“I am a Muslim Not an Extremist” – Awan

This week we are discussing ‘“I Am a Muslim Not an Extremist”: How the Prevent Strategy Has Constructed a “Suspect” Community’ by Imran Awan from Politics & Policy, Volume 40, Issue 6, December 2012, Pages 1158–1185.

It’s available here.

The article discusses how the UK Prevent strategy has backfired and alienated the Muslim communities who it relies upon to get intelligence on individuals who may have extremist views.

Here are our thoughts:

In this paper, the author argues that the Prevent strategy has constructed Muslim communities as ‘suspect’ and led to a feeling of mistrust between Muslim communities and law enforcement agencies. For me this then raises the question: ‘Should Muslim communities feel “suspect”?’ and indeed ‘Is this a legitimate concern?’

From the discussion, there seems to be a clear issue of trust between the Muslim community and the law enforcement agencies – and one that to some extent links back to the failure of multiculturalism and integration that the author alludes to near the beginning of the piece. Profiling is clearly a very useful tool in helping law enforcement agencies identify potential suspects, but profiling would in turn (quite naturally) seek mainly Muslim suspects if the police are seeking to identify Islamic extremists.

One question I did find particularly interesting in this paper was the way the author compares ‘new’ terrorism (Islamic extremism) with ‘old’ terrorism (i.e. the IRA). To me, this would seem to be a flawed distinction, and something of a ‘straw man’ argument. Irish republicanism at the time, was a distinct movement with clear goals and ambitions and a defined organisational hierarchy; Islamic fundamentalism however, is not. However much the two examples commit terrorist acts, the origin, strategy and motivation for the attacks are completely different, and it is misleading to read the two side-by-side.

Finally, I would like the discussion the question of community. In the case of Islamic extremism, the terrorists though not representative of the community would clearly seek to associate themselves with the community, as an act of provocation. I wonder then, if there are any ways through which the Muslim community can seek to distance itself from acts of extremism, or mark extremists as somehow non-Muslims?

Mike Ryder, Lancaster University

I find Awan’s discussion of “old” terrorism (read: IRA) verses “new” terrorism (read: Al-Qaeda) fascinating. His set up that older groups were using violence as a means to a political end, against newer groups for whom the violence almost is the end does lead to the problem of ‘how does this all end’? For Jeremy Scahill  in his book Dirty Wars, the problem as to how does the ‘ War on Terror’ end seemed to be focused on the inflammatory tactics of the US Special forces communities. But here Awan presents the opposite view, that you cannot negotiate a way out of a conflict with an enemy who does not want to negotiate. Perhaps this helps us to reframe Scahill’s quandary.  Although night raids and drone strikes may insight terrorism if civilian harm is caused,  it is the lack of political struggle that makes new terrorist groups so difficult to deal with – possibly why the US military appears to be trying to kill it’s way out of the war on terror.

But, the main issues with the prevent strategy seem to be the very unfortunate reality that ordinary British people who happen to be of Islamic faith are being caught up in anti-terrorism sentiment and counterterrorism activities. Perhaps, it really is time to rethink UK counter-terrorism strategy. ‘Fortress UK’ seems to generally be good at keeping violent extremists out (The Manchester bombing is a clear exception). But, seems to be very poor at dealing with extremism within. Perhaps, that rethink should include ideas from Johann Galtung, and try to create a ‘positive peace’.

Joshua Hughes,  Lancaster University 

This article was a very interesting read especially given the current security situation in the UK and the unfortunate events that have occurred in the last few weeks.  Firstly, I believe it is extremely difficult to make an assessment as to whether a counter-terror strategy is ‘successful’ because people will naturally have different expectations of what the security services should be able to prevent. Additionally, whether a strategy is effective is reliant on having adequate resources for implementation and insufficient resourcing does not necessarily mean that the policy itself is flawed. At this point I must say that I find it incredible that the UK has a counter-terror strategy that is so heavily reliant on community policing but since the adoption of the Prevent Strategy in 2011, community policing has drastically been reduced. This seems counterproductive and contradictory to the intentions of the Prevent Strategy.

Returning back to the article itself, I think it is very clear, easy to read and fairly puts across the concerns of the Muslim community in regards to the current UK policy. Additionally, I agree that some of the covert policing mentioned in the article is counter-productive and risks alienating Muslim communities.  It is clearly a sensitive task for the police to maintain the trust of the Muslim community whilst at the same time putting focus on that community.

It is evident from numerous terrorist plots that have been foiled and even those that have been conducted, that the British Muslim communities have often been the first to raise concerns about radicalisation in the community. For example, the Manchester bomber was allegedly reported three times to intelligence services. Arguably, the Muslim community is the first line in defence against extremism and therefore a community engagement based counter-terror strategy seems logical. However, as previously stated, there is a difference between a policy and they way it is implemented.  I think this article is more concerned with how the Prevent Strategy is implemented as opposed to the policy itself and I believe the concerns raised are legitimate and I would be interested to read a more recent article regarding this topic to see how the Prevent Strategy has developed.

Liam Halewood, Liverpool John Moores University

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