Blazing a trail

Approaches to leadership evolve, and one man's vision for an art centre enriches the whole community

In recent weeks there has been a series of meetings organised by the Foundation and the New Findhorn Association (NFA), on community building. The theme of the latest was Leadership. I did not go to this meeting, so I will not write about it - but it has got me thinking about leadership in the community and how it’s perceived.

Leadership is a word that comes up often here. It features in the titles of workshops and meetings - and is generally a topic of interest. This is perhaps not surprising as we don‘t have really have leaders in the generally understood sense of the word. The Foundation has a management group who make decisions about budgets and policy and so on. Their function is basically administrative which is not the same thing as leadership. This is not to say that members of Management aren’t leaders, but it doesn’t necessarily go with the territory. In any case, Management’s writ does not run outside the Foundation and the majority in the community are not Foundation staff members.

In the early days, leadership was very straightforward. Peter and Eileen Caddy with Dorothy Maclean founded the community through following divine guidance. Eileen got the guidance from a higher source and Peter, to whom God did not speak but who had utter faith in the validity of what came through Eileen, carried out whatever that guidance suggested. The style was autocratic but appropriate for the time. Without Peter’s intense focus, the community might never have been built.

This changed when Eileen received guidance that she should no longer give guidance to the community. Her inspirational messages could be found in her books but she no longer gave practical directions to the community. It was now on its own and had to experiment with new forms of leadership.

Today the concept of leadership has evolved into the idea that anyone can be a leader. It is not dependant on position or popularity or divine authority although inner authority is a necessary part. For me, leadership is demonstrated when someone has a clear vision that they firmly believe in and then take the necessary steps to bring it into being. If the vision is a good one and the timing is right, support will naturally follow.

A good example of this is the Moray Art Centre. Until very recently the arts at Findhorn were housed in a few shabby pre-fabricated bungalows, which apart from the pottery, were little used. Randy Klinger, a painter who lives here had a vision for a proper art centre, one that would serve not only the Findhorn community but also all of Moray. There would be studios, exhibition space and room for craft shows, classes and lectures. It would be a focal point for the arts in the area. It would not be cheap.

Randy had no money himself and the Foundation were unable to help, but he held to his vision even through times when support was lukewarm, found supporters and funding and the Art Centre is now a reality. Not yet completed nor totally paid for, it is already active and providing a venue for the arts at Findhorn.

I find it very inspiring to see how one person, without financial resources, without sanction from any other ‘authority’ has a vision and makes it happen. That is real leadership.

An inspired individual is one thing but the question that comes up for the community is, how do we, as a collective, demonstrate leadership. Guidance, group process, being the change we want to see—these are among the elements that go into the ongoing work of defining and embodying that elusive quality known as leadership.

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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.