The release of the Shawcross review of PREVENT represents the manifestation of unashamed overt Islamophobia and a more aggressive pro-security approach. The Muslim community is the sacrificial lamb at the altar of muscular liberalism.
There is no pretence of being a collaborative or ‘safeguarding’-oriented programme. The far right is not a problem despite the appalling violence exhibited outside many asylum seekers hostels – theirs is a legitimate concern about the country being invaded by an army of foreigners in small boats.
It is in this context of demonising the Muslim community that the statement issued by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) on the 7th of February seems muted and even tantamount to turning the other cheek. It is laudable to show restraint but the constant pleas for ‘good faith engagement’ have been given short shrift by government intent on stoking up culture wars.
After 17 years, 2 reviews and an ever-deepening authoritarian creep, calls for anything less than the abolition of PREVENT are redundant, and MCB demands for further reviews or ‘evidence-based’ assessments are exercises in futility which only grant the programme further – and undeserved – leases of life. Some would argue the appeals for a softer version inevitably legitimises the premise i.e., the suspect community upon which the entire programme is constructed.
There were few who even pretended that the review was ever intended to be independent or impartial. The decision to replace one hawk Lord Carlile with someone even more hawkish such as Shawcross gave the game away from the outset.
It is ironic that many of the groups who had supported PREVENT ended up facing the ire of Shawcross together with critics who now need to be blacklisted and marginalised particularly if they draw their inspiration from Islamic values and principles of due process and justice.
The MCB must know that any review which is not independent will inevitably serve the government’s agenda and calls for a purely ‘evidence-based’, ‘non-ideological’ approach is posturing rather than a realistic expectation. One only has to analyse how the policy has been implemented and used by governments over the last 20 years to appreciate the enormous damage done to the Muslim community. It is an effective weapon to create the external threat and unite the base. The dog whistling in relation to a manufactured common enemy always produces results.
The MCB was right to point out that the review stigmatises the Muslim community, however, their references to the growing far-right threat obscure the fact that programmes like PREVENT have contributed to a climate in which the far-right have flourished and become emboldened.
The MCB’s call for a process that engages ‘all key stakeholders’ ignores the fact that any such engagement, were it to occur, would not be on equal footing – as there is no political appetite nor incentive for that from the government. While the state would not concede it, any concessions secured from PREVENT – including this review itself – have only been the outcome of principled, oppositional campaigns exposing PREVENT and its many abuses, rather than appeals to the government’s good nature. The MCB would do well to take heed of these lessons and how it informs their stance vis-a-vis the government going forward.
In this context, the MCB’s call for a counter-terror approach with the ‘trust and backing of civil society’ offers no meaningful critique of the foundations of PREVENT – including its highly problematic ‘pre-crime’ approach. This route funnels the community into an endless cycle of insincere tweaks, reviews, and reforms once the evidence of its abuses become too clear to ignore yet again. We strongly reject any attempt to reopen the door for such maltreatment to persist under a new guise.
Yet still, it is conceivable that a future government may call upon the MCB or others to ‘repair’ community relations and secure community buy-in with the programme. At that point, the MCB will have to decide whether to uplift the principled, oppositional stance against PREVENT that is so deeply felt by the community it represents – or whether to leverage the trust vested in it to become subordinate partners in the oppression of its own community.
CAGE has proposed an eight point plan to build a healthy and safe society without PREVENT. The MCB are advised to support and reflect over such proposals that don’t amplify securitisation, but focus on the genuine safety and flourishing of all communities within Britain.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)