Kate Middleton: walking uterus!

The speculation about whether the princess is pregnant is a sad indication of the way we view our royals.

The speculation about whether the princess is pregnant is a sad indication of the way we view our public figures.

Kate Middleton, our princess of dreams, is slowly becoming dismembered. Just as her sister was reduced to a pair of ripe buttocks by the sexy gaze of the media back in April, now Kate faces the same Boxing Helena fate -- but her destiny is a walking uterus rather than a walking bum.

Photos of Kate last week showed that her hands were near her stomach. Aha! She must be preggers! Or thinking about a baby! Or about to pop one out on the sly! She once refused a peanut butter sandwich! Maybe she's pregnant! Maybe she's about to have the ROYAL BABY just after the ROYAL WEDDING! Hurry up, ma'am, and use your uterus before it runs out!

More prosaic explanations for the pictures -- for example, that she didn't have any pockets, so where was she meant to put her hands? -- could be swept aside. "So what's making Kate so happy?" nudged the Daily Mail, along with the Daily Express and Daily Star, who also carried the photo on their front pages. Maybe she'd met someone she knew? Maybe she was having a nice time? Maybe she likes doing princess things and being a princess? Aha, but with a wink here and a nod there, we get the picture: KATE MIGHT BE PREGNANT!

You might argue that that's all a princess of the realm ever is -- a pretty face, a nice wave and very little else; someone to wear pretty dresses and then squirt out a kid when the Crown demands it. You might say that's the career and the ambition that Kate M chose when she decided to become part of the cobweb-ridden old aristocratic family from her "common" roots.

I don't agree. Surely this person, regardless of whether or not she is a princess, is a human being, a woman with dreams and ambitions, a person with a being, with a soul? Well, it's just that we don't see William, Kate's husband, as essentially being a pair of testicles. We see beyond the gonads when it comes to him, and see a person.

We don't just think: oh come on, Wills, your role is to pump out some blue-blooded semen, so let's get on with it. We don't linger on photographs of his crotch, wondering whether he is about to produce the royal fluids to extend the family line. We just let him get on with it. But that's not a freedom that we extend to his better half: she is destined to be a barren womb, until such time as she becomes pregnant, and then that's that; her work will have been done.

There's another thing, too, aside from the fact we have barely moved on since medieval times in the way we view princesses. The post-Leveson landscape doesn't look spectacularly different from the Bad Old Days. As ever, speculation about the pregnancy (or otherwise) of a public figure is a rather unpleasant thing if that person in question hasn't chosen to make it public, or hasn't reached the stage at which such things should really be made public.

Surely such things are, you know, private, even for public figures? Or is every time Kate looks happy (or sad), or fat (or thin), or puts her hands near her belly (or not), going to be evidence that she might be up the duff? Is that what we've really come to, as a nation, in the way we see our public figures? If so, I find it all rather sad.

Patrolling the murkier waters of the mainstream media
Photo: Getty
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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.