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UK appoints Friends of Israel Initiative founder to lead review of anti-radicalisation programme

January 27, 2021 at 2:48 pm

William Shawcross in London, UK on 10 March 2011 [Dominic Lipinski – WPA Pool/Getty Images]

The UK government has sparked controversy with its decision to appoint one of the founding members of the Friends of Israel Initiative, William Shawcross, to lead a review of the controversial anti-radicalisation programme known as Prevent.

Former head of the Charity Commission, Shawcross, was appointed yesterday as the new “Independent Reviewer of Prevent” after ongoing delays. Civil liberties and human rights organisations such as Amnesty International have been calling for an independent review of the anti-radicalisation programme for some time, saying it discriminates against Muslims and supresses free-speech.

The appointment has drawn strong criticism including allegations that the appointment was “rigged”. The Charity Commission under his tenure was accused of institutional bias apparently due to an unjustified assumption of extremism. As many as 38 per cent of all disclosed statutory investigations targeted Muslim groups even though they only make up five per cent of the population.

In 2012, as a director of the neoconservative, anti-Palestinian thinktank, the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), Shawcross said: “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.” Associate Director of HJS, Douglas Murray, once infamously said that “conditions for Muslims in Europe must be made harder across the board”.

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A spokesperson for the Muslim Council of Britain said Shawcross’ appointment was a “Trumpian” move. “Once again, the government is making it clear it has no interest in truly reviewing the policy. William Shawcross is singularly unfit to be a neutral and fair assessor of this government policy, which has been criticised for unfairly targeting British Muslims, given his frightening views about Islam and Muslims,” it said.

“It is ironic that a policy supposedly charged with preventing extremism is to be scrutinised by a person who holds hostile views on Islam and Muslims, who has links to people with extreme views on us, and who defends the worst excesses of the so-called ‘war on terror’.”

Dal Babu, a former senior Muslim officer in the Met police, condemned the appointment. Babu, who described Prevent as a toxic brand in 2015, said: “Shawcross is a man who has demonstrated lack of independence in matters involving the Muslim community and sadly this is a missed opportunity to develop an effective [programme] that safeguards our children.”

Shawcross was picked over Nazir Afzal, the former chief crown prosecutor in the north-west who is from a Muslim background. Afzal claims that he had been turned down because Home Secretary Priti Patel had already made up her mind about appointing Shawcross.

“I was strung along to give an impression of open selection,” said Afzal commenting on the way government officials “literally pleaded” with him to attend a final interview following his decision to withdraw from the process when in November news was leaked that Shawcross was viewed as the “frontrunner” most qualified for the role weeks before the final interview.

“The fact that it was leaked that Shawcross was the Government’s favourite even before I was interviewed by ministers suggests that the Government had already made up its mind about its preferred candidate from the outset, and was simply going through the motions to avoid scrutiny about the appointment,” Afzal told Byline Times.

Last year, Shawcross was named in the Guardian as a member of a consortium headed by Sir Robbie Gibb and include a number of pro-Israel figures within the British media and political establishment that bailed out the right-wing anti-Palestinian newspaper Jewish Chronicle from the brink of bankruptcy.