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Preventing Viable Engagement: The Prevent Counter-Terrorism Agenda and the Construction of a Moderate Muslim Public Dan Nilsson DeHanas Therese OToole.

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Presentation on theme: "Preventing Viable Engagement: The Prevent Counter-Terrorism Agenda and the Construction of a Moderate Muslim Public Dan Nilsson DeHanas Therese OToole."— Presentation transcript:


2 Preventing Viable Engagement: The Prevent Counter-Terrorism Agenda and the Construction of a Moderate Muslim Public Dan Nilsson DeHanas Therese OToole University of Bristol

3 Outline of Presentation Theoretical Background: John Dewey on Publics Brief Review of the PVE Agenda PVE and the Problematic Construction of a Moderate Muslim Public Five PVE Case Examples Discussion and Further Questions

4 John Dewey on Publics The Public and Its Problems (1954) defines publics as emerging from commonly experienced problems or situations – Publics are not pre-existing entities to map – Publics can be mobilised or constitute themselves – Constructing a public creates reactive publics – e.g., The boomerang phenomenon (Saggar 2009) is the emergence of an unanticipated public – Pragmatic politics finds different solutions for different publics and situations; What works?

5 The Prevent Agenda Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) is part of the Govts CONTEST counter-terrorism strategy: Pursue, Prevent, Protect, Prepare The counter-terrorism strategy is spread over various departments, including: – Home Office – Office for Security and Counter Terrorism (OSCT) – Department for Communities and Local Gov (CLG) Prevents budget 2008-09 was over £140 mil

6 Prevent: A Localised Agenda Govt launched Preventing Violent Extremism: Winning Hearts and Minds in April 2007, through the CLG: – Intended to be community-led approach to tackling violent extremism via engagement with Muslims – Over 90 local authorities were identified for PVE funds/monitoring based on percentage Muslim – By April 2011, these local authorities will have received about £60 million in Prevent funding

7 Constructing a Moderate Muslim Public PVE aims to Challenge violent extremist ideology and support mainstream voices – i.e., to bolster an imagined moderate Muslim public Govt views Muslims in binary terms (good and bad; Birt 2009) and chooses from among existing Muslim groups to shape values and create moderate allies – e.g., Govt has dropped (bad) MCB and fostered relations with (good) Sufi Muslim Council – McGhee (2008) argues this is state-led Evilization Govt also seeks to re-shape Muslim publics by creating new bodies as its legitimate partners for engagement and consultation – e.g., Muslim Womens AG, Young Muslims AG

8 Constructing a Moderate Muslim Public Yet constructing a mainstream or moderate public is not simply a state-led project Many Muslim/civil society organisations also operate with binary notions of which actors are legitimately within the public domain or should be eligible as partners with Govt – e.g., think tanks Policy Exchange and the Quilliam Foundation have each listed Muslim orgs/actors that ought to be excluded

9 Constructing a Moderate Muslim Public Problematic because Muslim public engagement is increasingly based on an eligibility criterion of commitment to a limited range of values: – e.g. moderate, mainstream; not Islamist, not Salafi; willing to de-link violent extremism from UK foreign policy... The boundaries of moderate or mainstream are highly contested, as is the appropriateness of invoking these as an eligibility criterion for engagement

10 Constructing a Moderate Muslim Public The atmosphere promoted by Prevent is one in which to make radical criticisms of the govt is to risk losing funding or face isolation as an extremist, while those organisations which support the govt are rewarded. This in turn undermines the kind of radical discussions that would need to occur if young people were to be won over and support for illegitimate violence diminished. – Arun Kundnani, 2009 (emphasis added)

11 Constructing a Moderate Muslim Public The PVE agenda has produced Muslim engagement: – Some engagement has been positive/innovative – Other engagement may be opportunistic or even exploitative, as orgs compete for PVEs moderate money Most engagement with PVE has been reactive – Many Muslim orgs have refused funding, or issued statements about the problematic nature of PVE – PVE has boomeranged with a large negative reaction – However, this is evidence of an emerging public to engage PVE is a quest for an elusive moderate public, rather than a public in which moderation can take place PVE thus tends to prevent viable engagement Next: Case examples of PVE, and potential way forward

12 Case Example: Quilliam Foundation Led by Ed Hussain and Maajid Nawaz, former Islamists with Hizb ut-Tahrir who are now extremism experts Govts most generously funded PVE partner Equates Islamism (politicised Islam) with extremism Extremism is on conveyor belt towards violent extremism Criticises govt focus on PVE and argues for PE approach A secret 2010 Quilliam report to OSCT names Islamist/extreme orgs that Govt should avoid (e.g., MCB/Markfield Institute…)

13 Case Example: Cordoba Foundation Led by Anas Al-Tikriti, a leading Iraq War critic often considered Islamist Received Prevent funds for a public debate and invited a Hizb speaker. Funding was then pulled Publishes the Arches academic journal on Islam; hosting Ways Forward for UK Counter-Terrorism Mirror-image rival to Quilliam – Seeks to broaden the moderate Muslim public to include Islamists

14 Case Example: Radical Middle Way Runs roadshows for Muslim youth, which feature Islamic clerics and intellectuals with integrated, mainstream views on Islam Seeks street-cred through graffiti art, youthful preachers, glossy website, etc. Its nice to hear people speak… about the middle way and really brings home the meaning of what that exactly is. Too often the mainstream majority is too quiet. – Participant quoted on website Selection of speakers is a more subtle approach to delimiting who moderate Muslims are

15 Case Example: Muslim Contact Unit A unit of the London Metropolitan Police that built on community partnerships from 1990s Led until 2007 by Bob Lambert, who has since become an U. of Exeter academic and speaker Partners with mosques to locate and dissuade potential Al-Qaeda recruits Innovative for not using an eligibility criterion – i.e., Pragmatically partners with Salafi and Islamist mosques to be closer to the problem

16 Case Example: Digital Disruption Run by Bold Creative in Tower Hamlets Bangladeshi young men learn about the power of propaganda; They create their own propaganda and anti-propaganda videos No favoured Islam Youth leave with skills to apply on their own terms against all forms of extremism

17 Discussion In recent PVE practice, highly binary notions construct eligibility criteria for entry into the public Moderate/mainstream public (and extremist other) are not givens, but are vigorously contested: – RMWs mainstream leans towards Sufism – Quilliam and Cordoba debate the theological boundaries of moderate and extremist Islam – MCU and Digital Disruption set aside binaries for what works A way forward? Viable Engagement via pragmatism: – Let publics emerge; allow space for their creative responses – Engage pragmatically on the basis of solutions, not on the basis of being moderate – Re-conceive moderation as the meeting of varied perspectives in open debate (c.f., RMW) – Bring engagement under democratic (not police) control

18 Further Questions How can we discern a multiplicity of publics? What are their interrelationships? When publics emerge, how does one choose which ones to validate? Engage with all? When do individuals share an interest, yet not emerge as a public? What are the underlying issues of power and inequality? What are effective modes of communication within and across publics? Which forms of partnership, debate, or deliberative democracy work best in practice for stimulating a more open public engagement?

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