Controversial Prevent review ignites fury and accusations of anti-Muslim bias

The publication of the UK government’s long-awaited review of Prevent was met with widespread criticism for its “anti-Muslim bias.”

As expected, the review said the government’s controversial counter-extremism strategy should focus more on “Islamism” rather than far-right extremism. This despite recent Home Office figures showing a rise in extreme right-wing radicalisation referrals.

The report was immediately denounced as “deeply prejudiced” by Muslim organisations, counter-terrorism experts and rights groups.

Home Secretary Suella Braverman said she welcomed the review and would accept all 34 recommendations made by the author of the report, William Shawcross.

Many questioned the appointment of Shawcross due to his past remarks about Islam and his connections with right-wing groups that have been criticised of being Islamophobic.

The Labour Muslim Network rejected the “so called ‘independent’ review'”, accusing it of “creating a McCarthyite black list of Muslim groups.”

“Mr Shawcross has a long history of offensive and divisive comments relating to Muslims and Islam,” said the group. “They include claiming ‘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.’”

The group added that the review missed another opportunity to “rebuild trust” with the Muslims and urged the government and Labour Party to “reject this ideological and dangerous” move.  

A statement by the APPG on British Muslims said the review was a “missed opportunity” that failed to “consult stakeholders” and “favoured a single position over all others.”

“Creating a hierarchy of extremism fuelled by ideological and political viewports simply makes the problem worse and makes us all less safe,” the statement read.

The Muslim Council of Britain said the review would make British Muslims feel particularly vulnerable and Britain less safe by ignoring the evidence of the far right threat.  

“This is a threat that thrives on Islamophobia, and a threat that has already seen violent attacks on Muslim communities.,” said Zara Mohammed, Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain.

Meanwhile, Britain’s former top counter-terrorism officer said parts of the review appear to be driven by a rightwing ideology.

“That is in my view driven by a rightwing viewpoint that XRWT [extreme rightwing terrorism] is either unimportant or doesn’t really exist. The head of MI5 says it’s 20% of the work they do, so I would listen to him,” said Neil Basu, the head of counter-terrorism policing until 2021.

Accusations of anti-Muslims bias  

Amnesty International said the report was “deeply prejudiced” and had “no legitimacy.”

“This review is riddled with biased thinking, errors, and plain anti-Muslim prejudice – frankly, the review has no legitimacy,” said Amnesty International UK’s Racial Justice Director Ilyas Nagdee.

Two leading Prevent experts also pointed to the authors ‘bias’ and added the review lacked evidence and critical analysis.

In 2022, Professor John Holmwood and Dr Layla Aitlhadj co-authored an independent study into Prevent the People’s Review of Prevent, drawing on hundreds of cases of people referred to the programme.

“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!” said Dr Aitlhadj.

“The simple fact is Prevent does not stop terrorism and this review has, unsurprisingly, not provided any evidence to suggest otherwise,” she added.

Professor John Holmwood commented: “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.”

“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.”

Reactions on social

Unsurprisingly, there have been several threads on social media lambasting the review.  

Dr Asim Qureshi from Cage, one of the groups mentioned in the review, criticised the report in this comprehensive thread.  

Here’s Independent journalist Lizzie Dearden on how the report falsely claimed there were no recent far-right attacks in UK.

Academic Khadijah Elshayyal mentions how the review legitimises “draconian & exceptional measures towards Muslim civil society.”

The MCB’s media monitoring team lists how the review claims that “Islamist” terror is treated like mental illness. But in reality, the opposite is true, it says.

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