Historic Muslim coalition boycotts Prevent review

William Shawcross Pic: Gov.UK

More than 450 Muslim civil society organisations and 100 leading figures have pledged to boycott the government’s review of the Prevent counter-extremism policy which will be led by the controversial William Shawcross.

The coalition represents a broad cross section of Muslim civic society across the UK, including over 30 national and 10 regional organisations, 100 leading religious scholars, academics, community organisers and allies. Signatories also include some organisations which are currently in receipt of Prevent funding.

However, the Muslim Council of Britain, which says it is Britain’s largest Muslim umbrella organisation, did not sign the letter.

The boycott has been prompted by the appointment of William Shawcross as “Independent Reviewer.” Signatories say Shawcross has a track record of making Islamophobic comments, and he is on record as consistently supporting the Iraq War, George Bush and Tony Blair, the U.S military, Guantanamo Bay and expressing opposition to “Islamism.”

His appointment came after the government was forced to remove his predecessor Lord Carlile because of his stated support for Prevent.

The statement by the signatories says: “William Shawcross has a track record of hostility to Islam and Muslims. No serious, objective, critical review can be undertaken by someone with such a track record – rather we should expect him to promote a hardening of policies towards Muslims. So, if Muslim organisations engage with this Review, it strengthens its legitimacy and its power to recommend policies more harmful to the community.

“It is increasingly obvious that Prevent promotes many unacceptable harms – even to those who have engaged with Prevent convinced they are preventing harm. These harms include profiling and targeting Muslim children (even as young as four), making the Muslim community ‘a suspect community’, demonising aspects of Islam, and silencing legitimate speech.”

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The coalition says will continue to campaign against the Shawcross Review and the harms of the Prevent policy. It says it will support all steps to set up an independent review process that centres around those most harmed by Prevent, has legitimacy from the communities most affected, and is aided by credible expertise and supported with robust evidence.

Shawcross ‘cannot be trusted’

Dr Layla Aitlhadj, lead Coalition spokesperson and Director of the support group PreventWatch, said: “Our coalition of hundreds of Muslim civil society organisations from across the country is boycotting this review of Prevent because we believe it will not address the significant harms the policy has caused. The review lacks credibility, its current reviewer, William Shawcross, is seen as partisan, and the government has no intention of taking our concerns seriously. In short, this government cannot be trusted to make a truly independent and comprehensive assessment of Prevent.

“In my work as Director of PreventWatch, we have supported over 500 cases of Prevent and we are concerned about the harm to Muslim children, families and wider Muslim society. What we have documented is just the tip of an iceberg. There is a wealth of evidence that indicates that Prevent is an inherently Islamophobic policy. This is what a truly independent process will bring to public attention.”

Professor Nasar Meer, School of Social and Political Sciences, University of Edinburgh, said: “Prevent is a bad policy that has only worsened with time. An independent review of its attack on the freedom of speech, curtailment of fundamental liberties and criminalisation of communities, is long overdue. Sadly, the Shawcross Review promises no such thing.”

Dr Musharraf Hussain OBE, from Nottingham, said: “This appointment is unjust. Appointing Mr Shawcross as the reviewer of Prevent has set a dangerous precedent: that it’s okay to have a biased reviewer. Is this British fair play? This appointment undermines the independence of this review, of someone who does not believe that over three million British Muslims are decent and good citizens, but who dreads them. Our country needs trust, and the government needs to build it.”

Dr Layla Aitlhadj

Shaykh Shams ad-Duha Muhammad, founder of the Ebrahim College, said: “I have personally experienced the kind of harm William Shawcross has caused in roles where he wields power over the Muslim community. He was on the board of the notorious Henry Jackson Society whose prejudice against the Muslim community is well known. His chairmanship of the Charity Commission was also hugely controversial. For a man of his track record to be given more power over the Muslim community in his new role further compounds our negative perceptions of Prevent and shatters our trust in our leaders who are charged with our protection. This is a truly astonishing development.”

Dr Fatima Rajina, Stephen Lawrence Centre, De Montfort University, said: “The presence of Prevent in smaller organisations within local communities that provide essential services such as ESOL classes, sewing classes, and putting on other classes to accommodate the needs of, mostly, Muslim women is one that illustrates its perniciousness. The Prevent strategy ensures these organisations end up relying on its pot of funding because other ways of accessing funds are being curtailed. In this way, Prevent is expanding its tentacles into community spaces that ought to remain safe for Muslims but, yet again, it is there to surveil and monitor.”

And Dr Tarek Younis, Lecturer in Psychology at Middlesex University, said: “Shawcross’s appointment is a stark reminder how tangential Muslim distress is to the government, when the cause of this distress is their very policies. We know that the silencing caused by Prevent is not simply the absence of words, but a very real experience of anxiety. We know families experience trauma when caught erroneously in the security web. We know that fear of appearing ‘suspect’ begs the question of tacit coercion when offered a Channel intervention. We need transparency and accountability for the distress caused by Prevent referrals, viewed from the prism of human rights and racialised abuse.”

The full statement and list of signatories can be viewed online here.

William Shawcross himself has said he wants to hear “the case for and against Prevent based on evidence that can be tested.”

In a recent letter to The Guardian he said: “As a writer and journalist, I have seen that terrorism comes from many sources, and inflicts terrible wounds on souls as well as bodies. I have attempted to deal head-on with the thorny moral and legal issues that emerged as the West responded to the threat of Islamist terrorism after 9/11. This has led to some of my views being misrepresented or misinterpreted.

“Muslims are the principal victims of Islamist terrorism and, as chair of the Charity Commission between 2012 and 2018, I am proud of what we did to help protect Muslim charities from exploitation by ISIS and other extremist organisations during the Syrian conflict.

“…[The] extreme-right terrorism threat in the UK and elsewhere is growing. Islamist terrorism remains an enduring global threat. The Review will consider what role Prevent can and should play in helping address such threats. I want to hear the case for and against Prevent based on evidence that can be tested. I approach this Review in a spirit of collaboration in seeking to protect people as effectively as possible from being drawn into terrorism, whatever its source.”

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