Recent events in the past number of weeks have drawn attention to the true nature of the UK counter-terrorism sector and they present serious implications for activists and Muslims alike.

CAGE has been speaking for over 15 years against the toxic global climate facilitated by the ‘War on Terror’ in which states are given free reign to interpret loose terms like “extremism” and “terrorism”, and apply them to individuals and groups who critique or question oppressive state policies.

These events are inextricably linked to this central pivot of the counter-extremism industry, which aims to entrench state power and police belief.

As such, there should be a call to action to all those concerned with protecting our rights to privacy, assembly, belief and dissent – to demand an end to counter-extremism and counter-terrorism .

The central role of the UK CVE industry globally and locally

In Britain, a number of organisations and individuals have been capitalising on the counter-extremism industry for years, and have been employing the deceptive language characteristic of the sector in an attempt to construct a state-sanctioned Islam, and in so doing set the groundwork for a system that is able to criminalise belief.

This has already manifested in the crushing of dissent abroad, and now threatens to do so at home.

A key player in the global and local CVE enterprise is the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change (TBI), and at its helm the former prime minister, whose dealings with despots and implication in possible war crimes are well publicised.

Now Blair has moved from a position of political posturing and cutting deals with tyrants, to being pivotal in the CVE nexus in the UK. A TBI representative, Dr Emman El-Badawy now sits on the “expert group” at the helm of the Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE).

Since its inception the CCE has come under intense criticism and ridicule over it’s role and purpose. Blair’s links to the CCE, will seal its fate as a wholly discredited body.

The targeting of dissent in Saudi Arabia

This is further underlined by the fact that Blair and his Institute are on the payroll of the Saudi government, and other despotic states, being paid millions to offer “strategic” advice and direction to the policy makers and leaders of these governments.

Governments including Saudi Arabia are increasingly using the language of the ‘War on Terror’ to silence dissent in the name of “countering extremism”. The US and British government and key public figures are well aware of this, and may well be complicit.

Given his record of human rights abuses in the name of the ‘War on Terror’, including the invasion of Iraq that killed nearly one million and led to the rise of ISIS, it is unsurprising that Tony Blair has rubbed shoulders with these regimes frequently despite heavy criticism of their human rights records. And even when he is advised to sever ties with these regimes, he has refused.

In the case of Saudi Arabia, a recent UN report showed how the kingdom is using “objectionably broad” counter-terrorism legislation enacted in 2014 to criminalise scholars and activists alike, with many being imprisoned for their ideas and beliefs.

And yet the Tony Blair Institute has openly lauded closer co-operation on counter-extremism between the UK and the regime.

In light of this, Blair’s links to this regime must be examined more closely, and a full investigation launched into his influence in the counter-extremism agenda there.

The influence of leading figures within the counter-extremism sector on the policies of foreign governments also takes place behind the scenes, and through other organisations.

Groups like McKinsey, which provide strategic advice and map influencers according to the bidding of foreign governments, are a case in point. A recent Mckinsey report identified so-called “dissidents” to the Saudi government and is believed to have led to the arrest of some and the cyber targeting of others.  

CAGE has consistently called for Tony Blair to face prosecution for his war crimes and in light of the Mckinsey revelations and the recent crack down on scholars, activists and journalists in Saudi Arabia, we reiterate the need for an urgent inquiry into any possibility that Blair and his Institute’s ‘strategic advice’ has caused actual harm to opposition figures in Saudi or in the Middle East region.

Blair’s US links look dubious in the background of the death of Khashoggi

Blair is also known to have a “close relationship” with Trump’s son-in-law and advisor on the Middle East Jared Kushner.

Recent reports claim that Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman phoned Kushner and national security advisor John Bolton after the brutal murder of the journalist Jamal Khashoggi, but prior to acknowledging it. He reportedly described Khashoggi as “a dangerous Islamist”.

Bin Salman claimed the journalist had links to the Muslim Brotherhood – claims that Khashoggi and his family have always denied – and he pleaded with them to preserve the US-Saudi alliance.

The fact that Blair has not spoken out against the murder, or broken his links with the regime, demands closer investigation.

It is clear that Khashoggi’s death was framed as being within the counter-terrorism frame, even though there was no evidence he was a member of a so-called “extremist” or “proscribed” organisation.

It seems that now there is little need to provide evidence of any kind if the words “Islamist”, or “extremist” or “terrorist” are employed. Apparently, all that is required to sweep away abuse is a little phone call between friends.

British activists may be at risk

The excusing of such a brutal killing within the lens of counter-terrorism, has meant that all due process principles have simply been cast aside and as a result there will likely be no accountability.

This erosion of the rule of law we have come to expect from the endless ‘War on Terror’ but now it has serious implications for activists.

Questions must also be asked of the British government as to whether it is aware of any British citizens and activists whose names have been provided to the Saudi government, and whether Blair, his Institute and his links to the McKinsey Mob, was instrumental in this.

We are moving into a realm where not only the word “terrorism”, but now the even vaguer term of “extremism” is being used to crush criticism and police beliefs, even if this means allowing serious abuse and even possible crimes to take place abroad.

Certainly it appears to entail leading figures on the counter-extremism sector like Tony Blair – who now has a representative on the ‘expert group’ at the Commission for Countering Extremism in Britain – refusing to clamp down on despots who adopt this narrative.

Concerned citizens must question this and demand that those purveying and profiting from the “counter extremism” industry be stopped immediately.

In a recent interview with The Times, Tony Blair accused CAGE of driving a wedge between Muslims and the government, and of promoting “extremist ideas”.

However, the branding of citizens who have the courage to call for accountability of officials like Blair as “extremists”, is utterly disingenuous, and only confirms his intentions to crush dissent.

There is no doubt that there is due concern, even within mainstream politics, that Blair and his ilk are at the bidding of tyrants abroad, and therefore threaten to bring that tyranny home.


(CC image courtesy of FCO on Flikr)

(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)