In this week’s New Statesman: The new Power Christians

How God is taking over the city of London PLUS: After Woolwich – Mehdi Hasan and Daniel Trilling on how to tackle extremism on Britain’s streets

Cover Story: “God is the new CEO”

Our cover story this week is by the journalist and Anglican priest George Pitcher, who traces the rise of Justin Welby and sees a new kind of “Power Christian” attempting to reshape the City in ways conservative evangelicals now reaching retirement never would have dared. “Welby is about to shake up the management of the Church of England,” Pitcher writes. “[He] is part of a rich and powerful network that has the money and confidence to get things done.”

During the testosterone-fuelled boom years, Christian faith was about surviving in the City, but since 2008 and the revelation that it was all built on sand, Christians have been saying unequivocally that the gospel is non-negotiable, that working in commerce isn’t about surviving as a Christian but about transforming the way we do business, that Christianity is disruptive of systematic greed and corruption: that, in short, their work serves their faith and not the other way round. They are converting markets, not just people. These are the new Power Christians.

The Victorian model, in which philanthropic entrepreneurs made great sums of wealth and then gave chunks away to good causes, has passed. Nat Wei, the Conservative peer and member of the team that founded Teach First, and who, as a charismatic evangelical, is one of parliament’s more high-profile Christians, says:

We have to ask whether the redemptive work of Christ is just for people, or for organisations, too. The British model used to be that you came to church on Sunday, rather than equipped yourself to be a Christian wherever you were. Now people spend 60 to 80 hours a week in a workplace and they’re not always equipped for dealing with it through their faith. Sunday churches can be great, but sometimes they’re just cash cows to fund a ministry, or to fund the building. So the question being asked now is: ‘What is your business for?’

ELSEWHERE IN THE MAGAZINE

 

Mehdi Hasan: Extremists point to western foreign policy to explain their acts. Why do we ignore them?

Writing after the murder of Drummer Lee Rigby in Woolwich, Mehdi Hasan tackles “the inconvenient truth” our leaders are reluctant to address – that radicalised Muslim extremists usually site western foreign policy, not theology, as justification for committing horrendous crimes: “In the vexed discussion about extremism and radicalisation, foreign policy is the issue that dare not speak its name . . .”

Some in power have tentatively accepted the link – Hasan notes that Eliza Manningham-Buller, the former director of MI5, has said publicly that “our involvement in Iraq, for want of a better word, radicalised a whole generation of young people” and even Barack Obama has called the policy of keeping Guantanamo Bay open “a recruitment tool for extremists”.

Though Hasan asserts that “Nothing – no cause, no war, no grievance – justifies the murder of innocents” and concedes “it would be disingenuous of me to claim that foreign policy is the only factor driving radicalisation and extremism”, he argues the link cannot be ignored:

. . . establishment figures continue to denounce those of us who cite the radicalising role of foreign policy as (to quote the former US state department spokesman James Rubin) “excuse-makers” for al-Qaeda. To explain is not to excuse.

 

Daniel Trilling: EDL backlash comes to Downing Street

Daniel Trilling reports from a rally near Whitehall by the English Defence League, a movement whose “ideology sits on that fault line in our culture where Islamophobia has flourished”.

The murder in Woolwich has “breathed life” into a remobilised EDL, with thousands turning out at its demonstrations across the country. Despite a lingering distaste for the movement (Trilling cites a YouGov which found that 84 per cent would “never join” the group), it cannot be denied that growing anti-Islamic feelings are “shared by the public”. We should be wary of the consequences, Trilling writes:

But the EDL’s heavy symbolism – the St George’s flags, the militarism, the often-repeated claim that “there’s one law for us and another for them” – and their use of violence and intimidation to elbow their way into the national media, find a resonance well beyond [the movement’s] size. How long before a demagogue like Nigel Farage – whose own party is experienced at playing on Islamophobia when it suits – tells us to vote for him, to do something about Muslims who “won’t integrate”, in order to keep the EDL at bay? Farage has already made similar claims with regard to immigration and the BNP. How will mainstream politicians react if the disillusionment echoed by supporters of right-wing populist movements, whether they’re street-based or election-focused, continues to deepen?

Philip Hammond: The rise of the quiet man

Andrew Gimson profiles the Conservative Defence Secretary, Philip Hammond, who has risen quietly and with “self-effacing efficiency” through the Tory ranks. Publicising his stance on the EU, gay marriage and welfare cuts, Hammond has positioned himself as “a genuine Tory” in opposition to the “Lib Dem-friendly” David Cameron. And, Gimson adds, quoting the Spectator, he may even “set himself up as leader of the Tory right”.

Undemonstrative but an unquestionably efficient manager and administrator, “He might be described as a Tory version of Alistair Darling, the magnificently competent, unexcitable and uninspiring Labour Party loyalist,” writes Gimson. “Except that No 10 thinks that Hammond has become less loyal.”

Read this piece in full on our website now.

PLUS

Rafael Behr: With a bit of Chutzpah, Miliband could rip the Tories in half over the EU. Does he dare?

The NS Essay: Our ash trees are dying but we should not despair: catastrophes are natural events in the life of trees, writes Richard Mabey

Laurie Penny: Bradley Manning’s case is about more than freedom of speech

Daniel Dennett: How language transforms our lives

Felix Martin: The economic lessons of Japan are the way forward

 

In The Critics this week:

Bryan Appleyard reviews two books about the dire state of our finances – When the Money Runs Out: the End of Western Affluence by Stephen D King and Broke: Who Killed the Middle Classes? by David Boyle. Both books, in very different ways, suggest that this bleak economic era is only just beginning. “The awful possibility is that the west as a whole has gone ex-growth and, as a result, we may have to change our entire way of life,” Appleyard writes. Money, he says, is a belief system, but the west as yet has no narrative to steer us back to recovery. “The hard truth may be that the crash marked the beginning of the end of the story of western success.”

PLUS

  • A (very) short story by Lydia Davis, winner of the 2013 Man Booker International Prize.
  • Julia Copus writes an essay in praise of Charlotte Mew, a poet much loved by Thomas Hardy but now mostly forgotten.
  • David Cesarani reviews FDR and the Jews by Richard Breitman and Allan J Lichtman.
  • Laurie Penny reviews David Graeber’s The Democracy Project: a History, a Crisis, a Movement. “The swagger and tendency to self-cite that might have made Graeber’s book unbearable are extremely useful, because a great deal of Occupy’s initial inarticulacy came from the unwillingness of any writer or temporary leader to ‘speak for the movement’.”
  • Leo Robson interviews Greg Bellow, son of Saul Bellow and the author of Saul Bellow’s Heart: a Son’s Memoir.
  • Patrick Diamond reviews The Socialist Way, edited by Roy Hattersley and Kevin Hickson.
  • Ryan Gilbey reviews Steven Soderbergh’s Behind the Candelabra and The Comedian, directed by Tom Shkolnik.
  • Rachel Cooke reviews BBC4’s Up the Women.
  • Matt Trueman does the rounds of fringe theatre
  • A new poem, “Sisters”, by Grey Gowrie.

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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.