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SACC slams latest anti-terrorism plans

SACC slams latest anti-terrorism plans
New initiative aims to put MI5 computer software in every Muslim family home in Scotland


Press Release from Scotland Against Criminalising Communities
9am Friday 20 June

SACC welcomes the recent comment by Allan Burnett, head of counter-terrorism for the police in Scotland, that judges who jail young Muslims for downloading terrorist material on the internet risk becoming "recruiting sergeants" for al-Qaeda (reported in The Scotsman, 20 June). That is exactly what our campaign has been saying for years.

However, we are profoundly alarmed by the so-called "counter-radicalisation" plan aimed at young Muslims being developed in Scotland under Allan Burnett's leadership. According to press reports, this would include the setting up of youth projects. It would also include providing software to run on home computers that would block access websites containing terrorist material.

These Scottish initiatives will be part of the established government counter-terrorist initiative called CONTEST. This programme was reinforced after the July 2005 London bombings, but was crucially shaped by the British government's response to the Madrid bombings of March 2004. Popular disgust at the Spanish government's handling of the bombings led to the ruling party being swept from power in elections held shortly afterwards. This lesson seems to have become deeply embedded in Britain's CONTEST programme, which appears to be designed, at least in part, to protect the Brish government from suffering similar consequences in the event of a terrorist incident here.

CONTEST is a multi-faceted programme that embraces "soft" propaganda and community relations initiatives as well as "hard" intelligence activities by MI5. The new Scottish proposals, if implemented, would mean that software developed under, at the very least, the influence of the security services would find it's way into computers in every Muslim family home in Scotland. It is difficult to imagine a more sinister prospect.

This is a "hearts and minds" pogramme with a vengeance. Nothing in the history of our government's "war on terror" or of its CONTEST programme suggests that they are either capable of distinguishing, or willing to distinguish between criminal violence and political ideas unhelpful to their wars in the Middle East.

A conference entitled "Tackling Terrorism: Dealing with Causes and Consequences" is being held in Glasgow today under the auspices of Holyrood Magazine. We fear that it is little more than a thinly-veiled attempt to sell the government's latest plans to movers and shakers in Scotland. Keynote speakers include Emeritus Professor Paul Wilkinson of the Centre for Study of Terrorism and Political Violence, University of St Andrews, who is widely regarded as a propagandist for the counter-terrorism industry. Other speakers include Charles Farr, Director-General of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism and Ed Husain (author of the book The Islamist), whose Quilliam Foundation is well-regarded by the government.

There is a better route than this for tackling war, terrorism and injustice. Later today, lawyer Aamer Anwar and ex-Guantanamo prisoner Moazzam Begg will be speaking at a meeting in Edinburgh hosted by the Edinburgh World Justice Festival. The Festival is a two-week long programme of events marking the anniversary of the massive Make Poverty History demonstration held in Edinburgh in early July 2005 at the time of the G8 Summit at Gleneagles. It's budget is meagre, but it represents everything that is best and most dynamic in Scotland's political tradition. And it is supported by groups like Scotland Against Criminalising Communities and the Stop the War Coalition that can offer a real way forward for young people, whatever their religion or background, who are angry at the government's policies.

Young Muslims need to be allowed to inform themselves about the world from whatever sources their intellectual curiosity leads them to. But they also need to have access to a political culture that can place these ideas in a meaningful context and offer a channel for constructive political change. The Stop the War Coalition can do this. MI5 and its fellow-travellers cannot.