In defence of the police

Why I won’t be weeping for Raoul Moat.

For once, I have to disagree with my friend and colleague James Macintyre. Yesterday James wrote that Angus Moat, brother of the dead gunman Raoul Moat, "should be heard" and he condemned the "trigger-happy police force in this country".

Let me address both these claims, which I consider to be a load of rubbish. First, "trigger-happy" police? Don't get me wrong. I condemned and castigated the Met for the death of Jean-Charles de Menezes at the hands of CO19, as well as over the 2006 shooting of the brothers in Forest Gate. I think the number of deaths in police custody is still far too high. But "trigger-happy"?

For a start, the British police remain largely unarmed. And in the case of Moat, Northumbria Police have confirmed that "no shots were fired by police officers" and that "the suspect shot himself". I'm sorry to have to point this out to James, but policemen using Tasers against an armed, wanted man, after a six-hour stand-off, can't be described as "trigger-happy". If you want to know what "trigger-happy" police look like, see here or here.

Then there is the bizarre claim from Angus Moat that his little brother Raoul was the victim of a "public execution". Is he having a laugh? Some might argue that his brother -- on the run for a week, having killed an innocent, unarmed man and shot a police officer in the face -- should have been shot on sight. He hadn't relinquished his weapon, and yet, as I've pointed out, police officers spent six hours trying to negotiate with him and ended up using Tasers, rather than live ammunition, to end the stand-off.

Perhaps Mr Moat Sr should go to China or Saudi Arabia, where they carry out rather gruesome and merciless "public executions", and see how different those look. And perhaps he should be sending his condolences to the family of Chris Brown, who his little brother murdered in cold blood, rather than extolling Raoul as a "friendly, generous soul -- a very loyal individual, warm, with a great sense of humour, just a lovely, lovely guy".

Yes, warm, friendly Raoul Moat, who, prior to his shooting spree, had been serving time for assaulting a nine-year-old child. In the words of the Independent on Sunday, "He killed a man he didn't know, seriously wounded a woman and a police officer, and assaulted a little girl. But well-wishers wanted to grant him the sentimentalising gestures normally reserved for the victims of crime and accidents."

Such "well-wishers" are, in my view, fools. And I, for one, won't be weeping over his death. Yes, there are "serious questions" for the police to answer, such as "why Moat's former partner was not protected after a warning from Durham Prison authorities, and the lack of surveillance at the homes of known Moat associates", etc, etc, but the police are not responsible for Raoul Moat's death. Raoul Moat is responsible for Raoul Moat's death (and, of course, Chris Brown's, too). Good riddance, I say . . .

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

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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.