This paper looks to critically evaluate whether Muslim communities have been affected by counter-terrorism legislation in the UK as part of a literature review in serving to prepare for a much larger piece of work. This work consists of considering whether these community members have been effectively radicalised leading to extremism either within the local community or in the UK at large. It is also necessary to evaluate the way in which views in this regard that have been put forward by academics have developed as a result of the laws that have been implemented to date in the UK.
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“Muslim”; “Counter-Terrorism”; “Legislation”
Critically evaluate whether Muslin Communities have been
affected by counter-terrorism legislation
In seeking to critically evaluate whether Muslim communities have been affected by counter-terrorism legislation in the United Kingdom (UK), it is necessary for this literature review to consider whether these community members have been effectively radicalised leading to extremism either within the local community or in the society at large. Moreover, there is also a need to examine as to how security agencies approaches are implemented and applied and consider new methods that will serve to impact upon professional practice in relation to the legislation that has been enacted both in the UK and at the international level. In addition, it will also be recognised as to how this has led to claims from within Muslim communities that the tactics currently used by the police are heavy handed and, as a result, counter-productive. Finally, this literature review will conclude with a summary of the key points derived from this discussion in relation to as to whether and how Muslim communities have been affected by counter-terrorism legislation enacted both in the UK and internationally.
With a view to assessing whether Muslim Communities have been affected by the introduction of counter-terrorism legislation, in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks of 7/7 in the UK and 9/11 in the US’ ‘New Terror’ discourse, the prevention of violent extremism has become one of the most significant issues for policy makers throughout the western world and, for the purposes of this discussion, the UK. In what is clearly a significantly heightened security context, Muslim communities have become an enhanced focal point for the UK with a multi-layered, multi-agency approach (Home Office, 2008). Currently there are at least 2 million Muslims resident in the UK making the Islamic faith the largest outside of Christians with almost half actually having been born in the UK (Bunglawala, Halstead, Malik & Spalek, 2004), but the community is becoming more diverse with over 50 nationalities represented and 70 languages spoken (Khan, 2004). However, Muslim communities constitute some of the most deprived in the UK with almost a third of those able to work having no qualifications so that, as a result, many children experience high levels of risk associated with child poverty (Bunglawala, Halstead, Malik & Spalek, 2004) because adults are three times more likely to be unemployed than Christians (Yunas Samad & Sen, 2007).
Nevertheless, such policy developments are illustrative of the apparent need to develop and support strategies based upon the maxim of counter-terrorism that ‘communities defeat terrorism’ (Briggs, Fieschi & Lownsbrough, 2006). But although counter-terrorism policies have been dominated by ‘hard-sided’ strategies involving surveillance, the gathering of intelligence, the use of informants and the implementation of anti-terror laws under the ‘Pursue’ strand of the government’s CONTEST (and CONTEST Two) counter-terrorism strategy (Her Majesty’s Government, 2006), the ascendancy of a community centred notion of counter-terrorism has seen greater prominence given to an agenda based upon being able to ‘Prevent’ terrorism (Home Office, 2008). In view of this shift towards interaction and engagement with citizens, policy makers within the UK government have placed the police and other enforcement authorities at the forefront of this work regarding the need to look to follow a strategy based on the need to ‘Pursue’ terrorists along with the need to ‘Prevent’ terrorism whereby the police are working with Muslim communities in order to help prevent violent extremism (Lowe & Innes, 2008).
The implementation of ‘New Terror’ discourses in the UK are founded upon the recognition and construction of Muslim minorities as being comprised of communities at risk from violent extremism. In particular young Muslim men constitute a ‘problem group’ and are recognised as being the predominant targets of anti-terrorist legislation and counter-terrorism surveillance policing in countries including the UK (Poynting & Mason, 2006). With this in mind, the following issues were raised by participants in an effort to more effectively explain the negative impact of discourse and practice – (a) ‘Hard’ policing including increased stop and search, high profile raids, and the perception of an increase in aggressive attempts at recruiting informers to then lead to a greater sense of grievance amongst Muslims so they are perceived as suspect communities; (b) suspicion is detrimental to both an individual and their family’s life since they may suffer job losses, family and community breakdowns, as well as mental health issues; (c) individuals have argue their experience of anti-terror laws has reduced their motivation to look to engage with state authorities with a view to improving relations; and (d) individuals feel pressurised to explain their Muslim identities in relation to the concept of ‘Britishness’ (University of Birmingham/Arts & Humanities Research Council, 2008).
Under sections 62 and 63 of the Terrorism Act 2000 (along with section 17 of the Terrorism Act 2006) the UK appears to have asserted universal jurisdiction over a whole array of terrorist offences meaning anyone who commits any of these offences anywhere in the world so as to impact in some way upon the UK will fall within UK authorities jurisdiction (Sibbel, 2006-2007). In addition, under the Anti Terrorism, Crime & Security Act 2001, a religiously aggravated element to crime has been introduced, which involves imposing higher penalties upon offenders who are motivated by religious hatred. On this basis, ‘Islamophobia’ has become a significant issue for individuals and even whole communities living in the UK with instances including – (a) being verbally and physically abused; (b) being threatened; (c) being physically assaulted; and (d) having homes or cars firebombed or attacked with acid. The problem is the reporting of actions that may be considered tantamount to Islamophobia is rare since it is considered the norm rather than the exception for both individuals and whole communities because they do not want to ‘create a fuss’ around their experiences (University of Birmingham/Arts & Humanities Research Council, 2008).
A survey by several Muslim groups found that since 9/11, 80% of Muslim respondents reported being subjected to some form of ‘Islamophobia’, whilst 68% felt they had been perceived and treated differently and 32% reported being subjected to discrimination (Forum Against Islam phobia & Racism, Al-Khoei Foundation & the Muslim College, 2004). Some have also argued young Muslim men suffer disproportionately as the new ‘folk devils’ of popular and media imagination (Alexander, 2000). More generally, however, it is also to be appreciated that a whole succession of opinion polls have shown many Muslims are uncomfortable with life in the UK (Pew Global Attitudes Project, 2006). In addition, there is an ongoing and concerted campaign against Islamism by a coalition of both left and right that have criticised the UK government for what they call a policy of appeasement. Martin Bright of the ‘New Statesman’ claimed these organisations were engaged in a “sophisticated strategy of implanting Islamist ideology among young Muslims in Western Europe” (Bright, 2007). But, although the reality is that Islamism is not inherently violent, these nuances are rarely acknowledged and casual links are made between these groups and more specific concerns about violent extremism.
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Further concerns have then arisen from the fact there are some substantial concerns the definition of ‘terrorism’ under the terms of the Terrorism Act 2000 (now Terrorism Act 2006) is too vague and excessively broad. The main reason for this is that the Terrorism Act 2000 served to criminalise not only those activities that are generally accepted to be ‘terrorist’ in nature, but also lawful gatherings and demonstrations amongst other matters along with other forms of behaviour that, although unlawful, could not be considered ‘terrorism’ (Submission to International Court of Justice Panel of Eminent Jurists on Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism & Human Rights, 2006). Section 1(1) of the Act served to define ‘terrorism’ as being based on the use or threat of action where – (a) the action falls within subsection (2); (b) the use or threat is designed to influence the government, an international organisation or to intimidate the public; and (c) the use or threat is made to advancing a political, religious or ideological agenda. Under section 1(2) of the Terrorism Act 2000 it has then been recognised that action under this subsection involves – (a) serious violence; (b) serious property damage; (c) the endangerment of another’s life; (d) creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public; or (e) is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously disrupt an electronic system. The problem with the overly broad nature of the anti-terror laws put in place is they serve to trigger executive powers that are very restrictive regarding the recognition of both individuals and communities human rights under the European Convention on Human Rights 1950 (enacted domestically under the Human Rights Act 1998) often with reduced judicial oversight. Therefore, the use of such executive powers should be confined to those circumstances when such severe restrictions can truly be deemed ‘necessary’ so there is a need for the laws to be narrowly drafted and proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued – protecting national security – rather than ostracising whole communities (Submission to International Court of Justice Panel of Eminent Jurists on Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism & Human Rights, 2006).
As has already been alluded to within the remit of international human rights law, any legal measures that serve to restrict the exercising of individual and community rights need to be both narrowly drafted and proportionate to what is being pursued. With this in mind, the United Nations Human Rights Committee now regularly criticises the remit of individual States efforts in this regard in view of the the broad scope of their anti-terror laws – particularly those that have been ‘enhanced’ since 2001 (Submission to International Court of Justice Panel of Eminent Jurists on Terrorism, Counter-Terrorism & Human Rights, 2006). By way of illustration, in 2005 the United Nations Human Rights Committee criticised what was understood by ‘terrorism’ under Canadian law that includes very similar elements to the UK definition under section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000 for being unnecessarily broad. As a result, the United Nations Human Rights Committee recommended “The State party should adopt a more precise definition of terrorist offences, so as to ensure that individuals will not be targeted on political, religious or ideological grounds, in connection with measures of prevention, investigation and detention” (Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee – Canada, 2005, at paragraph 12). In addition, the United Nations Human Rights Committee has also made some significant similar criticisms of what is understood by the concept of ‘terrorism’ under Norwegian (Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee – Norway, 2006, at paragraph 9), Icelandic (Concluding observations of the Human Rights Committee – Iceland, 2005, at paragraph 10), and Bahraini law (Conclusions & recommendations of the Committee against Torture – Bahrain, 2005, at paragraph 6(i)) amongst others so there is clearly a need for a more precise definition in the UK to avoid similar problems.
To conclude, it is clear that there has been a significant impact upon Muslim communities as a result of the implementation of counter-terrorism legislation in the UK. Such a view is largely founded upon the way in which Muslims are perceived within our society leading to instances of ‘Islamophobia’ so that suspicion falls on a broad range of groups and individuals whose behaviour may on the surface appear dangerous or subversive. Clearly, there can be little doubt that it is incumbent upon government policy makers to look to act to maintain national security and prevent instances of terrorism. However, there is also a significant need to prevent the alienation of the Muslim community so that it is clearly important to engage in greater depth with these groups, understand the complexities of community politics, and come to a more nuanced understanding of political mobilisation now flourishing across large parts of Muslim communities in the UK. Therefore, it is arguable increased awareness of the rights of individual citizens and communities will, with some notable exceptions, offer the solution to radicalisation by providing vehicles for solving the deeply entrenched problems associated with deprivation suffered by many Muslims and challenge extremist rhetoric and build community resilience along with political integration.
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