Russell Brand's replies to contributors: From Russell with love

Behind the scenes at the New Statesman guest edit.

 

From: Russell Brand

To: Daniel Pinchbeck

 

Never have you written more succinctly and irrefutably on this most nebulous and complex of topics. Excellent! Other than your dismissal of the term “Revolution”, which is the magazine’s theme and, I think, a necessary galvanising signifier for the previous generation and the more truculent members of the working class. How like you to be insurgent in a magazine about insurgence.

 

To: Gary Lineker

 

Gary! This is f***ing brilliant. Great vocab, cool swearing, great structure. Keeping possession in an unflustered, enveloping rhythm before scoring – a lovely gag nicked in the six-yard box, right at the death. If only the national side could do that.

The stuff about your personal experience as a young player and your dad’s disappointment at a discipline issue is cool and surprising but makes sense of the “Lineker myth” – I mean story, not myth as in untrue – of you as disciplined and gentlemanly.

I love hearing about the way you supported your sons – that’s really spiritual and sounds like simple good parenting.

I am reminded that I heard you say, when I was a kid, that you never put the ball in the net during the pre-match warm-up because a goal is sacred. That, for me, is where football and poetry intersect, at the point where there is magic beyond what we can understand. I suppose that’s why you lot are superstitious.

I don’t know anything about football. My inability to play the game is one of the great laments of my life – my dad and stepdad were both really good Sunday players and growing up in Essex in the Eighties and not knowing how to trap a ball was like going to school in a bikini. Which I also did.

 

To: Rupert Everett

 

What you have written is the most tender, personal, inclusive, funny, candid piece I’ve ever read on homosexual culture.

A mate of mine’s young relative has recently been diagnosed positive. There is a lot of fear and ignorance around him. I will pass on this gentle chronicle of his history and potentially bright and fun future. Your writing is an antidote to prejudice and fear.

The Wilde motif is f***ing brilliant, the throwaway, self-aware career refs are great fun. Your description of the transition of NYC from utopia to hospice is Dickensian. Emphasis on the first syllable. I like that you wrote it to me, as a letter. I come from a culture that can be surprisingly ignorant around homosexuality. Your candour and spellbinding charm woke me the f*** up.

Obviously like most heterosexual men on meeting you, there was a quick wince of regret that I wasn’t gay. After reading this, I’m seriously considering reverse conversion therapy.

To: Noel Gallagher

Really funny, smart, surprising and not in accordance with my manifesto – which will mean you’re in trouble after the revolution but you’re fine for now.

My prediction: “George Osborne – most slappable man in Britain” will take off and end up on T-shirts.

 

To: Oliver Stone

 

 

As I listened to Jemima reading your piece, I felt the wave of undulating devotion that typically accompanies her voice.

However, I can almost certainly ascribe the sense of fervid, virile, “fight the power”, “f*** the man”, hammer-and-sickle priapism to your writing. It was inspiring and thorough and entertaining and cool. Thank you.

 

To: Alec Baldwin

 

 

Yes, Alec! Yes! An authoritative, rolling, beat, HOWLing hymn of dissent.

I like the bludgeoning body shots of listed transgressions, the optimistic flights into a new, true, concealed narrative. Your naming of the Kennedy assassination as an end of innocence, a commencement of institutionalised deceit, is smart. The revaluation of truth as a prized, perversely neglected commodity is skilful.

I think you’re f***ing great, Alec Baldwin.

 

To: Naomi Klein

 

I received and read with relish (as much relish as one can muster when being politely informed that the planet is undergoing systematic destruction to maintain an imaginary economic idea) your brilliant and provocative piece. This wonderful, precise and accessible article is what the issue needed and validates the decision to go with such a potentially amorphous topic as “revolution”.

What you’ve written is galvanising , original and inspiring. I’ve not written anything yet but I’m so amped up on Klein-engendered fervour, I might instead throw my laptop through Powergen HQ’s windows. I read No Logo when I was in the foothills of my junkie-dom. I was in Cuba, coincidentally, flooded by anti-establishment rage. Had I not been high I could’ve got in trouble – they’re surprisingly strict there!

Reading your article made me feel the charge, the fuel, the kick that we can and must take action. I like that feeling, Naomi (especially now I’m not allowed drugs); it is in fact the feeling I live for. One of two feelings I live for . . . The other one is in fact summoning me now.

 

To: Judd Apatow

 

Thank you, Judd. Obviously your success, aside from the more starkly clown-based Anchorman and Cable Guy-type movies, is to a large degree based on your remarkable ability to infuse comedy with personal truth.

This piece of writing, though, has a rawness and innocence that I find very touching beyond what I’m accustomed to in your milieu. Comedy saved my life, too. Sometimes when I’m on the precipice, when I feel, even now, that I am that unselectable little boy, a joke comes, and humour sweeps me into its gangly arms and saves me.

Comedy is a retort to oppression, corruption and even death. It saved me when I was alone at home, at school, and every lonely, destitute place I’ve ever been in since. And now, when everything is actually OK and I still get down, comedy reminds me how silly I am, how silly it all is.

 

To: Diablo Cody

 

Beautiful writing, gentle, humorous, elegantly structured.

If there were Oscars for journalism, you’d have even more clutter in your downstairs loo.

 

To: John Rogers

 

John. We are friends. Proper, not pretend, to-the end friends.

Therefore I take you for granted. But that piece of writing surprised and excited me, mate. The simple unpretentiousness of walking as a revolutionary act.

What I found most remarkable, John, was the strength of your writing: purposeful, confident, strident and assured. It is my belief that it is this manner of authority and ease that is required for the advancement of our ideals.

 

To: David DeGraw

 

Clear as crystal, as sharp as broken glass, as explosive as a Molotov cocktail. There is some great writing in the issue, mate; but this spells out, in the dominant language of economics and in cold, hard numbers, the necessity for action.

 

To: Shepard Fairey

 

That image is f***ing spectacular. The comedy of the bulb, the literalism of the brain. This is why I call you the most relevant living artist. F*** the bourgeoisie, long live the revolution.

Russell holds the artwork for his guest edit's cover. Image: Kalpesh Lathigra

Russell Brand guest-edited the New Statesman in October 2013. Find him on Twitter: @rustyrockets.

This article first appeared in the 23 October 2013 issue of the New Statesman, Russell Brand Guest Edit

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.