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Islamic Human Rights Commission co-founder Arzu Merali says her organization will no longer participate in consultations about anti-terror laws because the government treated them as a mere rubber-stamping exercise

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SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore. The independent reviewer of terrorism legislation in the UK, David Anderson, has resigned from his position after six years. The barrister is well known for travelling across the country, seeking the views of different groups of people, in response to the UK government’s anti-terror and anti-radicalization laws. Just as he stepped down from his post, Mr. Anderson suggested that the government’s anti-radicalization program could work properly if it was reformed. Here’s what he had to say. DAVID ANDERSON: This is a program that is simply not trusted by a very large number of decent British Muslims. One thing they need to do, is do a much better job of explaining what they are doing. What the basis is, for the interventions that they’re making, what the training materials say, what is their metric for success? I think they also have to do a better job, particularly nationally, of engaging with a wider range of Muslims. SHARMINI PERIES: Joining us today to discuss these programs, and David Anderson’s resignation, and his position as the most recent watchdog that has resigned, and we want to discuss all of this with, Arzu Merali. Miss Merali is co-founder of Islamic Human Rights Commission, and she co-authored, “Environment of Hate: The New Normal for Muslims in the UK.” Thank you so much for joining us today, Arzu. ARZU MERALI: Thank you for having me on. SHARMINI PERIES: So, Miss Merali is co-founder of Islamic Human Rights Commission, and she has co-authored a number of articles, including, “Environment of Hate: The New Normal for Muslims in the UK.” So, Arzu, let’s begin with why Mr. Anderson stepped down, and what is the significance of it? ARZU MERALI: I think there’s law developing at the moment, that somehow David Anderson was frustrated with the limitations on him, and the post that he was holding. In particular, he has spoken many times about the policies that surround the anti-terrorism laws in particular. The prevent policy which is now statutory duty, which actually falls outside of the remit of the role he held. So, there are indications that there were some frustrations there, and so on and so forth. Whether that’s the truth of the matter, I’m not in a position to say. But because I think there has been a more sympathetic reception for Anderson within civil society, definitely than his predecessor. These kinds of stories are abounding. Having said that, for people like myself, coming from, you know, … perspectives, on the issue of the anti-terrorism laws. We’re not sure, really, what the significance of that is, because the position itself is so … in terms of what it can do, and what it has done. Regardless of who’s been in the post, that really these sort of small, you know, moments of little significance, actually. SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Tell us a better sense of the anti-radicalization project, and why it’s significant? And what was Anderson talking about in that clip, in terms of, if it was reformed, it could be more effective? What did he mean by that? ARZU MERALI: I have to say first of all, that whilst he was in the post for most of the time, he has sounded more critical than actually his parting comments suggest. That’s been alarming for a lot of us. He’s essentially talking about what exists, what is called, “prevent program”. There are other facets of the four-pronged approach by the government, but it’s the prevent program, and anti-radicalization, or de-radicalization, that is the focus of most controversy. And this started out as a program encouraging people, to essentially report on people they feared were at risk of radicalization. What that means, nobody knows. And therefore, you had a lot of very subjective, prejudiced, referrals to anti-radicalization, and deradicalization programs. In particular, channel, which is supposedly a deradicalization program, where a lot of people, in particular children and students, have been referred to over the years. Now, since that has become law over a year ago, the referrals have risen exponentially. And there have been many cases coming to light, that are really so ludicrous, you couldn’t make them up if you were writing a comedy. Children as young as four, being referred because they drew a picture of a cucumber clock, and somehow the teacher heard, “cooker bomb”, called the police, without even informing the parents of the child, and so on and so forth. Now, Anderson has basically said that, you know, there isn’t a problem with the program, that’s what his parting comments in the article he’s written has basically discussed. It’s just that there is a kind of misperception, amongst Muslims in particular, that there is something, you know, they feel there is something shady or discriminatory. Or, you know, it’s a bit opaque, therefore, we should have… You know, his argument is we should have more transparency. Therefore, people would buy into it and accept it. So, his idea is to make something that is actually deeply criticized by members of civil society, as essentially rolling out a surveillance state, and creating a police state. Because ultimately, Muslims in particular, have found themselves policing their thinking, their activities, and so on, as a result of this program. Rather than saying this is a problem, he is really simply talking about making a little bit more accountable to Muslims, or a bit more transparent, and then they would see that it is working properly. And there’s a huge dissonance here, between what people on the ground are feeling, and unfortunately what the watchdog — which a lot of them put their hope in — actually seems to be the operation of this program. SHARMINI PERIES: And give us a sense of what exactly, is the difference between the UK’s anti-terror laws on one hand, and then the anti-radicalization laws and strategies, on the other. ARZU MERALI: Okay, so the strategies in themselves are, well the policies were developed on the side of the law, and then what eventually made a statutory duty, in terms of prevent, as I said about 15, 16 months ago. The laws themselves have been hugely contributory to things, like stop and search, increases in that on the basis of being suspected as a terrorist. At various points in time, there are things to do with detention, and detentions without charges, so on and so forth. And whilst many of these facets have been overturned, we still have things which are effectively control orders. Which are house arrests, so people can be detained in their homes, again effectively without charge. They are somehow curtailed in their movements. They have electronic tagging, and so on and so forth. And restrictions on them apply to their families. They’re often denied access to Internet, and you know, even banking facilities. We have families in the UK, who under suspicion of terrorism, have to actually… have no access to their own personal finances and bank accounts, and have to submit shopping lists to the treasury, actually on a weekly basis, to have money approved to be given to them from their own accounts. So, there’s any number of punitive and draconian measures that are legislated for. The prevent policy, which is effectively named as a program of deradicalization, encourages the … of people thought to be a problem. And then referring them on to something called, “channel,” in the worst instances, which is the deradicalization program. Channel itself, is completely opaque. We don’t really know what’s going on there. People who go into it, have to sign confidentiality clauses. We have a few stories of, what may or may not be going on in there. And those things then exist, in a sort of grey area, outside those specificities of the law. And that’s where an awful lot of problems are arising, regardless of, you know, the punitive and draconian measures that are purely enacted under the law itself. SHARMINI PERIES: Now, Arzu, in your most recent article, you state that the Islamic Human Rights Commission used to participate in consultation with the government on its terror laws, but no longer. Why are you not participating? What is preventing them from having a consultative process? ARZU MERALI: What has happened now, for a long time, and it’s been actually the position of our organization, and in the beginning many others, that we protested the introduction of any anti-terror laws. On the basis of there are sufficient laws under the criminal code of this country, to prosecute the type of crimes that supposedly anti-terrorism laws were supposed to be tackling, you know, whether it’s mass murder, or conspiracy to commit murder, or other offences, etc. Now that conversation has become increasingly lost, and the consultation process starts becoming simply about technicalities of whatever is the latest law. So, you’re in a position where you are often trying to criticize the overarching premise of the law, and yet nothing of that is reflected in the consultation. And the more you participate effectively, you are simply just then, allowing the government to say, “Well, we have widely consulted on this law — that x, y, z, you know, have taken part in the consultation — and now we are done. Here is the new law.” We thought that we absolutely have to take a step back, and find another way to open up the space to have a really proper conversation about, what is the utility of these pieces of law, within our society? Why do we keep having new versions that are containing, in the first instance, the rights, the political aspirations, and so on and so forth, of the Muslims in the United Kingdom? But ultimately, actually all citizens are being affected by these measures. So, we no longer wanted to be part of what was turning into a rubber-stamping exercise, and we definitely wanted to be able to try and find another space to have conversations that desperately need to be had. SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And when you say other citizens are also affected by these laws, what do you mean by that? ARZU MERALI: Well, on the one hand now, we find when we’re having leaks of information here, there and everywhere, that, for example, several police forces have earmarked environmental groups as domestic terrorists. Okay? So, the net is being cast wider, when it comes to political dissent. So, it’s gone way beyond just, you know, Muslims protesting about x, y, or z. Whether it was the Iraq war, or whether it was Palestine, or whether it was about anything in the UK. It’s now covering a wide net of people. But, because we’ve had this kind of culture created where, you know, securitization becomes the justification for all sorts of modifications to our privacy laws. We now find that, you know, there are more scope for all sorts of digital surveillance, etc., etc. which ultimately affects everybody, you know, “Normal citizens,” of the United Kingdom, who probably thought, “Well, you know, these measures are to, you know, sort out the Muslim problem, or whatever the problem, are now also subject to this kind of scrutiny.” SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Arzu, I thank you so much for joining us today, and a very important issue you’re working on. And we’ll keep an eye on it, and come back to you sometime soon. Thank you. ARZU MERALI: Thank you. SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network. ————————- END

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Arzu Merali is one of the co-founders of Islamic Human Rights Commission, a UK based NGO. She is a writer, researcher and mother, whose co-authored publications include 'Environment of Hate: The New Normal for Muslims in the UK' (2015), 'Only Canadian' (2014), 'Once Upon a Hatred: Muslim Experiences in the USA' (2013) and 'France and the Hated Society' (2012).