Whatever you think of Prevent, the problem it attempts to tackle is too serious to be a partisan issue
There are very strong differences of opinion as to where the government ought to draw the line in defining non-violent extremism. From a Jewish communal perspective, the deadly reality of Jihadist antisemitism and terrorism brings a clarity that others, trapped in left-wing and right-wing boxes, might do well to contemplate.
Jews have long felt that antisemitism will, sooner or later, strike out beyond Jews: that it is a precursor, a warning sign, of dangers to all of society.
For example, in 2002, Al Qaeda murdered 21 people, including 14 German tourists and four French tourists, in a truck bombing at the famed El Ghriba synagogue in Djerba, Tunisia.
Thirteen years later, Islamic State murdered 38 tourists (30 of them British) in shootings on a beach in Sousse, Tunisia.
Now, British Islamists at CAGE (formerly funded by those well meaning people at the Rowntree Trust), are using the beach murders to argue that Britain should utilise “Islamic clerics traditionally associated with Al Qaeda” in the fight against Islamic State. What do they propose? Telling the terrorists to go back to killing tourists at an ancient synagogue, rather than on a beach?
It is like using Myra Hindley to tell Rosemary West where she went wrong, and takes to a new extreme the logic that some Islamists and leftists pushed in the 2000s, promoting groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood (and by extension Hamas) as a bulwark against Al Qaeda.
There are many who claim that the Jihadist problem is so extensive, that we must now engage in a battle of ideas, not dissimilar to that of the Cold War.
Within this battle of ideas context, it is actively self-defeating to concede power to Islamists who may not be quite as deranged as the next group in the spectrum, but still divide the world between that which is Muslim and that which is not; push the idea that there is an existential battle from which Muslims will emerge triumphant over Jews and the corrupting anti-Islamic influence of the West; selectively praise terrorism against civilians and call for British Muslims to support or participate; believe that in an ideal world, homosexuals should be killed; believe that in an ideal world, apostates (those who leave Islam) should be killed; and believe that women should be neither seen nor heard.
Now, the government’s toughening of language and action against non-violent extremism is added to the picture. It is, in many ways, a direct rejection of the appeasement policies of the 1990s, when Jihadists were given pretty much free rein to recruit and propagate, in return for tacit agreement that there would be no violence in the UK. We can see where this ended up after 9/11, the Iraq War and all that followed. Insulating the local from the global was never going to be possible.
Whatever your opinion of Prevent, the issue it attempts to tackle is now surely too serious to be reflexively understood within party political boundaries. To put it simply, two wrongs do not make a right. Just because you opposed the Iraq War and blame it for where we are today, that is still no reason to absent yourself from the battle of ideas and values that we all now find ourselves in.
Furthermore, it is all very well to denounce Prevent because you believe it to be counter-productive, or fear it undermines the values it seeks to protect: but none of that legitimises falsely portraying Prevent as a deliberate attempt by government to create a racist anti-Muslim hysteria. Those groups and commentators who claim Prevent is a mechanism for suppressing Islam or for persecuting ordinary Muslims are, it could be argued, doing the jihadist recruiters’ work for them.
From a Jewish perspective, it is curious to see how those who are so passionate about hating Israel whilst denying any antisemitic aspect, are also amongst the quickest to ascribe catch all anti-Muslim reasons to government counter-terrorism initiatives.
In the gathering furore over Prevent, there is also a strong echo of the argument between Mayor Ken Livingstone and London’s Jews, over his deferential hosting of senior Muslim Brotherhood theologian Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi, who backed Hamas whilst opposing Al Qaeda.
The Qaradawi row of 2004 is a striking example of how in the 2000s, such set piece arguments immediately became a left versus right dynamic, with newspapers such as the Guardian and the Sun instinctively taking opposing sides; and human rights organisations failing to contemplate the ideological content, depth and impact of Islamist leaders and groups. Qaradawi’s own antisemitism was fiercely denied, meaning that the right of Jews to even express concern was also brought into serious question.
For Jews, this epitomised how our concerns about Islamist extremism and antisemitism have been instinctively dismissed in far too many ostensibly decent left-wing spaces. It has been as if Jewish concerns and Jewish complainants are instinctively regarded as somehow covering up for Israel; and also as being part of some ill-defined right-wing anti-Muslim agenda here at home.
These overlapping assumptions are now increasingly coalescing into scurrilous allegations that ‘Zionists’ are somehow responsible for ‘Islamophobia’.
Let us be clear, therefore, that Jihadi terrorism and the excuses made for it, are more than sufficient as motors for anti-Muslim hatred in Britain today. Pushing Hamas at the expense of Al Qaeda, or pushing Al Qaeda at the expense of Islamic State, will only serve the interests of those who seek more division within our British society.
Mark Gardner is the director of communications at Community Security Trust (CST)Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.