Prevent Watch

Things to remember about the independent review of Prevent

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Two year ago, when the independent review of Prevent got a new reviewer, the immediate response from 17 major human rights organisations, like Liberty and Amnesty International, and over 500 mainly Muslim civil society organisations and experts, to the appointment of William Shawcross was to call for a boycott of the review.

The unanimous decision to boycott the review, which we all felt would lack any credibility, provided a unique opportunity to proactively provide an alternative review in terms of those most impacted by Prevent, and so the People’s Review of Prevent was set up.

Shawcross was no stranger to civil society. He had been a director at the Henry Jackson Society and a Senior Fellow of Policy Exchange, “think tanks” whose members are associated with the clash-of-civilisations thesis and the ‘war on terror’, where British Muslims are constructed as a potential “enemy within”.

He had also been Chair of the Charity Commission between 2012 and 2018 when it carried out lengthy and deeply biased investigations of Muslim charities which had legal consequences for the Commission.

Both HJS and PE have close links with right-wing foundations in the US and with British journalists and conservative politicians who circulate between them. They call critics of Prevent, especially when they are Muslims, “extremists” and “enablers of terrorism”.

This has undermined Muslim participation in public life, in direct contradiction of what was claimed to be one of Prevent’s key objectives in promoting “British values”.

Was the independent review of Prevent “consultation process” a no-show?

To reiterate: More than 500 ORGANISATIONS with a distinct concern and interest in Prevent from A CIVIL SOCIETY PERSPECTIVE, opted NOT TO TAKE PART AT ALL in this review of Prevent.

Who then was left for him to “consult”? We hope this will be revealed in the coming weeks.

Like other “reviews” of its kind, including the egregious Commission on Racial Disparities review, we expect the “Shawcross review” of Prevent will be a thinly veiled disguise of what it has only ever been: in the words of Liberty, a “whitewash”.

It will signal yet another review process – commissioned at great expense to the taxpayer – that proves that it is alignment with government policy that has become the arbiter of who gets heard; this overrides independence and by extension is negatively impacting good governance.

We see now that processes designed – and indeed funded – with the clearly legislated purpose of providing a genuine independent view, which are directed to hold public bodies to account, are simply acting as agencies for the implementation of governmental policy.

This will be shown in the way that its recommendations will be agreed in advance with the Home Office.

He will then do a hop-and-skip from this exercise, to be Commissioner for Public Appointments, where he will be responsible for guaranteeing the independence and integrity of appointments.

The “Shawcross review” as a thin disguise for a political purpose

The “Shawcross review” of Prevent – which we are told is coming soon – will also be aligned with other legislation such as the Police, Crime and Sentencing Bill, the Online Safety Bill and others that have created an environment of surveillance and securitisation of many types of activism.

The review has also been delayed to coincide with the third chapter of the Manchester Arena bombing enquiry, which is likely to identify failings in Prevent. However, the perpetrator was known to security services as a ‘subject of interest’.

Pointing the finger at Prevent is major feature of reporting of other terrorist attacks. There is a conflation of Prevent and Pursue. This is done to suggest that Prevent “failed to stop a future perpetrator”, while security services have been successful in “foiling many plots” via Prevent.

Yet any alleged failure attributed to Prevent is necessarily also a failure of Pursue, which is more concerned with actual evidence of criminal intent and to which scarce resources would be more effectively deployed.

Instead, we will likely be told (again) that Prevent needs to be expanded and refocused; mosques will likely be further securitised and Muslim civil society groups may have to be registered.

Prevent has itself become an ideological project of the government as part of a populist right-wing electoral strategy with no proper constraint upon its exercise. The “Shawcross review” should be viewed within this framework.

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