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UK state spy program targets innocent

October 20, 2009

The headline may not come as any surprise but a damning report has been released on a key strand of the British government’s counterterrrorism strategy, Preventing Violent Extremism (or just ‘Prevent’). £140m (around $200m US) has been allocated to this program but much of it seems to have been devoted not to combatting nascent Islamic extremism (which is the stated aim) but MI5 simply collecting masses of information on entirely innocent British Muslims – information that will be kept until they are 100 years old! Part of this is because of the tenuous nature of the strategy in the first place: how would one define or identify those who are not terrorists but might become so? Will it be, as in cases reported by The Guardian, the student who attends a lecture on the conditions in Gaza or Muslim men with mental health problems? And much of this depends on teachers and lecturers reporting students. Therefore the program would seem inevitably to encourage suspicion and distrust, as Arun Kundnani writes and as the general tone of left and civil liberties critique has reinforced. But opposition has come from all sides: Pauline Neville-Jones, the Conservative shadow security minister, but also former chair of the Joint Intelligence Committee and political director of the Foreign Office, has also condemned the whole approach of New Labour, which she argues is rooted in the identification of discrete ‘communities’ who share similar characteristics. This can of course be the basis of a form of multiculturalism, but at times of increased security and suspicion it seems all to easy for it to morph into what is effectively racial profiling…

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