What is Contest 2?
On 24th March, Home Secretary Jacqui Smith launched a Home Office document entitled 'Pursue, Prevent, Protect, Prepare - the United Kingdom's strategy for countering International terrorism' click here
The document offers a narrative to explain the phenomenon of terrorism, linking its origins to "the seventies, [when] most attacks were conducted by militant Palestinian groups" [Executive Summary 0.3], adding, "a new form of terrorism emerged overseas in the late seventies and early eighties, initially with little connection to the UK when terrorist organisations in Egypt tried to overthrow the Egyptian Government and establish what they regarded as a genuine Islamic state .... following the invasion of Afghanistan by the Soviet Army in 1979 groups of this kind from Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world travelled to Afghanistan to fight against the Soviet army. The 1987 intifidah reflected the growing influence of militant Islamism among Palestinian groups in the Occupied Territories..." [Executive Summary 0.4, 0.5]
This narrative stands incomplete because the origins of modern terrorism ought to be traced back to the actions of the Irgun and Stern gangs in mandated Palestine in the 1940s - it is well worth noting Ken Livingstone's assessment that this was " not just the terrorism practiced against Palestinians but the terrorism practiced against the British troops before the expiration of the Mandate. And it was actually a future Prime Minister to be of Israel who oversaw the murder of British troops by hanging them, attaching grenades to their body parts so that the troops that came to cut them down would have their hands and faces blown off as well." Similarly, why should one not remember the letter bomb assassination campaign initiated by Israel in the 60s and 70s targetting Palestinian intellectuals - the poet Kamal Nasir was one victim in 1972 - at the hands of Ehud Barak no less? Should not one cite Ariel Sharon's tour around Al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem in September 2000 as the spark for the Second Intifada? So long as the broader historical context is not appreciated and officially recognised, analyses of 'international terrorism' will lack credibility.
The report also links 'violent extremist ideology' with "challenges to the legitimacy of Israel" (Section 5.09). There are many who do not support 'violent extremism' yet regard the creation of Israel an injustice to the Palestinians and the State of Israel to be in breach of numerous UN resolutions and international law conventions. Where will they stand?
Would not an outcome of Contest 2 be that any individual proferring verbal and financial support for Palestine and other just liberation causes against occupation forces is deemed a potential 'violent extremist? Thus one person's reasonable stand becomes another person's extremism with the State as arbiter!
Elsewhere the Home Secretary's report refers to the Dutch film-maker Theo Van Gogh, who "was killed in November 2004 after the release of his film about violence against women in Islamic societies" [Section 3.12]. This bare statement - not qualified in any way - conveys a link between Islam and the oppression of women - and in a further lack of clarity - notes that the murderer Muhammed Bouyeri "was associated with a larger Dutch organisation known as the Hofstad Group, which seems [sic] to have planned a range of other attacks in the Netherlands". It would have been apt to have also noted that Bouyeri had a history of mental illness and had emerged from a psychiatric hospital prior to the act.
The report asserts a "set of core values. These include human rights, the respect for law, legitimate and accountable government, justice, freedom, tolerance and opportunity for all" [Section 7.03]. Elsewhere it states "the duty of all of us - Governments, citizens and communities is to challenge those who, for whatever reason, reject the rights to which we are committed, scorn the institutions and values of our parliamentary democracy,dismiss the rule of law and promote intolerance and discrimination...."[p.87]. These are welcome restatements of the covenant, to which the Government - no less than citizens - will be held to account.
Contest 2 implementations
20th April 2009
"Whitehall officials will train pro-West Islamic groups to manipulate their Google search ranking in an attempt to drown out extremist voices online, The Register has learned....The Office of Security and Counter-Terrorism (OSCT), a 200-strong Home Office unit created 18 months ago, has said in meetings it wants to 'flood the internet' with 'positive' interpretations of Islam. It plans to train government-approved groups in search engine optimisation techniques, which it's hoped will boost their profile online and battle radicalisation...In December she [Home Secretary Jacqui Smith] said: 'We will host a core network of people who will put forward positive messages from the British Muslim community on the internet, directly challenging the extremists that set out to groom vulnerable individuals'."
Source: The Register, April 2009
1st April 2009, Steve Hewitt
"With much fanfare, the government of Gordon Brown unveiled Contest 2, its sequel to the UK's previous counter-terrorism strategy. In the lead-up to its emergence, bits of the programme were leaked to the media, including that approximately 60,000 people such as security guards and shop clerks would receive training on what to watch for in terms of suspicious behaviour and how to react in the aftermath of a terrorist attack...Encouraging suspicion through counter-terrorism training of ordinary citizens or public advertising campaigns is not, however, without its own risks. There is the potential for certain citizens to be demonised and stigmatised when their activities receive excessive scrutiny and, through calls to the hotline, to unwarranted attention from the police. Indeed, this point plus the wider implications for civil liberties of state-sanctioned snitching were the issues that emerged when a similar effort was proposed in the US in 2002...."
Source: The Guardian,1st April 2009
1st April 2009, Bob Lambert & Jonathan Githens-Mazer
"...the government's new counter-terrorism strategy ('Contest Two') served to amplify pre-existing British Islamist concerns at being treated as 'fifth columnists'. .."
Source: The Guardian,1st April 2009
30th March 2009, Richard Kerbaj
"...It is understood that even some of the MCB’s supporters within Government, including David Miliband, the Foreign Secretary, and Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, have now turned their backs on the organisation, which has had a difficult relationship with Labour ever since it refused to attend Holocaust Memorial Day in 2006.
A Government source told The Times: 'The Government is already talking about different ways to engage with the Muslim community instead of just through large organisations. It will deal with regions or trusted individuals. Why do you need to deal with national umbrella bodies?'
The clash between the Government and the MCB coincided with the launch this week of Labour’s new counter-terrorism strategy, Contest 2, aimed at challenging those who condone violent extremism and terror attacks."
Source: The Times,30th March 2009
30th March 2009, Gary Younge
"...And as soon as the government finds him things are going to start turning around. Until then we are resigned to the fact that we will be about as successful at fighting terrorism at home as we are abroad and for the same reason. Unburdened by any desire to forge consensus or engage in negotiation, the government seeks to craft new realities out of whole cloth and then wonders why no one wants to wear them. And so it is that the mythical Muslim will prove as elusive as weapons of mass destruction or the beacons of democracy that Iraq and Afghanistan were supposed to become.
Last week's launch of the government's new counter-terror strategy, Contest 2, was preceded by Hazel Blears' threat to deny funding to the Muslim Council of Britain because of comments its deputy secretary, Daud Abdullah, made about supporting Palestinians. It shows how these domestic tensions are intertwined with foreign policy".
Source: The Guardian,30th March 2009
30th March 2009, www.Sala@m.co.uk
"Labour's anti-terror strategy depends on mythical Muslim figures as elusive as WMD's. Brown and his acolytes continue to approach Muslims as though only their religion defines them. It rarely speaks to them as tenants, parents, students or workers; it does not dwell on problems that they share with everyone else; it does not convene high profile task forces to look at how to improve their daily lives. It summons them as Muslims, talks to them as Muslims and refers to them as Muslims - as though they could not possibly be understood as anything else. Now Policy Exchange affiliated apologists are coming forward with their own version of the CLG Minister's thought police tactics to define acceptable Islam. As a key beneficiary of this burgeoning industry in the UK, they could be accused of dereliction of duty if they did not oblige. However, such diatribes only serve to distance themselves from the rank and file Muslims. As a consequence, their next research may need a bit more than mere doctoring evident in previous apologia peddled as 'research'. But then the CLG only wants a docile endorsement rather than a reality check. The latter will be delivered by the Muslim rank and file at the next elections.
30th March 2009, Karima Hamdan in UmmahPulse
"After much hype and hyperbole, the good ship Contest 2 has set sail from Whitehall – not knowing yet whether it will fulfil its destiny as The Starship Enterprise – to boldly go where no one has gone before - or The Titanic – a huge launch after much publicity but ultimately headed straight for an iceberg and disaster.
There have been some changes from the pre-launch briefings – the jaw-dropping stupidity of the extremist checklist as detailed in a previous JumahPulse has been quietly dropped after Jack Straw (amongst others) pointed out that not only did it define most Muslims as extremist but the majority of Jews and Christians, especially Catholics – like former PM Tony Blair.
As one may recall, the main problem with the draft version of Contest 2 was the assumption that there was a 'conveyer belt' to terrorism – to put it crudely, up until about a month ago the government officially believed that a Muslim could go from one day thinking that same gender sex is a sin against Allah to the next day strapping bombs beneath their clothing.
It demonstrated an almost frightening lack of understanding of where normal Muslims are coming from. It also showed that there were rather too many briefings of government ministers made by blinkered rightwing pressure groups, namely the Policy Exchange, the Centre for Social Cohesion and the government-funded Quilliam Foundation who all like to peddle their poorly-researched, mediocre 'big idea' namely that following the principles of Islam make one an "Islamist" and thus a threat to society.
Strangely for the government, the attitude that causes it to seek to lecture the Muslim community on its lack of cohesion is not reflected by the hard facts from the government's own research. The Citizenship Survey 2007 found that on the question of community cohesion, 84% of ethnic groups felt that there was good community cohesion compared with 81% of white people with 'little variation in perceptions of cohesion across individual ethnic groups'."
Source: UmmahPulse,28th March 2009
26th March 2009, Seamas Milne
"The British government's brand new counter-terrorism strategy is already in disarray - and ministers have only themselves to blame. The souped-up plan to fight al-Qaida, confound dirty bombers, halt suicide attacks and confront 'extremism' in the country's Muslim community was unveiled by the prime minister with much fanfare on Tuesday. But even before the 175-page 'Contest 2' document had been launched, the credibility of its promise to engage with the Muslim mainstream had been thrown into question by the decision of Hazel Blears, the communities secretary, to cut all links with the Muslim Council of Britain...But as the Jewish Chronicle columnist Geoffrey Alderman warned yesterday, not only was her interference a democratic outrage, but a dangerous precedent for other community organisations. Would Blears refuse to engage with a Jewish Board of Deputies leader, he asked, who backed West Bank settlements the government regards as illegal? Muslims are already angered by the double standards that allow Britons to serve with Israeli forces in Gaza and the Zionist Federation to raise charitable funds for occupation troops accused of war crimes, while any parallel moves to support Hamas are treated as involvement in terrorism."
Source: The Guardian,26th March 2009
26th March 2009, The Economist
" 'NOT just the methods' of Islamism must be confronted, said Tony Blair after the suicide-bombings in London in 2005, 'but the ideas.'.... The battle of ideas, however, sees ministers less certain and less unified. Britain has sought to prevent violent Islamism by backing faith-based community groups that, however reactionary, stop short of advocating terrorism. Only they have the “street cred” to win over impressionable youths, say advocates of this orthodoxy...A fault-line exists within and between government departments: Jack Straw, the justice minister, backs the status quo; Jacqui Smith and Hazel Blears, the home secretary and communities secretary respectively, want to deal with a new cast of characters.
Trailed as a victory for the champions of change, the new strategy, as revealed, strikes many as a hedge. The government will “challenge” rather than proscribe non-violent reactionaries. Even this will be left largely to a panoply of small public-sector bodies and faith-based groups with little central direction. The police will retain a large role—a mistake, says Policy Exchange, a Conservative-leaning think-tank, pointing to the constabulary’s indifference to ideas and focus on short-term security. But the strategy does not make clear whether the state will continue actively to enlist reactionaries in the fight against jihad; some think that ministers will use this latitude to be more discriminating about whom they treat with.
Either way, the struggle within government continues. Ms Blears recently suspended relations with the Muslim Council of Britain, the biggest of the Islamic community groups, after a senior figure allegedly endorsed violence against foreign ships preventing arms from entering Gaza. Labour women, intolerant of Islamist views on gender, make up a disproportionate chunk of those demanding change. Ms Smith and Ms Blears have backbench allies such as Kate Hoey, Ann Cryer and Ruth Kelly (Ms Blears’s predecessor and author of the foreword to the Policy Exchange report, a glimpse of the growing co-operation, often covert, between the reformers on each side of the party-political divide).
Source: The Economist, 26th March 2009
25th March 2009, Alan Travis
"...A standoff between the communities secretary, Hazel Blears, and the Muslim Council of Britain was said last night to 'cut to the heart' of the government's revised counter-terror strategy to challenge those who defend terrorism and violent extremism. Blears has suspended official links with the MCB over allegations that its deputy general secretary endorsed a Hamas call for attacks on foreign troops, including possibly British troops, if they try to intercept arms smuggled into Gaza....Blears last night pressed the MCB for further clarification after it distanced itself from a declaration calling for a new jihad over Gaza made by the Hamas-backed 'global anti-aggression campaign' in Istanbul last month. The cabinet minister is still pressing the MCB's deputy general secretary, Dr Daud Abdullah, who attended and signed the Istanbul declaration, to clarify his own position.
The dispute, involving a senior government minister and one of the most significant Muslim "umbrella" organisations, coincided with the launch of the Contest 2 counter-terror strategy and illustrated the determination of ministers to challenge radical views that fall short of support for violence but reject and undermine 'our shared values'.
Ministers have pulled back from spelling out a checklist of views that might constitute extremism. Instead, the Home Office strategy document published yesterday opts for a more low-key commitment to challenge those who 'reject parliamentary democracy, dismiss the rule of law and promote intolerance and discrimination on the basis of race, faith, ethnicity, gender or sexuality'..."
Source: The Guardian,25th March 2009
25th March 2009, Madeleine Bunting
"On the very day that the government announced a long-awaited strategy on countering terrorism, the communities secretary, Hazel Blears, froze relations with the country's biggest Muslim organisation: immediately there were questions about whether the timing of the two events was co-ordinated or simply an unfortunate coincidence.
The counter-terrorism document, Contest, urges engagement and dialogue with the Muslim community to prevent alienation and disaffection taking root, while at the same time Blears seems to have decided to bring to a head a long-running grievance with the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), an umbrella body for hundreds of mosques and community organisations across the country.
Blears insists that her disagreement with the MCB reflects the key principle within Contest of challenging extremist views. But inevitably the two will be confused by many Muslims as yet another example of how government actions are often at odds with a much more pragmatic rhetoric of collaboration...Since the MCB has never had much funding from government - a few grants for specific projects but no core funding and nothing since 2004 - and since many member organisations will continue to liaise with local authorities on preventing terrorism strategies, Blears's decision is unlikely to have any effect on its work day to day. Some regard this latest outburst from Blears as populist grandstanding in the wake of the recent incident in Luton when a soldiers' parade was heckled by a group of Muslim demonstrators.
But the MCB is confident that in the long term the government will need to re-engage with it."
Source: The Guardian,25th March 2009
22nd March 2009, Mail on Sunday
"Sixty thousand British civilians are being trained by the Home Office to spot terrorists, Gordon Brown has revealed. Huge numbers of staff on rail networks, at shops, public buildings and major sports venues have been picked out by MI5 and the police for the special training - teaching them to watch for 'suspicious behaviour' and respond swiftly to an atrocity. The ambitious scheme was announced as the Home Secretary prepared to publish what she claimed would be the Government's most detailed counter-terrorism strategy document to date. The plans are likely to spark questions over the effectiveness of such a huge army of amateur and lightly-trained 'terrorist watchers', including concerns that they will swamp the police and security service and inflame community relations with spurious alerts singling out law-abiding British Muslims."
Source: Mail on Sunday,22nd March 2009
17th February 2009, The Guardian (journalist Vikram Dodd)
"The government is considering plans that would lead to thousands more British Muslims being branded as extremists, the Guardian has learned. The proposals are in a counterterrorism strategy which ministers and security officials are drawing up that is due to be unveiled next month....According to a draft of the strategy, Contest 2 as it is known in Whitehall, people would be considered as extremists if:
Background to Contest 2 - Ministerial statements
"As we have rolled out the Prevent strategy and become more effective in challenging extremist ideologies, we have seen a greater challenge from extremist groups who are careful to avoid promoting violence. Instead they cynically skirt the fringes of laws that rightly defend free speech to promote hate-filled ideologies. They may not explicitly promote violence, but they can create a climate of fear and distrust where violence becomes more likely" - her declaration at a speech at the Annual Prevent Conference in December 2008
Secretary of Stage for Communities & Local Government Hazel Blears listed other elements of 'extremism' - "...when it comes to discourse about the nature of what we might call political Islamisms in the plural, it is also clear that we can discern some common threads in that 'far-reaching network of violence and hatred': a belief in the supremacy of the Muslim people, in a divine duty to bring the world under the control of hegemonic Islam, in the establishment of a theocratic Caliphate, and in the undemocratic imposition of theocratic law on whole societies: these are the defining and common characteristics of the disparate strands of this ideology here and around the world." - speech on 25th February 2009 at the LSE
Clearly the Government is venturing into quicksand - do British values not include the encouragement of free speech and argument - within the law? The ministers also sound a bit like high officials of the Spanish Inquisition - seeking to read into people's minds and judging their intentions, and denying legitimacy to certain views. Would Mesdames Smith and Blears be stating where acceptable Shariah ends and unacceptable Shariah beings? At another level, would Christians with strong views on gender and sexuality also be deemed 'extremist' - or is it only Muslims who are prone to this pathology?
The Government's proposals were rapidly interpreted within Muslims circles and elsewhere as a step to far - for example one community paper noted "it would be incomprehensible to brand anyone who advocates a caliphate, promotes Shari'ah law, believes in jihad and argues homosexuality is a sin, as extremists...if the new draft strategy is to be believed, virtually the whole of the Muslim community would be considered as extremists (this is already being put into practice anyway) and will feel alienated" - the Muslim News 27th February 2009
Widening anti-terrorism focus from 'violent extremism' to 'extremism' would just get up people's backs. And what would be the objective tests of what constitutes 'non-violent extremism'? What guidelines would now be issued to local government, educational establishments and other previously neutral public bodies that are unfortunately expected to participate in anti-terrorism measures? Clearly in widening the anti-terrorism agenda from 'violent extremism' to 'extremism' there is a disastrous loss of clarity.
From what has emerged in the public domain, Contest 2 is clearly going to be policy that is very contentious and lacking in credibility. Some key ministers in this Government, while grandstanding on 'shared values', are actually undermining democracy in the UK and promoting intolerance.
Community responses - 21st March 2009: Over 200 mosque representatives, imams and ulama participated in a community consultation meeting at the Birmingham Central Mosque
This was in response to an invitation sent out by the Muslim Council of Britain, that outlined some of the issues causing concern:
The MCB Secretary General noted that "the MCB would be failing in its duty if it did not seek the advice of our own respected ulama and activists on such matters and provide a message of solidarity to the community."
Press Release - Muslims Unite for Civil Liberties: Consultation Meeting
A meeting of over 200 prominent Muslim civic and religious leaders affirmed their commitment to equality and inclusiveness of the Muslim community in British society. The gathering met at Birmingham’s Central Mosque on Saturday 21st March and was attended by grass roots representatives from a cross section of Muslim opinion, tradition and thought from all over the United Kingdom.
Convened by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), this special consultation meeting was organised to discuss a number of serious and pressing issues and enabling the communities to share their views on the recent media reports of the Government’s proposed anti-extremism strategy known as CONTEST 2.
Commending the MCB for its position and independence, the meeting reaffirmed its proven and enduring repudiation of extremism and terrorism. Drawing references from Islam, various religious leaders reminded Muslims that Islam is the religion of the middle way that rejects any form of extremism and that there is no incompatibility between being Muslim and being British.
However, the meeting voiced serious alarm that the government may be in danger of adopting misguided notions of extremism as dictated by xenophobic commentators who profit from creating a hostile atmosphere from which bigots of all shades can draw. A definition of ‘extremism’ that would classify the overwhelming majority of loyal and law abiding British citizens as extremists would be of no value in our common fight against terrorism. The speakers also highlighted the abuse of current anti-terrorism legislation as it is so broad that anyone and everyone can be booked under the pretext of terrorism and therefore it has failed to focus on or tackle extremism.
Aware of its responsibilities, the meeting recognised that British Muslims have the same inherent and equal rights to hold and promote their beliefs as any other faith community. Muslims in Britain are rich in their diversity of theology, background and experience. Therefore, uninformed calls for an engineered reformation of Islam were totally rejected as un-British and counter productive."
Source: MCB,23rd March 2009
The representative of the Lancashire Council of Mosques indicated that his body had decided not to accept PVE funding. Mufti Aslam urged participants to remain focussed on issues relevant to the UK; Mrs Zareen Ahmed urged for a measured response from the community on Contest 2.
Community responses - 25th March 2009: The Muslim Council of Britain is to hold a public meeting of representatives of British Muslim organisations on Saturday 28th March 2009 (11 AM -2:00 PM) at the Islamic Cultural Centre and London Central Mosque (Regents Park), London to discuss the attempts led by the some Government Ministers to try and undermine the independence of the Muslim Council of Britain, the UK's largest Muslim umbrella body.
"How to alienate Muslims even more" by Kawsar Zaman - 30th May 2009: " The government's Contest 2 strategy has achieved unequivocal condemnation from Muslim leaders across the spectrum for its baseless approach. It criminalises that which is perfectly legitimate and within the confines of the law. Suspicion about the real motives of our government has spread deep into the Muslim community and particularly affects those most vulnerable to radicalisation, young Muslims, who are, at present, facing an identity crisis."
Source: The Guardian, 30th May 2009
"Conversations with Muslim Community leaders in Redbridge about the Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE) agenda", report of the Redbridge Faith Forum - April 2009: Some of the biggest concerns of Muslims community leaders both in the interviews and from email newsletter sources were about the newly announced government’s Contest2 Programme.
One leader of a Mosque said: "We are very worried, following the Panorama programme on 16.2.09 about Contest2, that people’s civil liberties and freedom of speech are being undermined by the new Contest2, which tackles extremism [not just violent extremism]. I am absolutely dumbfounded, shocked and flabbergasted by this. We fear the British government is dictating what a religion can believe in".
"In my mind Contest2 is interlinked to PVE in the overall strategy. My God, what’s happening here? If Contest2 is rolled out, there's a fear that lots of Muslims will be labelled as extremists. The government is defining what is halal/haram for Islam (– eg over homosexuality). Who is the government to say that"?
"We fear that Contest2 will increase extremism and drive it underground. So PVE has raised suspicion. Context2 cuts the democratic option. Contest2 tries to say how Islam will be –If I speak out about Palestine I will be labelled an extremist. That itself will stimulate extremism in others".
Source: Redbridge Faith Forum, April 2009