Falun Gong is a constant reminder of Chinese oppression

The Chinese government has a long way to go in learning how to treat and respect humanity

A recent Saturday morning, a short, colourful and dignified procession set off from outside the Chinese embassy in Portland Place. It was composed of practitioners and supporters of the Falun Gong movement, a slightly bizarre quasi-religious organisation that believes in meditation and bits of various Eastern religions.

To me, as a mainstream Christian, it may be slightly odd but it is entirely harmless and believes in peace and goodwill and the general well-being of mankind. However, to the Communist Chinese regime it is a major threat to their very survival and needs to be ruthlessly put down in a manner worthy of Hitler’s approach to the "Jewish question".

Why? Because as with all totalitarian regimes the Chinese cannot tolerate any organisation they cannot control, hence their approach to the Roman Catholic Church over recent decades. However, Falun Gong does not have the Pope to defend it, and the wholesale persecution of Falun Gong has gone largely unreported in the West.

Members have suffered spells in labour camps, murder and a particularly brutal Chinese practise; the forced removal of organs for transplant. Falun Gong worshippers are not unique in this respect: Buddhist monks, Tibetan nationalists and political deviants of all kinds continue to suffer. Despite the rise of modern cities, China trails only Burma as the most repressive Asian regime.

Yet, in 2005 Her Majesty the Queen was forced to entertain President Hu Jintao to the full panoply of a State visit. Not since 1978 when President Ceausescu of Romania peed over the wallpaper of Buckingham Palace, has the leader of such a cruel and vicious regime been feted by the British establishment.

The Mayor of London is not alone in spending hundreds of thousands of pounds opening offices in China and encouraging tourists to come to London, but he seems oblivious to the fact that only the "well behaved" are allowed to leave China.

The City Corporation fawns over the People's Republic to the extent that last November I found myself walking the length of the Guildhall Library between the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster and the Chinese ambassador as we were announced at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet. The Communist functionary looked far better in white tie and tails than I did, and it rather reminded me of King George VI receiving Ribbentrop in the 1930s.

I once visited the Chinese Embassy to meet the ambassador who, at the time, was a rather pleasant chap who had been educated at Ealing technical college in the 1950s and complained that from his first floor office window he could constantly see the permanent demonstration on the pavement opposite.

“That,“ I told the Ambassador, “was the price of democracy.“ However from the sparsely furnished, heavily marbled and thick red carpet (a la Kremlin 1950s) in the embassy, his excellency could not see the irony.

Town Halls up and down the country are besieged by requests from Chinese towns for twinning arrangements and reciprocal visits, but as mayors serve the tea and cucumber sandwiches they do not realise that the polite man who calls himself “vice mayor” is usually the official responsible for sending dissidents off to the Chinese gulag.

The Chinese regime craves recognition, and, sadly, British politicians, businessmen and university vice chancellors are prepared to afford that recognition in exchange for contracts that are helping the Chinese to destroy their environment, persecute their people and stifle democracy.

I am in no doubt that the evil and corrupt regime that currently represses so many of our fellow human beings will fall. Then, perhaps, its many sycophantic supporters in the UK will hang their heads in shame as low as they do now in respect to these Communist butchers.

Brian Coleman was first elected to the London Assembly in June 2000. Widely outspoken he is best known for his groundbreaking policy of removing traffic calming measures
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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.