Academics criticise anti-radicalisation strategy in open letter

Confidential research used by the government as the basis for identifying radicalisation in the controversial Prevent programme relies on flawed science, a group of academics has claimed.

The study, conducted by psychologists at the prison service, identified 22 “risk factors” for gauging whether individuals are vulnerable to engaging with terrorist groups or posing a security risk.

The risk factors, which have become known as the Extremism Risk Guidance 22+, form the basis for the “vulnerability assessment framework” carried out under Channel, a strand of the Prevent programme that aims to identify and engage with people believed to be at risk of radicalisation.

Referrals to Channel can come from teachers, social workers, healthcare workers and police. Last year, nearly 4,000 people were referred for assessment, including children younger than nine.

The exact contents of the study have been deemed classified by the government, and the Ministry of Justice has previously refused to release it when asked by the Guardian. An official claimed that releasing the details of the 22 risk factors would compromise the assessment.

The “Science of Pre-crime” report has prompted more than 140 academics and experts, including Noam Chomsky, to sign an open letter protesting against the lack of transparency and scrutiny of the science that underpins key aspects of the government’s domestic counter-terrorism strategy.

“We are concerned that tools that purport to have a psychology evidence base are being developed and placed under a statutory duty while their ‘science’ has not been subjected to proper scientific scrutiny or public critique,” they write.

The Royal College of Psychiatrists recently also raised concerns about the secrecy shrouding the evidence base for the risk assessment. “Public policy cannot be based on either no evidence or a lack of transparency about evidence,” the college wrote in a position statement. “The evidence underpinning the UK’s Extremism Risk Guidance 22+ and other data relating to this guidance, should be comprehensively published and readily accessible.”

David Miller, a sociology professor at the University of Bath, told the Guardian: “This is secret research, and we can’t interrogate what the process was that led to the material in the original report. It’s not academic research, it’s not social science – it’s an internal report and not in any way a sound basis for making any kind of policy.”

The Home Office said: “The guidance that is used was based on a peer-reviewed study, carried out to meticulous academic guidelines and published in two publicly available academic journals.

“It informed part of the process used by independent experts to assess a person’s vulnerability to being drawn into terrorism, and the support which would most benefit them to stop this happening.”

Government deradicalisation plan will brand Muslims with beards as terrorists, say academics

The Government’s flagship counter-radicalisation strategy leads Muslims who grow beards to be labelled as terrorists and could be used to clamp down on anti-austerity and environmental campaigners, hundreds of academics have claimed in an open letter to The Independent.

 

Wide-ranging powers brought in this month under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act force teachers, social workers, prison officers and NHS managers to report signs of radicalisation. Those suspected of extremism will be sent on deradicalisation programmes, while the whole system is to be policed by Government inspectors.

But the new law has been criticised as a direct assault on freedom of speech and a move towards a police state. In an unprecedented intervention, 280 academics, lawyers and public figures claim the controversial law will make Britain less safe as it will force radical political discussion underground.

Among the leading academics who want the Government to rethink the strategy are Karen Armstrong, one of the country’s most prominent writers on religion, and Baroness Ruth Lister, emeritus professor of social policy at Loughborough University.

The new regime, part of the Government’s counter-terrorism policy, Prevent, places public-sector workers under a statutory duty to confront radicalisation. Prevent was introduced by Labour in the wake of 9/11 and remains the frontline policy for combating radicalisation. Last month David Cameron said the Government would provide “a full spectrum” response to counter-terrorism, to include the vetting of external speakers at universities and banning those with extremist views. There are also plans to vet broadcast programmes for extremist content.

But the letter claims that “growing a beard, wearing a hijab or mixing with those who believe Islam has a comprehensive political philosophy are key markers used to identify ‘potential’ terrorism”. Moreover, “Prevent will have a chilling effect on open debate, free speech and political dissent. It will create an environment in which political change can no longer be discussed openly, and will withdraw to unsupervised spaces. Therefore, Prevent will make us less safe.”

Karen Armstrong said: “The Government’s emphasis on religious ideology as the chief driving force for extremism is both dangerous and ill-informed… It ignores the fact that influential Muslim leaders – Sunni and Shi’i, Salafi and liberal alike – have roundly condemned the policies of [Isis] as un-Islamic.

“It ignores the Gallup Poll conducted between 2001 and 2007 in 35 Muslim-majority countries in which 93 per cent of respondents asserted emphatically that there was no justification for the 9/11 attacks and the reasons they gave were entirely religious; the reasons given by the 7 per cent who claimed that the attacks were justifiable were wholly political.”

Government’s 'Prevent' strategy condemned by coalition of academics and public figures
Government’s ‘Prevent’ strategy condemned by coalition of academics and public figures

Ms Armstrong, author of Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence, added: “After interviewing over 500 people involved in the 9/11 atrocities, former CIA officer and forensic psychiatrist Marc Sageman concluded that the problem is not Islam, but rather ignorance of Islam.”

Islam comforts Spanish intellectuals

Thousands of Spaniards, especially academics, intellectuals, and anti-globalization activists are finding solace in Islam. “Embracing Islam is on the rise despite ferocious Western media campaigns,” Abdul-Nour Brado, the head of the Islamic Society of Catalonia. It is estimated that three to four thousand Catalonians have accepted Islam recently, with some suggesting that the numbers are even higher. No specific reasons have been cited concerning the spike in Islamic practice, but leaders of various Spanish Islamic societies cite the trend as a global one, and not just limited to Spain. Nevertheless, there are differences that can be seen among these “new Muslims,” such as where they choose to attend prayers. Overall, the differences are welcomed as a positive sign for living in a democratic country.

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Muslim bodies cut links to Germany’s only professor of Islam

Germany’s main Muslim bodies cut their links Friday to Germany’s only professor of Islamic religion, charging that Muhammad Kalisch had questioned the existence of the Prophet Mohammed and Muslim beliefs about the origin of the Koran. Kalisch teaches at the University of Muenster in northern Germany. The four main Muslim groups had been represented on a board of advisors to his Centre for Islamic Religious Studies (CRS) since the chair was established, but there has been friction over his academic publications. In a joint statement in Cologne on Friday, the council of Muslim organizations said it was concerned at the “discrepancy between fundamentals of Islamic teaching and the published positions of the head of the CRS.” Ayyub Axel Koehler, a German Muslim who is president of one group, the Central Council of Muslims, told Deutsche Presse-Agentur dpa: “Kalisch calls fundamental teachings into question in such a stark way that it’s not possible to go along with him.” He said Kalisch had questioned whether the Prophet really existed and what Muslims believed about the Koran’s origin. “We support the freedom of scholarship and teaching and we have no wish to gag him,” said Koehler. “But we cannot advise people to learn from him.” In a response published by the university, Kalisch said, “I regret the decision of the Muslim organizations. “A university is not there to teach the content of faith, nor to approve the opinions of a professor as correct. “Rather, the task of a university is to conduct independent, open- ended research.” He said a university should equip students “to reflect critically and achieve intellectual independence.”

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Controversial creationist book hits Scots universities: Academics fear the book could also end up in schools.

A controversial book by an evangelical Muslim – claiming to prove that God created the earth, and calling evolution a “deceit” that was responsible for the Holocaust, communism and the 9/11 attacks – is being sent unsolicited to Scottish universities. Seven copies of the lavishly-produced Atlas Of Creation by Harun Yahya have arrived at the University of Edinburgh, while the University of Glasgow has received two, leading to concerns that they may appear in schools as well. Last year, the book caused uproar in France when it turned up in classrooms, prompting human rights watchdog the Council of Europe to report on Yahya, his writings, and his method of distribution. I find it quite staggering,” said Aubrey Manning, emeritus professor of natural history at the University of Edinburgh. He houses his seven copies in a cupboard in the zoology department’s staff room. “Every academic I know says they’ve got one of those. And it’s peddling an absolute, downright lie.” He said the appearance of the books and the rise of creationist voices in the UK, within both Christian and Muslim groups, didn’t affect his teaching but that he was “much more worried about primary and secondary school classrooms”. Edd McCracken reports.

The Imams of Catalonia

The result of the research done by the anthropologist Jordi Moreras, about the imams of Catalonia reveals that contrarily to what society believes they are not so influent among the Muslim community.

One of the arguments Moreras presents is their poor labour conditions as their religious function is not officially recognised and they have no working contract. Another argument is the unfitted academic preparation to the current context in which they have to work at, as their preparation is designed in accordance with their native countries and not in accordance with western countries.