Radicalisation and Reconciliation

Student occupation of St Andrews University in solidarity with Gaza, 2009

Letter from SACC Chair Richard Haley to Interfaith Scotland regarding our concerns over their planned youth (18-30) conference on “Radicalisation and Reconciliation”.

I am writing to you on behalf of Scotland Against Criminalising Communities to express our concerns over the conference on “Radicalisation and Reconciliation” to be held at St Andrews University on 21 April, organised jointly by Interfaith Scotland and The Coexistence Initiative.

“Radicalisation and Reconciliation” is potentially a rich theme. For example, South Africans – especially black South Africans – radicalised themselves for the struggle against apartheid and then, having won, led a process of reconciliation.

Reconciliation, in a framework of justice, of people who have been in conflict or estranged is vital for a peaceful future. Reconciliation to injustice is another matter and we in SACC do not believe that it should be promoted by any progressive organisation.

The “Radicalisation and Reconciliation” theme is particularly timely this year as people around the world – in Trump’s USA, in May’s Britain and across the Middle East – grapple with the challenge of how to radicalise in pursuit of social justice and in opposition to oppression, poverty, racism and war. The challenge is made harder by those, including the UK Government, who treat “radicalisation” as a pathway to terrorism.

So it is regrettable that some of the speakers at the conference represent organisations that have adopted the UK Government’s view of “radicalisation” and work to counter it in the name of countering terrorism.

Hanif Qadir is scheduled to speak as Chief Executive of the Active Change Foundation. ACF receives grant funding from the Home Office Prevent Programme. It provides Prevent training and has taken part in a variety of Prevent-linked campaigns.

Prevent is a controversial and intrusive UK government strategy supposedly intended to counter “extremism” in order to stop people turning to terrorism. In our view, Prevent is discriminatory and Islamophobic, undermines the confidence of the Muslim community, promotes a climate conducive to the spread of far-right views and weakens the collective capacity of people of all communities to criticise and organise against unjust foreign policy and war.  We encourage individuals and organisations to as far as possible avoid cooperation with Prevent.

The NUS, the UCU and the STUC are also opposed to the Prevent programme, as are a number of other trade unions and civil society organisations. The Muslim Council of Scotland says that Prevent “inhibits the community from being honest, direct and saying what they believe in.”

Usama Hasan is scheduled to speak at the conference as a senior representative of Quilliam International (formerly the Quilliam Foundation). Quilliam describes itself as “the world’s first counter-extremism organisation.” It has become a standing joke within the Muslim community because of the transparency of its ambitions as a pro-government propaganda outfit, the opacity of its actual relations with the UK government, and its media prominence as a supposed voice of the community. More information about Quilliam can be found at http://powerbase.info/index.php/Quilliam_Foundation.

Neither ACF nor Quilliam have so far had any presence in Scotland. It is very disappointing that Interfaith Scotland is helping them to gain some purchase here.

Were ACF and Quilliam to be featured at an event run by an organisation committed to supporting UK government policy, it would be regrettable but perhaps none of our business. I am writing to you because I believe their work to be incompatible with Interfaith Scotland’s aim of “promoting and facilitating constructive engagement between different faith and belief communities across Scotland through dialogue, educational activities, civic engagement and the promotion of religious equality.”

Both these organisations undermine constructive engagement between Muslims and other communities by on the one hand strengthening the belief that there is a problem within the community, and on the other hand (especially in Quilliam’s case) exaggerating the extent to which their own outlook reflects a significant current of opinion within the community. They weaken the capacity of people to come together, from various  faith perspectives, to work on shared shared social justice issues such as the UK’s involvement in aggressive warfare, the arms trade, freedom for Palestine and state and institutional racism.

I hope that you will think again, even at this late stage, about the shape your conference has taken. If the conference goes ahead in its present form, SACC would discourage people from attending or speaking at the event. Looking further ahead, I hope you will be able to assure me that Interfaith Scotland will work to foster meaningful dialogue and cooperation between faith communities and will accordingly avoid promoting individuals and organisations like ACF and Quilliam that work instead to divide communities and promote acquiescence in unjust government policies.

Photo: St Andrews University occupation, February 2009.  © Glasgow Palestine Human Rights Campaign, all rights reserved.