Much has been speculated regarding Britain’s Muslim community over the years, from the alleged rise of extremism to the overall state of the community within the wider British society. But despite Muslims in the UK being seen as the most vibrant and active amongst their religious kin throughout Europe, over the past decade they have been the target of the government’s failed counter-terror Prevent programme.
After years of blunders, intracommunity espionage, and surveillance on largely Muslim targets, the many calls to either scrap the programme or reform it finally led to a review. Any hope of objective justice, however, collapsed when the British government appointed the UK’s former Chairman of the Charity Commission William Shawcross to lead that review, resulting in condemnation by numerous NGOs over the past year.
Shawcross, who was also previously a board member of the anti-Muslim Henry Jackson Society (HJS), is known for his past remarks on Islam in British society and Europe as a whole. Back in 2012, he stated that “Europe and Islam is one of the greatest, most terrifying problems of our future. I think all European countries have vastly, very quickly growing Islamic populations.”
During his tenure as the Charity Commission’s chairman, he also initiated a significant increase in investigations into Muslim charities, which made up 38 per cent of all investigations carried out in his first year in the position.
Furthermore, he has been known to support the ongoing detention of international terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay, while defending the use of torture and claiming that it is a “natural response” to risks of terrorism.
Last month, a boycott against the review of Prevent led by Shawcross was announced, in which over 550 British Muslim organisations and figures are signatories of. “We boycott the review because,” the signatories stated, it “will only deal with strengthening the existing policy, which is wholly unacceptable.”
The boycott condemned the Prevent programme as it “disproportionately targets the civil liberties of British Muslims and demonises the Islamic faith. Prevent is counter-productive and leaves both liberty and security damaged and diminished for all British citizens and residents, not just those of the Muslim faith.”
Shawcross, the boycott stated, “has a track record of hostility to Islam and Muslims. No serious, objective, critical review can be undertaken by someone with such a track record – rather we should expect him to promote the hardening of policies towards Muslims. So, if Muslim organisations engage with this review, it strengthens its legitimacy and its power to recommend policies more harmful to the community.”
One organisation that has refrained from joining the boycott of Shawcross’ review, however, was the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), which has disappointed many in the British Muslim community who view the MCB as once again letting down those they are meant to represent.
In a statement last month, it said that it refrained from joining the list due to it currently “finalising a considered community approach to counter-terrorism and Prevent” that is “based on evidence.” The MCB also clarified that its refusal to join “is not an endorsement of Mr Shawcross or his views, nor is it an endorsement of Prevent and the well-documented damage it has inflicted on Muslim communities.”
Despite that, it did not stop claims by some that the organisation is attempting to appease the government and its objectives, particularly amid the ongoing fallout between the MBC and Whitehall that began in 2009 when the latter cut its ties with the former over its criticism of Israel’s assault on Gaza.
Whether those assumptions are true or not, the MCB’s reluctance has given the image that the British Muslim community is a broken and disunited front which cannot even stand up for the spying and targeting of its children.
Such a thing would never be seen in organisations representing the Zionist pro-Israel lobby within Britain, even over issues much more trivial. The relentless campaign over the past few years against the Labour Party and its former leader Jeremy Corbyn clearly showed this, with groups such as the Board of Deputies of British Jews and the Jewish Leadership Council driving that campaign.
Those fully-fledged and merciless efforts to rein in any criticism of Israel or general targeting of Jews over the years – whether truly anti-Semitic or not – have presented a strong and united front of Britain’s Jewish community, even if they do not fully represent British Jews as a whole.
Furthermore, the organisations who led the charges support and are affiliated with Tel Aviv, giving them the support of a state which is known to make it its mission to protect Jewish communities worldwide by any means. Grassroots Muslim organisations do not have such power of a state to back them up and are usually struggling to even keep afloat and not be disbanded through accusations of affiliation with terror groups.
Ironically, Shawcross himself has extensive ties with the State of Israel, being a founding member of the Friends of Israel Initiative and having exclusively interviewed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu back in 2018. He was also part of the group that helped bail out the London-based Jewish Chronicle newspaper last year, saving it from liquidation following a leadership dispute and the impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
The British Muslim community and its civil society organisations remain disunited and largely fragile in the face of government pressure, with neither the common goal to counter attacks against them nor the abundant funding by states or financiers. While some lobbies can take down the leaders of entire political parties and rebrand the very definition of terms, Britain’s Muslims – and other concerned communities – seem to be helpless against the reviewer of a programme that directly impacts them.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.