UK Snitch State: Public sector workers compelled to report ‘extremism’

Reuters / Tal Cohen
Public sector workers, without any notion of extremism, might report anything they come across, said former UK army officer Charles Shoebridge. The Police are going to be inundated with information, of which only a tiny amount is useful, he added.

The British government’s attempt to teach people how to spot a potential terrorist has been criticized for underplaying the threat posed by jihadists. The UK authorities are handing out manuals and encouraging social workers to take special courses. The manual includes six invented case studies of potential fanatics, but only three of them are Islamists while the others include race supremacists and mentally-ill former soldiers.

RT:What is the context of the British government’s decision to implement this kind of obligation on public sector workers?

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Charles Shoebridge: The context of this is that since the beginning of July, public sector workers in the UK have been under a legal obligation to report what is described by the government as “extremism” to the authorities. The problem is that definition of extremism is extremely vague. It has just been given in terms of very vague reference to so-called British values. I think that means that there is a need for some kind of guidance for local authority workers, and remember that could even include child-minders reporting on toddlers about their extremist views, as to what indeed they should be reporting.

Therefore, I’m not surprised that there is some kind of guidance. But when you look at what the guidance is, it’s clear there has been a lot input from those who would like to keep, should we say, a neutral perspective, not knowledge that the main threat from terrorism in the UK at the moment at least is from, what might be called, Islamist terrorism. It is trying to be more politically correct than perhaps useful, and certainly it doesn’t seem to reflect the reality of what the terrorist threat to the UK currently is.

RT:Do you think this program will bear any fruit and help to identify real extremist threats?

CS: There is a debate to be had anyway about what the usefulness is of this entire program. There are limited connections between people having non-mainstream or extremist views, and then going on to commit acts of terrorism anyway. The links are very tenuous to say the least. It’s very likely as well that because people are under this obligation to report what they call extremism, without really knowing what extremism is, that, to be on the safe side, public sector workers will probably report almost anything that comes across to them that they think might be extremist. That means that the security service and police are going to be inundated with information of which only a tiny amount, if any, is going to be of any use.

At the meantime, a vast data basis is going to be collected on the political views of people. Of course even if people are being rightly reported because they represent a threat, this guidance doesn’t really help. For example, in terms of people who are Muslim it says that if somebody has a change of dress to very conservative Muslim dress, if they suddenly become very pious and religious, that they should not be seen as a sign of alarm. Notwithstanding that many friends and relatives of those that have gone off to join IS in Syria, including women and children, have pointed out that that was one of the few warning signs that they had.

Reuters / Luke MacGregor

On the other hand, it mentions that when it talks about white extremists that if they are going around at work saying that they are wanting to commit terrorist attacks, acts of violence then they should be reported. Frankly, people would have reported this to the police in any case regardless of this program. People who are seriously intent on terrorism are very unlikely to go around, as the manual suggests, boasting of their intent to carry this kind of attack out. On a whole variety of levels it is questionable whether this program of reporting extremism, and this manual in particular, is going to be of any great use in fighting terrorism rather than simply reporting on people’s non-mainstream and allegedly extreme political views.

RT:What, do you think, is the real goal of the UK authorities here? Are they really trying to fight terrorism, or might there be some other political issues?

CS: I think there has been an attempt with this program, with this manual, to create a level playing field between different kinds of perceived threat, notwithstanding that in the real world the threat is far greater at the present time, but of course things could change in a future. But at the present, Islamist terrorism, for want of a better phrase, is the single greatest threat that the West faces including the UK. And so, for example, it seems that in some ways this program has been desperate to find notional examples of where non-Muslim people pose just as great a threat, and theoretically that might be the case, and no matter that practically it’s less likely.

For example, when they say that a soldier, an ex-soldier, can present more of a threat because of his military training, that’s only to a very small degree true because - especially in the internet age - it’s possible for almost anyone to acquire the knowledge necessary to some degree even the training to carry out a terrorist attack if they have the intent to do so. Therefore, whether someone has been a soldier or not seems irrelevant and seems really grasping at straws in an attempt to make everybody equal as a threat.

RT:What about the notional examples provided in the manual, are there some kind of stereotypes of the potential terrorists and dangerous people?

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CS: Yes, it is very interesting, the notional examples. Remember these are theoretical examples that are used as case studies in this program. In many ways the case that is relied upon and even reinforced a very lazy stereotype to some degree of terrorists as being emotionally unstable, as being socially disadvantaged, and marginalized, excluded, and having mental problems. All of these cases arise in this manual. In fact, the reality is of course that in the vast majority of cases, those that have carried out terrorist attacks - certainly in the UK - haven’t had obvious mental or emotional difficulties, are sane, educated, and often middle class who have, what they see at least, as genuine grievances against the UK.

It is very interesting to note that in this manual no reference is made whatsoever - bear in mind that this manual has been produced by the government - no reference is made to motivating fact to such as UK’s interventionalist foreign policy abroad. Notwithstanding that, in every single case of terrorism that has been carried out in the UK in any serious way since 9/11, those carrying it out have said that motivation was indeed Britain’s foreign policy. Yet, this goes without mention in this manual amongst all the other references to motives that are mentioned.

RT:Are there problems with encouraging social workers to report on suspicious cases?

CS: The public are needed to be on side, particularly within certain communities, and informing the authorities of what’s happening, of anything unusual. The problem comes, I think, when you try to mobilize an entire army of public sector workers to report really ill-defined suspicions of again ill-defined extremism that are likely to inundate the security service and police with information of which very little is actually going to be of much use, but will never less result in a large data base being formed and kept of people’s non-mainstream, allegedly extreme views.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.