Leaked Prevent review attacks ‘double standards’ on the far right and Islamists | Prevent strategy

The government’s counterterrorism program has focused too much on right-wing extremism and must now crack down on Islamist extremism, according to leaked draft excerpts from a landmark review of the Prevent strategy.

In a particularly provocative recommendation, seen by the Guardian, the review claims that there has been a “double standard” approach to tackling various forms of extremism, with individuals being targeted for expressing mainstream right-wing views because the definition of neo-Nazism has expanded too widely, while the focus on Islamist extremism has been too narrow.

The leaks, coming from the government’s Prevent review commissioned by Sir William Shawcross, are likely to be highly controversial. They come days after a mass shooting in Buffalo, New York, where a self-proclaimed white supremacist shot 11 black and two white victims in what authorities describe as a “racially motivated hate crime.”

Sir Peter Fahy, the former Police chief of Prevent, said the excerpts from the review suggested Shawcross’s findings were an unwarranted attempt to “politicize the counter-terrorism police” and that it was “pretty dangerous to pit one ideology against another.” to play out”.

The concept of the Shawcross review also claims that:

  • a renewed focus on Islamist extremism is needed, even when individuals do not yet reach the terrorism threshold.

  • individuals have been referred to Prevent, the government’s anti-extremism program, to access mental health care even when there is no evidence of extremism.

  • some Prevent-funded groups have promoted extremist narratives, including support for the Taliban.

The long-delayed review by Shawcross, which was delivered to the Department of the Interior in late April, has already drawn criticism from community groups, with dozens of whom have declined to participate.

Shawcross, a former chief of the charity watchdog, has made controversial comments about Islam. In 2012, as director of the neoconservative think tank the Henry Jackson Society, he said: “Europe and Islam is one of the biggest, most terrifying problems of our future. I think all European countries have a huge, very fast growing Muslim population.”

The number of references to Prevent relating to extreme right-wing extremism surpassed the number of references to Islamist radicalization for the first time last year. References for far-right threats from the Prevent program to Channel, which offers more intensive intervention, have been faster than Islamist radicalization since 2020.

In Shawcross’ draft review of the Prevent program, he argues that its goal needs to be refocused, saying that the first goal, tackling the root causes of radicalization and responding to the ideological challenge of terrorism, is “not being sufficiently achieved.”

It says the program should re-engage with individuals who are not yet a terrorist threat, but who can “create a climate conducive to terrorism”.

An excerpt states that Prevent has a “double standard when it comes to the far right and Islamism”. It says the program has taken a broad view of right-wing terror, which has been “so broad as to contain mildly controversial or provocative forms of mainstream, right-wing commentary that have no meaningful connection with terrorism or radicalization”.

However, it says Islamist extremism needs to be tackled more harshly, and that the program has focused on banned organizations, “ignoring Islamic narratives”.

The draft review is also critical of Prevent-funded civil society and community projects, suggesting that funding is misallocated to “general” projects and that few “could publicly challenge the extremist discourse.”

It found that some Prevent-funded programs “promoted extremist narratives, including statements that appear to support the Taliban.” The draft reads: “As a core principle, the government must stop engaging in or financing those affiliated with extremism.”

Another excerpt says Prevent is “carrying the weight” for overburdened mental health services and that vulnerable people have been referred to access other forms of support even if they don’t pose a terror threat.

It is clear that the report has been finalized by Shawcross and his team. It still needs to be fact-checked before being subjected to legal checks in case any individual or group can claim they have been defamed, potentially exposing the Department of the Interior, which chose Shawcross for the role despite extensive doubts. to pay legal damages.

Fahy, a former chief of police for Greater Manchester and head of Prevent until 2015, told the Guardian: “There is a danger of policing rather than the risk of violence. It is not about ideology but about the risk that someone will resort to violence.

“It’s about threat, risk and damage. We know that there is an increase in far right extremism in the UK. The worst terrorist attack in Europe was by a right-wing terrorist, Anders Breivik.

“I think it’s quite dangerous to play one ideology against another. There is a danger that this is an attempt to politicize the police in the field of counter-terrorism. How should the police judge what is mainstream? The police assume the likelihood that this person is attracted to violence, not whether their views are mainstream.”

The draft extracts may also raise eyebrows among the intelligence services. Ken McCallum, the director general of the domestic spy agency, recently warned that far-right terrorism was responsible for one in five of all counterterrorism investigations, a threat that had “grown and changed quite a bit over the past five to ten years.”

One particular problem, he said, was the “high prevalence” of teens in right-wing terrorism investigations, which he suggested were being dragged into a “toxic ideology” of “online extremists and echo chambers.”

The Interior Ministry has banned a number of far-right groups in recent years, including the neo-Nazi group Sonnenkrieg Division, whose members have been jailed for serious crimes. It also recognized the far-right group System Resistance Network as an alias of the already banned National Action organization.

Prevent came under renewed scrutiny after the murder of Conservative MP David Amess, who was stabbed to death during an operation in his constituency by Ali Harbi Ali, who said he was motivated by Islamist extremism. His murder last year was followed by another Islamist attack on the women’s hospital in Liverpool.

A spokesman for the Interior Ministry said: “Prevent remains an essential tool for early intervention and protection. We will not allow extremists or terrorists to spread hatred or divide, and Prevent continues to be a key driver for turning people away from evil.

“Prevent’s independent review, led by William Shawcross, will ensure we continue to improve our response and better protect people from poisoned and dangerous ideologies. The report is currently being finalized and once formally received and after full consideration, the report and the government’s response to it will be published.”

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