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Over 550 Muslim Organisations and Individuals Call to Boycott Shawcross Review Into Prevent

The Government never wanted any real review to Prevent and Shawcross’s appointment of this review is evidence of that. 

Over 550 Muslim organisations, masjids, council of masjids, Muslim academics, activists, individuals, and allies have all signed an open letter pledging their intent to boycott the latest review into the UK Government’s counter-extremism strategy called Prevent. 

The coalition, perhaps the biggest in British Muslim history, is a diverse array of Muslims from various sectarian and political leanings, that already boycott Prevent entirely, as well as those who still engage actively with Prevent on a regular basis. 

Muslims as a whole, have rarely seen eye to eye on the issue and it has been a cause of division for British Muslims across communities, at least up until William Shawcross was appointed as the official Independent Reviewer of Prevent.

So what’s so bad about Shawcross?

Shawcross has a track record of hostility towards Muslims. He famously said that “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.”

He was one of the main advocates for the illegal war in Iraq, torture techniques, openly described the US military as the greatest defenders of humanity in the world, and has expressed his support for Murdoch many times. 

In his first year as head of the Charity Commission, there was a big spike of formal investigation on Muslim charities in the UK. According to Claystone, of the total, 38% consisted of Muslim charities, a sector where we have a minuscule presence. 

Before that, Shawcross was the director of the most notorious Islamophobic neo-conservative think tank in the UK, the Henry Jackson Society (HJS). 

This is a think tank that has plagued the Muslim communities through the decades. Before becoming true insiders of the UK Government, a key HJS spokesperson Douglass Murray said in a public speech, “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board” and “all immigration into Europe from Muslim countries must stop”.

Another key member, Raheem Kassam, used to head up HJS’s student wing called “Student Rights”. It was an organisation focused on “exposing” Muslim extremism on campus, which folded as it deemed too overt in its discrimination of Muslim students. He later became the election manager for UKIP, a party not so far from the fascist BNP. He is now the editor-in-chief of the far-right platform Breitbart London and has published his book in 2018 entitled, “Enoch was Right: Rivers of Blood 50 Years On”.

HJS’s extensive links to US Islamophobia has been exposed time and time again. 

It is this nefarious, alt-right, White Supremacist, and Islamophobic world that Shawcross belongs to and everyone knows it. 

People on the inside know Shawcross undermines their hope that Prevent itself will get a proper review. For those critical of Prevent, he is evidence of what they have been saying Prevent is all along, a policy designed to institutionalise Islamophobia, not protect the vulnerable. 

The corrosive nature of Prevent

Prevent as a policy itself has seen a decade long opposition from Muslims and non-Muslims. 

The height of criticism was in 2016, two years after it was made a statute duty for public services and universities. The National Union of Teachers (NUT) passed a motion in their general assembly, overwhelmingly calling for the rejection of Prevent, stating it created “suspicion in the classroom and confusion in the staffroom”.

One teacher, Lisa Tunnell, stated that Prevent programme disproportionately targetted Muslim students and damaged relationships with local school communities.

The National Union of Students (NUS) also launched their campaign, Students Not Suspects, leading the way of resistance against Prevent on University campuses. 

Again in 2016, the UK’s terror watchdog, David Anderson QC, called for an independent review over concerns that Prevent is sowing mistrust and fear in the Muslim community. 

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In the health sector, voices were being raised highlighting the dangers of the Prevent policy. In one piece Charlotte Heath-Kelly stated, “people go to their GP or their hospital when they are at their most vulnerable – so how can it be appropriate to assess them for signs of political ‘extremism’ when they are in pain?”

Hundreds of academics came out calling Prevent a “failed policy” with its underpinning policies “been roundly debunked by academics and experts across the board” and is “not only ideologically-driven but also due to its refusal to engage alternative thinking”.

They also state that it is having a “chilling effect” on free speech and academic freedom in universities – something recently echoed more recently by the Liberty director

Prevent has had reviews in the past and none of the negative parts of the policy has ever been addressed. For over 10 years, the Government has ignored all criticism whilst making the policy stronger and stronger. Yet the harms of Prevent continue and are all too real.

A major 3-year study of Islam on campus reveals that Prevent reinforces negative stereotypes of Islam and Muslims. Despite this, Prevent training continues for university staff.

Mainstream campaign groups such as Campaign Against the Arms Trade, PSC, Stand up to Racism, Extinction Rebellion & Greenpeace, have been labelled as “extremists” in Prevent training manuals – adding more evidence that it is politics and ideology driving Prevent, not “safeguarding” as the Government states. 

Out of all of this, the deepest and most worrying damage is the state profiling of Muslim children and families. Between 2016 and 2019, 624 under-sixes were referred and during the same period, 1,405 children between the ages of six and nine were also referred to the scheme.

Prevent Watch supports Muslim families damaged by the Prevent programme. It’s director, Dr Layla Aitlhadj, has said, “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.”

And it is this truly independent review process that the government wants to avoid.

Theresa May’s government only conceded to a review off the back of a compromise to pass the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Bill – a piece of legislation that furthers Prevent policy’s powers and fell short of the 29 amendments put forward by the Joint Committee on Human Rights.

In reply, the Government dismissed the coalition’s concerns by simply stating Shawcross was appointed via an independent process. This is a slap in the face and a clear indication that this Government holds no value in Muslim voices who has shown loyalty by engaging with Prevent when it has been so controversial and damaging for so long.

The Government never wanted any real review to Prevent and Shawcross’s appointment is evidence of that. What’s more is the Government is fully aware of the damage Prevent is causing, especially to Muslims, whilst providing political cover for it and imposing it upon us all.

In reply, the Government dismissed the coalition’s concerns by simply stating Shawcross was appointed via an independent process. This is a slap in the face and a clear indication that the government holds no value in Muslim voices who has shown loyalty by engaging with the government on Prevent when it has been so controversial for so long. 

It is for all the above reasons why we, as the coalition, are calling for a truly independent “People’s Review”, whilst upholding the boycott of the Shawcross review and encouraging others to do the same. It is the only way to take Prevent to task.

After years of bad faith and depleted trust in the government, with Shawcross being the final straw, this is the only way Prevent can finally be reviewed on an objective and impartial basis and bring all the overwhelmingly negative outcomes of the policy into public discourse. 

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