New Statesman: announcing our new bloggers

Glosswitch, Martin Robbins, Bim Adewunmi, Ryan Gilbey and Kate Mossman join the "blogging powerhouse".

Five new bloggers today join the New Statesman team, writing about parenting, pop culture, film, music and science. Meet the newest additions to our "blogging powerhouse" (seriously, that's what we called it last time we had newbies). 

Glosswitch

A mother of two, and writer of the Glosswatch blog, she describes herself as a "humourless feminist in mummy blogger clothing". In her previous posts for the NS, she has dared to defend "yummy mummies" and told off Benedict Cumberbatch. She tweets @glosswitch

Go to her blog

Martin Robbins

Author of the Guardian website's Lay Scientist blog, Martin will be writing for the NS about skepticism (and scepticism), the media and sexuality. His posts might sometimes be NSFW, but will always be both entertaining and factual. He tweets @mjrobbins

Go to his blog

Bim Adewunmi

Bim blogs at Yoruba Girl Dancing and The Flick, and she will be writing a weekly column on pop culture and telly. She tweets @bimadew

Go to her blog 

Ryan Gilbey

The New Statesman magazine's film critic now has his own dedicated blog on the site (he's a StumbleUpon crowd favourite). Ryan blogs about films with authority, puns and love. 

Go to his blog

Kate Mossman

The New Statesman magazine's pop critic will be writing an extra weekly piece for the website on "pop" music (whatever that means these days). She recently wrote about the 30th anniversary of Michael Jackson's Thriller, which you can read here.

Go to her blog

Our five new writers join our existing blogging team:

David Allen Green on law Go to his blog

Laurie Penny on politics, pop culture and feminism Go to her blog

Mehdi Hasan on world affairs Go to his blog

The Vagenda on magazines and media Go to their blog

Nicky Woolf from America Go to his blog

Helen Lewis on games, satire and anything else, really Go to her blog

Nelson Jones on belief and religion Go to his blog

Steven Baxter on the media Go to his blog

Rowenna Davis on politics outside Westminster Go to her blog

Gavin Kelly on economics and evidence Go to his blog

Martha Gill on psychology and neuroscience Go to her blog

John Stoehr on US politics Go to his blog

Alex Hern on the internet (it's a series of tubes, apparently) Go to his blog

Michael Brooks on science and discovery Go to his blog

Samira Shackle from Pakistan Go to her blog

Alan White on social affairs and society Go to his blog

Juliet Jacques on culture and counter-culture Go to her blog

Alex Andreou on finance and Europe Go to his blog

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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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.