It is naive in the extreme to accept a small number of statements as evidence of an ambition only to change UK foreign policy. Further, the use of ‘political’ violence to kill individually innocent UK citizens and their staff, whether at home or abroad, in itself undermines our democratic values, as we do not change policy in that way – unless you condone 9/11 and 7/7.

You say that you are in higher education. Where, please? As such, you owe a personal duty of care to every student you teach, and to your institution, to challenge the appalling statements that you quote in your email.

Yours sincerely

Alex Carlile

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Dear Lord Carlile,

Many thanks for your prompt response.

First off, an apology, since my question contained a slight misquote of paragraph 8.7 of the Prevent Strategy. It should have read “set out” rather than “seek”, as in:

The above statements in mind, I wondered if you could clarify the evidential basis of the claim that “terrorists… set out to destroy [our values]?”

A small error, for sure, but important to be completely accurate in debates of such seriousness, I hope you agree. To your response…

You say that I have been “extremely selective”. Indeed I have – I have chosen (arguably) the two most high-profile acts of violence committed by Islamic radicals in the UK: the 7 July 2005 bombings and, just recently, the killing of Lee Rigby in Woolwich. In neither case did the perpetrators mention “western values” as a motivating factor. My assumption, in drawing this to your attention, was that you would have a ready supply of quotes to hand of convicted terrorists who have specifically stated their actions were motivated by a desire to “destroy our values”. Instead, rather puzzingly, you point to Hizb-ut-Tahrir, an organisation that the British government itself recognises to be non-violent, and that quite specifically condemns terrorism in all of its literature. I’m afraid the relevance of this organisation to my request for evidence that “terrorists… set out to destroy [our values]” is unclear. Could you please clarify the precise linkage?

At the same time, in the interests of keeping the debate evidence-based (and, by definition, clear of caricature and prejudice), I think it would be useful if you could set out the basis of your belief that Hizb-ur-Tahrir seeks the ““imposition of Islamic values on our society”. This seems especially important in light of the fact that Hizb-ut-Tahrir clearly rejects this charge:

“The party does not work in the west to change the system of government, but works to project a positive image of Islam to western society and engages in dialogue with Western thinkers, policy makers and academics.” (Media Information Pack, p2, Hizb-ut-Tahrir)

You ask where I work, and I’m happy to confirm: it’s the University of *** (where I am employed as a Visa and Immigration Officer).

I look forward to your further comments.

Yours sincerely,

Joe Sucksmith

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Dear Mr Sucksmith

I receive a huge number of emails and cannot reply in detail to them all. However, some short comments:

My comments about HuT are founded on what they told me face to face. This included a refusal to reject the notion that murdering UK service personnel abroad is legitimate. You should read Ed Hussain’s book ‘The Islamist’ and also read the postings on the website of the Quilliam Foundation.

Further, there has been plenteous material in the media in recent days setting out the support of various bodies and individuals for violence for claimed (but heretical) Islamist ends.

I would suggest that as Visa and Immigration Officer you should be especially sensitised to the risks presented to students by any presence on campus of speakers and activities supporting activities contrary to section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (qv).

Kind regards

Alex Carlile

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Dear Lord Carlile,

What HuT told you face to face does not constitute evidence to support the claim that “terrorists… set out to destroy [our values]”. Not least because HuT are, according to the British government, a non-violent organisation that openly condemns terrorism. Your anecdote that they refused “to reject the notion that murdering UK service personnel abroad is legitimate”, while an effective soundbite, is of course meaningless in the absence of context.

To be clear why I’m labouring this point. The young muslims responsible for violence in the UK have stated, with unerring consistency, that they were inspired to act due to UK foreign policy (in Iraq, Afghanistan etc.). The government can of course choose to advance an alternative explanation – namely that these acts were motivated by a desire to “destroy our values” – but it cannot expect this alternative to be taken seriously in the absence of a credible evidence base. Put another way, the burden of proof rests with government, not those who accept, as I do, that UK foreign policy does indeed act as the principal recruiting sergeant for violent extremism.

Many thanks for the suggested readings. I’m familiar with Ed Husain, just as I am with Jason Burke, Michael Scheuer etc., whose texts gather dust on my shelves, a legacy of my Master’s degree in International Relations.

Best wishes,

Joe

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State violence – a topic for another day

Hi Dominic,
 
You write:
 
Now, most people who feel a sense of injustice obviously combat it in purely peaceful means. The point about terrorism is that the sense of injustice becomes a springboard for mental somersaults in the mind of someone who thinks that indiscriminate violence can create justice.”
 
A couple of question about this, if I may:
 
1. Why do you say “indiscriminate violence”?  Would the Woolwich attack not be more acurately described as “discriminate” violence, insofar as the perpetrators appear to have deliberately targeted a UK soldier, as opposed to simply hacking random passers-by to death? 
 
2. Do you consider the logic encapsulated by the above paragraph to apply equally to states?  Assuming so, does this not raise troubling questions regards western foreign policy?  The US response to the twin towers attack stands out as an obvious example of “terrorism” as per this logic, no?
 
Look forward to your comments.
 
Best wishes,
 
Joe Sucksmith

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1.       Indiscriminate violence is a reference to the generally accepted and shorthand way of describing terrorism – ie bomb attacks.

2.       State violence not the point of the piece – that’s a topic for another day by someone more qualified than myself.

Hope that helps

Dominic Casciani
Home Affairs Correspondent, BBC News
http://www.bbc.co.uk/dominiccasciani
http://www.twitter.com/BBCDomC

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Thanks, Dominic.  The radical islamists who have perpetrated crimes on UK soil have, without exception, claimed to be responding to western “state violence” (wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, drone strikes etc.).  How then can we hope to diminish the threat of another Woolwich without critically examining the “violence” perpetrated by (western) states?  The question seems especially relevant given that states are responsible, prima facie, for crimes of far greater magnitude than are sub-state actors, radical Islamist or otherwise.
 
All the best,
Joe

Exchange with “Student Rights”

Dear Student Rights,
 
I was just googling away and happened across this “open letter” penned by a chap called Raheem Kassam.  The letter berates world renowned scientist Stephen Hawking for his public endorsement of the “boycott Israel” campagin.  As your esteemed organisation will be aware, however, Israel is an egregious violator of international law, whose crimes are directly facilitated by the British government (through its supply of arms and political/diplomatic cover).  Thus, contrary to the claims made in the letter, Israel is an entirely legitimate target for boycott by British nationals of conscience… many of whom see blindingly obvious parallels between the way Israel treats Palestinians and the way apartheid-era South Africa treated blacks.  This in mind, it seems to me that Kassam’s “open letter” could quite reasonably be viewed as a subtle form of… shhh, whisper it quietly… extremism?  😉
 
I look forward to hearing from you.
 
Best wishes,
 
Joe Sucksmith

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Joe,
Your flattering email comes directly to me, just FYI, as the director of Student Rights
And while I’m sure we can disagree on nuances, because clearly you believe the most free and democratic state in the Middle East (have you visited with a name like Raheem Kassam?) is a pariah, I hope you’re not naive enough to believe that boycotts are an effective road towards peace. I assume your aspiration is peace of course, as mine is, in which case the question returns to you: How exactly does seeking to demonise an entire population bring about peace?
I look forward to your deepest thoughts on the matter.
Kind regards,

Raheem

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Not quite, Raheem.  Your “aspiration” is for peace defined on the terms of the oppressor.  My “aspiration” is for peace defined on the terms of the oppressed.
Put another way, my “aspiration” is for a just peace; specifically, a peace which involves Israel’s genuine compliance with UN resolutions 194 and 242.  Boycott is a non-violent means of assisting the Palestinians’ struggle to this end.
Btw, a cursory search of your “Student Rights” site reveals it to be a comically crude front for two mutually reinforcing agendas: the demonization of Islam and the defence of zionism.  Small wonder that you’re welcomed with open arms by the Israelis…
Toodle-pip!

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Keep on with your armchair activism Joe. You’re changing the world, don’t you know? 🙂

Sent from my iPhone

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Thanks, Raheem, that means a lot to me.  Just out of interest: who are your major donors, and have you, at any time, accepted monies from the government’s Prevent pot?  I ask because, like you, I’m interested in exposing the funding streams of extremist organisations, and especially keen to establish whether any such organisations have received “public money”…

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No we’ve never taken any money from any government. We have no “major” Donors to the point where I don’t even take a salary for my work. Our donors are all private, philanthropic individuals and current and recent students who believe that extremism on campus is a problem. We have no authority to disclose the names and information of individuals but I can assure you, as far as you believe me, that they are thoroughly ethical sources of funding with absolutely no cause for concern from the staunchest perspectives. My colleague, Rupert, is very left wing and as many people know my politics are of the right. Therefore to find donors that suit both perspectives is hard, but possible, and we don’t intend to breach their privacy.
Raheem

Sent from my iPhone

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Thanks, but I get it now.  Student Rights is a front for the far right Henry Jackson Society, of which both you and Sutton are members.  I see you’re listed in the ranks of “professional staff” on the HJS website  – this means you’re paid by HJS, right?  Your “very left wing” (LOL) colleague Sutton as well, given he shuttles between Student Rights and Strategic Analysis (an HJS arm)?
 
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The “far right” HJS which is named after a progressive senator, has many Labour signatories and more lefties working there than righties? Yeah good one mate. And no, I left HJS full time in march. I’m now an associate fellow. Unpaid.
Are you really this naive or simply brainwashed? Get a clue. And stop emailing me.

Sent from my iPhone

Israeli war crimes – all so “intriguing” to the BBC…

A brief exchange with the BBC’s Jonathan Marcus…

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Hi Jonathan,

In this article you describe Israel’s bombing of Damascus as “intriguing”.

Had Syria just bombed Tel Aviv, do you think you would have been similarly “intrigued”?

Can you explain the sense in which “intrigue” is applicable to prima facie violations of international law that maim and kill human beings?

Look forward to hearing from you.

Best wishes,

Joe Sucksmith

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Thank you for writing but it seems to me if there are a number of potential targets That might have been hit – including potentially some closely associated with the Syrian regime’s command and control – then it is indeed intriguing.
What’s your problem here ? Take that as a rhetorical question.
Many thanks again
JM

Sent from my iPhone

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But is it really “intriguing” or just plain “criminal”? Which adjective do you think the victims would use? Does your article genuinely inform the reader or merely distract from what appears to be a flagrant act of Israeli aggression?

These are not rhetorical questions.

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I cannot see what you are complaining about in the piece. I suggest that if you do not like Israel’s actions you write to their Embassy and complain.
I don’t think we are going to make any headway here so let’s call it a day.
JM

Sent from my iPhone