Report: UK Anti-terror Body ‘Prevent’ “Hamstrung by Political Correctness”

Floral tributes left in Parliament Square following the 2017 Westminster Islamist terror attack

A new report, published in the wake of the murder of MP Sir David Amess last week, has criticised the UK’s flagship anti-terror program ‘Prevent’ for its emphasis on “political correctness” and the diversion of resources from the “gravest threat” of Islamic terrorism. 

According to the report, written by counter-terrorism think-tank the Henry Jackson Society (HJS), Prevent is “failing to deliver” on its objectives while repeatedly giving more weight to “cases of right-wing radicalisation” and “false allegations of Islamophobia.” 

“There must also be a clear explanation issued by the relevant public authorities as to why right-wing radicalisation cases represent a larger slice of cases than Islamist radicalisation when it comes to Prevent referrals discussed at a Channel panel and adopted as a Channel case - even though Islamist extremism very much remains the UK’s most significant terror threat. There is all too real prospect of Islamist extremists who present a significant security risk, not being sufficiently monitored by the public authorities.”

Prevent has faced renewed scrutiny in recent days after it emerged that Ali Harbi Ali, the 25-year-old Islamist who stabbed the 69-year-old Member of Parliament for Southend West to death at a constituency surgery on Friday, had been referred to the anti-terror program five years ago, but was not deemed to be a “formal subject of interest.” 

According to HJS, Home Office data reveals that far-right extremists “outstrip Islamist extremists in terms of referrals to the Government’s Prevent scheme.” Data compiled between April 2019 and March 2020 and showcased in the report revealed that Islamist extremists account for 22% of all referrals to Prevent, while 24% relate to neo-Nazi and other forms of far-right extremism. Of the most serious cases taken up by Prevent’s ‘Channel’ intervention phase last year, in which a panel of senior council officials, health workers, and anti-terror police decide on a course of action, 30 percent (210) were related to Islamists compared with 43 percent (302) for far-right extremists. 

However, in contrast with right-wing extremists, Islamic terrorists account for more than 90 per cent of the 43,000 suspects on MI5's watchlist and constitute the overwhelming majority of recent terror convictions, offenders, and killings.

“There is a national discussion to be had over the discourse and narrative surrounding the potentially terror-related killing of Sir David Amess,” Dr Rakib Ehsan, the author of the report, said in his conclusions. “It should be noted that robustly debating the ideological underpinnings of the UK’s prevailing Islamist terror threat is not a form of anti-Muslim prejudice. In this context, it must be recognised that British Muslims are broadly in line with the general population when it comes to being concerned over the dangers posed by Islamist extremism. Indeed, according to a survey commissioned by Crest Advisory, British Muslims are more likely to report a radicalisation risk to the relevant authorities than the wider public. The UK cannot afford to be paralysed by political correctness and tribal identity politics in the fight against Islamist extremism - a terror threat that concerns both Muslims and non- Muslims in Britain to similar degrees.”

Calling for a greater emphasis upon public security in the program, Dr Alan Mendoza, the director of the Henry Jackson Society, said

“The reality is the programme has struggled to cope with the increase in referrals to it over the years given increased extremism and the unremitting hostility to it by some leaders in the Muslim community and the political Left. We need more Prevent going forwards, not less, and we should be redoubling our efforts to strengthen the programme.”