Malcolm X and me

In his final Faith Column on Hip Hop Anthony Thomas gives his personal testimony of how book he read

My first engagement with 'Black' politics came as a teenager. On my 14th birthday I was given a book by a friend of my mothers, the book was a collection of speeches by Malcolm X titled Malcolm X speaks.

At the time I was not very sure who Malcolm X was but I had seen posters and printed t-shirts with the name and face of Malcolm on worn by rap influenced Afrocentric youth, I had heard his name mentioned on Rap records but he was nothing but an abstract image.

Until I came across that book I had no idea what he stood for, although I knew it was something to do with 'Black' people. Later that day as I went to bed I began to flick through the pages and was blown away, by the power of his words. Within the next few weeks I would spend my evenings after school reading and thinking about Malcolm X and, a race consciousness that I had never experienced before began to engulf me. All I wanted to do was be Malcolm X.

Terms like Black Nationalism, concepts about the field and house Negro, and the dream for a Black revolution started to occupy my teenage mind. I remember going out and buying a pair of fashion spectacles, some of my friends at school started to say that I looked like Malcolm X, like Malcolm X I was the son of a light skinned Black woman and a very dark Black man, I was often called Red and one of my street names was Red man because of my complexion, a name also given to the young Malcolm X. All this just added fuel to my fire.

This feeling lasted for a few months but I soon moved into what has become the stereotypical life of inner city 'Black' teenagers from single parent and low income families, crime and gang violence. However, my engagement with the teachings of Malcolm X would have a profound effect on my thinking and set the foundation for who I am today.

In 1992 Spike Lee directed his classic film on Malcolm X. I went to the cinema to watch it and when it came out on video would sit down and watch it for days on end. I also began to search around for other footage that I could find on Malcolm I wanted to know everything.

The search for more knowledge on Malcolm led me to many other 'Black' political thinkers. My search for knowledge would lead to me becoming a book seller on the streets of Brixton, a move I had made to feed my ever growing habit. Eventually my search would lead to me sharing platforms with the likes of Jesse Jackson, meeting with Barack Obama and becoming a spokesman for a new generation.

What does this have to do with Hip Hop? Everything, the spirit of Hip Hop is the spirit of Malcolm X, Hip Hop is the child of Malcolm X, and the Hip Hop generation is a generation made in the image of Malcolm, a generation of rebels, who speak truth to power regardless of the consequences.

Anthony Thomas is the founder and CEO of Hip Hop Generation. He is a philosopher,organiser and entrepreneur. He is a director of London Citizens and the Black Londoners Forum.
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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.