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Derisory and contemptible appointment aimed to scupper Prevent review

26th Feb 2021
Derisory and contemptible appointment aimed to scupper Prevent review

It is one thing for a government to be reluctant in ordering a review of a failing and counterproductive policy, it is entirely another when it contemptuously predetermined the outcome of the said review. A defeat in the House of Lords forced a supposedly independent review of the much contentious counter radicalisation ‘Prevent’ programme, two years on, it has yet to start.

The Government’s initial attempt to appoint its former reviewer of terrorism legislation Lord Carlile to head the Prevent inquiry was blocked after a successful legal challenge by human rights charity Rights Watch (UK). The crossbench Peer was forced to step down in December 2019 after it was argued that his open and strong support for the controversial programme would undermine the credibility of the review.

Fast-forward 13 plus months and the Government appears have fared even worse in its choice. Forgone is any semblance of seeking legal expertise by way of writer and provocative commentator William Shawcross. Being an Etonian and a Bexiteer in line with Johnson’s tenure are seemingly his primary credentials. Suffice to say, the former head of the Charity Commission has made several disparaging comments about Islam. “Europe and Islam is one of the greatest, most terrifying problems of our future,” is but one, when he was Director of the neoconservative think-tank the Henry Jackson Society.

Condemnation of his appointment came thick and fast, the MCB describing it as a “Trumpian” move that glaringly reinstates the Government’s disinterest “in truly reviewing the policy.” Tory peer Baroness Warsi said it was not only “inappropriate” but would “further toxify a policy, which is at best a broken brand, at worst has a dubious record of implementation.” Others pointed to his tenure at the Charity Commission when it was accused of institutional bias against Muslims not to mention comments he made in his book Justice and the Enemy, which appear to support the use of torture and the detention camp at Guantánamo Bay.

A coalition of human rights groups vowed to boycott the review. In a joint statement issued on February 16, Liberty, Amnesty International, MEND and the Runnymede Trust and 13 other groups said the appointment shows the review is there to “simply rubber-stamp” the controversial strategy.

“The appointments of both Shawcross and Lord Carlile have made clear, beyond doubt, that the UK government has no interest in conducting an objective and impartial review of the strategy, nor in engaging meaningfully with communities affected by it… We, the undersigned groups, cannot be complicit in a process that serves only to rubber-stamp a fundamentally flawed strategy,” they said.

The way he was appointed created further controversy, with the Daily Telegraph reporting that Shawcross was the favoured candidate even before candidates were interviewed. Nazir Afzal, the former chief crown prosecutor in the north-west has claimed he threatened to withdraw his application after reaching the final-stages saying on Twitter he was “just in a race to give [the] public impression that it was an open selection.”

Under the terms of the 2019 Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act, the review of one of the major planks of the misguided Contest counter-terrorism strategy ought to have long been completed by now. Yet anyone still in any doubt that Prevent needs drastic reform if not scrapping altogether, need only look at the recent case of an infant whose innocent conversation about a video game was raised by an after school club worker. The child was merely talking about the popular Fortnite video game that involves characters collecting guns and bombs. Concern was not only about the child’s tender age but the discriminatory fact that he is Muslim.

It is blatant the current Tory Government has little intent in conducting an independent review of the utterly discredited Prevent programme. Reducing the policy review to nothing more than a whitewash PR exercise is nonsensical and offensive. Without the support of the Muslim community, the biggest victim of the strategy, it seems pointless to proceed unless there are any second or third thoughts that it may actually be in the best interests to conduct a fair and just inquiry into why the policy has been so damaging on community relations.

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