THE MUSLIM COUNCIL OF BRITAIN and Amnesty International have strongly criticised the review of the UK’s counter-terrorism Prevent duty, published on 8 February. 

The Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) believes that the review will make Britain less safe and will make British Muslims feel particularly vulnerable as it attempts to play down the threat of far-right extremism.

Zara Mohammed, Secretary General of the MCB said: “Today, many British Muslims may well feel less protected as they are told that the Government should ignore the evidence and focus less on the threat from extreme right-wing extremism. This is a threat that thrives on Islamophobia, and a threat that has already seen violent attacks on Muslim communities.” 

Zara Mohammed added: “Muslim groups that are potentially named will have little recourse, no right of reply or adequate means of challenging baseless and/or inaccurate accusations, except for in a court of law. Any and all associated individuals, irrespective of the nature of their association to named organisations, will have their lives ruined, facing insurmountable challenges in every facet of their existence.” 

“What we see in the so-called independent review is a re-hashing of divisive talking points determined at stigmatising Muslims and Muslim civil society. The pre-determined outcomes of the review have been leaked to the media and by think tanks for the last few years.  Right-wing ideologues have created unfair McCarthyite blacklists of Muslim organisations and individuals who do not sign up to their reductive agenda. On the one hand they draw up an arbitrary set of values that they demand Muslims sign up to but are found wanting when compared by their own attitudes and actions to minorities.” 

Zara Mohammed called for a proper re-think of the Prevent strand, involving all those who are affected: “Terrorism and violent extremism affect us all. The Muslim Council of Britain recommends a process where the fight against terrorism is rooted in evidence, not ideology. A process that will support security professionals and has the trust and backing of civil society more widely, all of whom are united against the terrorism we all oppose.” 

Ilyas Nagdee, Amnesty International UK’s Racial Justice Director, said: “This review is riddled with biased thinking, errors, and plain anti-Muslim prejudice – frankly, the review has no legitimacy. William Shawcross’ history of bigoted comments on Muslims and Islam should have precluded his involvement in this ill-starred review in the first place.

“There’s mounting evidence that Prevent has specifically targeted Muslim communities and activists fighting for social justice and a host of crucial international issues – including topics like the climate crisis and the oppression of Palestinians.

“There is growing evidence that Prevent is having disastrous consequences for many people; eroding freedom of expression, clamping down on activism, creating a compliant generation and impacting on individual rights enshrined in law.

“A proper independent review of Prevent should have looked at the host of human rights violations that the programme has led to – but these have largely been passed over in silence.”

Last year, Amnesty joined a coalition of 17 human rights and hundreds of community groups in a boycott of the Shawcross-led review, citing serious concerns about bias and a pattern of behaviour which demonstrated the Government’s unwillingness to seriously interrogate the Prevent Duty.

Devised in 2003 by the UK Government, Amnesty says there is mounting evidence that Prevent disproportionately targets Muslims – specifically children and young people. The indicators of extremism used to refer thousands of young people to Prevent include if they display behaviours such as a sense of adventure, or if they change their appearance – these should not be considered indicators of extremism because they are the behaviours of an average teenager.

Data released last month shows that in the year leading to March 2022, only 13 per cent of Prevent referrals are taken forward as cases by the Government, resulting in thousands of young people put through daunting referrals impacting their mental health, trust in schools, hospitals and other important bodies. This trend of referrals has existed for years and has been attributed to Prevent having a wide scope for discretionary interpretation, which was criticised by multiple UN Special Rapporteurs including E. Tendayi Achiume, former Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of racism, racial discrimination, xenophobia and related intolerance, in her visit to the UK in 2019.

Numerous reports published by civil society groups, academics and UN Special Rapporteurs have highlighted the way in which Prevent has transformed nurseries, schools, universities, hospitals, and other key sites of social welfare into sites of discrimination, racism and exclusion.

Several child referrals to Prevent confirm the significant stereotypes relating to their racial and religious background. These cases which appear in the People’s Review of Prevent include:

  • ‘Joel’, a 16-year-old boy described by his mother as “quiet” and “not very interested in religion” was referred to Prevent for trying to take out books from the library, one of which included a book about terrorism. Joel’s mother said: “The school only reported the book that Joel tried to take out of the library, and I am shocked that the school would make a Prevent referral based on a book that they have on their own shelves.”
  • Four-year-old ‘Zak’ told a staff member at his after-school club that his father had “guns and bombs in his shed”, referring to the video game Fortnite. The staff member did not say anything to the mother when she collected him that evening. Instead, the school followed Prevent procedures and reported the incident to the police. The mother said: “It could have gone really wrong. I worry armed police could have come to my house and, you know, arrested the parents, with social services getting involved.”

Amnesty says the controversial appointment of William Shawcross, former Chair of the Charity Commission, as the reviewer of Prevent is especially problematic given his history of making prejudiced remarks about Islam, such as “Europe and Islam is one of the greatest, most terrifying problems of our future”. Shawcross was appointed in January 2021 after the Government was forced to drop Lord Carlisle due to his history of supporting Prevent.

Delayed for three years, the findings from the Shawcross review contradicts the People’s Review of Prevent which has accused Prevent of being ineffective, disproportionate, and discriminatory.

* The Independent Review of Prevent’s report and the UK Government’s response are available here.

* Read The People’s Review of Prevent here.

* Sources: Muslim Council of Britain and Amnesty International