Charity Commission urged to strip Policy Exchange of charity status

Photo: Crown Copyright Credit: Georgina Coupe

Two of the UK’s leading experts on the government’s Prevent strategy, Professor John Holmwood and Dr Layla Aitlhadj, have lodged a complaint about the Policy Exchange think tank with the Charity Commission, calling for it to be stripped of its charity status.

The complaint outlines potential serious regulatory breaches following the publication of Policy Exchange’s “Delegitimising Counter-Terrorism” report, whose foreword was written by former Prime Minister David Cameron.

Holmwood and Aitlhadj have raised concerns about the charity’s “record of poor research standards,” “its racist and Islamophobic stance,” and of “misleading the public about Muslim communities and individuals, by promoting vilification and even hatred towards them.”

Policy Exchange’s “attack on the expression of legitimate opinion and “its partisan attack on self-organised Muslim civil society groups” also form part of the grievance against them.

Deligitimising Counter-Terrorism singled out several Muslim groups including 5Pillars, MEND, CAGE, Prevent Watch, the Muslim Council of Britain and the Islamic Human Rights Commission – accusing them of effectively being “enablers of terrorism.”

The report, backed by former Prime Minister David Cameron, said that Prevent risks being scrapped because of malicious campaigns set up by Islamist groups to denounce the anti-terror programme as Islamophobic.

Dr Aitlhadj and Prof. Holmwood authored “The People’s Review of Prevent,” published in February, that assessed the government’s controversial Prevent policy. Policy Exchange’s report appears to be a response to The People’s Review of Prevent, quoting extensively from it.

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The nine-page complaint letter to the Charities Commission last week sets out the case against Policy Exchange and its report under six headings:

  • Being partisan
  • Not advancing education
  • Misusing donations
  • Racist and Islamophobic claims
  • Misleading the public
  • Poor research standards

“As a charity, Policy Exchange must remain non-partisan and be detached from government. Yet it would appear Policy Exchange is neither, acting primarily as a vehicle for political propaganda and anti-Muslim narratives. This neither benefits the public, nor advances education, which is its stated charitable aim,” said Dr Layla Aitlhadj, who is a director at Prevent Watch.

However, instead of offering rigorous counter-evidence to disprove The Review’s findings, Dr Aitlhadj and Prof. Holmwood say, the think tank opted to single out the Muslim contributors, accusing them of “enabling terrorism” whilst failing to mention any of the eminent non-Muslims who also participated.

The letter asks the Charity Commission to consider the nature and timing of Policy Exchange’s report, its relationship to the current government, how potential conflicts of interest are managed, and complying with its legal charitable objects.

“It’s bad enough that a charity promotes the view that some areas of government policy are above public scrutiny. But to single out and demonise Muslims by suggesting their legitimate criticisms of Prevent are not shared by others, and then accuse them of ‘enabling terrorism’, as David Cameron has, is a serious assault on our democracy, and could potentially also encourage hate crimes against such individuals,” said Prof. Holmwood.

Questions are also asked about Policy Exchange’s funding. The lack of transparency in its accounts, the complaint states, creates doubts about whether these are from political sources or from those with a known anti-Muslim agenda.

The complaint letter concludes by stating there is “a case for investigating” Policy Exchange, and whether, given its activities and reports, it should remain a charity.”

Policy Exchange report

The Policy Exchange report was released a fortnight ago. It said that the Prevent anti-terror programme is at risk of “dying the death of a thousand cuts” because of failure to defend it from critics.

It warned of “numerous but overlapping campaigns and activist voices” aimed at establishing that the strategy is Islamophobic, and suggested the Government set up a new communications unit to rebut disinformation about counter-terrorism and counter-extremism strategies.

“The end goal of these Islamist-led campaigns is the scrapping of Prevent and the counter-extremism programme,” said the report.

In a foreword, David Cameron warned: “So just as we need to counter the Islamist extremist narrative, we need to counter the anti-Prevent narrative. We need to show that delegitimising counter-terrorism is, in essence, enabling terrorism.”

The authors called for a Centre for the Study of Extremism to give Ministers the tools to properly push back against campaigners, with a separate communications unit to disseminate rebuttal, and a due diligence unit.

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