Securitization and the construction of the terrorist threat

English (2010: ix) explains how our response to terrorism would be more effective by stating, “if only our analysis of definition, explanation, and history was sharper, more accurate, and more integrated” (English, 2010: ix). The lack of epistemic and accurate research for counter-terrorism is drastic. When Lum, Kennedy and Sherley (2006) reviewed studies covering counter-terrorism effectiveness, they concluded: “an almost complete absence of evaluation research on counter-terrorism interventions” and that “some interventions (…) sometimes increased the likelihood of terrorism occurring (2006: 489)”. Both Dalgaard-Nielsen (2010) and Lindekilde (2012) give detail on how governing through risk reduction might increase alienation of marginalized individuals. John Mueller (2005) points out that the real cost of terrorism comes “from the fear and consequent reaction (or overreaction) (2005: 487)”. This overreaction is reflected, in Professor Bruce Hoffmann’s (2006) argument on “far-reaching psychological repercussions” of terrorism (Hoffmann 2006: 43-44) used to “create and exploit a climate of fear” (Wilkinson 2001:12-13).

Securitization and the suspect community

We argue that the real danger remains in our overreaction while we continue to face a foreign terrorist threat. Paul Wilkinson’s book ‘Terrorism versus Democracy’ (2001) examines responses of liberal states to terrorist networks that operate globally. By analysing terrorism strategies and the nature of these criminal groups, he emphasises the significance of over-securitization and over-reaction risks. In his 2011 preface, he expresses his concerns on how “fundamental mistakes in responding to terrorism can end up strengthening terrorism and create further threats to international peace and security and human rights” (Wilkinson, 2011). Wilkinson has been engaged in an in-depth examination ofthe waysdemocraciesshould respond to the issue. For the scholar, terrorism remains a serious threat. Yet,he also points out that sixteen years later after the 9/11 tragedy, neither jihadist groups, nor western democracies have actually ‘won’ the abstract ‘war on terror’. While vigilance remains the key to prevention of terrorist plots, democracies should first of allremember stick to their basic values – the rule of law, the protection of human rights and democratic accountability (2011:1).

Academic literature has drastically evolved in its understanding of security. After the Cold War, Security Studies shifted the debate from defence to security, introducing a new spectrum of non-traditional research on “being secure”. This turning point deconstructs a broader set of political issues (Barry Buzan and Lene Hansen, 2009:1). The widening and deepening agenda of Security Studies is addressed by Copenhagen School. It questions security practices and sets an innovative analytical framework based on referent objects, speech acts, securitization, securitizing moves, speakers and audiences. This research permits us to understand the social construction of security and the legitimization of its practices through securitization of referent objects. It points out how some actors conduct securitizing movesthrough a manipulation of the environment using codes, norms and legitimacy. Moreover, it points out at how securitization involves identification of an existential threat and therefore an implicit idea of an urgent need for action. This consequently,enables deployment of exceptional measures, securitizing moves and the following practical aspects which can help reshape society, governmental policies and even the actual understanding of what make us secure.

These remarks directly concern our research as we emphasise how discursive practices define Muslims as a threat to social cohesion and security. Discourse analysis concerns the relation between textual, oral production and social processes. The field of research regarding discursive practices in international relations was enriched by the work of Jennifer Milliken (1999). She argues that while discourse creates some truths it simultaneously invalidates others. They operationalize “a particular ‘regime of truth’ while excluding other possible modes of identity and action (…) endorsing a certain common sense, [while] making other modes of categorizing and judging meaningless, impracticable, inadequate or otherwise disqualified” (1999, 229). This “new terrorism” discourse supported by security experts, officials and scholars is contributing to the construction of the Muslim minorities as ‘suspect’ (Spalek2010: 790).

Critical assessment of speech acts and challenging constructed misconceptions should be of an utmost importance. Williams (2003) explains the role of telecommunications and television images in the construction of security issues. He questions their ethical dimension and how the broader understanding of media may address new security practises. How do television images represent and recognize a threat? It involves “a process of argument, the provision of reasons, presentation of evidence, and commitment to convincing others the validity of one’s position” (Williams 2003:522). In Britain, fear has been driven by discursive practices since 9/11. Awan (2014) detailed how online hate wasn’t given enough attention in Britain. Hate crimes also occur online and platforms such as Twitter are becoming non-law-biding arenas where violent speech acts occur. For Awan (2014), attention should increase from both official and scholars as online interactions are increasingly influencing identity and self-perception.

Furthermore, it conveys a blurred, unspoken connection between migration and terrorism. Richard Jackson demonstrates how the term Islamic Terrorism has become “a ubiquitous feature of contemporary terrorism discourse” (2014, 395). He demonstrates that the rising practice had much to do with an emotional stereotyping of the issue. Some literature on political violence saw terrorism as a revivalist action inside Muslim communities, which, as it was argued, are naturally prone to join it. This was explained by inner rejection of European values and democracy (2014: 404-406) leading to an inevitable boundary between Us and Them.

Fear, feeling secure and producing security.

The consideration of counter-terrorism implications in terms of fear, suspected community and national cohesion reflects the way multiple scholars embraced the epistemological shift started by Copenhagen School. If traditional terrorism studies are mainly directed towards the effect of terrorism, the emerging critical literature focuses on analysis of counter-terrorism measures and its questionable success. Orla Lynch and Javier Argomaniz (2014) last book reflects the rising tendency for critical non-mainstream analysis. Calling for a new research field on victims of terrorism victimization and policy legitimization, they also expressed the need for research on counter-terrorism victims.

What creates the sense of insecurity regarding terrorism? Does counter-terrorism effectively tackle terrorist threats? Or does it produce more insecurities and division? Firstly we need to understand how the feeling of insecurity is a complex phenomenon. Alastair Buchan (1966:24) writes, “security is a word with many meanings”. (The Security Puzzle: Theory-Building and Discipline-Building in International Security Author(s): Helga Haftendorn) “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). Lieu vide, its’ possible ontological, epistemological and axiological multiplicity indicates a much-needed precaution in its use. Referring to Berger and Luckman, Estes invites us to consider security as a collective stock of knowledge (Berger and Luckman, 1991). Berger, studying the social construction of reality through the sociology of knowledge defines knowledge as “the certainty that phenomena is real and that it possesses special characteristics.” (Berger, 1991, p.13). In the social construction of reality, Berger stresses the importance of “the subjective experience of everyday life “(Berger, 1991, p.34) in the consciousness process. What matters is the here and now, “the focus of my attention to the reality of everyday life” (Berger, 1991, p.36).

Another question we may have is: how do we produce security? For Dalby (2009), security is a “political act of mobilization of support for action, which requires that the audience accepts the definition of danger and agrees at least tacitly to the use of security measures to deal with the situation” (Dalby, 2009, p.48). A threat could be as such, objectively, but it “does not exist if people do not act as though it exists” (Sveinsdóttir, 2015, p.445). These debates assist in understanding the way multiple actors’ frame social construction of security and its understanding.

Resilience of Human rights in the war on Terror.

Wilkinson questions the extent to which liberal states maintain democratic values in their resistance to terrorism. It is an exceptionally important issue, as there is a high risk of destroying democracy and equality in implementation of de-humanizing security measures. This, in turn, is would be the first sign of ineffective security measures, as they would fail to protect values which shape the very core of liberal democracies, including Britain.

Foot introduces a wider debate on human rights resilience in the age of counter-terrorism (Foot 2007: 489). Human rights violation has been acknowledged in the War on Terror and largely debated in academia. To exemplify, one shall pay attention to the Abu Ghraib scandals and the Guantanamo Bay law-free zone (Sadat 2007: 1238), government’s attempt to redefine torture in a restrictive approach (Manfred Nowak 2006: 809), physical abuses during enhanced intelligence practices (Seth F. Kreimer 2003) and exceptional use of torture (Alex J. Bellamy 2006:112 – to quote). Joyner (2004) explains concerns regarding the impact of terrorism on human rights cover by assessing “the ways in which acts of terrorism are used as the rationale by governments to crack down on dissident groups and critics of a regime; and the ways in which counter-terrorist legislation adopted by governments might infringe on human rights and civil liberties of persons in those states” (2004: 240). Litwak (2002) debated the pre-emption policy set by the United States in 2002. In his analysis, foreign policy design is eroding international norms and it is driven by a misleading depiction of liberty and security as mutually exclusive elements (Daniel Moeckli 2008: 5). If scholarssuch as (Schmid 2005: 25) advocate mutually constitutive understanding of cosmopolitan norms and counter-terrorism; the tension betweenstate’s protection and civil liberties (Richard Ashby Wilson 2005: 161) has been characterised by trade-offs between counter-terrorism and human rights protection (Mary Robinson 2002). This expressed necessity for short-term sacrifices raised concerns over ethnicity of emergency measures (Joyner 2004). The erosion of international norms (Gregory Hooks 2005) reveals how damaging the Global War on Terror has been for human rights regime and understanding of democratic norms (Senguputa 2004).

This observation enters a widerdebate on normalizing the state of emergency in the international system (Agamben 2005) and how the following government paradigms sustains production of bare life (Agamben:1998). British and US security officials were both criticized for their complicity in human rights abuses during the War on Terror. If most of the literature concerns US practices, we voluntarily stress the following as both states share a common security culture. Cole (2002) points out how anti-terror measures sacrifice a new class of non-citizens. Observing detention and treatment of Taliban suspected supporters or fighters in Guantanamo, he draws from Agamben’s bare life his conclusions. By normalizing the setting of emergency measures, the fine line between emergency and normality becomes a point of tension. Criticizing the US continuous state of emergency, Agamben (2005) rightly points out that “faced with the unstoppable progression of what has been called a ‘global civil war’, the state of exception tends increasingly to appear as the dominant paradigm of government in contemporary politics. (2005: 2)”. The exceptional measures become part of the normal and their normalization interferes with liberal state values. In 2004, over 700 security studies published an ‘Open Letter to the American People’ (2004). Their goal was to demonstrate how the US War on Terror was a misleading policy which harmed the struggle against Islamist terrorism and which legitimized human rights violations. The United Kingdom is also concerned with human rights violations as pointed by Elliot (2010). He argues that most un-famous measures taken during early years of the war on terror were indefinite detention without charge or trial (2010: 133) and deportation subject to “no-torture” agreements (2010: 138). Elliot points how human rights violations by the UK are both endangering the country’s human rights regime as violations tend to amplify a common concern with an increasing number of population. He concludes that:

Human rights law is at its most valuable when it stands between the interests of the majority and those of unpopular minorities — of which there can be few better examples than foreign nationals suspected of involvement in terrorism. Such cases constitute the acid test of the commitment of a state, including that of its courts, to fundamental rights. (2010: 145)

Countering terrorism and governing through risk.

To get a better understanding of policy designs and their outcomes in a counter-terrorism era, numerous scholars analyzed the response of liberal states to ‘existential threats’. These academics paid exceptionally close attention to the ‘governing through risk’ paradigm. Beck (2000) is famously recognized for his attempt to theorize and confront modernity through risk. He argues that society produces risks to exist and to define its forms of organization. The language of risk is becoming a new form of social order which operates though calculation and ‘minimization’ of risk hazards. Beck’s thinking covers devitalization of terrorist threat. The way in which we depict and deal with it reflects the new form of political nature in risk society. Such “gross simplification of enemy images, constructed by governments and intelligence agencies without and beyond public discourse” is in fact one of the defining characteristics present in a “terrorist risk society” (Beck 2002: 45). For Beck (2003), 9/11 marks a failure of classical state-centric geopolitical analysis. According to the scholar, concepts such as war, peace, friends and enemies are at this stage obsolete (2003: 255). Instead, Beck explores what he describes as a “silence of words” (2003: 256). Is it still possible to define foreign operations, terrorist threat and international peace as defensive factors in the context of global risk? Risk society brings a new lecture on the changing nature of governmentality. Rose (2001) states that calculation of risk, “denotes a family of ways of thinking and acting, involving calculations about the probable future in the present followed by intervention into the present in order to control that potential future (2001:7)“. For Amoor and Goede (2008) risk becomes a way for governing due to its “tendency to understand an increasing number of society’s ills and insecurities through the lens of risk, in order to tame and eradicate them through calculative technologies (2008: 10)”. Collective risk management becomes a leading practice, involving every citizen in identification of potential risks. Consequently, collectively becomes a de facto actor in the fight against terrorism. As pointed by Aradau, Munster and Rens (2007); risk becomes a way of “organizing reality, taming the future, disciplining chance and rationalizing individual conduct (2007: 33)”. As a result, hysteria behind risk society leads to “drastic policies against anti-social behavior” (2007: 5). One can easily trace this tendency in British politics, especially in the context of Brexit. The multiple political utterances regarding dangers of foreign terrorism, Islamic radicalisation and failure of globalisation construct a society where one normalises exceptional measures and isolationism. They are meant to ‘protect’ from often imagined or overly-exaggerated threats. Meanwhile, a constructed feeling of insecurity and over-securitization bears dangers of losing British values, an identity on the way to achieving this abstract and often unreachable sense of safety.

 

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