Framing our research.

This section aims to define the key terminology to be used in our research paper. It will provide clearer understanding of the issues and will outline the boundaries of the political phenomenon which will be discussed. It is essential to note that it is challenging to come to a consensus on a definition of a certain social or political phenomenon, due to constant evolution of academia and the global political environment. One may try to see definitions as seismographs as, mostly, they only register knowledge at a certain point in time. Therefore, in order to avoid confusion, we would like to guide our reader through our research by clarifying concepts which are going to be regularly engaged with in this paper.

Framing Terrorism, Foreign Terrorism and Home-Grown Terrorism.

First, we would like to focus on the term “terrorism” itself. Richard English defines terrorism as a method (English, 2009: 4). He states:

“Terrorism involves heterogeneous violence used or threatened with a political aim; it can involve a variety of acts, of targets, and of actors; it possesses an important psychological dimension, producing terror or fear among a directly threatened groups and also a wider implied audience in the hope of maximising political communication and achievement; it embodies the exerting and implementing of power, and the attempted redressing of power relations.” (English, 2009: 24)

Bruce Hoffman (2006) also presents a complementary description of terrorism, by arguing it is a:

“…deliberate creation and exploitation of fear through violence or the threat of violence in the pursuit of political change. All terrorist acts involve violence or the threat of violence. Terrorism is specifically designed to have far-reaching psychological effects beyond the immediate victim(s) or object of the terrorist attack. It is meant to instill fear within, and thereby intimidate, a wider “target audience” that might include a rival ethnic or religious group, an entire country, a national government or political party, or public opinion in general… Through the publicity generated by their violence, terrorists seek to obtain the leverage, influence, and power they otherwise lack to effect political change on either a local or international scale.” (2006: 40-1)

Media attention, governmental statements and popular understandings of the threat faced to the UK by terrorism fixate on the idea of foreign terrorism. MI5 describes foreign terrorists as “groups such as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and Al Qaida present a threat from many others”. Yet the security service also recognises that “the majority of terrorist attack plots in this country have been planned by British residents. There are several thousand individuals in the UK who support violent extremism or are engaged in Islamist extremist activity” (MI5).

We cannot escape the reality that the overwhelming majority of terrorist attacks in the UK are actually perpetrated by people who have lived here or indeed, were born here, and were radicalised in this country.

Cases of Islamic terrorism in Europe is a complex issue which mostly expands due to radicalisation on the territory of Western democracies though increased social exclusion, psychological warfare and extremist propaganda. Most cases of foreign terrorist attacks in Britain are actually perpetuated by Muslims who lived or were born in Britain and were radicalised in this state. These people have been referred to as ‘the enemy within’. Oliver Roy (2006) explores the issue of Western Islamic terrorism through de-culturation:

If we analyse the violent Islamic militants who have operated in Western Europe since the early 1990s, a clear pattern emerges. These individuals, even when they have a Middle Eastern familial background, do not come from the Middle East to perpetrate terrorist attacks in the West, nor are they sent by a Middle Eastern terrorist organization with a local agenda, such as the liberation of Palestine. They are part of the deterritorialized, supranational Islamic networks that operate in the West and at the periphery of the Middle East. Their backgrounds have little to do with Middle Eastern conflicts or traditional religious except the few Saudis and Yemenis who carried out the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. On the contrary, they are based in Europe, fluent in Western languages, and Western educated: None of them underwent a religious curriculum in Islamic madrassas, or religious schools. Some were born in Europe; others came as children, students, or political refugees; many even possessed Western citizenship (2006: 159-160)

Thus, scholars demonstrated how the mystique discourse around terrorism made any attempt to deconstruct the question difficult. JosebaZulaika’s (2015) concern is to reduce the mystique of terrorism and make people aware of the attached connotations. The terrorism discourse “must be disenchanted if it is to lose its efficacy for all concerned” (2015: 1). Hulsser and Spencer (2008) support Zulaika’s pointing at how terrorism is a social construction. Largely, a terrorist is a product of a discourse and its producer. Hence, this discourse should be the starting point for research. We decided to root most of our theoretical background in Copenhagen’s School concept of securitisation which is going to be explored in the next section. We believe that this framework is the most applicable in the case of perception of the terrorist threat which, as we going to demonstrate, is socially constructed and overblown by mass-media and the political elite.

Framing Securitisation.

Alastair Buchan (1966:24) writes: “security is a word with many meanings”. Haftendorn (1991) argues that “the term “security” is as ambiguous in content as in format: is it a goal, an issue-area, a concept, a research program, or a discipline?” (1991, 3). In the Copenhagen’s School, the creation of a security issue, named as securitisation, is conceived as a “political act of mobilisation of support for actions, which requires that the audience accept the definition of danger and agrees at least tacitly to the use of security measures to deal with the situation” (Dalby, 2009, p.48). The main legacy of the Copenhagen School is its constructivist approach. Sveinsdóttir (2015) explains how a threat “does not exist if people do not act as though it exists” (2015: 445).

Later criticism, mainly led by the Second Generation, will point out the weaknesses of Copenhagen’s theorisation. They overcome the narrow minded existential threat referent object through the consideration of risks as objects of interests for security producers. Balzac (2005) points out that the excessive focus on speech act which, according to the scholar is arguably narrow. Discourse power depends on multiple variables: audiences, speakers and the interaction of many other factors. The strategic dimension which is given is essential to understanding the intersections between context, norms and powers in the constitution of a securitising move. We mentioned that security isn’t reduced to a speech act. Pictures, social medias and mass medias integrate the discursive practice. Williams (2003) is exploring the role of telecommunications and televisual images in the construction of security issues. He questions their ethical dimension and how the broader understanding of medias may address new security practices.

The assemblage theory, detailed by Salter (2016) and understood as “uncoordinated processes that nevertheless have a concerted effect” (2016: xi), helps us frame the multiple actors’ involvement in the social construction of security through uncoordinated processes. To give a glance at which kind of securitising moves we consider, we will briefly mention Philips’s book Londonistan (2008) which proposes an illustrative securitisation strategy:

“Britain is now sleepwalking into Islamisation. Some people will read that sentence and think this is mere hyperbole. That’s the problem. Britain still doesn’t grasp that it is facing a pincer attack from both terrorism and cultural infiltration and usurpation.” (2008: vii)

Philip’s discourse directly refers to the growing literature on the ‘enemy within’ and ‘suspect community’. The ‘suspect community’ is our second main theoretical and empirical debate.

Framing the suspect community

Breen-Smyth (2014) is proposing the most accurate definition of what might be a suspect community. They can be seen as:

“as a group of people, or a sub-set of the population constructed as “suspect” by mechanisms deployed by the state to ensure national or state “security” and reinforced by societal responses and social practices. These mechanisms are directed at one specific population identified by an ethnic, religious, racial, national or other marker and the threat to that security is seen as emanating exclusively or primarily from them (2014: 232)”.

Hillyard (1993) introduced the term “suspect community” to describe anti-terror legislation effects on the Irish community in Britain. Pantanzis and Simon (2009), following Hillyard (1993) thesis applied the suspect community approach to Muslims in the UK after 9/11. They tackled how the entire Muslim community is represented as supportive of terrorism and therefore a suspect community (2009: 651). For Hickman, Silvestri, and Nickels (2011), counter-terrorism policies tend to create a ‘suspect community’ – British Muslims.

Being labelled as suspect affects both sides identity. Mary Breen-Smyth (2014) proposed a strong and promising theorisation of the suspected community. Referring to Anderson’s imagined community and with Bourdieu’s othering, she defines the suspect community as “the product of a larger cultural apparatus or “imaginary” (…) in a process of othering” (Breen-Smyth 2014: 223). Greer is objecting (2008) to the existence of a British Muslim Community. Empirically, no evidence points to the existence of a homogeneous British Muslim community. Lipschutz (1995) argues that “security… is meaningless without an ‘other’ to help specify the conditions of insecurity” (Lipschutz 1995, 9). A virtual community is thus created and presented as “dangerous, antipathetic and traitorous” (Breen-Smyth 2014:229).

The suspect community discourse underlines two misconceptions: the likely supportive nature of the Muslim community toward violent Islamism and the potential for theradicalisation of each young British Muslim. In this regard, we would like to frame the debate on radicalisation and to point some of its latest developments.


Framing radicalization

Extremism is defined by the British Government as vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs (Prevent Strategy 2011: 107). Borum (2013) assumes that:

“radicalisation is the key to understanding and predicting terrorism is a grave misapprehension. Investigators must be mindful that terrorism does not always follow a linear process where a vulnerable person is inducted into a particular ideology, and adherence to those ideas escalates until the individual inevitably is driven to commit acts of violence. Sometime terrorism evolves that way, but not often enough, perhaps, even to be considered ‘typical’ “(2013: 106).

Orla Lynch (2013) details how radicalisation is related to an identity problem. Assumptions have been raised regarding “relationship between vague conceptions of identity, dual identity and immigrant identity and notions of radicalisation” (2013: 246). Olivier Roy (2006) theory on dual identity claims that “second- or third-generation immigrants are unable to reconcile their new Western identity with their national heritage or ethnic identity, and are thus constantly and problematically managing two sets of norms “(2006: 246). There is a failure to understand new identities due to “the underlying assumption that an increase in religious symbolism and religiosity is somehow related to an increase in radicalisation” (2013: 246).

Barlett, Birdwell and King (2010) point how societal exclusion, distrust of government and hatred of foreign policy are common patterns in local radicalised people. This concerns especially a:

“high level of distrust among young Muslims towards policing and intelligence agencies, with obvious implications for counter- radicalisation efforts. However, young Muslims and radicals also felt genuine affection for Western values of tolerance and pluralism, system of government, and culture. Terrorists, on the other hand, were unique in their loathing of Western society and culture. Interestingly, radicals were more likely than terrorists to have been involved in political protest, to have studied at university (and studied humanities or arts subjects) and to have been employed.”

Radicalisation raised multiple concerns in the political sphere as a direct link was made with terrorism. Kundnani (2014) explains how the obsession withradicalisation converted into policies which:

Through an extensive system of surveillance involving, among others, police officers, teachers, and youth and health workers, would-be radicals were identified and given counselling, mentoring, and religious instruction in an attempt to reverse the radicalisation process. In some cases individuals were rehoused in new neighborhoods to disconnect them from local influences considered harmful. (2014, 154)

Therefore, the attempt to tackle radicalisation, by weakening suspect communities and reinforcing social exclusion might fuel radicalisation in some specific cases.

Conclusion: About counter-terrorism epistemic crisis

Academia’s latest efforts to strengthen and diversify our lenses seems to provide an accurate look on this concept’s diversity and complexity. No consensus might be reached on the following debates as they all cover historical, sociological and identity perception evolution affected by the political, institutional and social environment. Terrorism, securitisation, suspect community and radicalisation are not static phenomena and the researcher should admit the inevitable weakness of his theoretical framework to represent reality. Jackson (2015) recently outlined the epistemological crisis of counterterrorism. By pointing out how the “current logic and practices of counterterrorism, particularly its seemingly irrational, counterproductive and damaging aspects” are harmful to the aims of counter-terrorism, he suggests that the field would need a deeper self-criticism of its own knowledge (2015: 35). Jackson recognises four main epistemological mistakes:

(1) the rejection of previous knowledge about terrorism and the embrace of total uncertainty or “anti-knowledge” about any aspect of future terrorist threats; (2) the adherence to an extreme precautionary dogmatism in which the “unknown” is reflexively governed through preemptive action; (3) the consequent legitimisation and institutionalisation of imagination and fantasy as a necessary counterterrorist tool; and (4) the acceptance of a permanent ontological condition of “waiting for terror” in relation to the next attack. (2015: 35)

Therefore, it helps to reinforce the importance of critical approach in our research, which aims to avoid the “crisis of knowledge” present in “counterterrorism” (2015: 35).



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