Within the past day, a number of scheduled participants for the Bradford Literature Festival have announced their withdrawal from the event, on account of the Festival’s acceptance of counter-extremism funding.
These participants include poet Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan, organiser Sahar Al Faifi, ex-NUS President Malia Bouattia, activist Lola Olufemi, authors Waithera Sebatindira and Hussein Kesvani. They were later joined by Lauren Booth, lawyer Tasnime Akunjee and journalist Charlie Brinkhurst-Cuff – and all should be rightfully applauded for their principled stances.
The Bradford Literature Festival had accepted funding from the Building a Stronger Britain Together (BSBT) fund, which comes under the 2015 Counter Extremism Strategy.
The list of fundees of the BSBT strategy is publicly available on the Home Office website, and spans Muslim organisations as well as sports teams, cultural organisations, social enterprises and supposedly ‘antiracist’ groups such as Hope not Hate, Faith Matters and Show Racism the Red Card.
The Counter Extremism Strategy forms one pole of the new tripartite system of British counter-extremism that has been introduced in the last few years, worth revisiting if only to understand just how overarching the effort is to shepherd dissenting beliefs, and shape civil society on the whole.
What once came broadly under the remit of the PREVENT strand of CONTEST alone has now expanded – with PREVENT joined by the Counter Extremist Strategy and the Integration strategy. All of them deal with various ‘strains’ of extremism in interlocking ways.
The Counter Extremism Strategy, launched following (and in many ways directly influenced by) the so-called ‘Trojan Horse’ affair in Birmingham schools, addresses the apparently extremism-related issues of ‘entryism’ within schools, charities and universities, ‘hate crime’, Sharia arbitration councils, and FGM.
As mentioned in our CCE Exposed report released this year
“The Counter Extremism Strategy operates alongside and in parallel to the PREVENT strategy. Effectively it takes the framework of ‘countering extremism’ as developed under PREVENT and spreads it deeper within society.”
Programmes like BSBT in many ways operate like a subsidiary of PREVENT, broadly unburdened by the toxicity of direct association with the programme. This then frees up PREVENT’s resources to broaden its range of targets through processes honed after experimenting on Muslim communities for over a decade.
Given this, it would technically be incorrect to label BSBT as PREVENT, as such – but it would be equally obtuse to pretend that it wasn’t intimately connected to the very same architecture of counter-extremism – especially considering that ‘extremism’ is defined through PREVENT.
The question of direct association with PREVENT or not, creates a mystification that PREVENT advocates have readily seized upon.
The fact remains that the counter-extremism industry on the whole has been deeply damaging to the Muslim community, it has securitised society on the whole – and there is no way of pretending, in 2019, that we can ‘do good’ through a fundamentally bad system.
The introduction of funding streams like the BSBT is both a throwback to the Labour-style version of PREVENT, whilst simultaneously representing a progression for the counter-extremism apparatus.
This is because the Strategy draws in more behaviours and social issues within the purview of ‘extremism’. It also creates a culture of dependency on counter-extremism within civil society, in an age of austerity and the retraction of social welfare.
The has reached such a point that even the very communities facing the sharp end of counter-extremism must turn to these organisations since they are establishing themselves as the only option available when it comes to funding and support.
This attempt to normalise and expand counter-extremism must be opposed – and steps like boycotting groups that take such funding can be important tactics in the short term.
However that also necessitates a broader, political, struggle: both against the logic that any and all social issues should be dealt with through the prism of counter-extremism, and towards the restoration of public funding explicitly decoupled from counter-extremism.
We must both stem the tide of counter-extremism, and push to ensure that the transition out of austerity economics doesn’t see the current trickle of counter-extremism funding turn into a flood.
This article was edited on 21/6/2019 to update the list of withdrawn participants.
Image courtesy of Leeds United
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