. The Shawcross Prevent Review will lead to greater criminalisation of activism — We must stop it | Ceasefire Magazine

Comment | The Shawcross Prevent Review will lead to greater criminalisation of activism — We must stop it

As the official Shawcross review of Prevent gets under way, and a parallel People’s Review gathers steam to challenge it, it is crucial for us to understand the Government's intentions behind the Shawcross charade, argues Alim Islam.

New in Ceasefire - Posted on Tuesday, July 20, 2021 11:25 - 0 Comments

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Over the past month, Prevent Watch has noted that the Prevent programme in the UK and its global counterpart, CVE, are being used to quell Palestinian activism and, in some cases, criminalise it as “extremism”. This is a reminder of the political nature of Prevent and how it uses its own conceived language to suppress individuals and groups who support those who are being oppressed. This is being done under the banner of the ‘war on terror’, and the recent attacks on Al Aqsa Mosque and the clampdown on advocacy against the abuse of Palestinians is a distillation of these mechanics.

It is no secret that pro-Zionist, neoconservative “think-tanks” have been influential in formulating Prevent and CVE. It is also pertinent that William Shawcross has been chosen by the UK government to “review” its Prevent strategy. Shawcross — who once lambasted the UN for its criticism of Israel’s attack on the freedom flotilla, and who has expressed support for “enhanced interrogation” of Muslims at Guantanamo — has pointedly been instructed  to “investigate” links between “Islamist extremism” and “antisemitism”.

This calls into question the ethical integrity of the current review; it also illustrates that Shawcross is unsuitable for such an “investigation”; his record on such subjects is so biased that his would-be conclusions are already obvious. Shawcross’s ties to Zionist political groups, as well as to neo-conservative hawks in the British government, makes clear the implication of his selection by No. 10: To link “Islamist extremism” with “antisemitism”. It also gives us some idea of what the future Prevent might look like.

The fusion of loose and political terminologies means a wider funnel to contain activism

Antisemitism, very much like “extremism”, is also defined loosely. Its framework is set by the IRHA — a controversial organisation in itself — which claims that “antisemitism” includes the “targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity”. Though this is a highly disputed statement in a number of circles, it says a lot about the future political bent of Prevent, and the obvious bias of the current “review”.

There is now no longer a need to wonder what ideology is behind Prevent, or to hold our breath for how the next revamp of Prevent will view Palestinian activism — in particular that involving Muslims but others too, who will also fall into the net. These developments have been coming for some time. 

The 2014 Birmingham school hoax (known popularly as “the Trojan Horse affair”) was a watershed moment in embedding Prevent in schools by co-opting safeguarding policy — which is today being leveraged to silence activism for Palestine among young people. It is significant that then-education secretary, Michael Gove, commissioned the former counterterrorism unit head Peter Clarke to investigate the Birmingham school hoax.

Though obviously disingenuous, the report that was eventually published revealed much about the pro-Zionist political alignment of Prevent; for instance it pertinently used the Prevent definition of “extremism” to censure the orthodox Jewish group Neturei Karta, because it was “anti-Israel”. Since then, the cases we have dealt with at Prevent Watch strongly indicate an anti-Palestine bias running through Prevent referrals, which — when seen in light of instructions to Shawcross — hints at the shape of things to come.

In 2015, it was reported that a schoolboy was accused by a police officer of holding “terrorist-like” views simply based on their possession of a BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) leaflet. That same year, “Free Palestine” badges were deemed “extremist” while another teenager required “deradicalisation” for attending a peaceful protest against an Israeli diplomat. The following year, Prevent’s behaviour manipulation continued: a young schoolboy who was referred by his teachers for raising money to help Palestinian children was questioned by counteterror police for wearing a pro-Palestine badge.

Universities in particular have come under increasing pressure to manage and risk assess Palestine activism to adhere to their responsibility under Prevent in a manner that is out of balance with their legal imperative to ensure freedom of speech and opinion. For example, the Safe Campus Communities website cites in its list of “contentious” topics” the “vocal support for Palestine” and “opposition to Israeli settlements in Gaza.”

Prevent exerts pressure even when there is no referral; its language and guidelines justify sanctions against those who articulate support for Palestine, particularly young people. In one such recent incident, which was recorded and went viral, a teacher is heard telling a child that his opinion of what is happening in Palestine is why people like him go on to join terrorist groups.

Alternative platform of advocacy against Prevent gathers support

It is the Prevent training in particular which links Palestinian activism with a supposed “vulnerability to extremism”. The fact that this can happen retrospectively should concern anyone involved in political causes that challenge the government.

In one of the cases documented by Prevent Watch, social workers, acting on Prevent guidance, called into question the parental capability of a Muslim parent who took her child to a pro-Palestinian rally six years ago. She did not imagine that her child would be flagged and scrutinized under Prevent, and herself questioned for “undermining” the UK government.

The Prevent training is a particular weak point that needs investigation. The social worker in the above case claimed that she would have to “take the case forward” and “follow procedure” because they had undergone so-called “special training”. This was a reference to the Workshop to Raise Awareness about Prevent (WRAP) training, which public sector workers undergo as part of the Prevent duty.

Although most Prevent advocates batted away earlier cases as teething issues, the problem is still prevalent today. Recently, an individual who had attended the WRAP training called Prevent Watch for support. During her Prevent training, she told us, the trainer referred to Nelson Mandela as a “terrorist”. The Prevent trainer had also stated that children attending pro-Palestine rallies were “vulnerable to extremism”. Such training shows how the Prevent guidelines are not only inaccurate, but they are also outdated and driven by paranoia; and the fear they foster is bringing untold harm to many innocent people.

The alternative People’s Review of Prevent promises to explore all of this and more. While hundreds of organisations have boycotted the Shawcross “review”, it is now up to all those concerned with its trajectory to organise an alternative platform centred on justice. We’ll meet you there.

If you have any concerns about Prevent, or have experienced its harms yourself, or in your family and community, please join us and submit your evidence to us.

Alim Islam is head of research at Prevent Watch.

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