The long-awaited review of the government’s PREVENT strategy is finally out.
An independent review of PREVENT was announced in January 2019 with a statutory requirement to report back to Parliament in August 2020. However, in December 2019 Lord Carlisle QC, appointed to chair this review, was stood down by the Government following questions raised about his impartiality as well as a legal challenge launched against the Home Office regarding his appointment. A new Chair was then announced as being William Shawcross.
Shawcross was a director of the neoconservative thinktank, the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), who are notorious for their Islamophobic agenda. It was whilst as director of the HJS that Shawcross stated:
“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.”
Moreover, as Chair of the UK Charity Commission there were widespread concerns that Muslim charities were disproportionately targeted and investigated by the Commission, including from former Conservative Cabinet Member Baroness Warsi. LIC directly raised this concern with the Commission at the time when we met with them. Shawcross also appeared to support the use of torture and Guantanamo Bay. Further, Shawcross was also part of a consortium who purchased the Jewish Chronicle in 2020, which saved them from closing down. Hacked Off had reported the need for an investigation into the Jewish Chronicle in view of the number of cases where they were found to have breached the Editors’ Code of Practice by IPSO, or the law in the defamation proceedings, many of these against members of the Muslim community.
In 2021, Shawcross was appointed as Commissioner for Public Appointments. MP Michael Gove (who is also one of the initial signatories to the Henry Jackson Society’s Statement of Principles) confirmed Shawcross as the government’s preferred candidate for the office which “is vital to ensuring confidence in the public appointments made by both the UK and Welsh Governments”. Last year in his role as Commissioner for Public Appointments, Shawcross was accused by MPs of prejudicing his own inquiry (before it had even started) into the failed appointment of Martin Thomas as chair of the Charity Commission. Only last month, having initially confirmed he would review BBC Chairman Richard Sharp’s appointment, Shawcross recently withdrew from the investigation having stated he had met him on previous occasions.
The PREVENT review, which is now complete is exactly what many of us thought – a complete whitewash for the following reasons:
- True to his hawkish attitudes towards Islam and Muslims, Shawcross is recommending that PREVENT has been too timid, and in fear of being branded as a discriminatory policy, and that it should therefore be more robust in its approach. The review seeks to suggest that there has been too much of a focus on right wing extremism, rather than “Islamist” extremism. However, this appears contrary to the Government’s own figures regarding PREVENT and the Channel programme (which looks to support people identified as vulnerable being drawn into terrorism). In the year ending March 2022, the category accounting for the largest proportion of PREVENT referrals was ‘Vulnerability present but no ideology or CT risk’ (33%) followed by ‘Extreme Right-Wing radicalisation concerns’ (20%) and then ‘Islamist concerns’ (16%). In the same period, for the Chanel programme, the largest number of referrals (42%) were due to ‘Extreme Right-Wing concerns’, with ‘Islamist radicalisation’ and ‘Conflicted ideology’ following with 19% and 15% respectively.
- In addition, the review reports its surprise at the level of “antisemitism” among extremists referred to the PREVENT programme. It is rather ironic that Shawcross seeks to call out discrimination elsewhere, whilst failing to recognise that the whole PREVENT programme which he champions, is Islamophobic. It should also not be forgotten that Shawcross has been involved with the Jewish Chronicle, who have been called out on their accuracy in reporting on instances of antisemitism in its article as referred to above.
- Bizarrely, the review finds that “Islamist” terrorism is being wrongly treated like a mental illness. Mental health issues are pervasive and affect people of all backgrounds. It is deeply concerning therefore that sweeping remarks and assumptions are made regarding mental health with little or no regard for objective evidence or expert opinion. The UK Royal College of Psychiatrists (RCPscyh) in their position statement of September 2016 (‘Counter-terrorism and psychiatry’) state: “Data on evaluations of Prevent, as with any initiative requiring public services to alter their practice, must be in the public domain and subjected to peer review and scientific scrutiny. Public policy cannot be based on either no evidence or a lack of transparency about evidence.” Furthermore, in their supplement paper (‘Ethical considerations arising from the government’s counter-terrorism strategy’ – November 2017), the RCPsych highlights the risks of perpetuating stigma stating:
Psychiatrists must bear in mind that the identification of a mentally ill patient as a terrorist may further increase the stigma already attached to mental illness.
There is a risk of stigmatising certain communities as well as individuals.
There is also a risk that dissent against authority in general may become stigmatised. The definition of ‘extremism’ could in time be extended to encompass those who object to certain aspects of UK foreign policy.
The Government’s tone-deaf attitude to longstanding concerns of fairness and impartiality to the Muslim Community is only further revealed by this “independent” review which organisations such as Amnesty International boycotted before it had even commenced due to concerns around the man leading it.