Over 450 Islamic groups, including 350 mosques and imams, announced in a statement on Wednesday that they will boycott the UK government’s review of the Prevent program in protest at its appointed chair, The Guardian reported on Wednesday.

Prevent is the government’s controversial anti-radicalization program. There have long been calls for an independent review by opponents of the program, who claim it discriminates against Muslims.

William Shawcross, Prevent’s appointed head, chaired the UK’s Charity Commission between 2012 and 2018, and has previously been criticized for his comments on Islam.

The statement was signed by groups including the Association of Muslim Lawyers, Muslim Youth Network, and the Cordoba Foundation.

In opposing the appointment, the statement cited Shawcross’ “track record of hostility to Islam and Muslims.”

“No serious, objective, critical review can be undertaken by someone with such a track record – rather we should expect him to promote a hardening of policies towards Muslims,” the statement said. “If Muslim organisations engage with this Review, it strengthens its legitimacy and its power to recommend policies more harmful to the community.”

The statement added that Shawcross said in 2012: “Europe and Islam is one of the greatest, most terrifying problems of our future. I think all European countries have vastly, very quickly growing Islamic populations.”

He also defended torture as a “natural response” to terrorism, it said, as well as the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, long decried for keeping people never charged with crimes imprisoned for years, including many Muslims.

The statement also said it is “increasingly obvious” that Prevent promotes “unacceptable harms,” including: profiling and targeting Muslim children (even as young as four), making the Muslim community “a suspect community,” and silencing legitimate speech.

The statement accused Shawcross of overseeing a huge increase in statutory investigations carried out on Muslim charities, 38% of the total in his first year of chairing the Charity Commission.

“We boycott the Review because Prevent disproportionately targets the civil liberties of British Muslims and demonises the Islamic faith. Prevent is counter-productive and leaves both liberty and security damaged and diminished for all British citizens and residents, not just those of the Muslim faith,” the statement added.

Nasar Meer, a professor at the University of Edinburgh who has joined the boycott, was quoted by The Guardian as saying: “Prevent is a bad policy that has only worsened with time. An independent review of its attack on the freedom of speech, curtailment of fundamental liberties and criminalisation of communities is long overdue. Sadly, the Shawcross review promises no such thing.”

The Home Office was approached by The Guardian for comment but did not respond by the time of publication.

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