Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Why `deradicalisation' is not the answer

It's time BritGov realised that Islamist extremism is not a `foreign' invader of Britain, but rather springs from Britain's own bankrupt culture

On Tuesday, the British home secretary, Jacqui Smith, announced the development of a nationwide `deradicalisation' programme to tackle people who have supposedly been drawn into violent Islamist extremism in Britain. Muslim community groups and councils will be allocated o12.5million, in addition to the o40million the government has already committed to the `prevent' element of the national counterterrorism strategy made public in July 2006. The funding will be used for projects that will `challenge and resist' the ideas and outlooks deemed to have informed recent acts of terror in the UK.

This strategy will fail for the simple reason that the government has yet to fully appreciate what the influences are that they seek to alter. In addition, officials have no idea as to what it is they would wish to alter them to.

The simplistic model that emerged in the aftermath of 9/11 was that the West was confronted by a resurgent form of political Islam emanating from the Middle East and further afield. Subsequent events, including the London bombings on 7 July 2005, led to an almost begrudging recognition that many of the perpetrators of terrorism had been educated in the West, if not born there.

This still allowed for the possibility that their ideas were largely foreign in origin, or that their outlooks were alien to the presumed norms prevailing in the West. Hence the continuing focus on the form that these ideas take - couched in their jihadist rhetoric - or appeals to defending an ill-defined sense of `our values' or `our way of life'. The UK government has failed to confront the true content of what these ideas expressed: a rejection of all things Western, rather than a positive affirmation of anything else.

Nor has the government offered an alternative vision of what we stand for as a society, beyond rhetorical references to freedom and democracy. However, the espousal of such values jars with current proposals to extend the period that alleged terrorists may be held without charge (from 28 to 42 days) - from a prime minister, Gordon Brown, who was never elected by the people.

The truth is that the sources of self-styled Islamist terrorism are more likely to be found within our own shores and within our own communities as anywhere else. It may be more likely, for now, that British Asians will act upon these ideas - with the benefit of an enhanced sense of victimhood that they may have picked up within the British education system. But as the steadily increasing number of white faces appearing on the counterterrorism radar suggests, this need not necessarily be true for much longer.

If this sounds rather harsh, let me illustrate what I mean by way of an example. A good friend of mine recently spent a day in the law faculty of a prestigious British university. The distinguished professor she spent time with advised her that nowadays students are not the same as they once were. They were no longer expected to read numerous books, write long essays or memorise case law. Rather, they are presented with handouts of Powerpoint presentations to read and they keep a weblog of their activities.

That evening, my friend attended the Islamic society meeting in the same university. There, she encountered many of the same students she had met earlier in the day (when they had been disinterestedly sending texts on their mobile phones during the law seminars). Now, however, the students appeared eager to learn. The cleric who ran the meeting expected them to recall specific lines from the Koran and to be familiar with all aspects of Islamic jurisprudence.

Maybe somebody should ask Jacqui Smith who here is the `radicalising' influence? Is it the foreign mullah who ran the evening class, demanding attention and commanding respect, or was it the jaded Western intellectual who deep down believes that there is no truth that can be taught, that not too much should be expected of young people nowadays, and who in any case would not wish to damage their `self-esteem' through challenging them in class?

I use this vignette to suggest that the roots of so-called `radicalisation' are much wider and deeper than can be addressed by a prejudicially targeted programme focusing on ill-founded notions as to where such ideas might emanate from. Indeed, rather than targeting Muslim communities and monitoring Islamic society meetings, the authorities would be better off observing and monitoring their own contemporary culture.

Far from there being a layer of vulnerable young Muslims who are preyed upon by various hotheads, what we find, time and again, are passionate, intelligent and energetic individuals who somehow fail to find any meaning or purpose to their lives from within the confines of contemporary Western culture. Most of these are neither disconnected nor alienated from society, and rather than being `radicalised' from the outside, they actively look for something to join. Nick Reilly, the supposed simpleton whose rudimentary device exploded in his face recently in Exeter, is proof that it is almost impossible to `recruit' anyone of note into terrorism.

In short: a few, fairly intelligent people, deprived of a sense of purpose, will go looking for answers in radical Islam. These are Western people looking for some alternatives to the bankrupt intellectual and political culture around them. Those who are apparently `recruited', on the other hand, are mostly idiots.

In focusing on so-called `extremists' and `radicals', the authorities and security agencies manage to miss that which lies right under their nose. What's worse, the very language they use belies their own difficulty. By accusing someone of being `extreme' or `radical', they effectively give up on any attempt to address the content of what people supposedly believe, targeting instead the extent to which they are held to believe it. This is like saying, `I don't care what it is you believe in, so long as it is not too much', which in its turn is an admission that they themselves believe in nothing.

At a talk given to the Smith Institute in London on the evening of her announcement regarding the proposed `deredicalisation' programme, Jacqui Smith suggested that `lacking a positive vision, al-Qaeda can only define itself by what it opposes'. Talk of projecting yourself on to others! She and her cronies would be better off outlining what kind of Britain it is that they do want to live in, rather than obsessing over a handful of dangerous idiots whose ideas and outlooks would seem entirely unimpressive were it not for the vacuum that they confront.


British Universities `inflate degrees' to boost status

UNIVERSITY academics claim they are under pressure to upgrade degrees to at least a 2:1 to boost their institutions' position in league tables. Liverpool was named as one of the alleged culprits by one leading academic, while another senior don claims league tables were "a key factor" in increasing the numbers of firsts and 2:1s awarded at one of Britain's top 10 universities.

Other lecturers said they were also coming under strong pressure to upgrade degrees from students paying tuition fees who were worried that their career prospects would be blighted if they failed to achieve a 2:1.

Jonathan Bate, professor of English at Warwick University, said that before he left his previous job at Liverpool in 2003 he was told that improving the university's league table position depended on increasing the number of firsts and upper second class degrees awarded.

In The Sunday Times University Guide league table about 10% of a university's score depends on its proportion of top degrees. Rankings can have a strong effect on, for example, the calibre of applicants to universities.

Bate, speaking in today's News Review, says: "There are universities where instructions go round to staff reminding them that awarding more top-class degrees will push their institution up both the national and international league tables. When I was a professor at Liverpool University heads of departments were given exactly this message."

Universities have complained repeatedly about "grade inflation" at A-level making it increasingly difficult to choose between candidates with three As, but new figures show that the same phenomenon has occurred with degrees. At Liverpool the proportion of firsts and 2:1s has risen from 50% to 73% during the past decade. Since 2000, the university's ranking has risen from 35th to 27th.

In the past decade only one of the top 30 universities - Cambridge - has reduced the proportion of firsts and 2:1s. Liverpool University denied pressure had been exerted to lower marking standards. Bill Rammell, the higher education minister, has warned universities against introducing "tests for tests' sake" in case they harm the prospects of pupils from poor schools.



After half a century of campaigning, botanist David Bellamy still believes the answer lies in the soil, discovers Peter Elson

ONCE upon a time, botanist Dr David Bellamy was all over our television screens, like a rash of the invasive fungi he so often enthused about. He was in that flock of eccentric telly egg-heads (such as Dr Magnus Pike), plucked from their natural academic habitat, hired to round up vast herds of untamed mainstream viewers, previously untempted by a diet of hard science. But like the formerly prolific house sparrow, Dr Bellamy, aged 75, is also now a relatively rare sighting. Luckily, keen boffin-watchers without binoculars can view him at close-quarters as the Cheshire Show's special guest, later this month.

Can we blame his scarcity on global warming? Well, yes, indirectly, he says. More shockingly, he believes an appearance on children's magazine Blue Peter killed his small screen career. "I stopped a Welsh windfarm on Blue Peter in 1996 and I've not been on television since. Also, it was rumoured my stance on having an anti-EU referendum was unpopular with TV bosses," he mutters. "If that's true, it's a very bad sign for democracy in this country."

He claims to have "smelt a rat" when the BBC sacked one of its top journalists, Julian Pettifer, for being president of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds. "Also Julian Pettifer made a wonderful programme about the effect of farmed salmon on wild salmon and he was publicly sacked," he alleges. "From this moment on the BBC became a pusher of global warming. I'm proud to be a global warming heretic, because the theory's wrong.

"If you wanted to show Al Gore's anti-global warming film An Inconvenient Truth, by law you have to give the other side now. How many teachers know what to tell the children to balance the 35 mistakes in this film?"

Global warming theory has never been tested and is based on a series of computer models, he says. "Since 1998 there has been no rise in the average temperature of the world, although we pour 44 giga-tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. "There are now three times more polar bears in the world than 20 years ago when I was working in the Arctic, yet the US Senate has given them special protection."

But he concurs with the World Wildlife Fund's new report that a third of all species face extinction. "We've overfished the world and completely screwed up 2% of the world's soil. The main reason for species extinction is habitat destruction," he splutters.

More here

British attack on family doctors

Doctors’ leaders who oppose the creation of GP “super-surgeries” are echoing their predecessors who likened the establishment of the NHS to Nazi Germany, Alan Johnson says today. The Health Secretary launches an attack on the British Medical Association and the Conservative Party, accusing them of reprising their “infamous double act” when they opposed the health service 60 years ago.

In an interview with The Times Mr Johnson indicated that he is preparing to change funding rules this month to make it harder for single-handed GP practices to survive. He accuses David Cameron of a political gaffe in siding with GPs’ leaders against reforms that, he says, will improve access to doctors, particularly in poorer areas, and allow them to provide better care.

The Government is braced for a battle with both the BMA and the Tories, who say that 1,700 GP surgeries may have to close as a result of the drive to group family doctors into new super-surgeries. The BMA will intensify efforts this week to mobilise patients to oppose the changes with a planned march on Parliament. Critics say that the centres, some of which will be run by companies, may be more expensive, less efficient and force patients to travel farther. But Mr Johnson justifies the reforms, saying that they would reduce health inequalities and increase the ability of the NHS to screen for disease, as well as increase patients’ choice and access while reducing pressure on hospitals.

“This is all additional capacity, it’s additional money, it’s not closing a single GP surgery anywhere in the country. We will not be railroading patients to go to these centres,” he insists. He says there is confusion between polyclinics - health centres designed to bring a wide range of hospital services closer to communities - and GP-led health centres, or super-surgeries. The former were recommended by Lord Darzi of Denham in his review of London healthcare. Mr Johnson said he welcomed a report by the King’s Fund, the health think-tank, that said the polyclinic model should not be imposed in the rest of the country. The imposition of super-surgeries is a direct threat to existing services, particularly single-handed practices, however. And while Mr Johnson insists GPs are still in control he confirms he is preparing to remove a payment - the minimum practice income guarantee (MPIG) - designed to protect GPs operating alone. “MPIG is a barrier to all sorts of things we want to do,” Mr Johnson says.

He accuses his opponents of scare-mongering when they suggest that it could lead to mass closures. “The ludicrous misrepresentation of this policy by the BMA and the Conservative Party is a faint echo of their infamous double act 60 years ago when they opposed the creation of the NHS itself,” he will say in a speech today. Speaking before his address to the IPPR think-tank, Mr Johnson says that he is struck by the similarity of some of the criticisms, particularly the charge that the Attlee Government wanted to make all doctors employees of the state. “There’s a quote from the then leader of the BMA who said: ‘I’ve looked at this very carefully and it reminds me of national socialism as practised in Germany.’”

In an interview with The Times in April Mr Cameron accused the Government of trying to abolish “the family doctor service”. “Communities which have lost their post office, their local shops and their local police station, are now going to lose their doctor,” he said. But Mr Johnson says that the Tory leader has made a “huge political gaffe” in siding with the “producer interest”. “We’ve got world-class primary care but the levels of patients who express concerns about access is large and is growing all the time.”

Laurence Buckman, chairman of the BMA’s GP committee, said that he “did not want to rise” to some of Mr Johnson’s direct criticisms of the BMA, but added: “This Government has thrown away the goodwill and trust of 45,000 doctors, which now they will never get back.” He said that the association was not against phasing out the MPIG in principle, but gave warning that as many as one in ten practices could close if the Government did not provide alternative funding arrangements. “Just over 90 per cent of practices receive some income from the MPIG, and their dependency varies, but without it about 10 per cent of practices will be financially nonviable,” he said. “There’s a fairly even distribution of these, which doesn’t just affect one particular group of doctors or patients, so practices will close in rather arbitrary fashion all over the country.”

Dr Buckman added that it was likely that “a few hundred” small practices would have to close as a result of having to merge into or compete with larger polyclinics or health centres. “No one but the Government has pushed for these reforms, which have puzzled patients and GPs alike,” he added. “It will destabilise the system unnecessarily and seems to be an enormous waste of taxpayers’ money.”

Nick Goodwin, from the King’s Fund think-tank, said: “Primary care trusts must ensure contracts are water-tight and ensure no patient groups or conditions become excluded in the drive for profits. If we are going to bring in private companies, regulation and accreditation needs to be spot on, otherwise they will take us to the cleaners.”


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