Muslim organisations, including those targeted in the Prevent review by William Shawcross, have called for the controversial counter-extremism strategy to be scrapped.
Shawcross recommended in the review that Prevent should focus more on “Islamism” than far-right extremism, and that non-violent extremism that sets the tone for terrorism should receive more attention.
In her statement to Parliament following the release of the Shawcross review, Home Secretary Suella Braverman singled out Muslim advocacy group CAGE, saying it was “an Islamist group that has excused and legitimised violence by Islamist terrorists.”
CAGE Managing Director Muhammad Rabbani responded: “The Home Secretary is abusing her parliamentary privilege, weaponising bad faith arguments against CAGE in order to distract from our efforts to hold the Government to account. Cycles of violence will only end if we address the broader political issues that contribute to them. This is something the government has resisted because an entire ‘War on Terror’ industry survives on the myth that Islam and Muslims are inherently violent.”
Meanwhile, two leading Prevent experts said the Shawcross review reflects the author’s known bias by distorting facts, while lacking empirical evidence and critical analysis,
Professor John Holmwood, emeritus Professor of Sociology at Nottingham University, and Dr Layla Aitlhadj, the director and case study lead at Prevent Watch, made the comments after their initial review of the report, which was published on Wednesday after months of delay.
Dr Aitlhadj and Prof. Holmwood co-authored an independent study into Prevent – the People’s Review of Prevent – drawing on hundreds of cases of people referred to the programme.
Dr Aitlhadj said: “Light on research, poor on analysis and heavy on anti-Muslim bias, the Shawcross Review fails in every regard. For the People’s Review of Prevent, we analysed 600 cases of people referred to the programme. Shawcross based his entire report on just 6 Channel cases!
“The simple fact is Prevent does not stop terrorism and this review has, unsurprisingly, not provided any evidence to suggest otherwise. Meanwhile our report provided ample evidence of the harms that Prevent has caused: from innocent children who now need counselling after their traumatic interrogations by counter-terrorism officers, to further education opportunities being withdrawn from students due to the information-sharing that occurs in Prevent cases.
“The UK already has robust laws to deal with terrorism and would-be terrorists. The government needs to stop wasting resources on the failed Prevent policy and instead invest it back into services that are vital for a healthy society: in social care, mental health care and education.”
Professor Holmwood said: “The Shawcross Review is ideologically-driven, factually erroneous and methodologically poor. It is based on hearsay evidence and doesn’t even evaluate internal reports produced by government departments. It’s difficult to understand what William Shawcross has been up to in the two years he has been working on this review. All it does is recalibrate Prevent without addressing any legitimate concerns.
“His efforts to smear the lawful opinions of British Muslims and silence Prevent critics is disgraceful; it shows Shawcross’ interest in free speech is partial and partisan. If he were my student, he’d get a D minus for the report.”
The Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) called for the anti-terrorism programme to be scrapped in its entirety.
It said the review, which was boycotted by hundreds of civil society groups, simply doubles down on “problematising Islam” and seeks to draw legitimate expressions of faith and faith-based views into the definition of terrorism.
The IHRC added that the review’s call to reach further into so-called “non-violent Islamist extremism” is nothing short of a call to criminalise mainstream Islam, especially where it informs political opinion that is hostile to establishment interests.
“Indeed, it should not come as a surprise that a white supremacist is advising the government to loosen the reins of anti-terrorism legislation for right-wing extremism but tighten them for Muslims,” the IHRC said.
“Far from being independent, the review is a reflection of Shawcross’s own deep-rooted animus against Islam and Muslims which has previously found expression in his publications and statements and in his work as Chair of the Charity Commission between 2012-2018.
“The review’s naming and shaming of Muslim individuals and organisations, calling for them to be excommunicated from any engagement with the government goes beyond the cancel politics that has become a trademark of recent governments – it attempts to render them untouchable and thereby banish them altogether from the playing field.
“While it is troubling that the government has pledged to implement the review’s recommendations in full it is only expected. Government policy is being directed by an authoritarian, racist cabal for whom human rights and public engagement are secondary to preserving and enhancing the interests of a narrow elite.
“But the review should also be seen as an attack not just on Muslim civil society but civil society as a whole, restricting and constraining political debate and dissent further whilst maligning legitimate political critique using populist discourse.”
Muslim organisation MEND was also mentioned negatively several times in the report. It said Shawcross’s notorious reputation for Islamophobia has been prominent throughout his career.
“Shawcross’ calls to re-shift the main focus of Prevent on so-called ‘Islamist’ extremism over the increasingly growing threat of far-right extremism, which accounted for 1,309 cases of referrals, the highest number of referrals of any ‘extremism’ for consecutive years was evident early on during initial leaks of the review.
“Additionally, the leaks revealed suspected tampering from the Home Office, amplifying existing concerns about the integrity and credibility of the report…
“As such, MEND, along with several organisations, in good conscience, withdrew its engagement from this review which was void of objectivity and impartiality from the very start to its end. For these reasons and in light of the above, MEND rejects the Shawcross review in its entirety and calls on other Muslim and Civil society organisations to follow suit.”
Hizb ut Tahrir, which was also mentioned in the report, congratulated Muslims, saying “your adherence to the sublime Islamic values and your good character has exposed the lie at the heart of the Prevent policy and forced it back to the drawing board once again.”
“The more non-Muslims got to know the Muslims in Britain, the more they rejected the hateful deceit that the likes of Gove and the Henry Jackson Society have been peddling: that Muslims are all potential terrorists and our increased adherence to Allah’s shariah should make us all afraid,” Hizb ut Tahrir said.
“In fact the more the Muslims expressed their concern for the political affairs of the people, especially the global Muslim ummah, the more we earned the respect of the people, as our principles showed that we are not the problem, rather we are a part of the solution.
“The British people can see the contradictions in labelling people as ‘extreme’ or ‘radicalised’ – especially when these terms are increasingly used to cancel all others who question Britain’s role in colonialism, the wanton destruction of the environment and the muscular imposition of liberal LGBTQ+ ideology.”