Prevent profiteers: Companies exploit climate of fear
The UK government's Prevent strategy for countering "extremism" may have little or no real evidence underpinning it - but companies are turning a quick profit by offering training in spotting and preventing so-called "radicalisation".
There is no evidence that legislation such as the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, implemented by the UK government on the basis of pseudo-scientific theories, is making British society safer.
However, there is plenty of evidence to show that the widely-criticised Prevent strategy has stimulated the growth of a cottage industry of "counter-extremism" training providers.
A catalogue released by the Home Office reveals the names of several of the companies offering "products" to educational establishments which are now legally obliged to pay "due regard to the need to prevent people being drawn into terrorism".
These range from online e-learning courses to workshops: Some are just 30 minutes long, while others can last a day or more. Some courses produced by public bodies are free, but in other cases companies are charging hundreds and even thousands of pounds.
Interestingly, the counter-extremism training market may not be as competitive as the neoliberal ideologues in the Conservative government would like to claim.
Dave Allport is the founder of one of the private providers recommended by the Home Office, "Me & You Education", which charges £1,500 for some full day training sessions. But he is also the founder and director of another company, "Rewind UK", which offers training on the far right at a rate of £800 a day.
|Companies like Victvs appear to do little more than re-package the government's dubious ideas about the causes of political violence
In another example, Gina Hobson of the "Education and Training Foundation" (ETF, which charges £500 per delegate for a two-day workshop on the Prevent duty) was formerly Chief Executive of the British Accreditation Council (which has charged £225 for half-day workshops on "tackling extremism and radicalisation").
But individuals linked to some of these companies appear to have quite cosy relations with the Conservative government.
Raminder Ranger, until recently a director of the ETF, has donated at least £1500 to Conservative MP Michelle Donelan. (Notably, he is also an admirer of Narendra Modi, the anti-Muslim Indian Prime Minister.)
It is unsurprising that Tory politicians would laud Victvs. Its senior adviser, Mohammed Abdel-Haq, not only chaired the 2011 UK Ministerial Advisory Group on Extremism in Universities and FE Colleges and defended the Prevent Strategy in an article on ConservativeHome.com. He and finance director Peter Samengo-Turner are also both directors of the Centre for Islamic Finance alongside former Tory Chancellor Norman Lamont, and the Centre for Opposition Studies alongside former Tory spin doctor Lynton Crosby.
|They label themselves 'experts' and then slap a large price-tag on their government-sanctioned, regurgitated nonsense
However well-connected, in essence, companies like Victvs appear to do little more than re-package the government's dubious ideas about the causes of political violence, label themselves "experts" and then slap a large price-tag on their government-sanctioned, regurgitated nonsense.
As well as helping the government to legitimise its hugely controversial Prevent policy, while themselves capitalising upon it, these counter-extremism quacks help to bolster each other's' reputations too.
For instance, the Quilliam Foundation, which has described itself as the "world’s first" counter-extremism think tank, worked with a company called Impero to produce keyword software to detect radicalisation risk; Impero has in turn hosted Andrew Gregory of Victvs as a guest speaker, according to his LinkedIn profile.
Though Quilliam has received millions from government in the past, neither it nor Impero were recommended in the latest Home Office catalogue. It has been reported that a number of organisations were excluded from this list because their training was considered poor quality (though the names of these bodies are not known).
|The companies that the government does recommend are promoting a climate of suspicion based on dangerously simplistic ideas
Despite this, the companies that the government does recommend are promoting a climate of suspicion based on dangerously simplistic ideas, as paranoia-inducing posters produced by Victvs - featuring binoculars, yet insisting that "reporting concerns is not spying!" - illustrate.
Though in some cases the companies making a profit from the counter-extremism business are offering courses targeting the far-right, this merely commercialises anti-racism work which should be everyone's concern.
For the most part though, these firms are helping to ramp up Islamophobia in the process of making money by legitimising Prevent, a policy which disproportionately targets Muslims and is therefore demonstrably discriminatory.
Hilary Aked is an analyst and researcher whose PhD studies focus on the influence of the Israel lobby in the United Kingdom. Follow her on Twitter: @Hilary_Aked
Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.