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UK’s charity regulator urged to investigate Policy Exchange over ‘anti-Muslim agenda’

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The UK’s charities regulator is being urged to investigate the Policy Exchange think tank for alleged racism and Islamophobia, over a report in which it accused Muslim critics of the government’s Prevent strategy of “enabling terrorism”.

In a letter to the Charity Commission, the authors of a critical review of the UK government’s controversial counterterrorism strategy called on the government to review the think tank’s charitable status, accusing it of “promoting vilification and even hatred” towards Muslim communities.

“As a charity, Policy Exchange must remain non-partisan and be detached from government. Yet it would appear Policy Exchange is neither, acting primarily as a vehicle for political propaganda and anti-Muslim narratives,” said Layla Aitlhadj, a director at Prevent Watch, which supports people affected by Prevent.

Aitlhadj is a co-author with John Holmwood, emeritus professor in sociology at the University of Nottingham, of the People’s Review of Prevent, a report published in February which concluded that the strategy was discriminatory against Muslims.

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Last month, Policy Exchange published a report entitled “Delegitimising Counter-Terrorism”, which cited endorsements for the People’s Review of Prevent from Muslim community organisations including the Muslim Council of Britain, Mend, Cage and the Federation of Student Islamic Societies. It described these endorsements as constituting an “Islamist support base” for the review.

In a foreword to the Policy Exchange report, former prime minister David Cameron wrote: “So just as we need to counter the Islamist extremist narrative, we also need to counter the anti-Prevent narrative. We need to show that delegitimising counterterrorism is, in essence, enabling terrorism.”

In their letter to the Charity Commission, Aitlhadj and Holmwood complained that the Policy Exchange report had singled out Muslim critics of Prevent but not mentioned others who contributed to the People’s Review, such as Fionnuala Ni Aolain, the UN rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism.

“It’s bad enough that a charity promotes the view that some areas of government policy are above public scrutiny. But to single out and demonise Muslims by suggesting their legitimate criticisms of Prevent are not shared by others, and then accuse them of ‘enabling terrorism’, as David Cameron has, is a serious assault on our democracy, and could potentially also encourage hate crimes against such individuals,” said Holmwood.

‘The report has a clear political purpose, which is to silence individuals and groups in Muslim civil society’

– Authors of letter to the Charity Commission

The complaint to the Charity Commission, which is dated 5 May and has been seen by Middle East Eye, is based on what Aitlhadj and Holmwood allege are breaches of Policy Exchange’s charitable aims.

Policy Exchange states its charitable objective as “the non-partisan advancement of education of the public in the economic, social and political sciences and their effect on public policy and the policy-making process in the UK and the promotion and publication of objective research”.

Aitlhadj and Holmwood said that the use of Cameron, a former Conservative prime minister who expanded the Prevent strategy into schools and other public sector settings, to write a foreword to the report and an accompanying op-ed in the Times newspaper amounted to a political endorsement.

“The report has a clear political purpose, which is to silence individuals and groups in Muslim civil society and support the current government political approach in this regard,” they write.

They called on the Charity Commission to consider whether Policy Exchange has a “broad anti-Muslim agenda”.

“We believe there is a case for investigating its activities and reports and reviewing if it should remain a charity,” they write.

The controversy surrounding the Policy Exchange report comes ahead of the anticipated publication of the government’s own long-delayed and contentious review of Prevent by William Shawcross, who in 2018 was appointed a senior fellow at Policy Exchange. Shawcross is also a former chair of the Charity Commission and a former director of the Henry Jackson Society, a neo-conservative think tank.

Shawcross’s review of Prevent has been boycotted by many Muslim organisations and civil liberties and human rights groups, who have accused him of having “a track record of hostility to Islam”. Shawcross has said that some of his past views have been “misrepresented or misinterpreted”.

MEE has contacted Policy Exchange and the Charity Commission for comment.

Source: Middle East Eye

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