Sayeeda Warsi says Prevent strategy's flawed focus on Islamist ideology meant genuine policy work on causes of terrorism was 'put on ice'
Flawed counter-terrorism policies pursued by the British government since 2010 have increased the country’s vulnerability to attacks, according to Sayeeda Warsi, a former Conservative minister under David Cameron and the first Muslim woman to hold a cabinet post.
In extracts from a new book to be published later this month, Warsi said that the Prevent strand of the government’s counter-terrorism strategy, which aims to stop people being drawn into terrorism, had set back genuine research into the causes of political violence.
Citing criticism of Prevent as a policy that would be remembered as “a textbook example of how to alienate absolutely everybody”, Warsi wrote: “A policy designed to spot terrorists and stop terrorism has become a policy which has put on ice genuine policy work to understand the varied and complex causes of terrorism.”
The extract from Warsi’s book, titled The Enemy Within: A Tale of Muslim Britain, was published on Twitter prior to Wednesday’s Islamic State-claimed attack on the British parliament in which four people and the assailant were killed.
On Thursday, Warsi posted the book’s dedication to “all the victims of terrorism past, present and future”.
— Sayeeda Warsi (@SayeedaWarsi) March 23, 2017
In the extract, Warsi pointed out that most deaths from “lone wolf” attacks in Europe since 2006 had been carried out by attackers motivated by “far-right, nationalist or supremacist ideology”.
But she said that since the al-Qaeda London bombings in 2005, which killed 52 people, governments had become fixated on the idea that Islamist ideology was the root cause of the terrorism threat faced by the UK.
“And yet despite all the academic studies, research and evidence, including testimonies of returning jihadis and ex-extremists, we still insist, ‘It’s ideology, stupid’ and continue making policy based on a premise that is simply flawed. If it blatantly isn’t ‘all ideology, stupid’, it’s stupid of us to keep saying it is,” wrote Warsi.
If the analysis of the problem was flawed then the proposed solution would inevitably fail, she added.
“This is dangerous territory, because the longer we fail to understand or acknowledge the root causes of terrorism, the longer we will simply deal with the symptoms, not the disease.
“The longer we fail to do the painstaking work of understanding what makes a terrorist, the longer we leave ourselves vulnerable to terrorism. And unfortunately the Coalition government of which I was a part from 2010 to 2015 made things a whole lot worse.”
— Sayeeda Warsi (@SayeedaWarsi) March 21, 2017
Warsi was a cabinet minister and a co-chair of the Conservative Party which governed in coalition with the Liberal Democrats until 2015. She resigned in 2014 in protest at its failure to condemn Israel’s attack on Gaza that year.
In another extract, Warsi said the UK was on a pathway to becoming a “paranoid state” in which a government “policy of disengagement” had undermined relations with Muslim communities in which some organisations and individuals were placed on a list of those considered “beyond the pale”.
Warsi, photographed outside 10 Downing Street, in 2010 (AFP)
“The quality of the Coalition government thinking on who was acceptable and who was not was, at best, amateur, and at worst, dangerous,” she wrote.
“Politicians make policy in a 'paranoid state'. Policy-making which should have targeted the harm of ‘terrorism’ is increasingly simply targeting ‘the Muslims'.”
Warsi also called on the government to rethink Prevent in an interview with the Sunday Times newspaper in which she described the strategy as a "broken brand".
Prevent, which was originally introduced by the Labour Party, has long been criticised by many British Muslims who say it is discriminatory and even counter-productive by potentially alienating those whom it sets out to help.
Those concerns have been highlighted by human rights watchdogs and advocacy groups and parliamentary committees. However, the government has suggested that it plans to extend and expand Prevent despite admitting that it has still not settled on a legally robust definition of the "extremism" that it has set out to tackle.
A spokesperson for the Home Office, which is responsible for government counter-terrorism policy, said Prevent is making a "significant impact" and focuses on all forms of terrorism without targeting any one community.
“Prevent is fundamentally about safeguarding and supporting vulnerable individuals at risk of radicalisation, in a similar way to processes designed to protect people from gangs, drug abuse, and physical and sexual abuse," he said in an emailed statement to MEE.