Author: Andrew Blick, Tufyal Choudhury and Stuart Weir
Publisher: Democratic Audit, Human Rights Centre, University of Essex
Release Date: November 2006
Pages: 72


In his foreword to this report, the Lib Dem peer Lord Smith notes that “the new outbreak of terrorism has been caused by Islamic jihadists both from abroad, and more recently, home grown. This has profound implications for the maintenance of a peaceful multicultural Britain. In pursuit of the terrorists, new laws and tactics have been devised and employed whose efficacy is a matter of genuine debate. One effect of the new measures, however, has been to increase the anxiety and alienation of British Muslims to the point where the entire Muslim community risks becoming demonized and that cannot be good for the health of civic society”. The basis for the demonisation is a racist and populist agenda; the reason why society more widely will suffer is because the balance between public safety and fundamental democratic liberties and values is tipping towards greater state control and authoritarianism.

The authors observe that “ministers have failed to make the vital distinction between criminals and community strongly enough, as the police service actually did after 7/7…the combination of tough laws and tough talk [ministers have adopted] is divisive and directed too much at the majority population. There is a strong suspicion that some pronouncements are inspired by electoral considerations”.

They add, “the actual ‘trade off’ that is occurring is not however between this or that right. It is between the rights of the majority population and those of the minorities, especially the Muslim communities. In a very real sense, and no doubt inevitably, apprehension of the terrorist threat has been ‘racialised’. In our view, government statements, like those of Home Secretary John Reid [his call to Muslim parents to inform on their children] contribute to a divide that has been exacerbated for some years by Islamophobic reports and items in the media. An important part of the government’s ability to pass its counter terrorism laws and developing police practice lies in the idea that these laws and their enforcement will not be employed against Tony Blair’s ‘law-abiding’ majority: they will be used against ‘them’. The way that the threat has been ‘racialised’ is key in drawing this boundary. These measures are possible in part because the general public does not feel vulnerable to being kept under surveillance, watching their words, being arbitrarily stopped, searched, raided, beaten, arrested or shot. By contrast, people in the Muslim and other minority communities do…this process – and the government’s Manichean distinction between terrorists suspects and ‘the rest of the British people’ – enables and justifies the removal and reduction of key protections, such as the presumption of innocence…”.

The report provides several useful reviews of the literature and also its own insights on issues such as the key motivations for joining a terrorist cell (“the desire for revenge”, citing the work of Dr Andrew Silke), reasons why so many Muslim youth find it a problem to report their suspicions directly to the police (“because the information would not be handled with care and sensitivity and might lead to an over-reaction and misuse of powers”) and multiculturalism (“our view is that a re-appraisal of multicultural policy is in order, but that the government should not abandon it or seek a more strongly assimilationist approach. Public policy should be as secular as possible within what is a historically confused situation – for example on religious schools. The state should not seek to ‘impose a single British identity and culture’ or impose restrictions upon cultural expression, except where activities break the law or violate human rights standards”).

The report contains a sombre message on the future of Muslims of Britain: “for a variety of reasons, [they] are not beginning to prosper as new generations succeed the first settlers. There seems to be no ‘second generation bounce’ as there has been in other immigrant communities”. It was not in the scope of the report to provide supporting evidence for this assertion. Is there empirical evidence that Muslims born in Britain are faring less well on socio-economic measures than their parents who were born overseas?

The authors believe that unless Britain’s counter-terrorism efforts are proportionate to the risks that confront the nation, “our society may lose its way for two generations or more”. Extremist ideologies that promote hatred and terrorism can ultimately only be defeated on ideological grounds in free and open debate with a nation that upholds the rule of law and values of democracy, equality and freedom.