William Shawcross must be removed as reviewer of Prevent

Many Muslim organisations consider Prevent to be a spying and monitoring exercise

The chairman of the Islamic Human Rights Commission, Massoud Shadjareh, says that civil society must ensure that William Shawcross is removed as the so-called “independent reviewer” of the Prevent counter-extremism strategy.

In the not too distant past, when white colonialists wanted to create a buffer between themselves and their unworthy subjects, they employed intermediaries to do their dirty work. The Uncle Tom of pre-emancipation America and the corresponding “chamcha” in colonial India were embodiments of a defeated mentality that saw assimilative obsequience as the only mode of social progress.

These days we prefer to call them sell-outs or coconuts and they are two-a-penny in the corridors of Whitehall and Westminster. Their role is still pretty much the same except that in an age where racial and religious equality needs to be seen to be done these useful idiots also help to manufacture that facade, with their token presence shielding their paymasters from charges of racism.

But it’s an indictment of how far Islamophobia has become mainstreamed and also how low the status of the Muslim community in Britain has sunk when the government no longer even considers it necessary to keep up appearances.

The appointment of William Shawcross as the “independent” reviewer of the “counter-terror” Prevent programme is not the first time in recent years that the fox has been put in charge of the hen house.

Despite widespread criticism from civil society and the Muslim community Shawcross was appointed to lead the review after the government was forced to remove its first choice Lord Carlile when a human rights group successfully mounted a legal challenge on the grounds that as a staunch supporter of Prevent, he could not be considered independent.

But as things have turned out, Carlile’s ousting was a case of be careful what you wish for. Shawcross is a much more dangerous canine.

William Shawcross

Between 2012-2018 Shawcross presided over the Charity Commission during which time the watchdog systematically victimised Muslim organisations. In a report, the think tank Claystone found that Muslim charities were the subject of 38 per cent of all disclosed statutory investigations initiated after 1 January 2014 and still ongoing at 23 April 2014 despite Muslims representing less than 5% of the national population. It accused the Commission of institutional bias.

The Eton and Oxford-educated Shawcross is a darling of the right. According to his writings: “Islam is one of the greatest, most terrifying problems of our future. I think all European countries have vastly, very quickly growing Islamic populations.” And in 2014 he told the Sunday Times: “The problem of Islamist extremism and charities… is not the most widespread problem we face in terms of abuse of charities, but is potentially the most deadly.”

Putting Prevent in the hands of somebody many Muslims feel is a right-leaning Islamophobe with bells on is only likely to make a toxic programme even worse.

Spying on Muslims

IHRC has long maintained that Prevent is much more than a counter-terrorism tool. It is an aggressive social engineering and spying exercise to transform attitudes in the community and gather intelligence on its members. Over time it has become more aggressive requiring Muslims to promote “core British values” which include foreign policy objectives.

It has also broadened out the definition of extremism to cover non-violent extremism. This has stretched to such extremes that it now covers those who oppose government policies or hold conservative views such as disapproval of abortion, music or same-sex marriage.

To police this new “thoughtcrime,” in 2015 the government made it a statutory duty on public sector workers to implement Prevent by identifying those at risk of extremism, effectively making every public official a spy and every Muslim a suspect. Figures published by the National Police Chiefs Council show that the number of Muslims tagged by Prevent almost doubled in the first year after the duty came into force, to 2,810 in 2015/16 from 1,541 in the previous financial year (accounting for 68% of all referrals).

William Shawcross Pic: Gov.UK

It’s not just Muslims who have slammed Prevent. In April 2016 the UN Special Rapporteur on the Freedom of Assembly, Maina Kiai, said that Britain’s anti-terrorism (of which Prevent is a key part) policies were counter-productive, undermining democracy and victimising the Muslim community.

In October the same year a report by the George Soros funded Open Society Initiative concluded that Prevent undermined Muslims’ right to manifest their religion, often targeting them for displaying increased religiosity. Another report in July 2016 by RightsWatch UK called for Prevent to be abolished saying that a strategy that “alienates vulnerable children is counterproductive and inconsistent with the very ‘British values’ that the Government is supposedly promoting.”

By appointing Shawcross the government is signalling its intent to continue full-steam ahead with a discredited programme that has become a byword for indoctrination and intrusion. It is also mainstreaming and institutionalising hate.

Thankfully, civil society is alive to its machinations and understands that allowing the erosion of civil liberties for Muslims sets a dangerous precedent for wider society. Opposition succeeded in removing Lord Carlile. We must endeavour to ensure Shawcross’ tenure is equally short-lived.

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