The head of a Government-funded group set up to combat extremism described Hamas as “so-called terrorists” and a “legitimate resistance group”, William Shawcross’ damning report on the Prevent programme reveals.
The revelations come in one of the report’s most explosive sections, which highlights the Home Office’s inadequacy in countering “terrorist movements which target Jewish communities (such as Hamas and Hezbollah)”.
One of the reports key recommendations is that support for proscribed terror groups targeting Israel must be tackled much more rigorously.
It is vital, the report says, “to explore the prevalence of antisemitism” and to “feed these findings into work to disrupt radicalisers and counter extremist narratives”.
“This includes confronting UK extremist networks supportive of terrorist movements which target Jewish communities (such as Hamas and Hezbollah) and addressing the anti-Jewish component of Islamist and Extreme Right-Wing ideology”, it added.
The reference to Hamas as “legitimate” came in a blog by Musharraf Hussain, leader of the Nottingham-based Karimia Institute – which reportedly received £200,000 from the Prevent scheme – just after the conflict between Israel and Gaza in 2021 when 5,000 Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad rockets rained down on Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
At this point, the report notes, Britain had proscribed Hamas’s military wing as a terror organisation, a ban extended to its political wing in November that year. Palestinian Islamic Jihad had been proscribed in its entirety since 2001.
Mr Hussain also shared a video on the organisation’s YouTube channel which “promoted an antisemitic conspiracy theory” by the controversial rapper Lowkey.
The lyrics included claims that “every coin is a bullet if you’re Marks and Spencer” and that every coffee bought from Starbucks “put money in the pocket” of the “Zionist lobby”.
In a major failing, the report reveals that in 2020, “extremism-related due diligence” by the Home Office had given Mr Musharraf a “significant risk rating”. Mr Shawcross writes: “In my view, this ought to have had immediate consequences for the funding of [Karimia] by Prevent.”
The report adds that despite his group having received funding from Prevent, Mr Musharraf denounced it on the Islam TV channel, claiming the scheme was “targeting the Muslim community in a manner that is ‘uncharacteristic of a democracy’ and has ‘bad intentions’”.
And in 2015, he “signed an open letter, with others including some prominent British Islamists, that condemned the legislation establishing the Statutory Prevent Duty as threatening to create a ‘McCarthyite witch-hunt against Muslims’.”
Mr Musharraf also wrote in a blog that although Muslims could join the armed forces, “a British Muslim soldier should abstain from fighting against Muslims” if deployed to a Muslim country.
Yet according to the report, “in the materials provided by the Home Office, [Mr Musharraf] was described as ‘supporting individuals and families to develop life skills, moral and spiritual values through education, worship and recreation’.”
The incendiary section of the report deals with Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), groups funded by Prevent to work against extremism, some of which have promoted antisemitism and antisemitic figures, the report discloses.
Among numerous examples is the head of one Prevent-funded CSO who, in a speech at a pro-Palestinian rally in 2021, stated that “non-Muslims at the al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem were ‘vile human beings’ who were ‘desecrating’ it”.
Chillingly, he added that Muslims knew “exactly the strategy that those Jewish Zionist politicians are doing and we also know how to respond”.
He also praised Palestinian martyrs, saying: “we ask Allah that you accept every single shahid who has given their life for Palestine’.”
It notes that when confronted about the statements, he apologised.
Among other examples, the report highlights a CSO supposed to tackle Islamist extremism among Muslim students via an online magazine.
However, “none of it appeared to directly engage with countering Islamist ideology,” while “the social media accounts run as part of this project were found to have promoted individuals who have on other occasions espoused extreme and intolerant narratives”, the report says.
Another CSO “had invited extremist speakers to its events,” the report says. “This included a cleric whose online religious guidance condones financial and physical abuse under certain conditions within marital relationships and an Imam who had previously posted support for convicted Al-Qa’ida operative Aafia Siddiqui.”
Mr Shawcross concludes: “I found insufficient evidence that CSOs were countering Islamist ideology or non-violent extremist groups and ideologues.”
He added: “I found unacceptable examples of some of these organisations promoting Islamist extremist sentiments, or of validating and associating with Islamist extremists.”
Tom Wilson, policy director at the Counter Extremism Group think tank, told the JC: “Civil Society Organisations should be used to stop radicalisers mainstreaming their message.
“Non-violent Islamist groups create an atmosphere that can indoctrinate some into feeling sympathetic towards terrorist causes. Prevent-funded projects are there to undermine those narratives.
“It is entirely detrimental if Prevent groups are the ones contributing to that radicalising atmosphere, or legitimising those who promote extremism. It goes without saying that the government should not be using to extremists to counter-extremism.”