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Filtering by Tag: terrorism
Crimcast sat down with Dr. Alessandra L. Gonzalez, Princeton University post-doctorate researcher, to discuss her latest work, "How Women Engage Homegrown Terrorism" (with Joshua D. Freilich, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Steven M. Chermak, Michigan State University) on female terrorists in the United States, published in Feminist Criminology (Volume 9, 2014). Using the United States Extremist Crime Database (ECDB) Study data of homicides by far-right extremists and arsons and bombings by environmental and animal rights extremists, their analysis reveal the importance of relationships to women’s involvement in terrorism and that recruitment and opportunity differ by ideology.
Tell us about the U. S. Extremist Crime Database (ECDB) and how it was developed. It’s a great resource for analysis of terrorist offenders across known cases.
Drs. Freilich and Chermak created the ECDB study in 2005. Since then, the ECDB has been funded by a series of grants from the Department of Homeland Security’s Science and Technology Directorate’s University Program Division; and Resilient Systems Division, both directly and through the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START).
The ECDB is an open source relational database that tracks violent and financial crimes by political extremists in the United States. It codes hundreds of attributes related to violent criminal incidents or financial criminal schemes, the perpetrators of these acts, their victims and targets, and the organizations and groups involved, as well as the quality of the open source information found on the case.
The research findings include that the women terrorists studied never act as lone wolves. They also tend to be influenced by female friends or relatives to commit acts of violence-- not just male friends/lovers/husbands. This is also a new contribution to our understanding of women extremist offenders. Did the data provide information, or can you speculate about, why these trends are occurring?
The use of a gendered lens with which to understand pathways to homegrown radicalization sheds light on the important nuances of inter-personal relationships and social networks that have not been counted so centrally in previous terrorism studies. An inter-disciplinary approach to the study of women in terrorism points out the importance of mediating social networks on creating opportunities for motivated perpetrators.
However, there were differences by ideology and crime type and this is reflected in the social networks that enabled women to participate in either far-right extremist crimes (homicides) or eco-terrorist crimes (arsons and bombings). Similar to male terrorists, females are affected by group-level effects such as the structure of the group and methods of operation. For example, we observe that several of the victims of far-right extremists in the United States were killed not as a result of ideological forethought but more as “presented opportunities,” the unintended casualties of unstructured time by aimless youth. Several of the far-right females were homeless and on the street (four, all non-extremists). This lends evidence to view homeless females as more vulnerable to being co-opted into violent crimes although they do not believe in the ideology. Five out of 14 of the extremist perpetrators were involved in inter-gang violence or racial homicides to earn prestige within the gang. This makes the case of ideologically motivated females interesting because it might more closely approximate patterns for gang involvement.
Of the three eco-terrorist bombings, one woman was involved with three other men and all were students at the same university, and the other two women involved in a separate incident were sisters. All three women involved with bombings had male accomplices and were ideologically motivated. Of the eco-terrorist arson incidents, seven women were repeat offenders, and five were involved in multiple offenses together. Women were not lone-wolf arsonists, and where multiple offenses occurred, there tended to be more than one female involved. So again, the story of relationships is important although it is unclear how these relationships were forged except for
common interest activity groups on campus or as relatives of activists.
The data also shows that anti-abortion terrorists are overwhelmingly male. What do you think this finding brings to frameworks for feminist criminology?
Interestingly, there were no anti-abortion victims or targets where women were involved, as opposed to various incidents where men were perpetrators of anti-abortion violent crime. We know that social relationships were essential to female involvement, and it is interesting that we found three mothers who were extremists and two other women who were expectant mothers at the time of the incident. It is possible that gender and social networks trump violent action against anti-abortion ideology so that we do not see women participate in these crimes. However, further research should continue to analyze the pathways for men who get involved in radical action in anti-abortion terrorist crimes because their involvement is just as important to understanding the lack of female involvement.
What is the connection between terrorism by definition having an ideological component, and the article’s assertion that religion did not seem to be a major factor in women’s involvement?
Although religious ideology can be conflated with other powerful ideological beliefs, in this study, we isolate terrorist ideology from religious identity and belief. This methodological choice is data-driven. Of the female terrorists who engage homegrown terrorism in the United States, there were no open-source data available on their religious beliefs or affiliation. In addition, the women’s far-right and eco-terrorist ideologies did not access religious arguments for their political agendas when justifying their violence. Of course, it is possible for terrorist ideology to act as a substitute for religion for terrorists, but again, we find no data to support this theory.
What else can or has the ECDB been used to analyze?
There have been many recent publications using ECDB data by my co-authors Joshua Freilich and Steven Chermak, including one in the Journal of Quantitative Criminology. The findings from ECDB data have been pathbreaking regarding the composition, methods, and reach of homegrown terrorism in the United States. However, this was the first publication using ECDB data with a focus on gender.
What else are you working on these days?
I have been continuing my research on gender, politics, religion, and deviance. I have a forthcoming article on the study of “Irreligiosity as Social Deviance in a Majority Muslim Context” for the journal Deviant Behavior which again analyzes the influence of gender and ideology on crime and social deviance.
Dr. Alessandra L. González is a Non-Resident Research Fellow at the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton University. She received her Ph.D. and M.A. degrees in Sociology from Baylor University and received a B.A. in Sociology and Policy Studies from Rice University. She is the principal investigator of the Islamic Social Attitudes Survey Project (ISAS), a study in conjunction with Baylor’s Institute for Studies in Religion (ISR) on Islamic religiosity and social attitudes, including attitudes about women’s rights in the Arab Gulf region. Her latest book is Islamic Feminism in Kuwait: The Politics and Paradoxes (Palgrave Macmillan Press).
October 7, 2014 - St. Francis College hosted the Civil Rights Versus National Security Panel
By Staci Strobl
With the violence in Gaza and Iraq, and the continued struggle for minority communities in the U.S. to be policed Constitutionally (Michael Brown and Eric Garner), Obama's meeting last week with leaders from Africa did not make it among the top news stories. But, the struggle for peace and social justice is at a critical stage for many of these countries, and indeed protestors demonstrated outside the White House to draw attention to the Administration's problematic economic partnerships with leaders that many consider dictators complete with overtures to their role in the U.S.-centric War on Terror. Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia, for example, had a particularly strong presence at the demonstration.
Meanwhile, the leader of Republic of Congo, a relatively stable country in an unstable part of the world, was a less controversial White House guest, but nonetheless an interesting case in the tension between the alleged hope brought by a globalized economy (think Thomas Friedman) and the simultaneous legitimization of unfinished and problematic aspirations for peace and security.
Republic of Congo (sometimes called Congo-Brazzaville) should not be confused with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), its neighbor. It is a former French colony that went on to be a Marxist state, but has since emerged, after some internal strife, as an allegedly developing democracy -- though the power of President Denis Sassou Nguesso overshadows the political system and human rights groups have criticized the lack of a free press. On the other hand, Nguesso is praised for environmental conservation efforts in relation to his country's rain forest, the second biggest in the world. He also has been instrumental in brokering a recent ceasefire in the civil war between DRC's President Joseph Kabila and opposition fighters. The country's economy is based on oil, forestry and agriculture.
Unfortunately, Republic of Congo remains an unsafe place for public dissent. Last year, two teachers who were organizing a strike in support of a campaign for higher public sector status, were arrested for their union efforts, including the use of Twitter. Several other union activist were arrested and one, Daniel Ngami, was forced to read a statement on television urging teachers to abandon their strike and return to work. Although these arrestees were released within days without charges, this treatment amounted to a punishment for exercising free speech.
Perhaps more disturbing was the expulsion of refugees from the country. In June, Republic of Congo forcibly expelled 130,000 DRC citizens that it claimed were the source of crime and insecurity. The United Nations, meanwhile, documented that the expulsion-- of people already battered and fleeing war in the DRC-- involved physical beatings and even sexual abuse by authorities. One Republic of Congo authority publicly expressed surprised at such "rude comments" from the U,N.
Despite these gross injustices within the country, Nguesso outlined his top priority in partnering with the U.S. as bringing American assistance and training to fight international terrorism and maintain national security from external threats:
"Make no mistake, we Congolese, we Africans, have to be responsible for our own security and, if required, fight for it... American could assist us all by effectively supporting a collective African response to these important challenges."
Although the discourse of international terrorism is an effective currency for getting at the ear, and pocketbook, of the U.S., the focus on national security and external threats fails to address, and even provides a distraction from, any more critical engagement with the political rights and freedoms of every day people. As we see in America's engagement with all sorts of leaders and regimes of marginal, or worse, human rights record (such as in Bahrain or Turkmenistan), it appears that geopolitical security, economic partnerships and the requisite diplomatic glad-handing acts as a legitimizing factor, effectively labeling the country a "good" one. Since most Americans probably are not familiar with Republic of Congo in any substantive way, the superficial thumbs-up become the whole story.
Some may argue, however, that there are worse leaders than Nguesso and much more fragile, war-torn countries in Africa. But should the international community lower its human rights standards when we focus on the continent of Africa? Has in effect Africa become a lost cause in the Western consciousness where we reward countries for at least maintaining a nation state on the barest, and often dictatorial levels? Where we reserve are most collective ire for the warlords therein, neglecting so many other of the world's bad actors? For example, some have criticized the International Criminal Courts potential bias in indicting mainly African individuals under the purported mission of prosecuting war crimes around the world.
Nguesso claims that his country harbors no political prisoners and has full. freedom of speech and the press, contrary to Amnesty International. However, a focus on national security and a vague fight against international terrorism (construed here as piracy in the Gulf of Guinea and being a bulwark against the spread of Boko Haram in the north), often turns into a blank check for regime to pursue other state-centric agendas at the expense of the people. Though to be fair, Nguesso also has asked for U.S. aid to bolster education in his country, to fight high levels of unemployment and poverty, none of the security-oriented talking points alluded to anything that may help the average Congolese person's access to justice, or to train and augment local police forces in protecting human rights. It appears that the discursive fusion of economic globalization and the fight against international global terrorism gets top billing.
Criminologists have a moral obligation to remain engaged in research and consciousness-raising about the everyday crime and access to justice in nations like Republic of Congo, who received national security-related aid and keep the dialogue focused on external threats. Part of a critical consciousness about lesser known, "other" places, of the world is not to merely cast them in large, geopolitical frames as sites for global terrorism, but also as places where people need police stations, courts, and sanitary prison conditions, where political dissent is criminalized where crimes occur (18.8 murders per 100,000 in 2004 and high rates of property crime). Rape during the civil war of 1993-2002 has left many women in a state of post-rape trauma, as described in an article by Hustache, et. al.
Sadly, mainstream Western criminology often doesn't reward research agendas which focus on everyday crime and justice in far flung corners of the world. Greater glory seems to go to criminologists willing to ride the wave of federal grants focusing on the same old international terror paranoia, feeding the notion that the rest of the world is a mere backdrop. But ultimately, even the most global of global of terrorism is embodied in everyday cities, towns and villages. A sober look at the more mundane crime problems in places like Republic of Congo would certainly not preclude a fight against terror, should it rear its head. And, it will allow a better glimpse into what crime and justice means for the people of Republic of Congo, beyond the national security interests of its president.
Part 5 of 5 in a series on Risk-Logic and the War on TerrorAditi Gupta, Guest Blogger
Over the last four weekly posts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part, 4), this blog series has been exploring the profoundly social impact that risk-based security policy has on our everyday lives. In using Selchow’s framework, I’m not trying to say that we have no agency in this process, and that we are helpless to stop it – quite the contrary. I feel only individual choice will reverse the trajectory of securitization, suspicion and fear that currently dictates how we view the risk of terrorism. By zooming in on the dynamics of depoliticization, responsibilization, and the separation of political decision-making from actuality, I have tried to break down the main pillars of what risk-logic does when it is the main force driving the governance of threats. I believe if we can understand objectively the forces at play within the networks of power that we engage in, we can decide for ourselves whether viewing the problem of terrorism only in terms of the risk of an attack and not the reasons behind one is benefiting our lives. Is this what we want for our future?
This question feeds in to the last dynamic of risk that is engendered by the dispositif of precautionary risk (DPR) mode of governance: expansion. As Selchow explains, the logic of risk implies an imperative to act. It is this dynamic that spurs the expansion of security; the UK government thus cannot not act. As we can see in the U.K., this dynamic inevitably feeds a process of ever-expanding securitization whereby increasing areas are deemed to harbor security threats. In the UK this can be seen in a variety of ways, stemming from the four rationalities driving the DPR. For example, this can be seen in the shift of the debate around tackling terrorism from addressing violence to extremism, from the physical to the imagined. This shift is one that has essentially ensured the securitization of potential thoughts.
It is no longer necessary for someone to physically carry out an act, suspicion of intent is enough to necessitate punishment. This perpetuates a discourse of ‘misunderstanding’ (as outlined last week) that produces normalized ways of engaging with this perceived risk. In other words, due to the perpetuation of the innate ‘bad’ label given to the archetypal religious Muslim, society is more likely to accept further curtailments on ‘their’ rights. As these risk-based decisions are not ‘tamed’ by an accompanying actuality or any hard evidence beyond the perception of ‘riskiness’, this form of thinking will always produce a sense that there are further uncertainties to be tamed. This can be seen in the steady expansion of who is deemed ‘risky’ since 9/11. From 2001-2005, external, foreign elements were seen to be the primary threat, resulting in the rapid securitization of the immigration system to target asylum seekers and immigrants (Amnesty, 2010). After 7/7, however, threats were expanded to include the panoptic surveillance of British citizens to target ‘home-grown’ enemies. Since then, the yearning for ever greater knowledge has spurred the extension of surveillance to health clinics, schools and universities where doctors and teachers are expected to inform on those under their care. (Liberty, 2007).
The pre-emptive nature of policies deployed by the DPR means that information is always, and always will be, incomplete. However, the desire to project the appearance of control has led to policies based on the expansion of ever-more vague offenses such as the offenses of ‘glorification of terrorism’ and ‘indirect encouragement’, and non-prosecution constraining measures, such as the Terrorism Prevention Investigation Measures (TPIMs [Annex 3]), in order to trap those who are suspected, but do not meet the evidentiary threshold required to be charged. Indeed, the acute suspicion of foreign nationals suspected of ‘extremist’ thoughts but not guilty of carrying out any criminal act, has very recently led to an expansion of executive power to enable the stripping of any naturalized citizen’s British citizenship. In recent years, this citizenship stripping has enabled governments to stick to the dogma of zero-risk and assassinate terror suspects through targeted drone strikes: if the suspect no longer exists, there’s no need to deal with the problematic prosecution of a crime that hasn’t been committed yet.
How this dynamic effects resistance: power dynamics
Consistent with the other dynamics, this process also precipitates at both the micro and macro levels. At the macro-level, Liberty articulates, ‘politicians feel like they need to be seen to be doing something in response to the terrorist threat, regardless of whether it wise…counter-productive…whether it’s entirely unnecessary’. Amnesty International United Kingdom (AIUK) has commented on the difficulty of fighting expansion of policy due to the combination of future temporality, secret evidence and use of vague offenses. In a 2012 Amnesty International report, resistance to this is seen as ‘shadow-boxing’ where ‘you have no idea if your strategy and points are on the money or wide of the mark’. AIUK has documented how the ‘seepage’ of the use of secret evidence in the U.K. has managed to dampen the successes gained in chipping away the system of pre-charge detention down to TPIMs, becoming an ever-more permanent feature of the civil sanctioning system with the institutionalization of the Justice and Security Act.
Reprieve and CagePrisoners demonstrate the importance of micro-resistance in direct ways with the public. CagePrisoners urge those affected by the expansion of risk-based policy to come directly to them to seek justice together, as well as share individual every-day experiences of these policies on a specially created website ‘www.schedule7stories.com’. They explain that this was done so that Muslims themselves could understand that these policies were not just based on racism, but part of a much bigger problem of governance, thus recognizing the importance of engaging with the macro-level debate.
Reprieve has aimed to expose the sheer expansion of War on Terror policy such as the rendition network through the invasion of public space. For example, through teaming up with cosmetics company, LUSH, and lingerie designer, Agent Provocateur, images of Binyam Mohammad and Sami al Haj appeared in LUSH High Street windows, bath bombs and even on the runway through underwear that stated ‘fair trial, my arse’ (Reprieve, 2008). The use of humor in conjunction with this micro-level contact had a powerful impact that made the name ‘Binyam Mohammad’ shorthand for U.K. complicity in rendition and torture.
The importance of humanizing the nature of risk-based policies at the micro-level and not just applying political pressure at the state and transnational level is caught up in the significance CagePrisoners gives to the role of ‘misunderstanding’. If individual assumptions are not targeted – whether they be about misunderstanding the driver of policy or misunderstanding the indefinability of terrorism – people will carry on being normalized into thinking that to gain security, you have to keep on giving up freedoms.
Conclusion: How the case of HRO resistance in the UK pulls together the threads of risk and power
By analyzing the role of human rights organization (HRO) resistance to the technologies deployed by the DPR mode of governance in what Foucault calls ‘the battle for truth’, it is thus possible to see how risk dynamics are ultimately intertwined with power. Focusing on this site of resistance can see how Selchow’s four dynamics are central to the constant negotiation of the dynamics of power that circulate the ‘regime of truth’ regarding the governance of the UK through the DPR.
Secondly, the example of the work of CagePrisoners and their encouragement of the micro-resistance of the Muslim ‘suspect community’ to supplement the macro-resistance carried out at state-level by HROs crucially reveals that it is not enough to simply focus on macro-, policy-level resistance whether globally, or against the state. This is due to what CagePrisoners deems ‘misunderstanding’ at both the micro- and macro-levels. The creation of the Muslim ‘terrorist’ is a central technology deployed by the DPR through the four rationalities that drive it. In essence, the case of the UK suggests that the perpetuation of a discourse of ‘misunderstanding’ produces normalized ways of engaging with discourses that present the Muslim identity as ‘risky’. In other words, due to the perpetuation of the innate ‘bad’ label given to the perceived ‘archetypal religious Muslim’, it is likely that society will submit to the dynamic of expansion that indicates further curtailments on ‘their’ rights. If it doesn’t affect me - it’s not my problem, right?
By looking at the combined social and political effects of risk dynamics and their ripple effect on relations of power, it can be seen that simply focusing on resistance to top-down frameworks that govern political power such as parliamentary mechanisms and lobbying, is no longer enough. The Foucauldian ‘battle for truth’ is not about absolute truths that are accepted, but about rules by which these truths are constructed and engaged with by society. The importance of going beyond legal frameworks and working at the level of everyday interaction is highlighted by the examples of CagePrisoners and Reprieve in their parallel activities that aim to affect micro-relations. Interestingly, both of these organizations emerged fully-fledged post-9/11, born out of the need to resist the rationalities and technologies deployed by the DPR.
In saying this, this blog series is not saying that state-level resistance is not important. As shown, different HROs take different roles regarding resistance within the DPR system of governance. Organizations like Liberty and Amnesty cannot fulfill the same role as an organization like CagePrisoners as they are not part of the ‘suspect community’. By the same token, Reprieve equally cannot function the same way as CagePrisoners. However, when viewing successful negotiation of power within the DPR such as the joint HRO campaigns on pre-charge detention and UK complicity in torture, it is clear that there needs to be this division of labor. This enables HROs to target the multiple dimensions of the dynamics engendered by the DPR: global, legal, political, social; micro- and macro-.
This series has attempted to highlight the shifting and fluid nature of the circulations of power underlying risk-governance. Risk-logic can’t be reduced to a technical tool used to govern terrorism. The dynamics that this sets in motion have fundamentally altered society-state relations in a profoundly social way. Risk-based security policy has resulted in a wholesale cultural shift that rests on fear and suspicion and doesn’t ask why the problem of terrorism exists. Instead, it simply tries to pre-empt it from occurring through an expansionary process that is slowly destroying freedom of speech, movement and privacy. Ultimately, the question we should be asking ourselves when we ignore this practice is: ‘is this worth it?’
Aditi Gupta graduated with an MSc in Global Politics (Civil Society) from the London School of Economics and Political Science in Autumn 2013. She has previously worked at Soul Rebel Films and Reprieve and has co-authored reports based on depth interviews conducted for the Indian development NGO, CHIRAG. Aditi has volunteered for refugee and homeless organizations in the UK and is developing a career in the human rights field. This is the last post in her five-part series on Crimcast which began in early January, 2014.
Aditi Gupta, Guest Blogger
Following on from last week’s post, this week I’ll be discussing Selchow’s third dynamic that is engendered by the Dispositif of Precautionary Risk (DPR), a pre-emptory risk –based mode of governance: the internalization of security issues and the process of ‘responsibilization’. As touched upon last week, the creation of an archetypal Muslim terrorist figure in the U.K. has essentially depoliticized the issue of the governance of terrorism for the majority of the population, while the blame for the root of terrorism has been placed firmly on Islamic extremism and the British Muslim community by association. Thus, it’s evident that the dynamics of depoliticization and responsibilization are intimately linked. Through the governmentality approach, the DPR mode of governance shows that its assemblages of surveillance and risk discourse both work to construct sectors of society that are ‘dreamt up, marginalized and put under suspicion’; and ‘normalize’ the rest of the population, thereby ‘inviting citizens to become security guards, spies and informants’ on the ‘risky’ Muslim community (Mythen and Walklate 2006:390-392). This means that the Muslim community is not only blamed for the problem of terrorism, but are ultimately pressured to provide the solution to the problem by looking inwardly at themselves; effectively, the Muslim community has to internalize the problem of national security in this way, taking it on their own shoulders while simultaneously easing the responsibility of the government to engage fully with the problem.
Those who do not fall under the ‘suspect community’ are responsibilitized in a way that not only allows the continued allocation of blame on the ‘suspect community’, but also places the onus on them to report on anything ‘abnormal’. This dynamic is most clearly seen in government campaigns such as the recent one by the Metropolitan Police emphasizing that it is the Londoners’ responsibility ‘to be vigilant’ for anything ‘out of place in normal day to day lives’.
Mythen et. al. (2012:394) thus articulate the core of this politics of normalcy: ‘this requirement to present an outwardly safe identity…reveals the coercive social pressures that a pervasive climate of suspicion has engendered’. Indeed, this has led to ‘checking behaviors’ such as selective use of dialect, clothing and curbing of outward behavior in the public sphere (p. 391). As the 7/7 bombers were ‘home-grown’ from the Muslim community in Yorkshire, the onus of protecting society has fallen hardest on the Muslim communities in the U.K. The consequences of this element of responsibilization via the allocation of blame has led to the targeted surveillance of Muslim communities through stop and search policies, questioning at ports under Schedule 7 of the Terrorist Act, pre-emptory raids, and the pressure to spy on their own communities through the creation of Muslim Community Units through the PREVENT strategy. Notably, even though these pre-emptory actions are based entirely on suspicion of intent, the person who is targeted has barely any rights in place to protect them from the effects of human error in judging their ‘riskiness’. A corollary to this is the 600% increase in Islamophobia since 2001 and its associated increase in violence on Muslim people and mosques (Spalek, 2008:420).
How this dynamic effects resistance: power dynamics
The dynamic of responsibilization can be seen as directly related to the discourses of power surrounding the ‘battle for truth’ regarding justice. Amnesty International United Kingdom (AIUK) iterates that this dynamic makes HRO work safeguarding human rights standards all the more significant: ‘the stuff that is most unpopular is some of the most important…because it’s the issues that others won’t pick up on…that don’t have public support’. As Liberty (2007:16) articulate, it is unlikely that the majority of Britons ‘upon waking up…felt more subject to surveillance than they did yesterday’; however, targeted surveillance over the Muslim community means that they truly feel the interlinked dynamics in Burchell’s (1991) sense of having to change the way they see themselves as governed subjects, due to the way they are governed. CagePrisoners explains, ‘the way the government speaks, the way the media speaks and the way the average person on the street speaks all perpetuate this cycle of fear’, thus responsibilitizing society wholesale through the DPR’s rationalities of zero-risk and shifting of the burden of proof.
However, from CagePrisoners’ personalized responses in interview, we can see that governance through the DPR and the social dynamics it engenders has a much sharper effect on the ‘suspect community’ of Muslims. CagePrisoners explains that this suspicion has a chilling effect on the politics of the community as a whole: ‘if we stick our heads above the parapet, they’re going to come after us next’. It is thus evident that CagePrisoners feels the four interrelated dynamics engendered by DPR in a way that cuts right to the social core of what the application of risk does to society. As CagePrisoners says, ‘wherever you see a threat coming from a community which goes against the norm of understanding of criminal behavior, you will see a disproportionate response to those threats’. CagePrisoners’ responses emphasize that the key role of the organization is to empower the Muslim community to break away from inactivity and submission to the prevailing rationalities of zero-risk and the shift of the burden of proof.
Due to its unique vantage-point as a Muslim organization, CagePrisoners engages in this ‘battle for truth’ on a level that has a much more personal tone than any of the other human rights organizations (HROs) interviewed. For example, in a CagePrisoners article (Balaratnam, 2012) regarding United Kingdom BorderAgency (UKBA) policy of detaining people at the border for questioning under Schedule 7, the article speaks directly to a Muslim audience and is presented as a Muslim voice. Although not articulated in the terminology of risk, the article essentially asks Muslims to break through the dynamic of responsibilization whereby the allocation of blame on the Muslim community is legitimized through the reflexive internalization of blame. The article asserts it point by provocatively asserting that if the reader is stopped at the border, they have to concede ‘it’s my fault I got stopped today – my fault for being brown’. The form of resistance encouraged by CagePrisoners, therefore, is one that is very different to collective action. It is essentially micro-resistance whereby the individual only resists what affects them on an individual, direct level. Thus, if the affected community itself does not even question the rationalities that legitimize racially-prejudiced forms of profiling and surveillance, CagePrisoners warns that no one will, therefore undermining any lobbying conducted by HROs at the state-level.
This insight is even more powerful when one considers the recent uproar over the detention of David Miranda under Schedule 7 – only when one of the majority non-Muslim population was affected did the media question it, let alone campaign against it. Ultimately, it was only picked up by the media because Schedule 7 affected a Guardian journalist’s partner (Greenwald, 2013). This relation epitomizes the importance of the ‘micro’ level of resistance in countering what is essentially a cultural shift to living through risk, when faced with the multitude of arguments that focus on the global erosion of rights and the need for macro-analyses of power.
Whilst Liberty, AIUK and Reprieve revealed their primary state-level focus by identifying the depoliticization dynamics of secrecy and the narrative of fear as the greatest obstacles to checking government overreach, CagePrisoners stated ‘misunderstanding and blind ignorance’. For them, the social impact of society not understanding the Muslim community, ‘what they’re about and their belief system’ is a major factor in the way government policy is formed. His responses suggest that the government construction of a ‘paradigm of who we are and the way that we engage’ has completely neglected the crucial importance of micro power dynamics. In a reflection of the multitudinal networks of Foucauldian power relations, Asim Qureshi, Executive Director of Cageprisoners, outlines that ‘our identity is not just an identity; it’s a multitude of identities that superimpose themselves one on top of the other’. It may seem logical and practical for the UK government to ask the Muslim community to report on ‘bad’ Muslims through policies such as PREVENT; however, the top-down engagement with only the archetypal ‘good’ Muslim that has been created in the political imagination effectively renders the policy counter-productive and end up pushing away the majority of Muslims who feel they do not fit that rigid definition. CagePrisoners gave the example of Muslims being targeted by the government for simply disagreeing with government policies such as going to war with Iraq. At a recent lecture, CagePrisoners’ founder, Moazzam Begg, spoke of a teenage girl arrested for writing poetry that was seen as ‘extremist’. In their view, the government-led counter-terror policy is ‘dictated by people who are not willing to engage in a way that is useful’, thus simultaneously legitimizing more and more extreme measures against ordinary people in order to secure the state, while creating resentment and isolation among communities who would be willing to engage on their own terms.
This insight cuts to the social core of the combined dynamics of risk engendered by the DPR; ultimately, as asserted by CagePrisoners, this ‘criminalization of people based on an assumption of what you think they are’ takes away Muslim agency. It says, ‘you’re not capable of making up your own mind…you’re not capable of engaging with society…and so we’re going to put you all in the same tub and treat you all in the same way’. This is why the policy shift from targeting violent actions to ‘extremist’ thoughts dictated by UK counter-terror policy worries CagePrisoners so much; it is inherently disenfranchising and disempowering.
Indeed, this micro-level understanding of power dynamics in the context of risk-governance and the need to resist them is also demonstrated by Reprieve in a way that connects the global, macro-level power dynamics inherent in the War on Terror; apart from the macro-issues of the rendition program and Guantánamo, they acknowledge that it is ‘Life After Guantánamo’ (LAG) that poses a big social problem (Reprieve, 2009). Their LAG program thus attempts to overcome the social and psychological difficulties experienced by ex-detainees that result from absorbing all four dynamics of risk via pre-emptory policies and the way that society treats them when they are finally released.
The U.K. government’s perpetuation of what CagePrisoners calls a discourse of ‘misunderstanding’ ultimately produces a Muslim identity that is inherently perceived as ‘risky’. Not only does this dynamic force the Muslim community as a whole to feel responsible for the devastation created by terrorist attacks they had no connection with, the government’s attempts to use this community as an intelligence source ends up actually isolating them further. The rest of society, meanwhile, sinks further into a cycle of constant vigilance and suspicion: is the neighbor with the blinds constantly down up to no good? The perpetuation of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ and ‘suspicious’ and ‘normal’ labels within UK security practice mean that it is likely that majority society will accept – even crave – extension of security measures and further curtailments on the rights of socially constructed ‘bad people’. The state of constant readiness for the next attack that is physically taken on by the U.K. population thus leads to the dynamic I will be focusing on next week: the expansion of ‘securitization’.
Aditi Gupta graduated with an MSc in Global Politics (Civil Society) from the London School of Economics and Political Science in Autumn 2013. She has previously worked at Soul Rebel Films and Reprieve and has co-authored reports based on depth interviews conducted for the Indian development NGO, CHIRAG. Aditi has volunteered for refugee and homeless organizations in the UK and is developing a career in the human rights field. This is the fourth installment in her five-part series on Crimcast which began on January 3, 2014.
Aditi Gupta, Guest Blogger
The impact of the dynamic outlined in last week’s post (decoupling of political decision-making from actuality) is linked to the second dynamic put in motion by the application of risk-logic to govern terrorism in the UK: depoliticization. The governance of terrorism is essentially stripped of any politicized concern from the public as the interlinked rationalities that drive the Dispositif of Precautionary Risk (pre-emptory mode of governance) enable policy-makers to present security issues as something that needs immediate attention, leaving no time for reasoned debate.
Furedi (2005) explains that this presentation of issues is inextricably linked to a ‘politics of fear’ that overshadows informed debate, thus depoliticizing security issues. De Londras (2011) shows that in the aftermath of an attack, the desires of both the state and the people come together to create a politico-legal space where repression is possible. In the UK this process was triggered by fear following the traumatic attack on London underground transport on 7th July 2005 (7/7) by Yorkshire-born suicide bombers. This legitimized the DPR’s (mode of risk based precautionary governance) central rationalities of worst-case-scenario-thinking and risk of serious and irreversible damage and thus justified the deployment of technologies of zero-risk.
As Johnston (2005) notes, many of the raft of new powers that were introduced after 7/7 were previously sought by the police. However, it was the aftermath of the attack that ‘changed the political environment within which they debated’, allowing for the acceptance of new anti-terror measures to inflate police and executive power. Thus, the ‘politics of fear’ that underlies the dynamic of depoliticization engendered by this risk-based governance can be argued to be a major force in the acceptance of policies that require unprecedented levels of government intervention.
The rationality of zero-risk, however, is one that is self-perpetuating as it drives the imperative to act, to present the terrorist threat as controllable. However, this threat is incalculable according to traditional statistical models of risk based on what is ‘abnormal’. Thus, the fetishization of control that emerges of out the DPR mode of governance's combined rationalities is based on an imagined creation of the terrorist ‘other’. This has translated itself in the UK in two interlinked social constructions that set in motion the dynamic of depoliticization: that of the afore-mentioned panoptic screening process for potential terrorists presented as fair and objective; and the creation of a calculable, controllable Muslim ‘terrorist’ to create a visible target of control.
Amnesty International United Kingdom (AIUK) argues that the extreme circumstances presented by 7/7 allow governments to depoliticize mass surveillance by claiming it ‘treats all citizens the same’, and ‘if everyone does the right thing…then they have nothing to worry about’. However, as outlined in my first post, this front of objectivity obscures fundamentally value-laden choices. The introduction of RIPA in 2000 saw mass surveillance with nearly 444,000 authorizations for communications data between 2005-2006, and techniques such as data mining, cross-department sharing or ‘profiling’ that allow seemingly innocuous data to suggest tendencies that might target the individual for suspicion. The Information Commissioner regarded this practice so depoliticized that we are ‘sleepwalking into a surveillance society’ (Crossman, 2007). Indeed, even after the vast reach of the NSA PRISM scandal and revelations of TEMPURA (mass surveillance databases laundered between the UK and the US) were exposed, polls indicated that the majority of Britons still valued the protection that they felt surveillance afforded them. Thus the dynamic of depoliticization hides the penetrating nature of these surveillance policies through a front of objectivity.
The construction of the Muslim ‘terrorist’ is propagated by the UK Counter-terror strategy’s unambiguous identification of the ‘new’ threat of terrorism coming from Islamists, thereby explicitly linking Islamists and terrorism (HM Government 2006:1). This has been supplemented by a discursive construction of the Muslim community as suspect: ‘few terrorist movements could have lasted for long without a supportive community’ (cited in McGhee 2008:69). This discursive creation by its very nature depoliticizes every single policy, strategy and risk technique deployed within the DPR because, in targeting a minority, it has ensured that the majority of the population does not feel politically or socially threatened by this form of governance.
How this dynamic effects resistance: power dynamics
Through Foucault’s governmentality framework we can see the constant flux not only in the dynamics of power, but in the technologies that are deployed as part of the DPR mode of governance. O’Malley (2008:69) argues that ‘resistances shape existing risk techniques and practices’. Thus, Selchow’s dynamics engendered by the DPR are not simply an effect of a mode of governance through risk but articulations of the constant negotiations between the multiple networks of power active within the state’s journey to its goal of zero-risk. This dialogue is most clearly seen by the deployment of the technology of secrecy in order to safeguard the discourses and technologies of the DPR. For example, Reprieve points to the introduction of the Justice and Security Act (JSA) as a ‘response to the efforts of human rights groups to hold the UK to account’ for its complicity in rendition and torture cases.
The JSA pulls together all three areas of UK pre-emptive counter-terror policy: detention, surveillance and complicity in extraordinary rendition. It stipulates that cases involving ‘sensitive’ information pertaining to security need to be tried in secret, using closed evidence that the defendant is not allowed to see. Therefore, those suspected in the War on Terror are stripped of their right to fair trial (Bowcott & Cobain, 2012). It is thus revealing that the JSA came into being due to the legal action of Binyam Mohammed against the UK Government, backed by Reprieve, for their complicity in his rendition and torture. As CagePrisoners asserts, ‘independence and transparency are the key to dealing with problems within society – the JSA is the perfect example of how the government is going in a reverse trend to this’. In general, abuses are very difficult ‘to get the slightest information about’ (Reprieve Interview). This evidence-gathering strategy is thus essentially emasculated if it is not possible to obtain evidence, or even to challenge the evidence put forward by the government in security cases as access to it is now blocked by the JSA.
The failure of the human rights organizations (HROs)to challenge the JSA reveals the powerful depoliticizing force that the construction of the Muslim ‘terrorist’ represents. All of the HROs interviewed acknowledged that a significant factor in their failure to defeat the JSA was the fact that people ‘don’t think it will affect them’ (Reprieve Interview). Reprieve detailed that Ken Clarke, the U.K. Justice Secretary, argued that the closed evidence mechanism would only have ‘narrow’ use, and that ‘people accept that’. This is because the non-Muslim majority have not felt negatively affected by any of the counter-terror policies that have been rolled out.
This narrow focus is seen by all four HROs as a barrier to reaching the non-Muslim population; in the ‘battle for truth’ regarding the JSA, AIUK laments that the government ‘put forward a very compelling narrative’ that argued that this bill ‘will make things fairer’. Both Liberty and AIUK illustrate that this depoliticized narrative was much harder to challenge as the political argument against it now had to use very technical legal concepts to explain why it was actually inherently unfair. If the majority of cases affect only Muslims, then this explains why the profound social impact of giving up the guaranteed right to a fair trial has not gained traction as a wider societal issue.
This disproportionate effect on Muslims is compounded by the dehumanization of this suspect community, thus legitimizing these measures. As AIUK indicates, the depoliticization engendered by the DPR allows for exceptions for a discursively created ‘bad’ people who do ‘bad’ things. Indeed, CagePrisoners sees the legitimization of these measures as a by-product of the ‘demonization’ of Muslims. He sees the essential criminalization of the Muslim community as based ‘on an assumption of what [the government] thinks we are’ due to a paranoia of ‘who we are’ and ‘what we believe in’. CagePrisoners’ impassioned response was given a sharper edge in their example of a government list of children ‘at risk of extremism’ with one child less than three years old. It is assumptions like these that feed back into the DPR technology of surveillance assemblages that submerge individual cases into types, creating new risk assessed identities based on these broad categories. Thus, in the UK, depoliticization follows Krassman’s (2007) observation that it is no longer necessary to actually see the person one judges. Indeed, from the perspective of power-relations one can see that HRO attempts to humanize policies results in aggressive response. As Reprieve states, ‘they do turn around and come after you’ if you break ‘the unwritten rule of “never make the prisoner human”. In Reprieve’s case, aggression was precipitated by the level of success they had achieved in showing the human costs of Guantánamo by publicizing the hunger strike. Reprieve’s viral video that showed rapper, MosDef, being force-fed in a Guantánamo jumpsuit brought the brutal human impact home to thousands of viewers.
Therefore, the main effect of the dynamic of depoliticization is that the majority of the population does not feel affected by counter-terror security policy due to the dual construction of a terrorist Muslim ‘other’ and seemingly objective screening process. Burchell (1991:146) argues that individuals only feel affected when ‘the way they are governed requires them to alter how they see themselves as governed subjects’; it is only then that we become aware of the ways the political power of the state impinges on our lives, that ‘we feel it’. Ultimately this means that the counter-arguments to security policies engendered by risk-logic are not just forced to prophesize the future, but due to their narrow focus, have to campaign in the realm of the social imagination.
Aditi Gupta graduated with an MSc in Global Politics (Civil Society) from the London School of Economics and Political Science in Autumn 2013. She has previously worked at Soul Rebel Films and Reprieve and has co-authored reports based on depth interviews conducted for the Indian development NGO, CHIRAG. Aditi has volunteered for refugee and homeless organizations in the UK and is developing a career in the human rights field. This is the third in her five-part series on Crimcast which began in early January, 2014.
Aditi Gupta, Guest Blogger
In my previous post, I outlined the four dynamics set in motion when we think of security threats through the prism of risk-logic. This post will zoom in on the first dynamic, ‘decoupling political decision-making from actuality’ and show how this frame of thinking has a profoundly social effect on our everyday lives and the way we recognize and engage with the threat of terrorism.
You may be thinking at this point – what does this have to do with me? It’s the government’s prerogative to protect us, and they call the shots – not me. In order to illustrate how the infiltration of risk-logic in security practices not only affects us, but changes the way we conduct our lives, I am going to demonstrate how power relations at the ground level as well as the governmental level are affected. I will do this by looking at the work of United Kingdom-based human rights organizations who try to combat the curtailment of freedoms post-9/11, as they engage with the general public as well as governmental authorities. This will be based on interviews with Amnesty International UK (AIUK), Reprieve, CagePrisoners, and Liberty.
The utility of viewing risk-based governance in terms of power relations:
It’s useful to view the impact of risk-logic in security practices through the lens of Foucault’s governmentality thesis, whereby power is seen as a circulatory phenomenon rather than something that is ‘held’ by any one entity (Foucault 1990: 91). In other words, power relations are as important at a governmental (macro) level, as they are at the grassroots (micro) level. Foucault defines modes, or assemblages of governance as a ‘dispositif’ of governance. This consists of rationalities (ways, or frames for thinking about policy) and technologies (tools, practices and policies that are used in governing) of governance that encompass the efforts of those in power to account for ‘the authority of their authority’ (Aradau and Van Munster, 2007:15).
This governmental attempt to justify their right to power is done through discourses of knowledge which are in turn facilitated through everyday social practices enacted by ordinary people. Through this Foucauldian framework it is possible to see the role of human rights organizations’ resistance to risk-based counter-terror policy in what Foucault calls ‘the battle for truth’. This is not a battle for an absolute truth, but ultimately about the rules that dictate how true and false are separated (Rabinow 1984:74). It is through this lens that we can see how Selchow’s four dynamics are central to the constant negotiation of the dynamics of power that circulate the Foucauldian ‘regime of truth’ that makes up governance.
Burchell (1991:144) suggests that modern politics is characterized by an oscillation between a ‘suspicious fear’ of state intervention in our lives, and a ‘demand that the government will respect our rights whilst taking responsibility… for sheltering us from insecurities and dangers’. It is in this space that the social impact of risk-logic can be clearly seen, between those who suspect the government of over-reaching their power and those who believe it is protecting them, thus participating in risk-based security practices.
It is in this space that we can locate and examine the resistance carried out by UK human rights organizations to counter-terror policies, thus illustrating the very real impact that risk-based security policy has on our everyday lives.
Zooming in on the first dynamic: the decoupling of political decision-making from actuality
The Foucauldian dispositif of government (or mode of governance) we are seeing post-9/11 is one that Aradau and Van Munster describe as the ‘dispositif of precautionary risk’ (DPR), as opposed to previous forms of risk-governance. While previous dispositifs of risk centred on identifying, preventing and containing existing threats, this new DPR instead seeks to pre-empt risks through active engagement of the population, thus setting in motion Selchow’s four dynamics.
Selchow’s first dynamic, ‘the decoupling of political decision-making from actuality’ - that is engendered by the DPR - thus echoes this new dispositif post-9/11. This can be seen clearly in the U.K. through the Police National Legal database’s (PNLD 2009:85) assertion that ‘given the current level of threat from international terrorism’, there is a need to apprehend those suspected of terrorism ‘prior to gathering sufficient evidence to secure a conviction’.
The DPR is driven by four inter-linked rationalities that fundamentally change the relationship between state and society by allowing new technologies to be deployed and justified as part of the fight against terror: the notion that any level of risk is unacceptable (i.e. zero risk), constant worst-case-scenario-thinking, the belief of serious and irreversible damage posed by terrorism, and the shifting of the burden of proof from state to society as a whole (Aradau and Van Munster, 2008). In this way, the ideal of total security has replaced the desire for peace, driving a politics that assumes the terrorist ‘other’ unquestionably responsible for irreparable damage.
From 2000-2006, five new terrorism acts were introduced which encompassed the expansion of powers that constituted ‘alternative non-prosecution actions to protect the public’ (PNLD 2009:85) such as 28 day pre-charge detention, stop and search powers, indefinite detention of ‘suspected international terrorists’, control orders and new offenses such as ‘glorification of terrorism’. From 2007, counter-terrorism powers were effectively normalized. New offices, official national security strategies, and laws such as the Counter-Terror Act 2008 and the introduction of TPIMs ensured that exceptional measures were institutionalized. The expansion of counter-terror powers from temporary emergency legislation to permanent fixtures that institutionalize the decoupling of decision-making from the grounds of actuality in ‘daily security practice’ clearly illustrates how the DPR has set in motion the decoupling of action from actuality in the U.K.
Pre-emptive domestic security practices can be seen to be justified by an emotive narrative of national security that is extremely hard to counter-act. This is epitomized in the militarization of domestic policing in the U.K. which led to the shooting of Charles De Menezes as part of the new ‘shoot to kill’ policy operationalized after the 7/7 attacks in London. Similarly, 250 police officers stormed a house in Forest Gate in search of chemical weapons, shooting one man and detaining two for eight days – both men were later released without charge (Mythen and Walklate 2008:235).
These pre-emptive domestic practices are echoed in the violent complicity of the U.K. in the global intelligence network driving the pre-emptory abduction, rendition and torture of terror suspects; once one assumes a projective ‘what if?’ position, presumption of innocence metamorphoses into a presumption of guilt. The engendering of the decoupling of action from actuality is made undoubtedly clear by the recalibration of justice to allow for the pre-emptive measures to be issued purely on suspicion of future conduct; it is no longer necessary to carry out terrorist activity, suspicion of intent is enough. This dynamic thus echoes the DPR rationality of shifting the burden of proof: As Bonner (2007:34) outlines, post-9/11, suspects are effectively presumed guilty until proved otherwise. This is clear by Iain Blair’s assertions that whilst IRA terrorists were presumed innocent until proved guilty, the ‘unparalleled’ (in Bonner 2007:7) threat of today’s terrorist is seen as too dangerous to allow that privilege.
The DPR thus illuminates both the top-down discursive construction of the terrorist threat, and the efforts of the state to (re)establish a mandate for control; worst-case scenario-thinking drives more extreme measures that loop back and reinforce an expansive culture of fear, garnering support for pre-emptory practices that are based merely on suspicion of intent rather than any actual event. For example, the government reaction to the Forest Gate shooting reinforced the rationalities of the DPR: "You can only imagine if they fail to take action and something terrible happened what outcry would be then, so they are in an impossible situation" (BBC, 2006). The rationalities of zero-risk, the risk of catastrophic damage and worst-case-scenario-thinking drive a scare-mongering narrative that ultimately legitimizes the rationality of shifting the burden of proof from the state to the individual.
The difficulty to counter-act this emotional narrative of pre-emptive security policy is compounded by the fact that policy-making is seen by HROs as not malicious, but genuinely based on the desire to protect the public due to their duty to try to control the terrorist threat, or at least instill confidence in their authority by presenting the threat as ‘under control’. AIUK explained in an interview that the government ‘often had good grounds for having concerns’, and ‘we would be in a difficult position if we didn’t acknowledge that’, thus undermining attempts to state that a pre-emptive stance is detrimental to society. AIUK explained that the emotions surrounding the issue of protecting citizens allow for pre-emptive action on ‘extreme’ individuals. However, as Reprieve pointed out, just the mere suspicion of terrorist activity or association makes it very difficult to ‘advocate for them in the court of public opinion’ – ‘they’re scarecrows’. Representatives from Liberty and AIUK make clear that the government holds ‘all the cards’ in the form of national security intelligence access to state secrets. As AIUK illustrates, ‘the state can stand up and say we have seen how many bad guys there are…how many plots’. Both Liberty and AIUK point to this dynamic as a huge challenge to combat using human rights framework as the response is always boiled down to ‘we can do it now because the risk is so much greater than it has ever been’ (AIUK interview).
The main impact of the decoupling of political decision-making from actuality on the power of HROs is thus encapsulated in the future temporality of all decision-making. When there is no official offense or action that is being addressed through the application of a TPIM or by the rendition of a suspect – it is increasingly difficult to make people understand the difference between people who are merely suspected, and those who have actually committed a crime. CagePrisoners and AIUK argue that the very act of pre-emptory arrest, or the issue of TPIM leads the public to believe that they must be guilty of something – thus hindering HRO resistance to these measures. The onus of guilt placed on terror suspects by the decoupling of action from actuality is clearly seen in HRO advocacy for Shaker Aamer, the last British detainee in Guantanamo Bay. Aamer has never been charged with any crime, however the paralysis of this dynamic has rendered the writ of habeas corpus 'functionally useless’ due to the risk posed by his status as a terror suspect: what if?
This dynamic has taken a sinister turn domestically within the U.K. as CagePrisoners points out that doctors and university professors are now recommended to report those ‘vulnerable to extremism’ (Travis, 2011). This means that more and more public institutions where people interact are being drawn into the worst-case-scenario-thinking that rationalizes the DPR, feeding into a culture of fear that legitimates the creep towards the curtailment of rights to a fair trial, privacy, asylum and free movement because of fear of terrorism.
Aditi Gupta graduated with an MSc in Global Politics (Civil Society) from the London School of Economics and Political Science in Autumn 2013. She has previously worked at Soul Rebel Films and Reprieve and has co-authored reports based on depth interviews conducted for the Indian development NGO, CHIRAG. Aditi has volunteered for refugee and homelessorganizations in the UK and is developing a career in the human rights field. This is the second in her five-part series on Crimcast which began in early January, 2014.
Aditi Gupta, Guest Blogger
Since 9/11 many of us may have noticed the creeping erosion of democratic and legal principles in what has been called ‘The War on Terror’ (WoT). The present day, world-wide agenda combining extraordinary rendition, secret evidence, mass surveillance, secret detention and 'enhanced interrogation' is something that has caused uproar among all who care about civil liberties, fair treatment and due process. Journalists, academics and human rights activists the world over have repeatedly exposed and condemned these global security policies, seeking change at the highest level in the international and domestic arena.
While this strong focus on legal and policy implications of the WoT is an essential and core component of the means to combat the effect of global security practices post-9/11, this series will argue that if we really want to abolish these policies, we first need to change the way that we think about terrorist security threats in the first place.
Many studies have noted a conceptual shift to the logic of risk in global security practices. In my view, the most important finding of these analyses show that the impact of ‘risk’ in shaping security post-9/11 renders the War on Terror far more than an assemblage of policies. It represents the advent of a cultureof fear and suspicion based on society’s understanding and engagement with the risk posed by terrorism. In other words: by thinking of terrorism through the logic of risk, we render ourselves incapable of human empathy and find ourselves accepting more violence, more surveillance and an increasingly hollow legal system of accountability simply because we are scared of what might happen.
Donald Rumsfeld (2002): ‘the message is that there are no knowns. There are things that we know that we know. There are known unknowns…but there are also unknown unknowns – things we don’t know we don’t know’.
Rumsfeld’s quotation reveals that in the extreme conditions of uncertainty post-9/11, policy-makers are no longer able to guarantee predictability, security and control. The result of this infiltration of fear into decision-making has resulted in a paranoid global phenomenon whereby security officials are 'given' an imperative to act in advance of any possession of evidence. As outlined by President Bush in 2002 and pursued with a vengeance by Obama, this ‘not only means dealing with real immediate threats; it also means anticipating threats before they occur.' This conceptual shift in 'security think' is epitomized by the global network of over fifty countries involved in the pre-emptory practices of pre-charge detention and extraordinary rendition, and the internment of hundreds of men without charge or trial in locations such as Guantánamo Bay (OSJI report, 2013).
The overall effect of the application of risk-logic to security is not to be underestimated. Risk-logic ultimately transforms security practices into complex social practices: it changes the way we live and the way we interact with each other. This blog series will attempt to illuminate how this way of thinking has profoundly affected society. In order to have a concrete starting point, I will show how risk-logic affects the work of human rights organizations working to combat the seep of human rights violations endemic to the WoT. By the end of this series, I hope to convey an insight into the poisonous forces of risk at work in society, and how this wholesale cultural change affects traditional methods of checking the balance of power in the world we live in.
Sabine Selchow has put forward a very useful framework of four inter-linked dynamics for looking at the transformative effect of risk-logic on society– what this blog post will be based on (see Selchow 2014; also Loughnan and Selchow 2013). As it’s useful to understand these dynamics separately, I’ll first briefly outline each one. Then, in the coming weeks I’ll zoom in on each dynamic and show how it translates into everyday life, as well as how it affects relations of power between the state and society.
1. The decoupling of political decision-making from actuality
The obsessive desire of security officials to regain control post-9/11 means that risk-logic locates its temporality in the future, therefore effectively separating political acts from having to address an actual, or tangible threat. The advent of the idea of risk as a means of governing thus coincides with a security apparatus that no longer seeks to prevent, order or withhold, but instead to pre-empt (Amoore & DeGoede, 2008). Once institutions shift their focus from addressing existing threats to potential threats in the future, they are duty-bound to assume responsibility for control. This means that it is no longer possible to determine if a threatening event would have happened without the risk-based pre-emptory action, as risk-based action is always in the realm of the unknown. This pre-emptory stance that ultimately depoliticizes security policy, is summed up by Blair’s 2004 response to criticism of the pre-emptive war in Iraq: ‘…would you prefer us to act, even if it turns out to be wrong? Or not to act and hope it’s OK?’
2. The Depoliticization of Security
As touched upon in the previous section, the application of risk to security essentially depoliticizes policy-making. Firstly, the temporality of risk-based decisions means that the policy-maker is able to present issues as needing immediate action in the face of extreme uncertainty and risk of catastrophic damage. The net result of this is that issues related to terrorism have to be presented as capable of being controlled. This fetishization of control is situated firmly in the political imagination, as terrorism is ultimately ‘a risk beyond risk’ that cannot be measured (Aradau & VanMunster 2008:23). The ‘unexceptional’ (according to the United Kingdom's Home Office in 2006) nature of attackers, such as the 9/11, Madrid and 7/7 bombers, render creation of any risk models based on identifiable characteristics of ‘terrorists’ impossible. Mythen and Walklate (2008) stress that the calculus of risk post 9/11 is directed by a projective ‘what if?’ position whereby presumption of innocence metamorphoses into a presumption of guilt. Since risk models cannot be modeled on abnormality this suggests that the government will have to screen everybody equally. In reality, whilst this may sound appealing, this essentially submerges individual cases into types based on factors of risk, ultimately creating ‘new’ risk assessed identities: it is no longer necessary to actually see the person one… judges (Krassman, 2007).
3. Internalization of security issues and the process of responsibilization
Through the application of risk logic, global security threats are no longer the sole remit of government security agencies, but become a responsibility for every citizen as part of lived, everyday experience. This dynamic is most clearly seen in government campaigns worldwide urging citizens to report anything that arouses suspicion, leading ordinary people to absorb the responsibility of securing their state. Public and private, internal and external are now boundaries that have been profoundly blurred, leading to a politics of normalcy inherent to risk-based modes of governance (Amoore & DeGoede). Being ‘normal’, as defined by the U.K.’s Metropolitan Police is now a political act whereby the citizen not only protects their country by reporting anything ‘abnormal’, but actively defends themselves from suspicion as a terrorist. This action is all the more powerfully embedded in society through the explosion of panoptic surveillance put in motion by the application of risk logic to security.
4. The dynamic of the expansion of ‘securitization’
The fourth dynamic of risk is the expansionary and unlimited nature of its mandate. As discussed, the logic of risk implies an imperative to act – to be seen to be doing something in the face of the uncertainty posed by the terrorist threat. This imperative inevitably feeds an expanding process of securitization, whereby a wider array of issues are deemed to be security threats. However, as risk-based decisions are not ‘tamed’ by an accompanying actuality or event, this instates a process of unlimited risk-based action. Risks are ‘infinite because they multiply over time since one can always do more to prevent them from becoming real’ (Rasmussen 2006:4); risk-logic thus always produces the sense of further uncertainties. This leads to an insatiable quest for ‘more and better knowledge of risk’ (Ericson & Hoggarty, 1997:85). This risk assessment however, has to draw on past experiences in order to address an imagination of the future. Therefore, previous knowledge is always incomplete, thus driving a governance of risk yearning for ever greater knowledge. The population wholesale is thus securitized in an ever-expanding process that has a profound impact on society.
Although this is an extremely brief outline of the dynamics underlying the shift in global security policy post-9/11, the next installments in this blog will explore each in further detail and clarify the profoundly social impact of security policy by looking at the difficulties faced by human rights organizations in combating the curtailment of freedoms post-9/11. The following blog posts will aim to illustrate the deep cuts that risk-logic has made in the way that society all over the world thinks by linking risk-logic to power relations. Ultimately, the fight against counter-terror policy is no longer solely in the governmental arena; the real fight is against the pervasive culture of fear and suspicion that underlies the relations between ordinary, innocent people every day.
Aditi Gupta graduated with an MSc in Global Politics (Civil Society) from the London School of Economics and Political Science in Autumn 2013. She has previously worked at Soul Rebel Films and Reprieve and has co-authored reports based on depth interviews conducted for the Indian development NGO, CHIRAG. Aditi has volunteered for refugee and homelessorganizations in the UK and is developing a career in the human rights field. This is the first in her five-part series to be published on Crimcast. It will appear weekly from January 7, 2014.
This is our latest installment of Dr. Demetra M. Pappas' "News of the Week" in which she uses short topics as a teaching tool to stimulate conversation in her sociology, anthropology, criminology and legal studies course. 1. HOMELAND SECURITY/DEVIANCE/SPORTS AND SOCIALIYATION: The Boston Marathon Bombing, which everyone knows about (actually cannot avoid, as it is all over web, tv, radio, etc.). There are many possible approaches to this, and I will let the team take the approach they wish. NOTE: All of our hearts go out to friends, family, and Boston, which, but for a change of schedule, I was meant to be in this week, instead of last week. If anyone in the class has a directconnection, we are all so sorry and empathetic. Also, if anyone gets upset, that is ok, too, especially if there are personal connections. We are here/there for you!
2. DEVIANCE/MEDICAL SOCIOLOGY/LAW AND SOCIETY: This week, a jury is being selected in the wrongful death lawsuit brought by the family of pop star Michael Jackson against AEG (the concert promoter) for negligent hiring of (now convicted) Dr. Conrad Murray. Murray is currently serving out part of a four-year sentence for negligent homicide, relating to giving Jackson propofol (a hospital grade anesthetic) among other drugs on the night of his death. Murray is currently on appeal (one reason is so that he can get his medical license back – should he?) and reputedly won’t testify in the civil suit (though he gave press interviews after his jury verdict and before sentence, and also last week). Was Murray deviant or not? Was AEG negligent (deviant) in hiring Murray? Check out web or news articles, most recently, “Michael Jackson Trial: AEG Live Prepares for Court Battle.”
3. FAMILIES/DEVIANCE/LAW AND SOCIETY: On April 14, 2014, the Houston Chronicle had a front-page article on Section B, “No Early Release this Year for Clara Harris,” by Mike Glenn. Harris made front-page headlines (and almost every television outlet) 10 years ago when she ran over her “cheating husband.” Consider this – men who kill their cheating wives are frequently given the legal mitigation of extreme emotional disturbance or of “provocation,” why not this woman? (There is actually a reason in this case, but it is a fair question for analytical analysis and critical thinking and in fairness, it could go either way.)
For more information on Dr. Pappas' pedagogical approach, see her article, "Creating an Antidote to Student Apathy: The News of the Week," in Teacher Scholar: The Journal of the State Comprehensive University, Volume 3, Number 1 pp. 45-51.