By Nathan Dabrowski
Theresa May's draft Investigatory Powers Bill sent a jolt down the spines of civil liberties activists everywhere and made even Edward Snowden gasp in a widely shared tweet where he called the Snooper's Charter "the most intrusive and least accountable surveillance regime in the West".
However, this latest legislative blunder is bound to fail. In its current form and against the wider backdrop of Cameron's irresponsible dismantlement of the British welfare state, this bill will most likely end up actually encouraging the "violent extremism" it seeks to quell.
It may seem counterintuitive but awarding the security services more surveillance powers and more personnel, coupled with easing the process of obtaining warrants, will not make Britain any safer from terrorist threats. Why? Because both May and Cameron operate with a flawed definition of what extremism "in all its forms" actually is and how it can be countered. As Ian Dunt put it, the government employs a severely short-sighted view on the causes of terrorism.
Look no further than the PREVENT de-radicalisation programme, where the government defines extremism as "vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values", which include a laundry list of democratic principles such as rule of law and tolerance. This values-based definition is a loud rejection of multiculturalism and essentially outlaws dissent. Laws based on that misguided assumption have resulted in an almost open-ended campaign against basic freedoms that have drawn the ire of journalists, humanitarian activists and leading Muslim intellectuals who have had their rights infringed in the name of protecting national security. In this context, it's no wonder Jeremy Corbyn was attacked by Cameron for posing a threat to national security or that the wording behind May's extremist asbos could be used to prosecute even Russell Brand.
By my read, #SnoopersCharter legitimizes mass surveillance. It is the most intrusive and least accountable surveillance regime in the West.
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) November 4, 2015
However, there are much simpler ways to prevent terrorist or otherwise extremist attacks in the UK other than the blanket collection of Internet data. In 2011, Theresa May revamped the aforementioned PREVENT de-radicalization programme inherited from the Labour government. For the Tories, the problem with the scheme they inherited was its emphasis on the integration of Muslims into British society rather than delegitimising the toxic ideologies behind terrorist acts. In its current form, the £40m a year programme employs the British society to snoop in and report people who are suspected of harbouring extremist thoughts, who are then put through a re-education plan.
As expected, PREVENT has come under heavy fire for unfairly targeting Muslims and for heightening racial tensions. Looking at the thousands of Britons who joined ISIS over the past year, it’s obvious the programme has been a monumental failure, especially when looking at what successful de-radicalization strategies can do in other countries. The Danish 'Aarhus model' registered a success rate of 97%, albeit deployed on a very small scale, while Saudi Arabia’s hit a 80% rate from a pool of 4000 individuals. Nevertheless, the best programme seems to be the one employed by Malaysia, where the government boasts of having rehabilitated 95% of participants – which is why the country agreed on November 10th to share its experience with the British government. Malaysia's unique approach comes from offering not just theological guidance, but also continued counselling, job training and even financial assistance for opening up small businesses.
However, Sunni Malaysia got it right. Radicalisation doesn't just happen overnight, but is a long and arduous process that usually starts with social exclusion and poverty. That's why Kuala Lumpur complemented a traditional security approach with introducing a minimum wage that according to the World Bank nearly eradicated poverty: one per cent of Malaysians live beneath the poverty line compared to 20% of Brits.
Before calling me a dyed-in-the-wool liberal, know that this correlation between strong welfare states and declining extremist behaviour has been well known in academia circles for decades. For example, in 2006 Brian Burgoon argued that social policies offset preference for terrorism and countries with generous welfare provisions suffer fewer attacks and have a lower number of home-grown terrorists. Cutting welfare and awarding intelligence services more powers will only backfire in the medium to long term.
Cameron and his ilk prove the old saying that when you have a hammer, all problems look like nails – no matter what, all security risks are to be dealt in the same manner: tighter security laws, more restrictions, more surveillance. The government cannot seem to fathom that the billions cut from the welfare budget that spell the slow death of the welfare state lie at the heart of much of the alienation in Britain. Faced with an unaffordable housing market, forced to live in squalor, with tax break cuts and benefits slashed and inequality rates rising, it's no small wonder that some chose to channel their frustrations in violent or otherwise extremist ways in a pursuit of meaning. And if history offers any guide, no secret police, no matter how big and far reaching were its powers, ever managed to keep a lid on those frustrations for long.
Nathan Dabrowski is an eastern European correspondent based in Krakow
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