No, the Review of PREVENT is Not Just a Muslim Issue | Wasiq Wasiq

A campaign has surfaced to have William Shawcross removed as the chair of the Independent Review of Prevent. In an open letter titled Call to Boycott the Shawcross Review of Prevent – which has gained more than 450 signatures, states the two reasons why the review should be boycotted: “William Shawcross has a track record of hostility to Islam and Muslims” and “Prevent promotes many unacceptable harms” to Muslims.

At face value, it is quite obvious that this campaign is about Muslims and what would apparently satisfy them. However, the Independent Preview of Prevent and Prevent itself is not about Muslims and nor should it be. So why is it being portrayed like this?

Prevent was set up in 2006 by the then Labour Government to stop people being drawn into violent extremism and terrorism. It is part of the wider counter terrorism strategy known as CONTEST. Since then, Prevent has matured as a policy and has adapted itself – as would be expected – just as the threat from Jihadists and the far-Right have. Reviewing Prevent seems to be a sensible step in ensuring that the policy builds on its strengths and works on areas that need developing. However, when both the policy and the reviewer are being attacked, then one must wonder what outcome these campaigners are seeking to achieve?

To establish this, we must first seek to understand the premise from which these campaigners are working from. To begin with, it appears they are not interested in Prevent developing and being strengthened, but rather, they appear to want to abolish it.

Dr Layla Aitlhadj – lead spokesperson and director of Prevent Watch – is reported to have said:

“In short, this government cannot be trusted to make a truly independent and comprehensive assessment of Prevent.

There is a wealth of evidence that indicates that Prevent is an inherently Islamophobic policy. This is what a truly independent process will bring to public attention.”

This seems to be a bizarre position to be working from. If the Government cannot be trusted to commission an independent review of Prevent, then it matters little who the reviewer is. That there is apparently a wealth of evidence to support the claim that the policy is inherently “Islamophobic” should actually further strengthen the case that it needs scrutinising by someone independent like William Shawcross. A replacement reviewer must not be someone that has, as it seems in the case of Dr Aitelhadj, already made up their minds.

But is this campaign and are these individuals representative of the wider diverse Muslim communities in the UK? On closer examination, this does not appear to be the case. Crest Advisory – a research strategy and communications think tank – found that two thirds of Muslims were more likely to refer someone to Prevent. In addition to this, in areas identified at high risk of extremism, just under three quarters of Muslims support Prevent targeting these localities. That these findings seems to suggest a complete contrast to that of Dr Aitelhadj, puts her claim and that of the campaign into question. But the evidence that suggests Muslims are not supportive of counter terrorism measures continues to weaken.

Research conducted by academic Sadi Shanaah found that most British Muslims are satisfied with and trust counter-terrorism policies. In regards to trusting the government, again the same result is found. Furthermore, and very much to be expected, the willingness of Muslim communities to take action against Islamist extremism was also high. The idea that this government is not taking the concerns of Muslims seriously seems to be at odds with empirical research that paints a completely different picture. Muslim satisfaction is clearly high and I doubt it would be, if the government didn’t care what Muslims thought.

That this campaign seeks to portray Prevent as a policy about Muslims and causing harm to Muslim communities should be questioned. The policy is not just about Muslims, if it was, then it would not have had the largest number of referrals related to far-Right extremism. The fact that security Minister James Brokenshire considers extremism to be a diverse threat, is precisely why Prevent is needed and why reviewing it is needed.

“Tackling Islamist and far-Right extremism doesn’t require the assistance of Prevent” is not a message these individuals are promoting, but they are promoting the ending of Prevent. It is for this reason that I do not support this campaign, and I say this as a Muslim myself.

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