US "pickup artist" Julien Blanc promotes the use of physical and sexual assaults against women to "seduce" them.
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Why Julien Blanc should not be let into the UK

The US "pickup artist" has crossed a line by promoting violence against women. 

In one week we have seen the debate about Dapper Laughs, the ongoing campaign against Ched Evans going back to train with Sheffield United, and the news of Julien Blanc planning an imminent tour of the UK. We have also seen thousands standing up taking a stand – and making a real difference. Dapper Laughs has lost his TV show and "retired" his character; Charlie Webster – herself a victim of abuse – and Jessica Ennis-Hill have drawn a line in the sand by telling Sheffield United they do not want to be associated with a club that employs Evans, and Blanc has had his Australian visa revoked after a petition to the immigration minister.

There is a real question to ask about whether we should allow Julien Blanc into the UK.  In his seminars he promotes the use of physical and sexual assaults on women in order to "seduce" them. He has explicitly endorsed behaviours associated with domestic abuse to sexually manipulate women.

Today the shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, wrote to Theresa May to ask her to consider using her powers to exclude him if she assesses that his presence is not in the public good. There is a clear precedent for this - our border controls mean we are under no obligation to allow people into our country if there is evidence they intend to incite violence. When we know that reports of incidents of domestic violence and sexual assaults are on the rise, are the "dating tricks" from Blanc really what we want to see in Britain? And at the end, he will leave the country with his earnings, while young men and women will be left with the impression that things he says and the actions he promotes are acceptable here in Britain.

We all defend free speech, but we also need to make choices when free speech crosses a line towards promoting or inciting acts of violence. If Julien Blanc's language had been about the way white people should behave towards black people (or the other way round), or the way able bodied people should treat disabled people, rather than being about male attitudes to females, would our response be different? Would we think he was inciting hate crime? The values Blanc espouses are hateful. He suggests women are worth less than men and can be used and discarded at will. These aren't the values parents want their sons and daughters to grow up with. 

The Labour Party has been lobbying the government hard to have compulsory age-appropriate sex and relationship education (SRE) taught in schools to help promote the understanding that no form of violence in relationships is acceptable. Last week I also wrote to Education Secretary Nicky Morgan again to urge her to change the government’s stance on SRE. We need to push back against misogynist attitudes in society, not encourage them.

At a time when we know one in three teenage girls experience unwanted groping at school, when sexting and revenge porn is on the rise, it’s clear we need a broader conversation about what we see as acceptable and in line with our values. One thing is clear, Julien Blanc is not.

Seema Malhotra is shadow minister for preventing violence against women and girls

Seema Malhotra is Labour MP for Feltham and Heston and shadow chief secretary to the Treasury.

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.