The suspect community.

Being suspect?

Being labeled as a suspect affects both sides of identity. Mary Breen-Smyth (2014) proposed a strong and promising theorization of suspect communities. The scholar combines Anderson’s concept of an imagined community and Bourdieu’s othering. Breen-Smyth defines suspect communities as “the product of a larger cultural apparatus or “imaginary” (…) in a process of othering (Breen-Smyth 2014: 223)”. This permits one to recognize many factors contributing to a constructed image of suspect communities which is imbedded into minds of those who suspect and those who are suspected (Breen-Smyth 2014: 230). Lipschutz (1995) argues that “security… is meaningless without an ‘other’ to help specify the conditions of insecurity” (Lipschutz 1995, 9). The social group is thus created and presented as “dangerous, antipathetic and traitorous” (Breen-Smyth 2014:229). A “suspect community”, then, can be seen as a group of people, or a sub-set of population labeled as “suspects” through deployment of various mechanisms by the state to ensure national “security” (Breen-Smyth: 232).

To demonstrate this, existence of suspect communities in Britain can be exemplified through concrete empirical data. After 9/11, between 2001 and 2002, the number of Asian people who have been stopped and searched rose nearly by 400% (Morris 2004). Moore’s empirical study (2008) emphasises the dominating representation of Muslims in Western media. The most common associations regarding this ethnic and religious community correlate with terrorism, extremism and general embodiment of dangerous otherness. Reinforcement of negative stereotypes affects the lives of many individuals. To exemplify this, young male Pakistanis have been depicted as high risk, non-positive citizens often related to crime and terrorism (Mythe, Walklate, Khan 20009:742). Lynch (2013) stresses the way radicalization creates a nexus of stereotypes connecting Muslim Youth and radicalisation. In order to tackle impact of the following implications, she points at how “radicalism and extremism have become entangled with notions of identity, integration, segregation and multiculturalism, and this entanglement has made being a “Muslim youth” a precarious designation in the United Kingdom“ (Lynch 2013: 241). As a result, social disadvantage, negative alienating stereotypes and unjust perception reinforces potential radicalisation of individuals who are pushed out of the society (Lynch 2013: 244). Therefore, by generalising and stereotyping young Muslim men the government automatically labels them as potential counter-terrorism targets (Spalek 2010: 795). This in turn, creates further tension between ethnic and religious minorities and the wider British public, which enables more sensitivity in the age of a Brexit anxiety.

We interviewed Elise Feron on the issue of what might be learned from the experience with terrorism in Northern Ireland. DrFeron pointed out how economic and political discrimination at the end of the sixties constituted facilitating factors for radicalizations and activism. Related deprivation and social despair acted as enabling factors which support radical shifts. While no generalization should be done, some studied cases proved that a mix of discriminations and social despair perception may facilitate a shift toward radicalism. However, statistically, it is still very difficult to have complete data on the relation between economic factors and social exclusion. However, we can still affirm that the feeling of being excluded reinforces the exclusion: it is a vicious cycle.

Impacts on Suspect communities

Studies have examined counter-terrorism effects on suspected communities. Nickels et al. (2012) points to how media pressurises both Muslim and Irish communities to “stand up to extremists”. They also argue that the creation of a “suspect community” fosters a socio-political climate permissive of violating civil liberties. Millings (2013) has looked at the impact of monitoring a sense of identity and belonging of young British Asian men. Choudhury, Tufyal and Fenwick (2001) assessed the impact of counter-terrorism measures on Muslim communities. Since 2001, “there have been over half a million stop and searches in the streets using s44 of the Terrorism Act, but they have not led to any convictions in relation to terrorism (Choudhury et al.’s 20001: viii)”. The study points how the perception of counter-terrorism measures is based on “combined effects of institutional discrimination, the pervasiveness of anti-Islamic discourses and new forms of terrorism legislation on the identities of young Muslims (Choudhury et al.’s 20001: 751)”. Ericson (2007) explains normalization of suspicion through risk management. We do not only criminalize “those who actually cause harm, but also those merely suspected of being harmful” (Ericson 2007: 58). The statement explains the problem of securitizing the entire community, mixing those who cause harm with those who do not carry any substantial threat to British security. This observation highlights one of the many current flaws in British counter-terrorism measures which have to be addressed in order enhance state security after now when Britain has voted to leave the EU.

Suspicion is a widespread sense of uncertainty which also affects schools and other education institutions. Coppock (2014) primarily focuses on introduction of counter-radicalization methods in British schools. Prevention of violent extremism through the program “Learning Together to be Safe” contributes “to a process of disciplinary normalisation of young British Muslims, with the intention to produce governable individuals (2014: 115). Coppock remarks that the word extremism is not defined clearly and often taken for granted by other authors. It is an “inherently vague concept and the absence of contextual definition may not be entirely unintentional in that it allows for the re-construction, re-interpretation and re-articulation of what constitutes ‘extremism’ and the potential widening of a net of applicability to various individuals (2014: 119)”. The lack of a comprehensible definition once again poses serious concerns regarding utilization of the concept in the context of security. Multiple policies, such as PREVENT, have been introduced to make Muslims “more British”. David Anderson highlights that most of the UK’s counter-radicalization programs lack clarity and need to be greatly improved. According to Anderson, they manufacture mistrust, which coupled with teachers’ lack of training and understanding of the issue results in discomfort and alienation of many suspected students.

Qureshi (2015) questions the way “aggressive anti-Muslim narrative that is based on assumptions subverts the political expression/identity of individuals by turning them into potential threats (Qureshi 2015: 181)”. This pattern can be observed in many Western democracies when a terrorism-related narrative depicts stereotypical perception of what a radicalized individual may look like. To exemplify, Marie Breen-Smyth (2014) reports the story of Kazim Ali, a poet who teaches at Shippensburg University, Pennsylvania. The story goes that Ali was putting a box of poetry transcripts beside a trash can. A young man saw the lecturer doing it and called the police, “telling them that a man of Middle Eastern descent, driving a car with out of state plates and no campus parking sticker had just placed a box next to the trash can” (2014: 227). As a result, the campus was immediately closed by the bomb squad. Ali commented:

Not because of my recycling. Because of my dark body. No… Because of the culture of fear, mistrust, hatred, and suspicion that is carefully cultivated in the media, by the government… These are the days of orange alert, school lock-downs, and endless war. We are preparing for it, training for it, looking for it, and so of course, in the most innocuous of places… we find it. Instead, in spite of my peacefulness, my committed opposition to all aggression and war, I am a threat by my very existence, a threat just living in the world as a Muslim body. That man in the parking lot didn’t even see me. He saw my darkness. He saw my Middle Eastern descent… My body exists politically in a way I can not prevent. For a moment today… I ceased to be a person when a man I had never met looked straight through me and saw the violence in his own heart. (Mustafa 2007) » (2014: 227)

Once again, this case proves that distortion of perception and lack of clear understanding of terrorism contributes to creation of suspected communities. Any kind of normal behavior may now appear to be suspicious and even dangerous once it is looked at through the lens of fear and misconceptions. We interviewed, a London lawyer, Barrister Laurie Power, on the subject of negative perception of certain ethnic and religious minorities and what she observed during her work:

It’s usually young Muslim males who complain about the fact that If they are involved in anything hostile to the police, it’s because they are Muslims and not a young guy going through a difficult period in their life. It is an image perpetuated by the medias and supported by the government, that terrorist walk with jeans. This is the story of Menendez. He was shot because he looked like a terrorist. But what a terrorist is looking like? The real damage caused by islamophobia in the wider British community is the counter-production effect on natural British Muslims integration. The people are

therefore sticking more together. It means that non-Muslims Britain are less likely to understand, appreciate, the religion, the people within the religion. They do not understand that are not a threat at all. (Barrister Laurie Power, interview with Ismail)

It is essential to remember, that by creating suspected communities through many misconceptions and never-ending anxiety, one divides society in to two camps. As Elise Feron stated earlier, this division may enhance chances of some individuals acquiring radical views, due to rejection and prejudices coming from the society they try to belong to. Moreover, the shift towards division and alienation is even more distinct after the Brexit vote. Thus, we strongly recommend to stop reinforcing stereotypes and forming suspect communities based on overly simplified and unjust assumptions. Instead, we recommend to give a sense of belonging to those who have been marginalised. Then, individuals will be less likely to be in the target group of foreign terrorists, as the sense of belonging and acceptance when nourished and preserved by the government will automatically act as a strong protection mechanism.

 

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