What’s Wrong with the Shawcross Review?
Categories: Latest News
Wednesday February 08 2023
MEND has serious concerns regarding William Shawcross’ review of Prevent and its findings, which has been recently published. Despite initially backing the notion of an Independent Review of Prevent and seeing it as a means of achieving meaningful democratic reform, alarms arose with the selection of Lord Carlile as the reviewer, who was dismissed following a judicial review initiated by Rights and Security International (RSI). The subsequent appointment of William Shawcross, an individual with a history of Islamophobic credentials, to lead such an inquiry into the Prevent strategy, which has for over a decade securitised British Muslims, cast doubt on whether the government was genuinely committed to an objective and impartial review in the first place.
Shawcross’ notorious reputation for Islamophobia was prominent during his tenure as a former director and trustee of the neoconservative and Islamophobic think-tank, the Henry Jackson Society (HJS). In 2012, whilst director of HJS, Shawcross asserted: “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”. Furthermore, in his 2012 book ‘Justice and the Enemy’, Shawcross endorsed the inhumane torture of Muslim Guantanamo Bay detainees, including the heavily condemned waterboarding technique, while having full knowledge that the vast majority of inmates have never been charged, let alone convicted, of any terrorism-related offence. Meanwhile, his leadership of the Charity Commission came to be tainted as it lost several legal battles after Shawcross was widely seen as presiding over a campaign of anti-Muslim attacks on Muslim charities and grassroots organisations.
In addition to the above, the narrow terms of reference, namely, the lack of scope for consideration of repealing the strategy, and the limited call for evidence, Muslim and civil society organisations had zero confidence in the legitimacy of a review being led by Shawcross. As a result, 17 organisations, including MEND, Amnesty International, Liberty, and the Runnymede Trust, boycotted the review and stated that they “cannot be complicit in a process that serves only to rubber-stamp a fundamentally flawed strategy”.
Furthermore, as the review progressed, repeated leaks to right-wing newspapers detailed Shawcross’ McCarthyite approach to Muslim organisations. On top of unfounded attacks against Muslim organisations, government funding for organisations that have been critical of Prevent or government policies would now likely come with an increasing caveat of strings attached, which would inevitably operate as barriers to other forms of funding. Undeniably, such a move would demonstrate a shift towards having repercussions for and the eventual criminalising of dissenting voices and opinions.
On the other hand, Shawcross’ calls to re-shift the main focus of Prevent on so-called ‘Islamist’ extremism over the increasingly growing threat of far-right extremism, which accounted for 1,309 cases of referrals, the highest number of referrals of any ‘extremism’ for consecutive years was evident early on during initial leaks of the review. Additionally, the leaks revealed suspected tampering from the Home Office, amplifying existing concerns about the integrity and credibility of the report. Concerning the involvement of the Home Office, RSI challenged the Home Office over the report’s independence. The organisation has raised concerns that the Home Office may have potentially “interfered significantly” after it became apparent that the former Home Secretary Priti Patel requested a draft copy in April 2022. Sarah St Vincent, the organisation’s executive director, mentioned, “Parliament, by law, required an independent review of Prevent. If the government has shaped the content, then the review is not independent, and the public and Parliament should not be told that it is”.
As such, MEND, along with several organisations, in good conscience, withdrew its engagement from this review which was void of objectivity and impartiality from the very start to its end. For these reasons and in light of the above, MEND rejects the Shawcross review in its entirety and calls on other Muslim and Civil society organisations to follow suit.