SVRN Blog 1 – Experiencing the Global War ‘of’ Terror, by Dr Asim Qureshi

In this first post for the State Violence Research Network blog, Dr. Asim Qureshi, Research Director for CAGE, provides some background and context for the paper he will be delivering at the ‘From the State to the Streets’ conference. For info on how to register for the conference, and how to submit a blog post yourself, see the links at the end of this post.

Counter-terrorism policy makers are only interested in data regarding the impact of their policies from the perspective of those actually convicted of crimes, thereby justifying all policies through the lens of success through what they claim is the successful prevention of terrorist acts. What if we were to think about the long-term impact of these policies from a different perspective? What if we were to think about the fundamental relationship between the state and suspected communities as an encounter that is fundamentally violent? My paper at State Violence conference will focus on the conclusions I drew from my PhD thesis: in order to understand the full impact of the War on/of Terror, we need to understand how it is experienced.

I want us to imagine for a moment that you are a young woman who has largely inoculated yourself from your Muslim cultural background, largely due to the decisions you have made regarding how you wish to live your life. You do not believe for a moment that any accusation of terrorism or extremism could ever be aimed at you, but you cannot escape your melanin or your name. After a holiday with your boyfriend abroad, you return to the UK only to be stopped by counter-terrorism officials for no reason other than you having been profiled. In such a circumstance, the War ‘of’ Terror is of no personal significance to you, at least until it crashes into your life and labels you a suspect. You suddenly find yourself the subject of a racist logic that placed you within a matrix of potential threat, thereby changing your relationship with the state forever.

The above circumstance isn’t imaginary, it is one of the cases that I include within my thesis, and is an experience that is reflected throughout the cases that sit at the centre of my work for the advocacy organisation CAGE. Our work with those impacted by the excesses of the War ‘of’ Terror highlights the extent to which the entire field of counter-terrorism is racialised, as new offences and powers are constantly created in order to produce evidence that a threat exists – threats that only arose once a two-tier justice system, aimed at prosecuting (largely) Muslims for offences that had not previously existed, emerged.

What most people do not understand is that most incidents of actual violence or attempted violence are rarely prosecuted under counter-terrorism legislation, but rather under the criminal justice system and acts of Parliament that have a much longer history. This amounts to dozens of individuals from a population of 3 million British Muslims over a period of 18 years.

In cases where an individual is accused of ‘not being conducive to the public good’ or for ‘Islamist extremism’, often with the use of secret evidence, we then begin to enter into a completely alternative system of justice. Passport revocation, prohibition from entering the UK, citizenship deprivation, deportation, extradition, financial sanctions, control orders, TPIMs (house arrest/area restriction), and even the forceful removal of children has resulted in hundreds of cases from the same population of 3 million Muslims.  

By the time we get to how legislation is enacted through counter-terrorism legislation, we are now speaking of thousands of people who are stopped, arrested and prosecuted for offences that did not even exist during the period of The Troubles in Northern Ireland. Again, largely Muslims have been stopped, arrested, or convicted in their thousands of possession of terrorism materials, preparation or glorification of acts of terrorism, and stopped at airports to be questioned about their beliefs. Within this legislation, there is active recognition that there was never any danger to British society.

Finally, in relation to the panoply of legislation we arrive at the use of the Prevent strategy, which has now been placed on a statutory footing, requiring all public sector workers to operate in the ‘pre-criminal’ space. With over 1.5 million public sector workers having been trained to spot the signs of radicalisation, we are currently in a situation where hundreds of thousands of individuals are potentially open to being deemed future threats due to the suspicions of those who are supposed to have a duty of care towards them.

The system has been constructed in order to find threats in all parts of society, but this system is not something that emerged spontaneously. It is impossible to understand how Muslims experience the War ‘of’ Terror without engaging in detailed conversations about how black people were subjects of the ‘sus laws’ in the 1980s, for the whole idea of profiling policing emerged out of racist logics.

As we understand how Muslims are now becoming the specific subjects of a structurally racist system from the multitude of ways they experience it, we come a full circle to the way in which such racist structures really apply to all people of colour. We have begun to see the ways in which traveller and gypsy communities are being impacted by counter-terrorism policies, but are now seeing their invocation more explicitly against black people. Last year I wrote a piece for Media Diversified after calls by the police to use counter-terrorism legislation against ‘gangs’ over concerns of the music and culture they produce – a direct product of the matrices of threat that were being used against Muslims.

The State Violence conference is an important forum for us to connect and think critically about the ways in which systematic racist policies are having a long-term negative impact on our communities. We are constantly sold the lie that we need to give up our freedoms in order to keep our society safe, but it would seem to me that those who are largely making these calls are nearly always those who know that such policies can never harm them. We need to establish a sound understanding of how racism works structurally, and the ways in which it harms our communities at an everyday level, not just within our systems of imprisonment.

Registration for the SVRN’s inaugural conference, ‘From the State to the Streets: Representations of and Responses to State Violence in the Nuclear Age’, is now open. To register, please click here. To see the provisional programme, please click here.

If you are interested in submitting to the SVRN blog, please click here for more information.

The opinions and viewpoints contained in this blog post are not necessarily shared by the State Violence Research Network, and publication should not be considered an endorsement.

Image Credit: BBC News

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