Black humour in Scotland Yard?

The gathering of the clans

Glencoe was the sight of the massacre of the MacDonalds - so it was perhaps not the most prudent name for the police operation to manage demonstrations marking the convergence of G20 leaders on London this week. Black humour in Scotland Yard perhaps?

On the eve of the protests, Socialist Unity predicted police brutality. Recalling Gleneagles, John Wright wrote: “It was inevitable that there would be trouble, though it was not started by protesters... [w]hat began as a good humoured protest by a group of protesters, the self styled Clown Army, who many will have seen on demos up and down the country engaging in silly antics, soon gave way to ugly scenes of riot police charging into peaceful protesters lashing out indiscriminately”.

And as President Obama flew in and the crowds descended on the City, Anna Bragga at The Green Room was “shaken and appalled” by the policing, finding herself “condemned to a terrifying ordeal of being trapped in a confined space – a section of Princes Street - with an increasingly frustrated and angry group of protesters”. She concluded by calling on Green Party representatives to hold the Met to account for its poor handling of the day.

Not everyone was protesting against unregulated markets. Conservative Home posted images direct from the small but fiesty “pro-capitalist” counter demo. The banner asking “Who is John Galt?” held aloft by students from York University was thought witty by some, alienating by others. Meanwhile their comrades at Samizdata highlighted a study of free banking in 19th century Scotland, arguing that it illustrates a paradigm of the true laissez faire capitalism from which we have long since strayed.

Reactions to the summit were drawing a wry smile from Hopi Sen, who noted: “British Conservative Eurosceptics finding exciting new ways to contort themselves into admiration for the stance of the EUs most statist and regulatory governments,” while suspecting that their warmth towards the French and Germans would be fleeting. Hopi was among the legions of bloggers not invited to blog live from the G20, leaving a rather forlorn Tom Watson tapping away in the “vast airport hangar style media lounge” with little company...

For more thoughtful takes on the summit, read Obsolete on Brown's last throw of the dice and Andrew Brown on the Pope siding with the protesters.

What have we learned this week?

That Iain Dale is a quite wicked man - teasing his poor readers on April Fool's Day with a post claiming that criticism from bloggers (“whose boots I am not fit to lick”) has driven him to withdraw from the Orwell Prize.

Around the World

The Goy's Guide to Israel watched the inaugural session of the new Israeli government and analysed its players based on their choice of outfits, from Bibi's “disgusting spotted mauve tie” to Marina Solodkin's “delightful shawl”.

Video of the Week

This hand shot footage of clashes between police and protesters in the City reflects quite poorly on both.

Quote of the Week

“Oh, and then they trashed RBS. Nice one, guys! Destroy the institution that's owned by, uh, us. The taxpayer. Well done.”

Sadie Smith is unimpressed.

Paul Evans is a freelance journalist, and formerly worked for an MP. He lives in London, but maintains his Somerset roots by drinking cider.
Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The Prevent strategy needs a rethink, not a rebrand

A bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy.

Yesterday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on radicalization in the UK. While the focus of the coverage has been on its claim that social media companies like Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are “consciously failing” to combat the promotion of terrorism and extremism, it also reported on Prevent. The report rightly engages with criticism of Prevent, acknowledging how it has affected the Muslim community and calling for it to become more transparent:

“The concerns about Prevent amongst the communities most affected by it must be addressed. Otherwise it will continue to be viewed with suspicion by many, and by some as “toxic”… The government must be more transparent about what it is doing on the Prevent strategy, including by publicising its engagement activities, and providing updates on outcomes, through an easily accessible online portal.”

While this acknowledgement is good news, it is hard to see how real change will occur. As I have written previously, as Prevent has become more entrenched in British society, it has also become more secretive. For example, in August 2013, I lodged FOI requests to designated Prevent priority areas, asking for the most up-to-date Prevent funding information, including what projects received funding and details of any project engaging specifically with far-right extremism. I lodged almost identical requests between 2008 and 2009, all of which were successful. All but one of the 2013 requests were denied.

This denial is significant. Before the 2011 review, the Prevent strategy distributed money to help local authorities fight violent extremism and in doing so identified priority areas based solely on demographics. Any local authority with a Muslim population of at least five per cent was automatically given Prevent funding. The 2011 review pledged to end this. It further promised to expand Prevent to include far-right extremism and stop its use in community cohesion projects. Through these FOI requests I was trying to find out whether or not the 2011 pledges had been met. But with the blanket denial of information, I was left in the dark.

It is telling that the report’s concerns with Prevent are not new and have in fact been highlighted in several reports by the same Home Affairs Select Committee, as well as numerous reports by NGOs. But nothing has changed. In fact, the only change proposed by the report is to give Prevent a new name: Engage. But the problem was never the name. Prevent relies on the premise that terrorism and extremism are inherently connected with Islam, and until this is changed, it will continue to be at best counter-productive, and at worst, deeply discriminatory.

In his evidence to the committee, David Anderson, the independent ombudsman of terrorism legislation, has called for an independent review of the Prevent strategy. This would be a start. However, more is required. What is needed is a radical new approach to counter-terrorism and counter-extremism, one that targets all forms of extremism and that does not stigmatise or stereotype those affected.

Such an approach has been pioneered in the Danish town of Aarhus. Faced with increased numbers of youngsters leaving Aarhus for Syria, police officers made it clear that those who had travelled to Syria were welcome to come home, where they would receive help with going back to school, finding a place to live and whatever else was necessary for them to find their way back to Danish society.  Known as the ‘Aarhus model’, this approach focuses on inclusion, mentorship and non-criminalisation. It is the opposite of Prevent, which has from its very start framed British Muslims as a particularly deviant suspect community.

We need to change the narrative of counter-terrorism in the UK, but a narrative is not changed by a new title. Just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, a bad policy by any other name is still a bad policy. While the Home Affairs Select Committee concern about Prevent is welcomed, real action is needed. This will involve actually engaging with the Muslim community, listening to their concerns and not dismissing them as misunderstandings. It will require serious investigation of the damages caused by new Prevent statutory duty, something which the report does acknowledge as a concern.  Finally, real action on Prevent in particular, but extremism in general, will require developing a wide-ranging counter-extremism strategy that directly engages with far-right extremism. This has been notably absent from today’s report, even though far-right extremism is on the rise. After all, far-right extremists make up half of all counter-radicalization referrals in Yorkshire, and 30 per cent of the caseload in the east Midlands.

It will also require changing the way we think about those who are radicalized. The Aarhus model proves that such a change is possible. Radicalization is indeed a real problem, one imagines it will be even more so considering the country’s flagship counter-radicalization strategy remains problematic and ineffective. In the end, Prevent may be renamed a thousand times, but unless real effort is put in actually changing the strategy, it will remain toxic. 

Dr Maria Norris works at London School of Economics and Political Science. She tweets as @MariaWNorris.