Morning Call: pick of the comment

The ten must-read pieces from this morning's papers

1. The Tories are trying to buy the election (Independent)

Jack Straw says that David Cameron's plan to fight the most expensive election campaign in British political history is at odds with his "age of austerity", and accuses the Tory leader of attempting to buy his way to power.

2. A dying refrain (Times)

A leader attacks China's execution of Akmal Shaikh and says that it has illuminated "the state-blessed barbarism" of that country's penal code.

3. What this execution doesn't say about China and Britain (Independent)

But a leader in the Independent says it is hypocritical to criticise China for using the death penalty while we appear to turn a blind eye to its use elsewhere.

4. David Cameron's campaign suggests a belief in nothing except money (Daily Telegraph)

Like Jack Straw, Simon Heffer argues that an £18m Tory election campaign is likely to trouble a country "in the grip of austerity".

5. Broken Bosnia needs western attention (Financial Times)

William Hague and Paddy Ashdown warn that Bosnia's "cold peace" is under threat and say that Europe must act to prevent the breakdown of the state.

6. A decade of global crimes, but also crucial advances (Guardian)

Seumas Milne argues that the death of the Washington consensus and the emergence of a multipolar world give reason to be cheerful.

7. Amid dark times, meet the most inspiring people of 2009 (Independent)

Johann Hari names the most inspiring figures of 2009, including Peter Tatchell, Amy Goodman and Evo Morales, and says they have followed the advice of the newsman Wes Nisker to "make your own news".

8. The trouble with Twitter (Guardian)

James Harkin says Twitter has done little more than allow us "to stare at our own narcissistic reflection".

9. The challenges of managing our post-crisis world (Financial Times)

Martin Wolf warns of a "perilous complacency" that ignores the continuing fragility of our global economy and civilisation.

10. Inheritance tax penalises aspiration (Daily Telegraph)

A leader praises the Tories for defending their plan to cut inheritance tax and calls on the party to take a similarly robust line on the new 50p income-tax rate.


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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.