Muslim organisations have denounced the government’s decision to appoint the right-wing former journalist William Shawcross as the new “Independent Reviewer of Prevent.”
Shawcross was a supporter of the Iraq war and Guantanamo Bay. In 2012, as a director of the neoconservative thinktank the Henry Jackson Society, he said: “Europe and Islam is one of the greatest, most terrifying problems of our future. I think all European countries have vastly, very quickly growing Islamic populations.”
His tenure as head of The Charity Commission was also criticised for institutional bias against Muslims by the Claystone thinktank, while Muslim groups have highlighted as concerning comments he made in his book Justice and the Enemy which appear to support the use of torture.
Prevent is part of the government’s counter-terror strategy and has consistently been condemned by Muslims (as well as non-Muslim human rights groups and academics) for targeting the community and otherising it.
On the other hand, the government says Prevent safeguards vulnerable people from being drawn into terrorism.
The “independent review” will consider the strategy and delivery of the Prevent programme, and will make recommendations for the future.
Reacting to his appointment a spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain said: “Once again, the government is making it clear it has no interest in truly reviewing the policy. William Shawcross is singularly unfit to be a neutral and fair assessor of this government policy, which has been criticised for unfairly targeting British Muslims, given his frightening views about Islam and Muslims.
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“It is ironic that a policy supposedly charged with preventing extremism is to be scrutinised by a person who holds hostile views on Islam and Muslims, who has links to people with extreme views on us, and who defends the worst excesses of the so-called ‘war on terror’.”
CAGE’s Moazzam Begg said: “One of the few British establishment figures who openly defended Guantanamo and waterboarding, torture and views Islam as a threat to Europe is the perfect man for this job. Proves the point we made about Prevent and Islamophobia right from the start.”
Criminology expert Dr Rizwaan Sabir said: “Selecting William Shawcross to lead an independent review is about as independent as Hitler was a socialist. It’s a politically charged appointment made to legitimise a policy dedicated to socially controlling and disciplining Muslims and beyond.”
And Yahya Birt, of the Ayaan Institute, said: “The appointment of William Shawcross to head up the government’s Prevent review is a calculated insult to British Muslims. It must be boycotted by all British Muslim community organisations and representatives.”
On the other hand, Shawcross said he was delighted to lead the review to ensure that Britain has the most effective strategy possible for preventing people from becoming terrorists.
“As Independent Reviewer, I look forward to assessing how Prevent works, what impact it has, and what further can be done to safeguard individuals from all forms of terrorist influence. I look forward to hearing from a wide range of voices, particularly those who have had experience of Prevent in practice,” he said.”
“I intend to lead a robust and evidence-based examination of the programme, to help ensure that Britain has a clear and effective strategy to protect vulnerable people from being drawn into terrorism.”
Lords Minister Baroness Williams added: “Prevent plays an essential role in stopping vulnerable people being drawn into terrorism and I am grateful to those who work tirelessly, including throughout the pandemic, to turn lives around and keep our communities safe. It is important that this vital programme continues to improve and I look forward to seeing Mr Shawcross’ recommendations in due course.”
The review, announced in January 2019, has been beset by delays after the government’s first choice, Lord Carlile, was forced to step down in December 2019 after a legal challenge by Rights Watch UK which objected to Carlile because he had declared his strong support for the programme.
Within the Muslim community Prevent is widely seen as a way of monitoring the community as a whole which has had the chilling effects of “otherising” Muslims and restricting their freedom of speech.
Prevent has also been condemned by several human rights groups, academics, politicians and even the United Nations.
However, the government insists it is there to safeguard those who are vulnerable to radicalisation and to keep the nation safe. It says that Prevent deals with all forms of terrorism, including Islamist and far right terrorism, and does not focus on any one community.
In the year ending 31 March 2020, there were 6,287 referrals to Prevent. This was an increase of 10% compared to the previous year.
Of those referred to Prevent in 2019 to 2020, 1,487 (24%) were referred for concerns related to “Islamist radicalisation” and 1,387 (22%) were referred for concerns related to far-right radicalisation.