In this week's New Statesman: The A-Z of Iran

Everything you need to know about the world's most controversial country.

The magazine is now available on newsstands around the country, and domestic/overseas purchasers can order a single issue copy here.

The A-Z of Iran

In this week’s cover story, the New Statesman offers an A-Z guide to the Islamic Republic of Iran. The topics span the nation’s complex history, culture, economics and politics, and range from Cinema and Khomeini/Khamenei to Nose Jobs and Diaspora.

In the article “E for Embassy”, the founder and president of the National Iranian American Council, Trita Parsi, traces US-Iran relations from before the 1979 siege of the US embassy in Tehran to the present day. Following George W Bush‘s eight years of failed foreign policy, writes Parsi, Barack Obama in 2008 did what no one before him had done and made diplomacy with Iran “a central theme of his foreign-policy platform”. Since then, however, the US president has abandoned this pursuit:

[B]y the time the Iranians were ready to broker a deal in May 2010, when Turkey and Brazil’s mediation secured Tehran’s agreement to a fuel swap built on the benchmarks of a US proposal from only six months earlier, US politics had taken its toll on Obama. With congressional midterm elections only months away, he had to choose between the breakthrough produced by Turkey and Brazil and sanctions at the UN Security Council. He chose the latter.

More than three decades on from the embassy siege, US-Iranian relations are still hostage to the fear and mistrust perpetuated by America, and to Iran’s missteps of yesteryear and today.

Writing about “G for Green Movement”, the Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari recalls being imprisoned in June 2009 for peacefully demonstrating against the rigged re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad:

My interrogators seemed literally to believe that such mass demonstrations against a “holy regime” could not happen without the help of evil western governments, especially the United States, and the financial help of the rich Zionists who run the western media. As a reporter for Newsweek magazine in Iran, I was, in effect, representing evil Zionists.

Bahari writes that nowadays he is often asked if the Green Movement is dead. He answers with a resounding “no”:

The protests in the streets of Tehran and many other Iranian cities in 2009 were manifestations of a civil rights movement through which people peacefully demanded their rights as citizens. Those who expected the Green Movement to topple [Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali] Khamenei’s despotic regime and bring a western-style democracy to power were wrong. The Green Movement is a collective cry for a normal life.

Possibly the most topical piece, “U for Uranium”, is written by Peter Jenkins, Britain’s former permanent representative to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and now leader of the international diplomatic partnership ADRg Ambassadors. Jenkins slams the west for its “legacy of countless misunderstandings and historic clashes” with Iran, a distrust that affected the IAEA’s assessment in 2003 of the nation’s enrichment facility at Natanz. Jenkins describes how western governments, in their attempts to eliminate all enrichment of uranium in Iran, have used persuasion, coercion and, eventually, “the threat of (illegal) military action”.

Jenkins argues that resolution will come when the west recognises that Iranian leaders – as various US assessments have found – “are rational actors whose decisions are based on classic cost/benefit calculations”, and that there is an “absence of hard evidence that Iran has breached the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Threaty (NPT)”. He then explains how the west can change tack:

Instead of trying to stamp out enrichment, it can revert to treating Iran like other NPT parties. It can negotiate, agreeing to tolerate low-risk enrichment activities in return for Tehran offering the best possible guarantees that all its nuclear materials will remain in non-military use.

Ian Blair: police independence is under threat

In the NS Essay, “Regression to the mean”, the former commissioner of the Metropolitan Police Ian Blair warns that the coalition government’s keenness to pursue a tough line on law and order – exemplified by four wide-ranging policy changes on policing – undermines the authority of the police and risks destroying the great institution created by Robert Peel.

[Police commissioners] will be elected on tribal lines and, seeking re-election, they will put continual pressure on the police to deal with matters of concern to their supporters, irrespective of where crime is occurring. How many times will a chief constable, with now almost no security of tenure, stand up to that pressure or insist on dealing with matters such as organised crime or forced marriage, about which the commissioners’ electorates do not care? . . .

In policing, we are about to regress to the mean. It is particularly ironic that Peel’s own party is involved in driving the partial destruction of his greatest legacy.

Elsewhere in the New Statseman

  • The actress Romola Garai reports on the women fleeing eastern Congo for the relative safety of refugee camps in Burundi.
  • In the Critics, Leo Robson takes the measure of Martin Amis's new novel, Lionel Asbo: State of England.
  • Ryan Gilbey assesses the career of Rainer Werner Fassbinder 30 years after the German director's death.
  • David Owen on Britain and its place in the eurozone.
  • John Burnside reflects in the Nature column on roadkill, feeling for our fellow creatures and country road mayhem.

The magazine is now available on newsstands around the country, and domestic/overseas purchasers can order a single issue copy here.

Alice Gribbin is a Teaching-Writing Fellow at the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She was formerly the editorial assistant at the New Statesman.

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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.