The former Prime Minister has put his support behind a new Policy Exchange report targeting Muslim civil society groups as ringleaders in the ‘enabling’ of terrorism

A new report claiming that critics of counter-terrorism policy are “enabling terrorism” is closely connected to a ‘white genocide’ believer who worked for a far-right conspiracy theorist whom former Prime Minister David Cameron called an “idiot” for describing Birmingham as a ‘Muslim no go zone’.

The report by the Policy Exchange think tank is also linked to a coalition of European far-right parties, including the Sweden Democrats – a party with “neo-Nazi tendencies”, according to the current Israeli Ambassador to the UK.

Its publication reveals how far-right ideologues are successfully attempting to use influential centre-right think tanks to mainstream their worldviews through the language of national security and counter-extremism. 

Delegitimising Counter-Terrorism: The Activist Campaign to Demonise Prevent carries a foreword by David Cameron – who was last year embroiled in the Greensill political lobbying scandal – claiming that criticisms of the UK’s Prevent counter-extremism strategy are “from a small but vocal range of fringe groups, many of whom have extremist links themselves”. 

“We need to show that delegitimising counter-terrorism is, in essence, enabling terrorism,” he added.

But two of the report’s co-authors have derived much of their thinking from an advocate of the racist ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory; and one co-author is openly allied with an antisemitic political party with Nazi roots, which is currently being boycotted by Israel.

According to the Home Office, Prevent aims to “safeguard vulnerable people from becoming terrorists or supporting terrorism by engaging with people who are vulnerable to radicalisation and protecting those who are being targeted by terrorist recruiters”. It is one of the four elements of the Government’s ‘CONTEST’ counter-terrorism strategy.

The Policy Exchange report targets a number of Muslim civil society groups as being ringleaders in the ‘enabling’ of terrorism due to their criticisms of Prevent – including the Muslim Council of Britain, the Federation of Student Islamic Societies, Cage, 5Pillarz, and Mend.

In reality, there is a vast academic literature in the fields of counter-terrorism and counter-extremism which demonstrates the flaws of Prevent in particular, and government counter-extremism strategies more broadly.

My critical review of some of this literature in 2016 – cited in several studies including the analysis of Professor Bart Schuurman – highlighted how conventional counter-extremism approaches were failing due to bad science, vague risk assessment models, and faulty deradicalisation methodologies.

While there is scope for legitimate criticisms of some of the organisations opposed to Prevent identified in the report – Cage’s Moazzam Begg has endorsed brutal Islamist militants groups in Syria such as Ahrar al-Sham and al-Qaeda’s Al Nusra Front as counterweights to ISIS; 5Pillarz’ Roshan Salih has outed himself as an antisemite and Holocaust denier in his memoirs – the report conflates the diversity of Muslim groups with the impression that they operate together as a single, homogenous monolith of nefarious extremists.

The report’s hostility toward Muslim civil society groups, however, is no surprise given its authors. 


The ‘Great Replacement’ Advocate

One of the report’s co-authors, Dr Damon Lee Perry, has previously been exposed by Byline Times as the author of an anti-Muslim PhD thesis inspired by an advocate of the baseless and racist ‘Great Replacement’ conspiracy theory. 

The Great Replacement is “an ethno-nationalist theory warning that an indigenous European – e.g. white – population is being replaced by non-European immigrants” through a programme of reverse-colonisation, according to the Counter Extremism Project. It has inspired several far-right terrorist attacks in recent years, including in Christchurch and Texas.

Dr Perry’s thesis claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood group exerts global control over the majority of prominent Muslim civil society groups in the UK – a discredited conspiracy theory which has been ridiculed by leading counter-extremism experts such as former State Department official Peter Mandaville and Mark Potok, Senior Fellow at the Centre for Analysis of the Radical Right.

By his own admission, Dr Perry’s thesis was inspired by Dr Lorenzo Vidino – an American academic who is the director of the Programme on Extremism at George Washington University. He has direct ties to far-right hate groups in the US and advocates the Great Replacement theory.

Dr Vidino is cited 54 times in the first third of Dr Perry’s thesis. He is used to essentially justify the thesis’ labelling of a wide range of British Muslim community organisations as “members of ‘the New Muslim Brotherhood in the West’” – including, for instance, the Muslim Council of Britain.

According to Georgetown University’s Bridge Initiative, Dr Vidino is well-known for promoting “conspiracy theories about the Muslim Brotherhood in Europe and the United States” and “is connected to numerous anti-Muslim think tanks in the United States and Europe, and has published in various anti-Muslim outlets”. 

As Byline Times has previously revealed, Dr Vidino is himself on record advocating the Great Replacement theory. In 2005, when asked if Europeans were witnessing “the end of Europe” by FrontPage magazine (the far-right publication of anti-Muslim, anti-immigrant and anti-black activist David Horowitz), he said: “Europe as we knew it 30 years ago is long gone. Demography doesn’t lie: in a couple of decades non-ethnic Europeans will represent the majority of the population in many European cities and a large percentage of them will be Muslim.” 

Dr Perry is not the only connection between the Policy Exchange report and Dr Vidino. 

Another co-author of the report, former UK diplomat Sir John Jenkins – who led David Cameron’s review of the Muslim Brotherhood – spoke alongside Dr Vidino at a 2017 event hosted by him at George Washington University to discuss the review. Dr Vidino himself had been previously commissioned by Sir John to produce a paper and consultative briefing for the review.

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Cameron’s ‘Complete Idiot’

From 2002 to 2005, Dr Lorenzo Vidino was a senior analyst and Europe expert at Steve Emerson’s Investigative Project on Terrorism, identified by the Center for American Progress (CAP) as a top player in a global anti-Muslim “misinformation” network “orchestrating the majority of misinformation about Islam and Muslims in America today”. 

Emerson played a leading role in establishing the Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy theory through cherry-picking and misrepresentations of key documents. 

According to CAP’s online database of anti-Muslim hate groups, he “employs unsubstantiated threats that portray Muslims as dangerous to accrue funding” and has a reputation “for fabricating evidence to substantiate his ravings about Muslim extremism”.

In 2015, Emerson was notoriously ridiculed by David Cameron as “a complete idiot” for calling Birmingham a Muslim-controlled ‘no go zone’. Yet the former Prime Minister is now endorsing a report that is in effect inspired by one of Steve Emerson’s chief acolytes.


The Neo-Nazi Connection

A third author of the Policy Exchange report, Dr Paul Stott, has also bought into Dr Lorenzo Vidino’s Muslim Brotherhood conspiracy theory.

Dr Stott is the author of a separate report, Network of Networks: The Muslim Brotherhood in Europe, commissioned and published by the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) Group last October.

Like Dr Perry’s work, Dr Stott’s report relies heavily on Dr Vidino – citing the Great Replacement advocate 27 times. 

The ECR Group has had strong recent affiliations to far-right political parties across Europe.

In 2016, I was commissioned by the UK Government-funded Tell MAMA – a national watchdog on anti-Muslim hate crimes – to investigate the rise of the far-right in Europe as a trans-Atlantic network. The investigation revealed the extent to which members of the ECR Group harboured right-wing extremist, racist and even neo-Nazi sympathies. 

One longstanding member of the ECR Group until today is the Sweden Democrats – founded by Nazi sympathiser Gustaf Ekstrom, a former member of the Waffen SS. Its first leader, Anders Klarstrom, was active in the neo-Nazi Nordic Realm Party. Sweden’s former Prime Minister Stefan Lofven has described the Sweden Democrats as a “neo-fascist single-issue party”, citing its early links with Keep Sweden Swedish and White Aryan Resistance. 

Despite the Sweden Democrats’ efforts to rebrand and publicly renounce Nazism, its ongoing “neo-Nazi tendencies” were noted by Tzipi Hotovely, the current Israeli Ambassador to the UK, who refused to meet the group when she was deputy foreign secretary. Ayelet Shaked, the current Israeli Interior Minister, also boycotted the Sweden Democrats; as has Israel’s Ambassador to Sweden, Ziv Nevo Kulman, who has said that Israel has no ties with the far-right party.

Although the Sweden Democrats articulates performative support for Israel, experts point to recent evidence of active antisemitism and racism.

Leaked recordings, for instance, revealed the party’s finance spokesperson Oscar Sjostedi laughing as he recounted how his co-workers in an abattoir in Iceland had kicked around sheep carcasses while shouting “Die Jews!”.

Bjorn Soder, a Sweden Democrat MP and former second Deputy Speaker of the Swedish Parliament, has said that while Jews and other minorities can hold Swedish citizenship, they “are not Swedes”.

The party also continues to advocate biological racism. According to Swedish historian Mikael Nilsson, an expert on Hitler and National Socialism, as late as a few years ago the party “still talked about different nationalities having different biological ‘essences’” and only stopped doing so in 2019 due to heavy public criticism.

Even the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism describes the Sweden Democrats’ position on antisemitism as “flexible”. It has said that “the party is against Jew-hatred when it suits, especially when the issue can be exploited to suspect Muslims as a category” but “at the same time, the SD houses a number of representatives at different levels who have expressed antisemitism, often without this facing protests from the party leadership”.

It is therefore shocking that the introduction to Dr Stott’s report – drafted during his role as head of security and extremism at Policy Exchange – is written by Sweden Democrats MEP Charlie Weimers, who chairs the ECR’s ‘working group for religious freedom’. 

Weimers claims in his introduction that not only is “non-violent Islamism” being ignored by politicians but – in the vein of the Great Replacement theory – points to a conspiratorial alliance between Islamists and European political elites. “The politicians are still trying to buy off the Islamists and this increases their power and fattens their organisations,” he writes. “At all levels.” 

Dr Stott’s report goes to pains to characterise a wide variety of Muslim civil society groups as a sprawling hydra-like web of evil laundering Shariah Law into the West as part of a secretive Muslim Brotherhood agenda.

The Sweden Democrats appears to have played the lead role in the ECR Group in supporting the publication of Dr Stott’s report. Weimers organised and hosted the launch of the report, at which he described his role in commissioning the report and assigning its core objectives. 


Research Integrity

Either Policy Exchange is incapable of recognising far-right extremism; or it recognises it but is willing to work with and channel it for its own purposes.

It is ironic that in attacking critics of Prevent as enablers of terrorism, its new report leverages far-right extremist conspiracy theories that portray Muslims as a homogenous ‘enemy within’ in Western societies.

It is even more ironic that David Cameron finds himself siding with ideas tracing back to a far-right ideologue he once described as a “complete idiot”.

Neither Cameron nor Policy Exchange responded to requests for comment.

But what is perhaps most unnerving is that one co-author of the report, Policy Exchange’s top counter-extremism expert, has worked closely with an antisemitic political party in Europe which is currently being boycotted by Israel. This should give anyone pause for thought about the integrity of this research.

A robust debate on how to successfully counter the scourge of terrorism and extremism is sorely needed. But this report reveals how far-right narratives are disfiguring public discourse and polarising communities even further. 

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