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Leaked UK counter-terrorism study finds ‘double standards’ over far-right, Islamist investigations

LONDON: A leaked draft review of Britain’s counter-terrorism legislation says the government has focused too much on right-wing extremism and should renew its focus on Islamist extremism.

In an exclusive leak seen by the Guardian newspaper, the review claims the Prevent program has been hampered by a ‘double standard’ approach to tackling different forms of extremism.

He says an expansion of what people see as “far-right” content means mandatory right-wing views are pushed back onto the program, while a focus on Islamist extremism has been more limited.

The report says the definitions have been “so broad that they have included mildly controversial or provocative forms of traditional right-wing commentary that have no meaningful connection to terrorism or radicalization.”

The Prevent review is led by Sir William Shawcross. Sir Peter Fahy, the former chief constable of Prevent, told the Guardian that Shawcross’ findings were an attempt to ‘politicise counter-terrorism policing’, adding that it was ‘pretty dangerous to play off one ideology against another’ .

Shawcross’s review calls for a renewed focus on Islamist extremism, even when candidates for referral to Prevent do not meet the terrorism threshold.

The leak added that some people were referred to Prevent even when no extremism was expressed, but because they were thought to need access to mental health support. He said counter-extremism outlets were “carrying the brunt” for limited mental health services, with vulnerable and struggling people being referred to Prevent when more appropriate services were not available.

The Guardian found that the review also claimed that some groups funded by Prevent had expressed support for the Taliban.

The leak follows months of controversy over the upcoming report, with many civil society groups and NGO activists refusing to engage in the review.

Citing Shawcross’s past controversial comments about Islam, several groups refused to cooperate with the investigation. As director of the neoconservative think tank Henry Jackson Society in 2012, Shawcross said, “Europe and Islam is one of the biggest and most terrifying issues of our future. I think all European countries have very rapidly growing Islamic populations.

His comments about the supposed “double standard” in investigations come as referrals to Prevent for far-right extremism surpassed those for Islamist radicalization for the first time in 2021.

The Channel program – the top tier of Prevent where more extensive intervention is provided – has been handling more far-right cases than Islamists since 2020.

Shawcross now argues that Prevent needs to be reoriented to confront the root causes of radicalization and respond to the ideological support for terrorism, which he says is “not satisfied enough”.

The leaked report says the program must go beyond its current limitations and target those who “create an environment conducive to terrorism.”

He criticizes several civil society organizations and projects funded by Prevent, arguing that too few “could be seen to publicly challenge extremist discourse”. More shockingly, the review claims to have found groups that “promoted extremist narratives, including statements that appear to support the Taliban.”

The draft asserts: “As a fundamental principle, the government must cease engaging with or funding those who are aligned with extremism.”

The report still needs to be finalized and checked for libel and other routine scrutiny.

Fahy, who was head of Prevent until 2015, told the Guardian: “There is a danger in controlling thought as opposed to the risk of violence. It is not about ideology but about the risk that someone will turn violent.

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

“It seems to me quite dangerous to pit one ideology against another. There is a danger that this is an attempt to politicize the counter-terrorism police. How are the police supposed to judge what’s mainstream? The police operate on the likelihood of that person being drawn into violence, not whether their views are mainstream. »

A Home Office spokesperson said: ‘Prevention remains a vital tool for early intervention and protection. We will not allow extremists or terrorists to spread hatred or sow division, and Prevent remains an important driver to help steer people away from harm.

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

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