Cancel culture. There are some that are convinced that it exists and then there are others that vehemently deny it. But as ever, the truth is somewhere in the middle. If you advertise for a role, get applicants and then appoint the best candidate, does that mean the others were cancelled? No of course not. They simply did not perform well enough to be employed for the role. But it is exactly this employment that seems to be at risk from those that seem to believe they have the final say on the work produced and who the new employee should be. William Shawcross, the government appointed Independent Reviewer of Prevent is the latest target. He is not the first and will undoubtedly not be the last.
The Conservative Government announced William Shawcross will be the Independent Reviewer of Prevent earlier this year after Lord Carlile had to step down following a legal challenge. This has been a long time coming, given that the review was set up in 2019 as part of the Counter-Terrorism and Border Security Act 2019. The review is very much needed, not just to quality assure the policy, but to ensure that it develops just as the threat develops from extremist Jihadis and the far-right.
But the review is potentially at risk. In an article for the news site 5Pillars titled, ‘Historic Muslim coalition boycotts Prevent review’, we are made party to the fact that more than 450 Muslim civil society organisations and 100 leading figures have pledged to boycott it. The main argument for boycotting the review, is that Shawcross is the wrong man for the job. The reason why he is the wrong man, because he is alleged to have made Islamophobic comments, was a board member of the Henry Jackson Society and is alleged to have caused significant harm to Muslim communities. These signatories seem to believe they are tasked with the responsibility of appointing the right candidate, not the government. This could not be further from the truth.
The signatories of this letter appear to be of the view that they have a right on who should not fulfil the role. They seem to believe their view trumps that of everyone else’s. That they are the gatekeepers, the ones who allow individuals to be let in and then cast all others aside. Well it is unfortunate for them, that having the keys to the gate is an endeavour they will not achieve, especially if we go by who some of them are.
Take for example individuals from the ‘independent grassroots organisation’ CAGE; Dr Asim Qureshi. Dr Qureshi – at a Hizb Ut-Tahrir rally in 2006 – in response to the alleged “oppression by the West” states:
“We know that it is incumbent upon all of us to support the jihad of our brothers and sisters in these countries when they are facing the oppression of the west. Allahu akbar! Allahu akbar!”
Is this a worrying statement? I don’t think that question needs answering. But what about what he said about Mohammed Emwazi – nom de guerre Jihadi John – when he described him as a “beautiful young man”? Aren’t these statements just as concerning, if not worse than what Shawcross is alleged to have said? It seems that is not the case because his name – at the time of writing – still remains on there. On closer examination, there are others that appear to be just as problematic as Qureshi. Guido Fawkes sets out who some of them are and it is an argument I do not need to advance here.
It seems the plan to have Shawcross removed may have backfired. Having individuals that have made problematic statements does not bode well for this campaign, nor does it have an impact on the outcome of the review. The fact of the matter is this, the review is yet to take place. It will be evidenced based. It should not fall victim to a narrative that seeks to end Prevent, nor should it succumb to pressure from individuals that conclude Shawcross isn’t the man for the job, when the same standard is not applied to others that have signed this letter.
It is for these reasons that I – as a Muslim – will not stand in solidarity with the signatories of this letter. I will stand with the minority of liberal minded Muslims and others that support successive Governments in dealing with the threat posed by extremists and those that provide the mood music for far-right and violent Jihadists to dance too.
Cancellations are proving to be a useful tool for individuals seeking to control a narrative, shape government policy and unintentionally put the public at risk. This cannot and must not be allowed to happen. There needs to be a fight back against these individuals and this pernicious campaign.
Wasiq is an academic specialising in extremism and terrorism. Follow him on Twitter: @WasiqUK