Counter-terrorism was ignored in the UK general election – it must not be forgotten in 2020

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights (University of Bristol Law School)

The killing of the Iranian military strategist Qasem Soleimani at the start of 2020 may not have much, if any, direct effect on terrorism in the UK. But it was always unlikely that threats from jihadis, dissident Irish republicans and the far right would decline significantly as the new decade unfolds. Dealing with these threats must remain a top political priority.

And yet, in spite of the horrific incident in London on 29 November, counter-terrorism did not feature prominently in the campaign for the UK’s 2019 general election, two weeks later. Indeed, neither of the two main parties had much to say about it. (more…)

Deradicalization and the London Bridge attack of 29 November 2019

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights (University of Bristol Law School)

Two central questions are raised by the horrific knife attack by Usman Khan upon some of those attending a criminal rehabilitation workshop at Fishmonger’s Hall, London Bridge on 29 November: how, if at all, could it have been prevented? And how, if at all, could other similar incidents be averted? While there are, regrettably, no entirely reassuring answers to either question, there are, nevertheless, ones we must be content to live with.

Khan, from Stoke-on-Trent, joined the jihadist movement al-Muhajiroun in 2006 at the age of 15 and was arrested for terrorism in 2010. Two years later he was convicted with several others, of involvement in planning to establish terrorist training camps in Pakistan, and conspiracies to attack several London targets, including the Stock Exchange, the US Embassy, and the home of the then Mayor, Boris Johnson. He was sentenced to an indeterminate term of imprisonment with a recommendation that he spend at least eight years behind bars. This was, however, altered on appeal to a fixed term of 18 years with the standard entitlement to automatic release after half the sentence had been served. Khan is said to have been a model prisoner. By contrast with the majority of his terrorist peers, he willingly cooperated with the available opportunities for deradicalization and rehabilitation. But it is not entirely clear what precisely these involved. It has also been reported that he applied to join a more intensive programme but was unsuccessful. The reasons have not yet been fully disclosed. But it is said that there is a long waiting list. (more…)

Brexit and counter terrorism in the UK

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights (University of Bristol Law School)

Speculation about the consequences of Brexit for the UK has, not surprisingly, focused much more upon the economy, trade, migration, and self-governance than upon countering terrorism. While the most important contribution to the latter lies, in any case, with states themselves, the UK’s departure from the EU will, nevertheless, have counter terrorist implications. The two principal ones are likely to concern the effects upon the UK of its disconnection from the EU’s relevant policy frameworks, data bases and networks, and the galvanising effect a ‘hard’ border, ie one with physical impediments between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, may have upon dissident armed Irish republicanism with the risks this could pose for the peace process in Northern Ireland.

In order to assess these issues more fully, three core questions need to be addressed: what kind of counter terrorist relationship did the UK have with the EU before Brexit? How might this be affected by Brexit? And what kind of alternative arrangements, if any, might be provided afterwards? (more…)

How Might Human Rights Contribute to Countering Extremism in the UK?

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights (University of Bristol Law School )

Photo credit: Wiredforlogo

Many, including the government, are convinced that ‘extremism’ is implicated in the current terrorist threat and in some of the challenges which arise in the promotion of integration and the maintenance of social cohesion in a society as diverse as the UK. It is, of course, undeniable that terrorism involves ‘violent extremism’. But it is less clear that there is a problem with ‘non-violent extremism’, or at least that it is of such significance that the state and society should be mobilizing to address it. Yet, it is also difficult to deny that the profile of ideas and behaviour hostile to humane values, tolerance and mutual respect has increased in recent years, particularly as a result of the internet and social media. It is against these backgrounds that an independent Commission for Countering Extremism was established by the government in March 2018. At the core of its mission lie three questions: what precisely is ‘extremism’? What kind of threats and risks does it pose? And what, if anything, should state and society do about it? This brief contribution considers the role that human rights might play in finding some answers.
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Universities and Counter-Terrorism in the UK: ‘Educators Not Informants!’, ‘Boycott Prevent!’?

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights (University of Bristol Law School).

PreventHow – consistent with democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and the preservation of cosmopolitan community cohesion and public confidence in law and its enforcement – should the UK respond to the threat posed by terrorism and, in particular, how should it seek to prevent people, especially vulnerable young people, from being enticed into it? These questions have arisen in a particularly acute form as a result of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 which, amongst other things, imposes a legal duty upon schools, universities, charities, the NHS etc – but not directly upon their staff individually – to ‘have due regard to the need to prevent people from being drawn into terrorism.’ This may include banning some activities, regulating others, and/or taking appropriate steps to identify those who may be at risk and to refer them to appropriate welfare agencies.

The policy of the University and College Union (UCU) – which represents over 110,000 academic and other staff in higher and further education in the UK – is to boycott the requirements of the Act and the wider ‘Prevent strategy’ of which it is a part, on the grounds that they seriously threaten academic freedom, stifle campus activism, require staff to engage in racial profiling, legitimize Islamophobia, and jeopardize safe and supportive learning environments. Hence the slogans ‘Educators Not Informants!’, ‘Boycott Prevent!’, ‘Prevent Prevent!’ and ‘I Dissent from Prevent!’ which circulate in and around the campaign. This blog summarises work in progress – part of a much larger project concerning terrorism, counterterrorism and human rights in the post-9/11 UK – which argues that the UCU boycott is not only illegal, illegitimate and deeply flawed, but also potentially dangerous and irresponsible.

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The myth of the “securitized Muslim community”: the social impact of post-9/11 counterterrorist law and policy in the west

By Prof Steven Greer, Professor of Human Rights (University of Bristol Law School).

9780415870375S Greer, ‘The myth of the “securitized Muslim community”: the social impact of post-9/11 counterterrorist law and policy in the west’ in G Lennon & C Walker (eds), Routledge Handbook of Law and Terrorism (London: Routledge, 2015), 400-15.

The academic literature broadly concerned with the ‘social impact’ of post-9/11 terrorism and counter-terrorism in the West is dominated by ‘the securitization thesis’ at least eight senses of which can be distinguished: 1. Muslims as a whole feel under suspicion from society merely because they are Muslim; 2. Muslims as a whole are under suspicion from society for the same reason; 3. Islam is under suspicion from society; 4. Muslims as a whole feel under suspicion from the state solely on account of being Muslim; 5. Muslims as a whole are under suspicion from the state merely because they are Muslim; 6. Islam is under suspicion from the state; 7. Muslims as a whole are subject to special security and criminal justice measures purely because they are Muslim; 8. Islam is subject to special security and criminal justice measures not applicable to other faiths or ideologies. There can be little doubt that the first four propositions are true at least to some extent. But these are not genuine instances of ‘securitization’ because this term can only credibly refer to objective, deliberate, state-managed processes, not reducible to the subjective experiences of those who may or may not have been affected by them, or to social processes over which the state may have little or no control. (more…)