This week I hosted a roundtable discussion on the Government’s Prevent strategy, in light of the widespread and longstanding concerns with the controversial policy and in particular its disproportionate impact on British Muslims.
As a former Shadow Home Minister, I supported an independent review of Prevent, and constructively engaged with independent reviewers, including the former Independent Reviewer of Counter Terrorism, Max Hill QC.
However, Muslims and civil society organisations across the country, including my constituents, have raised legitimate concerns over William Shawcross, given his history of Islamophobic statements throughout his career.
During his time at the Henry Jackson Society, 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.” Shawcross also wrote a piece entitled, “Yes, the problem is, Islamic Fascism”, which argued that the term “Muslim” was not emphasised enough in reports about terrorism.
These Islamophobic tropes are extremely dangerous and undermine his credibility and independence.
His tenure at the Charity Commission also drew criticism from the Former Conservative Party Chair, Baroness Warsi, who criticised Shawcross for a “disproportionate” focus on Muslims. Shawcross also claimed (without evidence) that “Islamic extremism” is the “most deadly” threat to charities in England and Wales.
A broad coalition of NGOs have now publicly condemned Shawcross’ appointment including Amnesty International, the Runnymede Trust, and Liberty. More recently, over 450 British organisations have announced a boycott of the Government’s review in protest against his appointment.
These powerful interventions show a lack of faith in the Government’s choice. There is a growing consensus that an individual with such a clear hostility toward Islam with a history of instituting policies which have targeted Muslims, cannot be the right person to lead a truly independent review of Prevent.
The appointments of both William Shawcross and Lord Carlile signalled that the Government has no real interest in conducting an objective and impartial review of the strategy, nor in engaging meaningfully with communities affected by it.
We had an excellent line up of speakers including MCB, HopeNotHate, Dr Fatima Khan and Forward Thinking. I invited all panellists to provide an insight into whether Prevent is fit for purpose and their thoughts on Willliam Shawcross and Robin Simcox, the interim lead for the Commission for Countering Extremism.
It was clear from the discussion that Prevent is not fit for purpose, lack transparency and has no confidence at the community level. It conflates Islam with terrorism and shows profound ignorance of our own society.
The Government needs to:
- reconsider the appointment of William Shawcross;
- hold a recruitment process that ensures a robust, fair, and open competition;
- engage with Muslim organisations, including the Muslim Council of Britain; and
- address the concerns outlined by the organisations and individuals who have boycotted the independent review.