Expert View: The Prevent strategy, the UK government and the far-right

The government has already subverted any independence towards the Prevent strategy by assigning the official review of Prevent to William Shawcross, but it has continued to press ahead with changes to Prevent, proving that it is a political tool.
This has been worsened by the long delays in the release of the report – it’s been three years and still not a sign of an independent review. Why?

A tiny counter-extremism clique that keeps (r)evolving

The first is the refocusing of the Home Office on Prevent in its security aspects. This is indicated by the closure of the Building a Stronger Britain Together programme, and the concentration of community cohesion activities in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities.

Sarah Khan was appointed in March 2021 as an independent adviser to this Department. Khan was formerly the head of the Commission for Countering Extremism in the Home Office.

An interim head of the CCE, Robin Simcox, was appointed in March 2021. Simcox has strong links with neo-conservative and far-right think tanks.

A recent Byline Times investigation revealed Simcox’s potential conflict of interest in the role, while still being the major shareholder in his private listed company, the Counter-Extremism Group (CEG), now steered by Hannah Stuart.

His first announcement was the need to redefine the policy toward right-wing extremism to distinguish far-right groups who operated within the law which, he claimed, were part of normal democratic politics.

However, in the period since his appointment, the commission has been largely inactive, judging by its recently published annual report.

Prevent strategy to aim at legal Muslim organisations

So, what will the role of the new CCE be? Sunak’s statement that there should be a “weeding out” of charities and organisations that supported extremism provides a clue.

As does a recent report from Policy Exchange recommends that its role should be “research into extremism, countering criticisms, and evaluating and providing certification for NGOs”.

Those NGOs that are not properly aligned should be denied public funding and engagement by government and local authorities alike.

Expectedly, their only targeted organisations are Muslim NGOs which they describe as “Islamist”, notwithstanding the express commitment by these NGOs to democratic and lawful means.

Expanding the security net to make lawful dissent difficult

But the nature of democratic and lawful means is also in question.

The new Public Order Bill and the creation of new criminal offences associated with extra-parliamentary action will create a new set of offences, and new offences create a widened penumbra of pre-criminal actions.

So, at the same time as there is an intention to refocus Prevent away from right-wing extremism, there is an expansion elsewhere to include more non-criminal, but – according to the state – pre-criminal acts.

This can only mean that the CCE is designed to function in a manner equivalent to George Orwell’s Ministry of Truth.

Read the full article on Middle East Eye.

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