Prevent’s ‘political correctness’ creating UK terror ‘blindspot’

Shamima Begum comments on the ‘fight against terrorism’

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Britain’s deradicalisation programme has been dubbed as “politically correct” by the Home Secretary and as a result right-wing extremism has been prioritised over combating Islamist terrorism. This comes in the wake of a review which found that the Home Office’s Prevent scheme operated a “double standard” in which it talked down religious fundamentalism and overplayed right-wing threats.

William Shawcross, the independent reviewer of Prevent, said the anti-terror scheme did not do enough to suppress “non-violent Islamic extremism” and had opened up its definition of right-wing radicalism to include mainstream political voices.

Mr Shawcross, who was appointed the Special Representative of UK victims of Qadhafi-sponsored IRA terrorism in 2019, said that terror attacks had “too often” been committed by Islamic fundamentalists that had previously been referred to Prevent, because officials working in the scheme “failed to understand the danger” and had not confronted “effectively with the lethal risks we actually face”.

Suella Braverman accused Prevent officials of showing “cultural timidity and an institutional hesitancy to tackle Islamism, for fear of the charge of Islamophobia”. The MP for Fareham has announced “major reform” of the programme in the wake of Mr Shawcross’ findings.

Ms Braverman announced that the Home Office would accept every single one of the 34 recommendations set out in the independent review, telling MPs that Prevent was to refocus on its “core mission” which is protecting the public. “Prevent’s focus must solely be on security, not political correctness,” the 42-year-old said.

“Prevent is a security service, not a social service. Too often, the role of ideology in terrorism is minimised with violence attributed instead to vulnerabilities such as mental health or poverty.”

Concerns about Islamophobia amongst security personnel is not exclusive to members of staff on the Prevent programme, however. Prior to the 2017 Manchester Arena bombing, security guard Kyle Lawler said he feared he’d be branded a racist if he approached Salman Abedi, the man who later that evening detonated a lethal bomb at the Ariana Grande concert.

The inquiry into the Manchester Arena attack found that Mr Lawler tried to use his radio to alert the control room, after concerns about Abedi were raised. However, when he failed to get through he left the foyer of the arena “unconcerned.” Mr Lawler said he had a “bad feeling” about Abedi, but didn’t engage him in case it appeared racially motivated.

Following the report, MI5 and counter-terrorism police are to get bigger roles in the Prevent programme via joint committees and shared intelligence as well as the introduction of a “security threat check” which will be employed to underpin Prevent decision-making.

Mr Shawcross warned that if Prevent continues on its current path, “potentially fatal blind sports will emerge and grow. Prevent has a double standard when dealing with the extreme Right-wing and Islamism.”

“Prevent takes an expansive approach to the extreme Right-wing, capturing a variety of influences that, at times, has been so broad it has included mildly controversial or provocative forms of mainstream, Right-wing leaning commentary that have no meaningful connection to terrorism or radicalisation.

“With Islamism, Prevent tends to take a much narrower approach centred around proscribed organisations, ignoring the contribution of non-violent Islamist narratives and networks to terrorism.”

A prominent Tory politician and former member of the Government was listed by Prevent as being “associated with far-Right sympathetic audiences and Brexit”.

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The 76-year-old said that Prevent was “out of kilter” with the rest of UK counter-terrorism where only 10 per cent of live investigations are concerned with Right-wing radicalism, whereas 80 per cent are focused on Islamism.

In the report’s summary, Mr Shawcross writes: “Prevent must address all extremist ideologies proportionately according to the threat each represents. However, my research shows that the present boundaries around what is termed by Prevent as extremist Islamist ideology are drawn too narrowly while the boundaries around the ideology of the Extreme Right-Wing are too broad.

He makes clear the distinction between Islamism as a threatening politico-religious ideology, and Islam as a faith.

“Islamism as an ideology is not the same as Islam as a faith. In many parts of the world, Muslims are the principal victims of Islamist extremism – in both its non-violent and violent manifestations.Millions have been killed or had their lives ruined by the attacks of terrorist groups like al-Qa’ida, Islamic State, Boko Haram, and others.

“It is not anti-Muslim to try to prevent the spread of that brutal ideology in Britain or to stop our country’s Muslim children being lured online into the hell of Islamist wars in Syria and elsewhere.”

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