‘An attack on civil society’ - charities react to Shawcross’ Prevent review

10 Feb 2023 News

William Shawcross

Several charities have criticised William Shawcross’ review into the government’s anti-terrorism scheme Prevent, after the former Charity Commission chair published his findings.

Shawcross’s review, published this week, claims some organisations have promoted extremist narratives, and that a few registered charities in the UK are listed as terrorist groups by key international allies.

The Home Office welcomed the report and pledged to work with charities to help prevent radicalisation.

But some charities criticised the final report, including those who had boycotted the review due to accusations that Shawcross had disproportionately focused on Muslim organisations during his time as Commission chair.

Amnesty International UK said the review lacked “legitimacy” and that it was “riddled with biased thinking”.

Meanwhile, the Islamic Human Rights Commission dubbed the review “an attack” on “civil society as a whole” and race equality charity the Runnymede Trust said Prevent embeds anti-Muslim discrimination into public services.

‘Some civil society organisations have promoted extremist narratives’

Shawcross’s review of Prevent made 34 recommendations, which were all accepted by the government.

It said the Home Office should stop funding charities that allow extremism and that funding given to civil society organisations (CSOs) was too often spent on “generic projects” rather than to contest extremist discourse.

“Funding too often goes towards generic projects dealing with community cohesion and hate crime, and few CSOs could be seen publicly to contest extremist discourse,” the review reads.

“Of particular concern, I discovered that some CSOs have promoted extremist narratives, including statements that appear sympathetic to the Taliban. As a core principle, the government must cease to engage with or fund those aligned with extremism.”

The Home Office response to the report states it will increase its work with the third sector to build awareness of the signs of radicalisation and how to get support. 

“We will develop training products and communication materials for charities, communities, and those that work with communities, to increase their understanding of Prevent,” it said.

‘Missed opportunity’

The Runnymede Trust said it “regrets that the government sees fit to accept the findings” of the report, which it said had multiple “flaws”, and that it was concerned to observe the focus on British Muslims.

“There is already strong evidence to show that Prevent imposes structural Islamophobia and embeds anti-Muslim discrimination into our public services, disproportionately affecting children and young people,” it said.

It said that the review had become “highly politicised” and noted that as a result of the appointment of Shawcross, organisations including Amnesty International, Liberty and itself had not taken part.

“The government’s refusal to respond to those serious questions of impartiality, which were raised from the outset, leaves serious doubts about the integrity and rigour of what could have been a credible, significant and genuinely impartial status report on an element of the UK counter terrorism strategy. We regret this missed opportunity,” the charity stated.

‘Attack on civil society as a whole’

Islamic Human Rights Commission also issued a statement, which reiterated its call for the anti-terrorism programme to be scrapped in its entirety.

“The review which was boycotted by hundreds of civil society groups across the board simply doubles down on problematising Islam and seeking to draw legitimate expressions of faith and faith-based views into the definition of terrorism.

“The review’s call to reach further into so-called 'non-violent Islamist extremism' is nothing short of a call to criminalise mainstream Islam, especially where it informs political opinion that is hostile to establishment interests.”

It added: “But the review should also be seen as an attack not just on Muslim civil society but civil society as a whole, restricting and constraining political debate and dissent further whilst maligning legitimate political critique using populist discourse.”

‘Riddled with biased thinking’

Meanwhile, Ilyas Nagdee, Amnesty International UK’s racial justice director, said the review “is riddled with biased thinking, errors, and plain anti-Muslim prejudice - frankly, the review has no legitimacy”.

Nagdee added: “William Shawcross’ history of bigoted comments on Muslims and Islam should have precluded his involvement in this ill-starred review in the first place.”

He said there was mounting evidence that Prevent has specifically targeted Muslim communities and “is having disastrous consequences for many people”.

“A proper independent review of Prevent should have looked at the host of human rights violations that the programme has led to,” Nagdee said.

Regulator considering findings

A Charity Commission spokeswoman said the regulator was “considering the findings and recommendations” of the review.

“Our position is clear regarding the corrosive impact on trust and confidence in the sector that abuse of charities for terrorist or extremist purposes of any kind can have,” she said.

“Given this, we continue to prioritise and respond to such allegations, working collaboratively with our partners and maintaining resources for trustees and their charities to help them protect against such abuse.”

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