Diane Abbott on platform for attack on counter-extremism policies

Parliament used as stage for Spinwatch criticism of programmes to prevent terror

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British based lobbyist group Spinwatch has seized on growing concerns over Islamophobic activity and hate speech to campaign against counter-extremism efforts designed to tackle the rise of terror.

A meeting in the House of Commons attended by the Labour home affairs spokeswoman, Diane Abbott saw the presentation of a new report containing a series of allegations that Europe’s main initiatives designed to counter the rise of ISIS and other terror groups, were targeted exclusively against Muslims.

The report acknowledgements attributed part of its research work to the assistance of MEND, a British-based advocacy group that has faced accusations of extremist links and works as a close ally of CAGE, where Moazzam Begg, the former Guantanamo detainee works as outreach director.

Spinwatch is a transparency organisation that has not published a donor list since 2016 but the list of its most recent donors includes a variety of Muslim Brotherhood backers, including the Cordoba Foundation run by Anas Al-Tikriti, president of the Muslim Association of Britain.

Other donors include the allied groups Interpal and Friends of Al Aqsa. The Isvara Foundation has also given money. It is run by the Lebanese businessman Ayman Jallad, whose family have operated the regional franchise for Caterpillar earth moving equipment since 1929.

Mr Jallad said last year he had given £80,000 to Spinwatch since 2007, adding that he was an admirer of Miss Abbott’s patron and party leader Jeremy Corbyn

The emerald coloured flock wallpaper and oak panelling of Committee Room 9 in parliament provided a backdrop for Spinwatch researchers to draw a link between the counter-extemism and Christchurch attacker Brenton Tarrant as well as Anders Brevik, perpetrator of a massacre in Norway in 2011. The bridge between the two was a concept described as the "counter-jihad movement".  “Reflecting a broader shift on the far-right away from ‘old’ anti-semitism and towards islamophobia, the counter-jihad movement can be seen as a ‘new’ form of racism,” it said. “We consider how this inversion may have been facilitated by the onset of a historical ‘counter-extremism’ frameworks which tend to equate far-left and far-right.”

Sharing chapter authors and overlapping themes, both MEND and CAGE have also produced recent reports making the similar arguments against counter-extremism approaches. MEND has also been active in the British parliament’s hearings on Islamophobia. Both groups have criticised the Commission to Counter Extremism (CCE) in particular.

‘CCE Exposed: The Islamophobia Industry Policing Thoughts and Beliefs,’ was the title of the CAGE report, which was commended on the MEND website when it was released in January.

In a wide-ranging report last year the Tony Blair Institute named both among five groups in Britain that promoted “problematic or extreme views”.

“These groups aim to shape the dominant narrative about the UK’s growing Muslim population and how Muslims perceive their relationship to broader British society,” Mr Blair said. “If left untackled, such narratives are likely to have an alienating effect on the communities in question and perpetuate a siege mentality, contributing to feelings of separation and negatively affecting the future of social cohesion in Britain.”

The Spinwatch report provides lengthy criticism of British, Germany and French policies. It also claims US groups are flooding Europe with resources as part of a “counter-jihadism” conspiracy to co-opt anti-extremism work in a plot to boost the far-Right.

In the British chapter Spinwatch's report attempts to link the convicted far-Right activist Tommy Robinson with the official Prevent policy, even though no direct tie can be made. “Official efforts to mobilise public sector workers to spot supposed signs of ‘radicalisation’ has advanced a climate in which the islamophobic paranoia of the counter-jihad movement has flourished,” it said.

Looking to Europe a similar cavalcade of criticism emerges. “We argue that the French case, and to a lesser extent [G]ermany, illustrate how the far-right thrives in a climate of officially sanctioned suspicion,” it said.

The report argues official French policies discriminated against Muslims. “While these projects may not be helping to prevent terrorism, we argue that they have assisted the rise of far-right,” it said. “Though we did not find counter-jihad groups in France borrowing the rhetoric of counter-extremism as much as in the UK and Germany, explicit islamophobia, targeting of mosques and the weaponisation of laïcité, the French concept of secularism, have all become thoroughly mainstream.”