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Demonising Islam: Prevent review fulfils dreams of UK's right-wing media

The Shawcross review shows yet again how Muslims are being unfairly targeted in this country
The main dome of Cambridge Central Mosque is pictured on 23 November 2021 (AFP)

In 2006, British novelist Martin Amis said: "There’s a definite urge - don’t you have it? - to say, ‘The Muslim community will have to suffer until it gets its house in order.’” 

Elements of Britain’s right wing, and the anti-Muslim ideologues within it, have seemingly taken these words as a mantra. The Prevent review authored by William Shawcross, who once said that “Europe and Islam is one of the greatest, most terrifying problems of our future”, could easily be seen as the manifestation of Amis’s words. Its basic conclusion is that too little attention has been given to extremism by Muslims, and far too much to the far right. In other words, Britain has effectively forgotten who the real bad guys are.

The report fails to explain what the Home Office's classification of 'extreme right-wing' terrorism is. But then, that was never the point of the review

These findings have been met with scorn and disdain from Muslims and human rights groups, including Amnesty International. But not everyone shares the alarm, because many of its findings read as a compendium of the long lament that Britain’s right-wing media has engaged in for some time. 

Almost every week, commentators, reporters or reviewers in the right-wing press complain about how there aren’t enough films depicting Muslim countries as backward hellholes, or how a drama on TV wouldn’t dare depict Islam as it has Christianity. Even celebrities are urged to give credence to the idea that there just isn’t the same scrutiny of Islam, or that not enough of the bad things done in its name are the subject of fictional representation. 

Particularly galling for these commentators is the recent uptick in the dramatisation of the growing far-right threat in Britain. Their main target of scorn is the so-called cultural left, described as “too cowardly, hypocritical and woke to risk a more topical [show] about fundamentalist Islam”. 

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Challenging narratives

Similarly, the Prevent review targets Muslims who don’t see events in the same way as the nation’s stenographers, and are described as a potential threat for “challenging orthodox or state-driven narratives”. Assumedly, this includes narratives such as extremists trying to take over Birmingham schools - which, despite having being exposed as a vicious and disingenuous campaign against Muslims, remains a story untouched by the wider media since the allegations were debunked.  

Another story that would potentially make for interesting reading involves the recent bombshell revelations by journalist Seymour Hersh, who has accused the US government of blowing up the Nord Stream pipeline. If Muslims or others were to believe this report and conclude that the Americans were responsible for something clearly advantageous to their geopolitical goals, would that come under the auspices of Prevent? The reasoning outlined in the Prevent report suggests it might.  

One journalist, Lizzie Dearden of the Independent, was quick to point out a “key mistake” found as early as page three of the report, where Shawcross suggests that all terror attacks in the UK since 2019 have been Islamist in nature. Her scrutiny is welcome, particularly as she knows first-hand the dangers of the far-right; just last year, Britain’s most notorious far-right personality was the subject of a banning order for harassing Dearden outside her home. 

Dearden and others have noted how Shawcross did not include in his list of recent attacks a 2019 incident where the perpetrator literally shouted “all Muslims should die”, nor the most recent terrorist attack in Britain in October 2022, where the perpetrator firebombed a migrant centre and aimed to “obliterate Muslim children”.

It’s hardly surprising, as Dearden further pointed out, that the report fails to explain what the Home Office’s classification of “extreme right-wing” terrorism is. But then, that was never the point of the review. 

Double standards

What Shawcross does make clear is that some “examples of centre-right debate, populism, and controversial or distasteful forms of right-leaning commentary and intolerance … [fall] well short of the extremism threshold”. 

This seems reasonable on the face of it, except for the fact that some of the most notorious far-right or neo-Nazi killers on the planet have quoted from such commentaries. Certain pundits are namechecked in the manifesto of Norwegian killer Anders Behring Breivik, who murdered 77 people. Others have said conditions should be made harder for Muslims “across the board”.

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Again, Muslims do not get this type of privilege, as the security state expands its tentacles to include "non-violent extremists" under the banner of “Islamists” or “Islamism” - a model the French government has increasingly employed against its Muslim citizens, and which some of Britain’s right-wing media have fawned over and believe should be adopted here. 

The Spectator, a publication that has in the past defended neo-Nazis and whose commentators have deplored the lack of Islamophobia in Britain, was recently bellowing about the need for Britain to follow the French example, citing the failure of MPs to blame Islam for the murder of David Amess in 2021. This was the clearest example of how the lament of Britain’s right-wing will continue post-Shawcross. 

Just how bad they want things to get for Muslims remains an open question. The fact that an MP - now deputy chairman of the Conservative Party - made news by calling for the death penalty to be reintroduced in Britain, citing Muslim extremists as an example of the perfect candidates, is rather ominous.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye.

Faisal Hanif is a media analyst at the Centre for Media Monitoring and has previously worked as a news reporter and researcher at the Times and the BBC. His latest report looks at how the British media reports terrorism.
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