On February 8, 2023, the long-awaited independent review of the British government’s Prevent counter-extremism program was published, triggering rebukes from several controversial Muslim advocacy groups mentioned in the document, including the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB) and CAGE. According to the document’s foreword:
Prevent must return to its core mission – countering all those ideologies that can lead people to committing or supporting acts of terrorism. This can only be done if Prevent properly understands the nature of these ideologies and how they attract and suborn individuals. It is correct for Prevent to be increasingly concerned about the growing threat from the Extreme Right. But the facts clearly demonstrate that the most lethal threat in the last 20 years has come from Islamism, and this threat continues. […] 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. This does not allow Prevent to reflect accurately, and deal effectively with, the lethal risks we actually face.
Read the review here.
Prevent is part of the broader counter-terrorism strategy called Contest. It is funded by the UK Home Office and designed to address all forms of terrorism equally, prioritizing them according to the threat they pose to British national security. The British Counter-Terrorism and Security Act of 2015 created a positive duty for those working in education or health to report those they deem at risk of radicalization. In 2021, nearly 5,000 individuals were referred to and supported through the program.
The 192-page review, commissioned in 2019 by the then Home Secretary Priti Patel and whose publication date was delayed several times, was authored by William Shawcross, a former Chairman of the British Charity Commission. At the time, British Muslim advocacy groups called to boycott the review over what they felt were Islamophobic comments made by Shawcross years earlier. In the review, Shawcross accused the program of being too soft on extremists, saying:
Whilst safeguarding rightly sits as an element of Prevent work, the programme’s core focus must shift to protecting the public from those inclined to pose a security threat.
He added that Prevent too often bestowed victimhood status on all who come into contact with it. According to Shawcross, Prevent, and the government in general, continue to make mistakes in engagement with external partners, particularly Islamist campaign groups. He listed several such groups, including Muslim Engagement and Development (MEND), CAGE, and the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), all tied to the Global Muslim Brotherhood (GMB) in the UK. Shawcross also urged confronting UK extremists supportive of terrorist movements which target Jewish communities, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, and addressing the anti-Jewish component of Islamist and Extreme Right-Wing ideology and groups.
UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman accepted all of the report’s 34 recommendations, announcing that the government’s strategy will shift its emphasis to combating the kinds of radicalization that lead to terrorism more specifically. Braverman also announced that the government sought to strengthen oversight of the civil society organizations it funds to ensure they challenge extremist and terrorist ideology effectively and that the government doesn’t work, engage with, or fund extremists.
On the day of the review’s publication, the MCB published a statement warning of the document’s potential fallout and alleging it will “make Britain less safe and will make British Muslims feel particularly vulnerable.“ CAGE published a statement saying the review posed a renewed hardline approach to bolster an infrastructure of authoritarian laws, adding that it highlighted the Prevent policy’s “inherently flawed and bigoted nature.” Other groups have also criticized the review, with Amnesty International UK saying it was deeply prejudiced against Muslims and had “no legitimacy.” Rights and Security International, a UK human rights NGO whose board members include MCB spokesperson Miqdaad Versi, said the report was based on “shoddy research.”
Countering government action against Islamist radicalization and counter-terrorism policies has long been an essential pillar of GMB activity in the UK and Europe. In August 2022, the Global Influence Operations Report (GIOR) reported that a study by three British extremism experts had highlighted the role that British GMB groups have played in delegitimizing the Prevent Strategy. The experts said that, since Prevent’s introduction, several inter-related, well-organized, and media-savvy campaigns had sought to undermine Prevent and counter-extremism efforts more broadly, effectively seeking to eliminate the role of Islamist ideology in terrorism from official analysis and policy.