Lord Carey loses his pulpit

Among the few people mourning the sudden demise of the News of the World may well be the former Arch

For some years now, Lord Carey has taken advantage of the tabloid's distinguished columns to lament the moral decline of society, to warn readers of the threat posed by immigration and Islam, to bemoan the persecution of Christians by bureaucratic multiculturalists, to have the occasional dig at the Pope and subtly to undermine his successor Rowan Williams.

Who could forget, for example, his scandalised reaction to the mauling the Screws received at the hands of Max Mosley and Mr Justice Eady? According to Carey, the paper was absolutely right to expose Mosley's predilection for sadomasochistic sex games to the public gaze. In words that could almost have been ghost-written by Colin Myler, the archbishop feared that Eady's ruling would give carte blanche to depraved perverts everywhere.

It was "bad enough", thought Carey, that "without public debate or democratic scrutiny the courts have created a wholly new privacy law". More seriously from his point of view ("as a Christian leader") it was "deeply sad that public morality is the second victim of this legal judgement". Henceforth, he declared, "unspeakable and indecent behaviour, whether in public or in private" would no longer be considered "significant".

Carey seemed to have missed that the whole point of that ruling was that Mosley's privacy had been violated. His behaviour only became public courtesy of the newspaper in which he was writing. To Carey, though, there's no distinction between private and public morality. To think otherwise -- to imagine that what adults get up to in private should be their own business -- represented "a bleak, deeply-flawed "anything goes" philosophy", which was "dangerous and socially undermining, devoid of the basic, decent moral standards that form the very fabric of our society".

The same decent moral standards that kept the News of the World going for 168 years, I suppose.

Carey wasn't finished with Mosley. In March 2009, he wrote complaining at Gordon Brown's refusal to apologise for the financial crisis -- by contrast with David Cameron, who had "accepted the blame for his party's failure to warn of looming economic danger." Failure to apologise, he argued, was "a sign of a relationship in trouble." A particulary glaring example, he thought, was Mosley's appearance at the House of Commons Select Committee hearing into privacy law. The MPs had "feebly conceded the moral high ground and chuckled at his jokes." Not one had drawn attention to his "moral depravity" and "appalling behaviour". But then, he implied, politicians don't understand the concept of apology.

In October 2009, Carey chose Nick Griffin's infamous appearance on Question Time as an appropriate peg to hang an outspoken attack on the government's immigration policies. He denounced the BNP leader as "a squalid racist" who "must not be allowed to hijack one of the world's great religions" (a strange way for an archbishop to describe his own faith). But he then went on to put much of the blame for Griffin's prominence on the "cowardly failure of successive governments to address our open borders".

Carey went on to demand "clear caps on population growth" and an abandonment of "the discredited policy of multiculturalism". " Make no mistake about it," he thundered, "immigration MUST be a major item on next year's General Election agenda."

Of course, the suggestion that BNP's success (such as it is) can be attributed to mass immigration was scarcely new. Nor the idea that politicians have paid insufficient heed to voters' views on the subject. But it was striking that Carey devoted more of his piece to an assault on government policy than to his attack on Griffin for "hijacking" Christianity, which was rather perfunctory.

There was so much more that he might have said. He might have drawn attention to the great contribution made to his own church by immigrants such as the present archbishop of York John Sentamu, or (someone more of the Carey persuasion) Michael Nazir-Ali, who was bishop of Rochester at the time. He might have extolled the legacy of Martin Luther King, or explained how Christianity had been distorted in the past by the Ku Klux Klan and the architects of Apartheid. He might have reminded readers of Christ's teaching of "love thy neighbour", or mentioned the little-known fact that one of the earliest recorded archbishops of Canterbury was an African. He might, in short, have explained why he thought Nick Griffin was wrong to use the Christian history of Britain in his propaganda. Instead he chose to grouse about immigration. Bizarre.

Carey's career as a kind of ecclesiastical Littlejohn has continued this year. April saw him return to the theme of overpopulation as he called for "a government with a united, national sense of purpose... which is sadly and tragically lacking." Acknowledging that "Jesus himself was a refugee after his birth and his family received hospitality in Egypt", he nevertheless stressed that "there are limits".

"Last year I visited the Middle East, and when I returned I saw more women wearing burkhas in London than I saw in Jerusalem," he complained.

Carey did, however, have some words of praise for David Cameron's tough-talking, which he contrasted with Vince Cable's "defiant act of rebellion" in opposing a blanket cap on immigration. The "real extremists in our midst", he wrote, were not the BNP but "those advocating open borders and uncontrolled migration."

Just last month, Carey used his News of the World pulpit to denounce the "appalling world of bungs and favours" in international football. "As a lifelong lover of the game," he wrote, "I can't believe how low it has sunk. FIFA is mired in financial skulduggery with a stink from the top that affects every layer of the game." It was a "sleazy body" that "must be dragged into the open air."

If he ever had similar thoughts about the sleazy newspaper that helped him extend his own public career for so many years, he kept them to himself.

 

Belief, disbelief and beyond belief
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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.