How does counter-terrorism undermine social cohesion, civil liberties and Britain’s resilience to foreign terrorism? An Introduction

Our aim is to explore to what extent nationally implemented counter-terrorism measures can lower the existing foreign terrorist threat to Britain’s security after Brexit. Yet, as stated in the forward, one should recognise the speculative dimension of the debate on implementation of Brexit and its consequences. By triggering Article 50, on the 29th of March, British nationals, residents, universities, private and public sectors entered the realm of uncertainty and inevitable change. On the 28th of March, the Scottish Parliament voted for a second independence referendum. This event takes place in the light of the EU referendum where the Scottish population voted in favor of remaining in the EU by 62%. While being divided on the issue of Scottish independence, MSPs would like to engage in a serious debate on Scotland’s place in the UK and in the EU after Brexit, aiming to determine the country’s own relationship with the European Union.

Meanwhile, on the 22nd of March, London witnessed the Westminster attack led by Khalid Masood. The man was born in Kent and has three children. He spent years in prison for being involved in many criminal activities. It is believed that he was radicalised in Britain while in custody where he met Anjem Choudary (2011), a radical preacher linked to Islamic State Jihadists. Even though causes of the attack are still debatable, Home Secretary Amber Rudd accused WhatsApp of giving terrorists’ “a secret place to hide” after the enterprise refused to give access to the London attacker’s messages due to the company’s privacy policies (Gordon Rayner 2017).

These observations draw connections to an essential issue. Most of the terrorist threats in Britain come from within UK boarders: the murders of Lee Rigby and Jo Cox, 7/7, the attempted 21/7, the Glasgow Airport bombing, and the Copeland nail bombs all have one feature in common: the individuals were exposed to radical ideologies while in the UK. The fear caused by overblown dangers of foreign terrorism is clearly reflected in the Home Secretary’s call to WhatsApp to share private date of its clients. One might always fear misappropriation and bypassing of civil liberties in the aftermath of a terrorist attack. Laura Donohue (2008) clearly explained how manipulated terrorist attacks are:

“the pattern is a common one. (…) the immediate assumption is that the incident occurred because the state lacked the information and authority necessary to avert it. (…) the legislature grants the executive broader authorities, often under abbreviated procedures and without careful inquiry into what went wrong. Government officials claim that the new powers will be applied only to terrorists. (…) New powers end up being applied to non-terrorists – often becoming part of ordinary criminal law” (2008:2).

We would like to attract the reader’s attention to the previous quote. Laura K Donohue (2008) proposes a repetitive scenario. To tackle the potential for over-securitisation and over- reaction, we employ Copenhagen School’s securitisation theory. In our opinion, discourse analysis is the best framework for this debate as it enables one to recognise the way an overblown political phenomenon labelled as an “existential threat” is actively used as a tool to justify ‘emergency’ political actions.

With this in mind, we believe that the key threat to post-Brexit Britain lies in the heart of over-securitising foreign terrorism. The spread of anxiety and fear catalyses creation of counter-terrorism measures such as PREVENT. For many scholars this program is fairly ineffective and bears negative impact on Muslim communities in Britain and to some extent even enhances chances of radicalisation (Ian Cobain 2016). Withdrawal from the EU may worsen the situation by removing the checks and balances imposed by Human Rights legislation. Moreover, Brexit represents the rejection of multiculturalism from the emerging academic literature. We believe that Brexit is rooted in continuous anti-migration and anti- diversity political discourse which has been escalating since 9/11. Blair (2011) in a speech given to the Munich Security Conference recognised the state’s multiculturalism policy failure:

“Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream. We’ve failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We’ve even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values” (Blair 2011)

Brexit seems to be the product of an underlying historical process of community segregation and fear of the ‘Other’. As Paul Wilkinson (2006), we raise concerns about the effects of over-securitisation, over-reaction anddiscriminatory counter-terrorism practices on social cohesion and civil liberties.

A war on terrorism is a war that can only be lost. It causes anxiety to spread through attacks, the response to which results in populism and xenophobia in the UK, a country which is profoundly multicultural and diverse. Democratic values and civil liberty guarantees may be progressively lost. Alienation, deprivation of liberty, suspicion and prejudices towards certain communities create many serious issues in the long-run, instead of supporting the groups which suffer from relative depravation. By weakening our own people, othering them and stressing their different nature, we simplify the radicalisation processes by setting a de facto social exclusion.


We argue that foreign terrorism is not an existential threat. We also point out how Brexit reflects a powerful trend against multiculturalism. We tackle, moreover how over- securitisationin response to the terrorist threat permits the endless inflation and growth of security apparatus without limit. These processes have weakened essential civil liberties, undermined national cohesion and affected well-being and the integration of suspect communities. Counter-terrorism policies have not reduced terrorism and insecurities. They have increased long-term insecurities related to social exclusion, individual despair, hate discourse normalisation and the weakening of national cohesion.

In a multicultural society, fear of the other might be the seed which will grow into fear toward each one, ensuring a continuous inflation of the security apparatus. This said, the Orwellian myth seems to be much closer than ever. By taking into careful consideration all these aspects, we want to propose that insecurities come from our over-reaction to foreign terrorism. In this climate of fear and over-securitisation, Brexit might accelerate this inflation.

We propose that the UK finds itself stuck in a counter-terrorism trap. In order to effectively manage the threat from terrorism, foreign or domestic, we must break out of this viscous cycle. Instead, the UK state apparatus must be concentrated on tackling the disease rather than simply the symptoms, which are nourished by anxiety, misconceptions and alienation. Thus, we call for a change of perception and attitude to the problem. Prioritising long-term goals over short-term a solution, which sets a complicated challenge to the political and intellectual elite in Britain. Terrorism is a method of fighting; it always was, is and will be. Thus, as Richard English (2010) famously argued “we need to learn to live with it” (2010: 120). However, we also do believe that one can choose to reduce it to a minimum by abstaining from fostering it with anxiety and prejudices. Uncertainties, fear and mistrust embodied and manufactured by Brexit have to be recognised and tamed as much as possible.

Our solutions will take the following form:

  • Stop PREVENT
  • Guarantee to all the EU and non-EU residents the right to stay in the UK
  • Refrain from over-securitisation
  • Redefine radicalisation through non-violent and violent forms.
  • Fund scholarships on counter-terrorism assessment and counter-productive impacts
  • Widen research on the impact of counter-terrorism measures on suspect communities
  • Establish a fund for counter-terrorism victims
  • Maintain efforts to suppress radical and jihadi content on the internet
  • Introduce special legislation on hate discourses in online content
  • Found a National Commission on the Protection of Minorities
  • Launch a national study on minorities’ perception of their treatment by government

In this paper, we first frame the most critical terms of our research (Chapter1). We then offer an in-depth analysis assessing Britain-EU security collaboration and potential changes which will take place after Brexit (Chapter 2). After, we measure and evaluate the significance of a threat to Britain coming from foreign terrorism (Chapter 3). Further, the paper explains the issue of ‘over-blowing’ the terrorist threat and underlines the number of negative implications which accompany this response. We continue by arguing that this response, fueled by anxiety, contributes to manufacturing popular misconceptions about terrorism and the creation of suspect communities (Chapter 4). It alienates the Muslim population and potentially widens the target audience for foreign terrorist recruiters (Chapter 5). Finally, the paper also proposes a number of solutions which would contribute to Britain being less exposed to foreign terrorism (Chapter 6).


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