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UK: Suella Braverman says Douglas Murray holds 'perfectly decent views'

Home Secretary's comments condemned by Muslim groups as 'outrageous and dangerous'
Braverman said the Home Office had set up a rebuttal unit to counter 'inaccurate information about Prevent' (AP)

A controversial commentator accused of a “record of hate” against Muslims holds “mainstream, insightful and perfectly decent political views”, Home Secretary Suella Braverman has told the UK parliament.

Updating MPs on Thursday on the progress of reforms to the contentious Prevent counter-terrorism strategy, Braverman said that Douglas Murray should not have been named in a Home Office analysis paper among public figures “associated with far-right sympathetic audiences, and Brexit”.

Braverman also rejected the inclusion on the list of Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg, a former government minister and ardent Brexit campaigner.

“People like my Right Honourable Friend the Member for North East Somerset [Rees-Mogg] and Douglas Murray express mainstream, insightful and perfectly decent political views. People may disagree with them, but in no way are they extremists,” said Braverman.

“Prevent must not risk any perception of disparaging them as such again.”

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Braverman’s comments were condemned on Friday by the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), an umbrella group representing hundreds of Muslim organisations and mosques in the UK.

“That the Home Secretary would defend Douglas Murray's views as ‘mainstream’, at the dispatch box no less, is as outrageous as it is dangerous,” an MCB spokesperson told Middle East Eye.

“Let there be no doubt that Murray's views are anything but mainstream; they are extreme and violently Islamophobic.”

The spokesperson cited a 2006 speech in which Murray called for conditions to be made harder for Muslims in Europe, and comments in which he described Muslims as a “demographic time bomb” and called for mosques to be pulled down.

Braverman was also criticised by the MCB in May for appearing to endorse Murray in a speech at the National Conservatism Conference.

“Douglas Murray’s record of hate is well documented,” it said after Murray had faced accusations of trivialising the Holocaust in a speech in which he said there was nothing wrong with “nationalism in a British context” and suggested that Germany had “mucked up” twice in the 20th century.

'Arsonists masquerading as patriots'

Braverman was also condemned by Sayeeda Warsi, a Conservative member of the House of Lords and a former chair of the party.

“Our country is tragically being ripped apart by arsonists masquerading as patriots - divisive politicians that sow the seeds of discontent and promote culture wars setting our country alight,” Warsi wrote on social media.

In a social media post on Thursday, Murray thanked Braverman for her statement.

“A rogue element in Whitehall previously tried to pretend that Jacob Rees-Mogg and I held ‘extreme’ rather than ‘mainstream’ views. Glad to have this cleared up on the record,” he wrote.

Braverman’s comments come after a controversial review of Prevent by William Shawcross criticised the strategy’s “expansive approach” to tackling far-right extremism, which, Shawcross said, was “so broad it has included mildly controversial or provocative forms of mainstream, right-wing leaning commentary”.

Shawcross cited a 2019 analysis paper on far-right influences by the Home Office’s Research, Information and Communications Unit (RICU) in which Murray and Rees-Mogg were named among social media users deemed to be “actively patriotic and proud”.

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Middle East Eye has previously reported extensively on RICU’s role in creating covert propaganda campaigns targeted at British Muslims and Middle Eastern audiences.

“In the past, RICU had failed to draw clear distinctions between mainstream conservative commentary and the extreme right,” Braverman said.

“From now on, all RICU products which report on extremist trends and in future themes will clearly state the purpose of such reporting and be proportionate.”

Shawcross’s review of Prevent, which was published in February after years of delays, was boycotted and rejected by many Muslim organisations and civil society groups because of past comments he had made which were widely deemed Islamophobic.

Shawcross called for Prevent to refocus on tackling “extremist Islamist ideology” and suggested that an “Islamist campaign” was itself driving criticism of the strategy.

Braverman said that in response to Shawcross’s recommendations, a specialist unit had been set up within the Home Office to “rapidly rebut and counter inaccurate information about Prevent”.

She again attacked Cage and Mend, two Muslim civil society organisations that have campaigned against Prevent and were singled out in both Shawcross’s report and the government's response.

“Extremist and anti-Prevent groups have waged mendacious and malicious campaigns to try and discredit Prevent as anti-Muslim to undermine its work,” she said.

'Embroiled in dangerous right-wing ideals'

A spokesperson for Mend told MEE: “Suella Braverman's ridiculous attack on Mend coupled with her valiant defence of Douglas Murray further point towards how far she herself is embroiled in dangerous right-wing ideals.

“If this is the individual who our Home Secretary choses to defend as a voice from the mainstream right, then British Muslims should be very worried at the levels of Islamophobia that this government now considers acceptable.”

Anas Mustapha, Cage's head of public advocacy, said: "Most informed observers are well aware that very dangerous ideologues have infiltrated Whitehall.

“William Shawcross' review of Prevent represented this dangerous trend by inciting prejudices against Muslims to rescue Prevent.” 

“Despite this, many across civil society still appreciate what the far right would do to this country and beyond if it was allowed free reign.”

Braverman said the Home Office had so far implemented 10 of 34 recommendations made by Shawcross, and expected to implement 29 within a year of publication of the review.

'Ideology-driven changes'

Layla Aitlhadj, director of Prevent Watch and the co-author of an alternative review of the strategy, told MEE: “Our expectations for Braverman's implementation of the Shawcross recommendations are low, given her endorsement of flawed, ideology-driven changes to Prevent.”

Aitlhadj said she expected misinformed referrals and rights breaches to increase and continue as a consequence of the reforms.

“Suella Braverman's assertion that Douglas Murray's views are 'mainstream' and 'decent' is a chilling reflection of her own alarming views and reinforces the fact that Prevent serves as a political tool,” she said.

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