UK anti-terror report calls for ban on funding groups that undermine Prevent scheme

Counterterrorism body insists Muslim Council of Britain and Cage should not receive funding

epa06369453 (FILE) - British police on dutyl during a vigil for the victims of the London Bridge terror attacks by the City Hall in London, Britain, 05 June 2017, (reissued 05 December 2017). Media reports on 05 December 2017 state that the report by David Anderson QC, a former terrorism law reviewer asked by the British Home Secretary to audit internal MI5 and police reviews, is published on 05 December 2017. The terror attacks in 2017 - at Manchester Arena, London Bridge, Finsbury Park and Westminster - has placed the spotlight on the British security services. The British internal security service MI5 and police launched internal reviews following the atrocities between March and June 2017 and the findings of the reviews looking at intelligence handling by the organisations are to be seen in the review published by the  Home Secretary.  EPA/FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA *** Local Caption *** 53568746
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Counterterrorism experts have called on the UK government to ban funding of the Muslim Council of Britain, Cage and other groups which do not support its anti-extremism Prevent strategy.

Former prime minister David Cameron said organisations critical of the UK's counterterrorism work were "enabling terrorism" and described Prevent as a "vital tool".

A report published on Tuesday by the Policy Exchange is calling for the Home Office to set up and run a Centre for the Study of Extremism, a communications unit to combat disinformation. It would work in tandem with a due diligence team to ensure government departments are not supporting or funding groups "that disseminate false narratives and conspiracy theories about Prevent, who campaign against counterterrorism or counterextremism efforts".

It names the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), Muslim Engagement and Development (Mend) and Cage in its report as organisations which have "sought to undermine Prevent and counterextremism efforts".

The report, 'Delegitimising Counter-Terrorism The Activist Campaign to Demonise Prevent', was led by Sir John Jenkins, who played an active role in Sir John Chilcott’s Iraq Inquiry and was previously asked by Mr Cameron in March 2014 to lead a policy review into the Muslim Brotherhood.

Mr Jenkins is calling for the government to strip funding of organisations who are spreading “false narratives" about its strategy.

“One of the key criteria for engaging with community organisations should be that such organisations do not disseminate disinformation and false narratives, including conspiracy theories, about the government’s efforts to combat terrorism and extremism,” the report says.

“Organisations that strategically disseminate claims that the government criminalises Islamic thought and beliefs, for example, should be beyond the pale of governmental engagement. Similarly, those campaigning against a key element of our anti-terrorist strategy, such as Prevent.

"This is not to say they should be silenced; simply they should not be officially endorsed or publicly funded."

Ali Harbi Ali, who murdered of British MP Sir David Amess, had been referred to the government's Prevent programme. AFP

It cites the publication of a statement by Mend in 2021 boycotting the Prevent review signed by Cage and 15 other groups and the launch of the People’s Review of Prevent, an alternative to the government’s independent report, by a former Cage manager.

The People’s Review of Prevent last year published the ‘Boycott The Shawcross Review of Prevent’, signed by Cage, the Cordoba Foundation, the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, Friends of Al-Aqsa, the Islamic Human Rights Commission, Mend and the Muslim Association of Britain.

The report also criticises various governments for not adequately defending the programme.

"The lack of a robust, concerted and sustained effort on the part of the government to rebut these claims serves to undermine trust in the government’s authority to protect the public against Islamist terrorism and extremism," it says.

"There can be no successful Prevent programme unless the government defends it.

"Indeed, the very absence of such a response, the failure by governments across the political spectrum to make a convincing public case for the value of Prevent and their failure to articulate why it is important to address the challenge of Islamist ideologies, leaves a major gap in public discourse about national security and community cohesion that others seek to fill."

The publication comes as UK Home Secretary Priti Patel prepares to overhaul the Prevent strategy, which will strip local councils of control.

However, the report gives a warning that the forthcoming Prevent review could be undermined.

"Prevent is thus at the heart of an almighty ideological tug of war between the state and its Islamist critics: William Shawcross’s forthcoming Independent Review is the latest round in this struggle," it said.

"Whatever Shawcross concludes, the review risks being critically undermined unless there is a dramatically improved plan to speak up for the policy. As presently constituted, Prevent risks dying the death of a thousand cuts.

"Whatever the outcome and reaction to the forthcoming Independent Review of Prevent, counterterrorism and counterextremism strategies of some kind will still be needed, and it is almost certain that such strategies, however articulated, will continue to be attacked by Islamist and other activist groups.

"This is because it is likely – and entirely appropriate – that counterterrorism and counterextremism efforts will continue to seek to address the contributory factors of terrorism and extremism upstream in ideology, beliefs and values."

The Prevent policy was introduced in 2003 but expanded after the attacks on the London transport network on July 7, 2005, in which 52 people were killed.

It is one part of a four-pronged strategy and designed to stop people being drawn into terrorism.

It has been strengthened by successive governments, including under David Cameron, and now requires schools, universities, councils and hospitals to flag up concerns over suspected radicalisation.

In January 2019, the government announced a review of the programme after some Muslim leaders claimed they were being unfairly targeted and former charities regulator Mr Shawcross was appointed to lead the review in 2021.

The government has said it plans to shake-up the programme after a series of attacks in which perpetrators had already been flagged by the counterterrorism strategy or had slipped through the net.

They include Ali Harbi Ali, who was referred to the scheme before going on to murder Sir David Amess, a ruling party MP.

Updated: June 20, 2023, 1:50 PM