A journey into Scientology

Currently much talked about and argued over in the media, Kenneth Eckerersley explains how he came t

I was born in 1927 and started my religious life in the Church of England, as a member of Sunday School and the choir. I joined the Cubs, then the Scouts and after serving in the Royal Navy, became a Scoutmaster. Work with the Old People’s Welfare Association and Road Safety Committee led to my joining the District Council and to later serving on the Magistrate’s Bench until my job moved me into Europe.

In 1950 I read the book: DIANETICS: The Modern Science of Mental Health, and was fascinated by the way in which that research related to the world around me, and how I could directly put it into practice in my life, to help myself and others. Later when Ron Hubbard’s discovery that man is basically good and is seeking to survive as a spiritual being led to the development of Scientology, it became clear to many of his students that his researches and writings were in fact in the field of religion. Hence the first Churches of Scientology were formed.

Insofar as this new religion validated man’s spiritual nature it also confirmed earlier beliefs, and I soon found myself with a circle of friends from a wide range of other religions who, like me, recognised that Scientology complemented the beliefs of people of goodwill and provided a common set of values, as well as being the religion of choice for many who earlier had professed no belief.

These values included beliefs held by all Scientologists as part of their Creed. The principles in that Creed have become personal certainties for me and I now hold them as an important part of my life.

Miracle-like experiences brought by Scientology to my brother and my wife I shall describe in a later post, but for myself the main results of my study of Hubbard’s works have been twofold

Firstly, I now have an unassailable good natured and cheerful certainty in myself. A quiet confidence that nothing can really trouble me for more than a short time because I know that I will quickly find a solution. I find that that certainty and self-confidence play themselves out in my life.

Secondly, because I personally feel at peace with myself, I am able to observe and give attention to the plight of our communities and the individuals within those communities, and this has resulted in a daily desire to help others in a wide variety of ways.

Sometimes the help is financial, but mainly it is hands on: making full use of the various skills I have learnt in Scientology. Helping addicts recover from drugs or alcohol. Helping the recently bereaved recover from their loss. Helping those in physical pain understand and overcome it. Helping those in fear or other painful emotion deal with it and recover. And what do you know? As I help others - with no real additional effort - my own life and quality of survival blossoms more and more as my friends increase in number and rise towards their own certainties.

In later posts I shall discuss Scientology and my family, the groups to which I belong, mankind, other life forms, the physical and spiritual universes, belief in a Supreme Being and why Scientology has been attacked.

Kenneth Eckersley is active in the Church of Scientology, and is a former Magistrate and Justice of the Peace.
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.