Nick Clegg pledges early review of new Prevent legislation in an interview with The Muslim News
Deputy Prime Minister, Nick Clegg, has pledged a quick review of the Government’s notorious Prevent programme after listening to first-hand accounts of the extent of Muslim opposition. The Prevent programme has been put on a statutory footing for the first time.
“I just heard again in the mosque earlier, there is still a strong feeling that Prevent does not enjoy the confidence of many of our Muslim communities,” Clegg told The Muslim News after visiting Watford Mosque on March 12. “As Leader of Liberal Democrats, I am committed to see a review take place early in the next Parliament so that we can try and involve everybody to make sure the Prevent programme does what it always was intended to do.”
The programme, he said was to “work collaboratively across communities, local authorities, public spaces (and) to do what we can to stand up for in a moderate, non violence views about the society that was always the intention. But clearly that is not felt and it has been questioned by a lot of serious minded people.”
In an exclusive interview with Editor of The Muslim News, Ahmed J Versi, ahead of the forthcoming elections, the Deputy Prime Minister spoke on a range of issues at a time when the main political parties have been jockeying for position, also acknowledged that there was a shortage of ethnic community candidates standing for the Lib Dems.
“Prevent as you know is very controversial. Under the previous Government they confused issue of extremism and the issue of terrorism which was regarded with great suspicion in communities. So the Home Office reviewed it in 2011 and tried to put in on a more sensible footing.”
His claim was that in the new legislation “the only intention was to try to create greater consistency across the country, not to be more intrusive, not to be more controversial, not to be more partial but to be more consistent,” as “why should one local authority do good work and not another.”
Former head of MI5 security agency Baroness Manningham-Buller has already warned that she was “not convinced of the value of putting Prevent on a statutory footing.”
Clegg was accredited with vetoing controversial Conservative plans to stop the so called extremist preachers speaking at universities because his party feared the move would erode free speech.
“The controversy in universities is about the extent to which the Government issues guidance of extremist speakers on university campuses which infringe the basic principle of freedom of speech. There is frankly an argument there going on in Government,” he told The Muslim News.
His party thought that “if you want to beat and defeat odious ideologies you have to be able to defeat them in arguments and debates and not simply brush those ideologies under the carpet. The Conservatives take a much more kneejerk response to which in my judgement would impinge upon principles of freedom of speech on university campuses but would not necessarily make us safer either because just saying that someone cannot come to university campuses they can go somewhere else.”
“They are just not going to suddenly disappear and so of course if someone espouses incitement to hatred violence the law is there to stop that but I think we need to be quite careful not to suppress debate underground where in can fester and actually cause a bigger danger to us.”
Clegg suggested that it would be necessary to ask the Conservatives if they rejected telling universities who they can or cannot allow into the campuses but as far as he was concerned it was not the job of government. “We want to keep the balance right, all that we have done is to make sure that there is an expectation in statute that everybody has a strategy in their own areas in dealing with the issues surrounding extremism.”
The new Counter-Terrorism & Security Act provides a range of authoritarian measures, including creating a legal obligation not only on universities, schools, GPs, and prisons, but even nurseries to “monitor for extremism.”
The Deputy Prime Minister did not seem to be fully aware of its extent when questioned. He said that he did “not think we are targeting nurseries.” His retort was to criticise his coalition partners.
“There was some very silly proposal from the Conservatives I think to teach certain disciplines to a two-year old toddler is completely ridiculous. That is not something we are doing.”
When further advised that it was the Tories, unlike Labour, who were also targetting
non-violent extremism, his retort was that he did “not know what you mean by targeting. The law is very clear.”
“The law is about if you incite violence for hatred you break the law and that has not changed. You are confusing the Prevent – is not a law. All the change that we are doing is having a change in statute that public authorities should have a prevent strategy.”
“All they are being asked to do is basic sort of common sense thing that are being done in other parts of the country to make sure that those who are susceptible to extremist ideologies are given support and engaged with., There is nothing in law which is prescribing that. The only statutory component is that why should one local authority have a sensible strategy and not the neighbouring authority.”
At Watford mosque, Clegg said that they talked about how the Government, police and Muslim communities up and down the country can work together effectively in order to counter Islamophobia. He rejected assertions that nothing was being done about all the negative images and reporting of Muslims.
“At the end of the day, it is much more important what happens in our community than what happens in the Whitehall,” he argued. He made it his business to “remain very close to the significant Pakistani Muslim community in Sheffield (his constituency).”
“For instance just a few weeks ago I was at a very major event discussing this very issue and so regardless of what happens in Whitehall it certainly a duty of a national politician like myself to visit mosques to reach out to organizations.” He also added he was the only senior government official to have had a meeting recently with the Muslim Council of Britain.
On the issue that Islamophobic attacks, as religiously motivated hate crimes, are only monitored by the Metropolitan Police, not by other regional forces, again the Deputy Prime Minister was not aware of this situation. He said he would be “very keen” to look into it to see whether one can have more consistency in the way religiously motivated hate crimes are reported. “It is extremely distressing that cases of Islamophobic violence and instances of prejudice are increasing just in the same way as anti-Semitic violence is increasing.”
Clegg said that he agreed that it was about time politicians and the media started to look at Muslims much more positively and their contribution to society rather than consistently through the prism of security and extremism.
“I always speak very specific about needs to demonstrate and celebrate patriotism of vast majority of British Muslims And the great way of doing this is visiting mosques to meet them face to face.”
“There is a role for community itself and at the end of the day the greatest advertisement for moderate main stream Muslim opinion is moderate main stream opinion. I am not a Muslim but the more you and others speak out I will celebrate every step of the way.”
Regarding foreign policy, his view was little different to other main party leaders of trying to treat Israel’s occupation of Palestine as if it was somehow an even conflict. Clegg denied that the Coalition Government had refused to condemn the killing of 2,000 Palestinians last summer. It took a while to find the right language with Cameron and Foreign Secretary, Philip Hammond, to condemn “what was a huge humanitarian crisis in Gaza” rather than Israel’s massacres that caused it last summer.
On the issue of military or economic sanctions against Israel which is continuously breaking international laws against the Palestinians by continuing to occupy Palestinian lands since 1967 and building illegal settlements in Occupied Territories, the Lib Dem leader said that his own personal view was that the most meaningful pressure that one can apply in Britain is through the European Union “being by far the largest donor of aid and assistance to that part of the world and should act as an economic giant not like a political pygmy.
“We constantly differ to America and I think it is high time Germany, France and Britain that we act much more strongly together to say to both sides of the conflict that we will use our economic pressure if necessary withdrawing economic preferences in order to put pressure on both sides to get to the negotiating table .”
“I am not going to hide my frustration within the Coalition Government as there has been reluctance to understand you can’t simply be the obedient echo chamber of the approach taken in Washington and take our own European approach.”
Challenged about the double standards of British authorities in arresting only Muslims returning from fighting in Iraq and Syria and not non-Muslims, even when both are fighting ISIS, Clegg said the Government should “not encourage people under any circumstances to go to what is in effect a warzone.”
“The law is clear. It is illegal to participate in terrorist activities of any description.
There is nothing in law that in any way draws distinction between the faith of people. I have travelled in many parts of the world and wouldn’t be recognized as such in any court.”
On the domestic front, the Deputy Prime Minister did not think the very high increase in the unemployment amongst the Muslim community was more than when the coalition came to power in 2010 but accepted that there were high incidents.
“I think it is very difficult when you are trying to encourage people to work who have not worked for many years, who are older. But employment in black and multi ethnic communities in Britain is now higher than has ever been.”
Faced again with the prospect of still having no Muslim Lib Dem MPs after the elections despite repeated pledges to address the lack of representation, Clegg argued that “more generally” there is a problem in politics. “There are not just under-representation of Muslims, there are also under representation of women and under-representation of MPs with disabilities.”
While it seemed there were positive attempts to put up more women candidates in seats to replace MPs standing down from Parliament, the situation for Muslims again was faltering. The best hope had been Ibrahim Taguri in standing to replace Sarah Teather in Brent Central until he was allegedly implicated in accepting illegal donations in a sting operation.