Afew months ago, William Shawcross was asked by the government to lead an independent review into its anti-terrorism strategy, Prevent, and to ‘consider the UK’s strategy for protecting people vulnerable to being drawn into terrorism’. Ever since his appointment was announced, Shawcross has been attacked by an array of activists who want to minimise any scrutiny of Islamist organisations. The campaign against him has been vicious but it has also been deeply instructive.
The opposition has been so intense that it has led some to believe that the UK Muslim ‘community’ is outraged by the independent review. There is a significant difference, however, between Muslims and Islamists. Shawcross is an exceptionally talented man whom I know well. His career of service is a distinguished one. For six years he ran the Charity Commission with strength and skill. He has been a member of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees’ Informal Advisory Group, among many other roles, all while being a prolific and renowned author. He has a reputation for fairness and fearlessness; he is an excellent choice.
But if I could give him one piece of advice, it would be this. The scope of his review should be expanded to look at the individual networks of Islamist groups which are technically separate but in practice hunt as a pack. Their approach forms the basis of what is known in Islamic culture as ‘dawa’. The campaign against Shawcross is in fact a good illustration of the Islamist dawa programme, which is why it badly needs his scrutiny. To solve any problem, you must first recognise it. Nearly 16 years after the 7/7 attacks in London, it is striking how many policymakers struggle to see the true face — and nature — of the jihadi menace.
Formally, dawa refers to a ‘call’ to Islam. But in reality, Islamist groups use a wide range of mechanisms to advance their goal of imposing Islamic law (shariah) on society. In western countries, dawa aims both to instill extremist views among existing Muslims and, to a lesser extent, to convert non-Muslims to a fierce version of political Islam.
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