Elshimi, “De-Radicalisation in the UK Prevent Strategy”

In March, Routledge will release “De-Radicalisation in the UK Prevent Strategy: Security, Identity and Religion,” by M.S. Elshimi (Royal United Services Institute).  The publisher’s description follows:

This book examines de-radicalisation policy in the UK and addresses the contradictions evident in the conceptualisation and practice of de-radicalisation.

It explores three main themes that touch upon some of the most pressing issues of our 9781138281042day: security, identity and religion. Situated within the Prevent strand of the UK Counter-Terrorism policy and administered by the police through the ‘Channel Programme’, policymakers have promoted de-radicalisation as a vital instrument in the fight against terrorism. Despite the political and legal importance of de-radicalisation as an instrument of counter-terrorism, we continue to know very little about the programme and the profile of individuals who have been de-radicalised, as well as having little or no access to data on the programme. There is also a glaring lacuna in the wider literature regarding the concept, theory, and evidence base for de-radicalisation policies. This book addresses this lacuna and, with the use of data collected from interviews conducted with 27 practitioners, this work reveals the existence of multiple conceptions of de-radicalisation and a number of conceptual features unique to the UK context. Subsequently, the book proposes that de-radicalisation in the UK would be best conceptualised as ‘technologies of the self’. Seen in this way, de-radicalisation is less about tackling terrorism and radicalisation and more about the re-configuring of citizenship, the construction of a mainstream British identity, and the promotion of certain subjectivities in an era of uncertainty about British political identity.

This book will be of much interest to students of critical terrorism studies, de-radicalisation, counter-terrorism, UK politics and security studies in general.

A Christian Country

Not a Hater

It used to be the case that Americans referred unselfconsciously to their country as “a Christian nation.” The phrase had multiple meanings. A few speakers, no doubt, used it as a taunt: non-Christians (which, for many, would have meant non-Protestants) should keep quiet or get out. Others used the phrase to indicate that Christianity, in a general way, informed American law and government. That’s what Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story meant, for example, when he wrote that Christianity was part of the common law. Still others used the phrase in a theological sense: America was the New Zion, Chosen of God.

But most people throughout our history have used “Christian nation” in a milder, less formal way. When they called America a Christian nation, they referred to the obvious fact that the vast majority of Americans were Christian, and to the equally obvious fact that Christianity had shaped American society and culture: its traditions, ethics, educational and charitable institutions, art and commerce. They meant that Christianity was deeply embedded in American life–and that it was a good thing, too.

In this looser sense, to say that America is a Christian nation remains true today, almost trivially so. The large majority of Americans are still Christian, something like 80% in a recent Pew Survey. In fact, as countries go, America is not especially diverse, religiously. Many Asian countries are much more so. Christianity continues to shape American culture–less and less, in our secular age, but still. And Christianity continues to benefit American society in terms of the schools, hospitals, soup kitchens, and many other charitable works it sponsors.

Notwithstanding all this, it’s hard to imagine an American leader using the phrase “Christian nation” today. That’s perhaps wise. Some people would think such a statement deliberately provocative and insensitive to non-Christians, whose contributions to American life are enormous. The grievance industry would get to work exaggerating the offense. Pundits and professors would tweet self-righteously about bigotry and  exclusion. Cable news channels would run special reports. It would be a mess.

Something like this is happening in Britain right now. Last week, Prime Minister David Cameron gave a speech in which he referred to Britain as “a Christian country.” Mind you, Britain has a state church and no fewer that three crosses on the national flag. Its monarch is a religious figure, the Defender of the Faith. In such a context, you’d think the Prime Minister’s comments would pass without notice. But they have sparked a very loud protest. Prominent atheists have accused Cameron of fostering “alienation and division.” Besides, the protesters say, Cameron is simply wrong. In terms of religious observance, contemporary Britain is not a Christian place–and it’s a good thing, too.

The protest is a huge overreaction. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said it very well:

[T]he Prime Minister and other members of the Government have not said anything very controversial. It is a historical fact (perhaps unwelcome to some, but true) that our main systems of ethics, the way we do law and justice, the values of society, how we decide what is fair, the protection of the poor, and most of the way we look at society . . .  All have been shaped by and founded on Christianity. Add to that the foundation of many hospitals, the system of universal schooling, the presence of chaplains in prisons, and one could go on a long time. Then there is the literature, visual art, music and culture that have formed our understandings of beauty and worth since Anglo Saxon days.

It is clear that, in the general sense of being founded in Christian faith, this is a Christian country. It is certainly not in terms of regular churchgoing, although altogether, across different denominations, some millions attend church services each week. Others of different backgrounds have also positively shaped our common heritage. But the language of what we are, what we care for and how we act is earthed in Christianity, and would remain so for many years even if the number of believers dropped out of sight (which they won’t, in my opinion).

Political leaders, as well as everyone else, should avoid saying hateful things or disparaging minority religions. In a pluralistic society, everyone should be treated with respect. But it is not disparagement to point out obvious truths about a nation’s religious heritage, or to acknowledge the benefits that heritage continues to have. Referring to Britain–or America, for that matter–as a Christian country doesn’t make the speaker a hater.

Photo from the BBC