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Comment: Cruel Britannia: Suella and Shawcross rule the waves

27th Oct 2023

Dr Claudia Radiven

In February this year, the public received the long-awaited independent review of the Prevent policy conducted by William Shawcross (former head of the Charity Commission), which called for a stronger focus on “Islamist terror” and the risks it poses.

This was accompanied by a reinvigoration by Home Secretary Suella Braverman on the dangers of Pakistani grooming gangs and the risks they pose to vulnerable, young white girls.

The context of these narratives is against the backdrop of the controversial changes made through the Nationalities and Borders Bill, which made precarious the citizenship of every citizen in the UK with dual nationality or a parent born abroad, approximately 6 million people. And a further background on the ongoing discourse on British values and what Britishness means.

Prevent is one of the four arms of the UK Counter-Terrorism Strategy, known as CONTEST. It is a response to the ideological challenge we face from terrorism and claims to provide practical help to prevent individuals from being drawn into terrorism and ensure they are given appropriate support. These are the objectives of the latest review, which seeks to correct almost 20 years of Prevent failures.

The Shawcross review draws attention to how the threat of Muslimness is articulated, linked to British values, and how this is used to justify the re-strengthening of Prevent to the detriment of Muslims in the UK. This can be seen through the ongoing discourse of the “War on Terror” and the links to Britishness and citizenship. He defines terrorism as “the use or threat of action designed to influence the government or intimidate the public for the advancement of a political, religious, racial or ideological cause”. He emphasises the uniqueness of terrorism in terms of criminal behaviour, which is in line with the de-historicization and de-politicisation of the word that has become common to much of the speech in support of Prevent. Shawcross goes further to address the definition of Islamism, separating out any who call themselves such as following a ‘hard-line political ideology’ as opposed to Muslims, or what the UK government would define as ‘good Muslims’.

There are other particularly dangerous aspects of the review that impact the status of Muslims. The first of which is Shawcross’ emphasis on not punishing the far-right.

He goes to great lengths to demonstrate that not only is the far-right in receipt of too much criticism, but that some of these narratives are merely intolerant or distasteful but don’t fall under extremism.

Highlighting that much of it is quoted on social media by Conservative politicians, commentators or authors. But it’s not extremism. He goes on to state that the far-right is being overly punished in lieu of potential “Islamist extremists”.

He argues that the threshold for identifying far-right extremism is dreadfully low compared to their “Islamist” counterparts. Shawcross is determined to highlight the ideological difference of “Islamism” while making efforts to normalise the sentiments of the far-right as commentary.

He quotes Sara Khan, who feels more threatened lately from the left than from the far-right. Shawcross ascribes the rise of far-right referrals and the drop in “Islamism extremism” referrals in the last few years to a difference in the threshold.

He stated that the strategy did not have the legislative teeth necessary to disrupt the right radicalisers.

Following Shawcross’ review in April this year, Braverman treated us to a renewal of the ‘Asian grooming Gang’ narrative, where the conversation centred on the lack of British values or supposed incompatibility with Britishness. She was careful to emphasise that the majority of child sexual offences in the UK are at the hands of Pakistani men, despite studies proving this to be untrue.

She echoed the words of Sajid Javid, who put in considerable work during his tenure as Home Secretary to deport accused groomers as well as remove the citizenship of others accused of terrorism. We can observe in their rhetoric an emphasis on “British Values” and a condemnation of Islam beyond the private sphere, especially Islam as an ideology.

In September, Braverman referred to Jacob Rees-Mogg and Douglas Murray as expressing “mainstream, insightful, and perfectly decent political views” whilst condemning their categorisation as ‘Far-Right’. We can observe the unity between her dialogue and that which is articulated in the recent ‘Independent’ Review of Prevent.

Braverman and Shawcross remain unified in their determination to portray far-right values as acceptable, mainstream, and justified. While expressions of Muslimness can be treated with hostility and persecution by the state.

We can observe the continuous building of a discourse that identifies Muslims as different and dangerous unless they toe the line. And even if that line is toed their citizenship will never stand on equal footing with their white British counterparts.

Their lack of Britishness will always be a contention that can be used to justify their treatment and ultimately expulsion, whereas those on the far-right are merely expressing commonly held views.

These actions are justified by the state through the language of coloniality, based on preserving Britishness, British values and the British way of life.

I maintain that the “War on Terror” will continue to redesign itself and mutate to fit the aims of a government that has made it abundantly clear that Muslim citizenship is not a right but a privilege that can be snatched away without notice.

Dr Claudia Radiven,
Diamond Jubilee Lecturer in Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds

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