Public Policy Researcher Dr Carys Moseley goes through some of the Islamic groups that have opposed Prevent
Sir William Shawcross’ review of the Prevent Strategy for countering terrorism strongly criticises the Islamist campaign to undermine it. The report itself only names two of the organisations involved, CAGE and MEND. This is likely because other Islamists networks, such as Prevent Watch, threatened to sue the Home Office should they be named as Islamist extremists.
In reality several open letters signed by those opposing Prevent show the campaign is linked to organisations and individuals, particularly academics, that historically have entertained the desire for the Islamisation of the United Kingdom ‘from below’. These include a letter to the Independent calling for the abolition of Prevent published on the 10 July 2015, the call to boycott the Shawcross review, published on the 17 March 2021, and the call by CAGE to abolish Prevent (and with it the UK’s anti-terror laws).
Advocacy for an Islamic state governed by Sharia law
At section 3.11 of the review, Shawcross says this:
“Perpetrators are driven by a violent expression of Islamism. Islamism has been described as follows: an extremist religio-political ideology founded in the 20th century in the Middle East and South Asia that has advocated for an expansionist ‘Islamic’ state governed by sharia (‘Islamic principles and law’).”
In acknowledging that not all Islamist groups espouse the use of violence, Shawcross shows that the root problem is Islamist ideology. He focuses on how this Islamic state is to be attained.
Insisting that society adhere to Islamic principles
Shawcross lists ‘key Islamist narratives’ which provide ‘fertile ground’ for radicalisation and terrorism. One of them is this:
“Insisting that society, in part or as a whole, adhere to (their interpretation of) Islamic principles, the neglect of which reveals an intrinsic anti-Muslim prejudice in British society (or ‘institutional Islamophobia’). For some groups, this narrative is used to rationalise the need for a united Islamic state (where such prejudice, it is claimed, would be absent).” [Section 3.17]
He calls for confrontation of these narratives and those who promote them. At section 3.25 he criticises Prevent documentation for not covering the wider Islamist movement and its foundational ideas, focusing too narrowly on terrorism.
The desire for the Islamisation of the UK ‘from below’
Below I shall go through the most important British Muslim organisations that have opposed Prevent and the Shawcross review, showing how they are clearly part of the wider so-called ‘Islamic Movement’ that desire to see the Islamisation of society from below, with that rewarded by the state becoming Islamic.
The Muslim Brotherhood ‘Project’ to Islamise the west
The Muslim Brotherhood is the Islamist extremist movement founded by Hassan al-Banna in Egypt in 1929. In 2005, French-Swiss journalist Sylvain Besson revealed a key strategic document by the Muslim Brotherhood, written in Arabic and outlining its ‘Project’ for Islamisation of western countries. There is an English translation available.
Only since David Cameron commissioned a review of the activity of the Muslim Brotherhood in the UK and abroad has this been admitted here, albeit in subdued terms. Shawcross makes no mention of it, perhaps so as not to give an opportunity for Islamist campaigners against Prevent to deny their desire for Islamisation and spread disinformation.
The Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS)
The Federation of Student Islamic Societies (FOSIS) is the oldest of the British Muslim organisations opposed to Prevent. It was founded in 1962 by Said Ramadan, son-in-law of Hassan al-Banna, and himself a prominent member of the Muslim Brotherhood. For decades only a very small number of academics ever referred to FOSIS. After 9/11 it came under the spotlight. This became especially pressing after several jihadists were linked to individual Student Islamic Societies (ISOCs). However, in this focus on terrorism what has not always been taken seriously enough is the broader Islamising outlook.
In 2006, a conference entitled ‘Islam on Campus’ was held at Edinburgh University, debating the future of the teaching about Islam in universities. The government was concerned that it could be conducive to radicalisation of some students. The FOSIS media spokesman said this:
“If this review is to look at what religious leaders say in Islamic societies on campuses then we would be concerned—that is a matter for Muslims themselves.”
In other words, FOSIS did not want the government to investigate visiting speakers, so often the source of Islamist ideology in universities.
FOSIS has been known to organise events off campus, making it impossible to ban Islamist speakers. In 2018 Cardiff University Islamic Society hosted an event at Dar Ul-Isra mosque with a speaker known to defend Sharia punishments such as amputation of the hand for theft.
Islamic Society of Britain
The Islamic Society of Britain was founded in 1989 by members of the Muslim Brotherhood and its south Asian equivalent Jamaat-i-Islami. Academic Ron Geaves provided the text of the constitution of the Islamic Society of Britain in his 1996 PhD on Sectarian Influences among British Muslims:
To strive to make the individual and society live in submission to Allah, the Creator, in order to achieve peace and harmony on this earth and salvation in the Hereafter…
5. Ultimate Sources of Guidance
The Glorious Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) shall constitute the ultimate source of reference in all affairs of the society.”
In other words, the ISB desired from the outset to Islamise British society. Ed Hussain likewise discusses the ISB’s desire to Islamise Britain in his memoir ‘The Islamist’. It is worth noting that the ISB does not have a copy of its 1989 constitution on its current website. The government’s 2015 review of the Muslim Brotherhood claimed the ISB had distanced itself from it since 2001 and was ‘post-Islamist’. However, the fact that the ISB has opposed Prevent raises questions about this view.
Other Muslim Brotherhood-linked organisations opposed to Prevent are the Muslim Association of Britain and the Cordoba Foundation.
Islamic Human Rights Commission
This was founded in 1997 by supporters of the Iranian government who opposed Salman Rushdie. It has a long history of promoting victim-narratives, and was among those who attacked Sara Khan’s appointment as Commissioner for Countering Extremism. In 2019 it was characterised as advocating for the values of the Iranian government, its advisers having expressed sympathy for Islamic martyrdom and jihad.
Subversive underground networks
The campaign against Prevent is linked to Hizb-Ut Tahrir (HuTB), according to Will Baldet, who used to co-ordinate Prevent in a local authority. HuTB is the extremist group that Ed Hussain describes as having joined and left in ‘The Islamist’. HuTB was never a signatory to the open letters opposing Prevent, even though it has an online presence. It chooses instead to work underground, rejecting mainstream western society.
HuTB aims to overthrow democratic governments and establish a global caliphate. Some people believe it split off from the Muslim Brotherhood. It is not proscribed in the UK, despite calls for this since the 1990s.
Link with agenda to Islamise schools
HuTB was the organisation that exploited parents’ concerns about RSE in Birmingham. It was later revealed that HuTB had first attempted to take over schools in the area as far back as 1994. John Ray, the former governor of Golden Hillock School, said in 2015 that had the government acted then, the ‘Trojan Horse’ takeover scandal would not have happened more recently. The group claims that Muslim children should be ‘protected’ from western values such as freedom and democracy.
In 2014, Sir Michael Wilshaw, chief inspector of schools for Ofsted, needed bodyguards to enter Birmingham schools during the ‘Trojan Horse’ inquiry, and was accused of being ‘Islamophobic’. Whilst no specific group was named in connection to this report, the very fact of requiring bodyguards signals how concerned Ofsted was about aspects of Islamist extremist ideology as a motivator for violence.
Islamising Religious Education
It is important to take the long view. The idea that schools could be Islamised didn’t pop up overnight. A key precursor was making the subject of Religious Education more Islam-friendly.
Interestingly, one of the most distinguished academics to have opposed Prevent is Professor Humayun Ansari OBE, who has written the history of how this happened. In his history of British Muslims, ‘The Infidel Within’, he recounts how Muslim activists in some local authorities campaigned from the early 1970s onwards first to increase and change how Islam was taught about in RE. Initially the demand was for multi-faith education, but then this was found to be too secular as Islam was presented only as one among many faiths open to criticism. Many Muslim parents and activists wanted Islam to be taught as true and normative in schools. The reality is that this was really an attack on the pre-eminent position of Christianity in RE.
From dechristianisation to the Batley fiasco
As is well known, the tussle between advocates of multiculturalist and integrationist approaches to education has continued ever since. This is highly relevant to the last topic that the Shawcross review addresses, namely the need to push back against campaigns for Islamic blasphemy codes. The focus is on the targeting of the Batley Grammar School RE teacher. Shawcross criticises Prevent for its silence on this fiasco, and advocates provision of counter-narratives in similar future scenarios.
What Shawcross does not address is how the dechristianisation of RE is what created the vacuum where such intimidation could flourish. This has led to a situation where many local RE syllabuses refer to Muhammad as ‘the Prophet’, giving the misleading impression that he is a prophet for all humanity, whilst downgrading Jesus to the merely human level as ‘Jesus of Nazareth’.
Follow the money – against ‘Islamophobia’
If we follow the money, we find that some of these anti-Prevent campaign groups are linked to the push for public institutions and government to adopt the Islamophobia definition. The Aziz Foundation, which funds the APPG on British Muslims, has funded the Islamic Society of Britain and a co-ordinator role for the Muslim Lawyers Action Group, both of which oppose Prevent. The APPG published the influential report defining Islamophobia as ‘rooted in racism’ in 2018.
The Conservative government has refused to adopt the definition, but most other political parties that have elected representatives have done so. Undeterred by the government’s opposition, Aziz Foundation CEO Asif Aziz recently urged the UK government to enshrine the UN day to combat Islamophobia.
Are Islamists really retreating from the goal of Islamisation?
Shawcross appears to believe that some Islamists have retreated from trying to turn western countries into Islamic regimes. He says this:
“Some contemporary Islamist groups in the West have largely de-emphasised the goal a sharia-governed state in the West, in favour of reviving Islam as a comprehensive political ideology within Muslim communities and gaining political influence within wider society.”
An organisation may choose not to state the former as its goal but to conceal it so as to deceive the wider population into complacency. Elsewhere in his report, Shawcross criticises disinformation about Prevent spread by Islamist campaigners, especially in universities. Surely it would be wiser to assume that claims of ‘de-emphasising’ the goal of Sharia law is really a form of disinformation.
The anti-Prevent campaign as Islamist subversion
As Prevent is mainly geared to preventing terrorism there are limits on the extent to which it can deal with the goal of Islamising society, which would count as Islamist extremism. Attempts at Islamising education fit the model of Islamisation ‘from below’. The campaign to undermine Prevent on the grounds of Islamophobia and racism presents itself as a purely defensive grass-roots human rights campaign against state surveillance. In reality, key elements of it are historically linked to an elitist agenda of Islamist subversion, concealing a desire to impose Islamic norms on society and the state as a whole. If Prevent is to be restructured, and training on Islamism to be provided as Shawcross recommended, this agenda in its various forms needs to be exposed.