Prevent Watch

What a Muslim civil society ‘register’ at the Home Office means

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William Shawcross has made claims against individuals and Muslim civil society organisations that are smears without a careful consideration of definitions and evidence, and they are heavily driven by his own biases.

His is a divisive and harmful report that seeks to position Muslims – especially those who work for positive change in communities at home and abroad – as suspects.

Targeting Muslim civil society

Although placing community cohesion under Prevent has been self-defeating, it has been so because it has created anxiety and suspicion among people at community level.

So, a logical recommendation from this would be to decrease securitisation of communities and civil society.

But while the community cohesion strand of Prevent has been dropped, it will now make British Muslims even more subject to state scrutiny.

This is because it requires that their political activities and forms of self-organisation be subject to certification and validation by a politically appointed commissar at the Home Office.

This individual is taken from the Commission for Countering Extremism (CCE) and is directly appointed by the Home Secretary – in effect setting up Prevent as a separate legal architecture governing Muslim political and civic activity.

This is against the Home Office statistics themselves with regard to violence. It is also against statements by security services, where there has been an increase in far-right violence and in harmful mixed ideologies in the UK.

Prevent as an expanding policy spiral

Although the report names Muslims organisations, it should be stressed that the groups and individuals identified as “extremist” are doing nothing unlawful.

Other activist groups should be aware that the current definition of ‘terrorism’ as action directed against people or property with the intention of bringing about political change, allows “extremism” under Prevent to be directed at any group seeking change by political action outside parliament.

This means that Shawcross accentuates features of Prevent that are already the most problematic – even under Prevent’s definition of “British values”, which include tolerance of different thoughts and beliefs.

It also extends its disruption attempts – which have been counter-productive to inter-community relations – against targeted Muslim-led civil society organisations.

The Shawcross Report declares itself to be motivated by liberal values and yet represents a most serious undermining of those values.

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