Nisha Kapoor (University of York)
If Islamophobia has long marked Europe’s history, its contemporary expression serves a particular crisis of the state. The global War on Terror which targets Muslims as the ultimate enemy both within and without has encouraged routine militarisation as part of the day-to-day functioning of society. The hyper-surveillance and securitization that penetrate both ‘hard’ and ‘soft’ policing practices have come to infiltrate the welfare arms of government: education, health, and social welfare. Indeed this interconnection is epitomised in the Prevent strategy, which extends the government’s key counter-terrorism strategies to schools, universities, GPs and other health care professionals. This trend is set to be enforced even more stringently under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015. While there is no doubt that this war will have long-lasting impact as it sets unimaginable precedents for future practices of state governance, at its most extreme it has extended the possibilities for removing unwanted subjects and revoking basic and fundamental rights.
Criminalising to Disenfranchise
It is no coincidence that the turn towards a law and order society, which Stuart Hall and colleagues insightfully foresaw in the 1970s, occurred just as formal civil rights were being extended and racism, which had denied and disqualified non-white populations from freedom and self-governance, was being challenged across the globe. The extensive rise in criminality that we have witnessed from that point onwards offered an alternative way to discredit, disenfranchise and dehumanise racially Othered populations. It became a legitimate way to maintain modes of exclusion.
The criminalisation of racialized minorities has largely occurred through two main processes. The first is through immigration restrictions and the processes of differentiation that decipher between ‘citizens’ and ‘immigrants’, where the latter by virtue of their outsider status can more easily drift into a category of illegality and thus criminality. Since the 1960s we have witnessed a significant rise in immigration legislation, the initial motivation for which was to restrict blacks and Asians arriving from Britain’s former colonies. This has helped to normalise a popular logic that equal rights and entitlements should not be universal.
The second process is through an inflation of that which is considered deviant behaviour. Between May 1997, when it came to power, and September 2008, the Labour Government created 3,605 new criminal offences, almost one a day and an average of 320 per year. This trend continued apace under the Conservative-Lib-Dem coalition. The extensive development of counter-terrorism legislation during this period sits at the pinnacle of this advancement. Material support and conspiracy charges, for example, drastically lower the threshold for what constitutes a terrorism offence.
Considerably extending the law and order mentality, the moral panic around the threat of terror has led to overwhelming popular approval for the disciplining of Muslims, immigrants and asylum seekers, and consequently for the repeal of rights that earlier struggles fought to achieve. Race equality struggles for a more inclusive notion of Britishness which led to some state recognition of the importance of multiculture have been superseded by a narrower and more stringent definition of ‘British values’. State funding allocations prioritise pre-emptive policing of Muslims through the Prevent strategy over resources for addressing inequalities in health, education and employment. In the ultimate the criminalisation as ‘bogus asylum seekers’, ‘foreign criminals’ and ‘terror suspects’ has supported the development of more sophisticated forms of deprivation and expulsion.
In a bid to step up state securitisation, early in 2001 the Labour Government raised its targets for the removal of asylum seekers. One of the key ways this would be achieved was laid out in the first main government policy response to 9/11 ‘Secure Borders- Safe Haven’, where it was announced that charter flights would be used to remove large numbers of asylum seekers, thus initiating a process of mass deportation. In the ten year period between 2002 and 2012, 22,069 people were removed in this way. Devoid of the same scrutiny and regulations that deportations via commercial flights are subject to (which, as the Jimmy Mubenga case exemplifies, are also extremely brutal) the special arrangements permitted for charter flights allow for more aggressive tactics to be used against ‘disruptive deportees’ away from public view.
In practice this means potential deportees are amassed by country of origin in order to fill a flight, effectively creating a system of collective expulsion, and collective punishment. The costs of the administrative inefficiency and much greater financial cost of this system are offset by the symbolic role that it plays in sending a message to those who attempt to resist the power of the state – that they will be expelled by any means necessary. The link between domestic policies on race, immigration and security and British foreign policy, military intervention and the War on Terror overseas, is epitomised in the flight patterns and destinations. The return of refugees to Kosovo began in 2001, then to Afghanistan from 2003, Iraq from 2008, Pakistan from 2008, Jamaica from 2007-8, Sri Lanka from 2009 and flights with multiple stopovers across Africa including Nigeria, Cameroon, Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania.
Exile to solitary confinement
Enhancing the possibilities for deportation in the post 9/11 context, the government also stressed the importance of ‘modernising’ extradition arrangements to enable the transfer of bodies marked as suspect between states. The global nature of the fight against terror has pushed new levels of collaboration between Britain, the US and mainland Europe for administering a global security state which in practice has meant that the USA, as the world’s carceral capital, has opened its doors to the UK. In 2003 an Extradition Treaty was passed between the US and the UK which enables the US to request an individual they regard as suspect without providing prima facie evidence but by merely invoking suspicion.
The extension of criminality and the growing culture of pre-emptive policing, particularly targeting Muslims, means accusations of terrorism are based upon being in possession of ponchos and socks, administering a website which for a short time had its server hosted in the US, typing up a document, looking suspicious, emailing about marriage, attending a camp. Once in the US those extradited for terrorism, removed from home, family and friends, are placed in pre-trial solitary confinement, beginning a process of psychological break down. The physical conditions of restraint, the deterioration of mental health and the limited access to one’s lawyers make it near impossible to mount a defence. Once indicted a conviction is almost certain. For most this means being exiled to the supermax prison ADX Florence, a prison that provided the blueprint for Guantanamo, described by a former warden as ‘a clean version of hell’. Here prisoners are kept in solitary confinement for 22 hours a day, five days a week, and 24 hours a day for the remaining two days. Those under special administrative measures are subject to further restrictions.
In order to assist the possibilities for removal, to extend what is more readily permissible for ‘immigrants’, but less so for ‘citizens’, the UK has escalated its use of citizenship deprivation, currently one of the global leaders developing protocols for doing so. Since the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2002 came into force it is estimated that at least 53 people have been stripped of their British citizenship, with 48 of these cases occurring since 2010 under the Coalition government. The threshold for deprivation was lowered in 2006 such that the Home Secretary can issue an order if she believes to do so is ‘conducive to the public good’. Last year, in order to assist the government fight appeals against statelessness, a new clause was approved which means naturalised Britons can be made stateless if there are ‘reasonable grounds for believing’ citizenship can be acquired from another country. For individuals such as Mahdi Hashi, Minh Pham, Mohamed Sakr and Bilai al-Berjawi, citizenship deprivation has preluded torture, rendition and extradition to the US, and death by drone strikes helping the British state to more easily wash its hands.
If the effectiveness of the Islamophobia being waged in the War on Terror is signified in the escalating removal of rights, the vilification and criminalisation of dissent against this process is of grave concern. Hindered is any public debate on the nature of contemporary racisms and possible action for its redress.
Nisha Kapoor is Lecturer in Sociology at the University of York and was recently awarded an ESRC Future Research Leaders grant for a project exploring ‘Race, Citizenship and the State in the Context of the War on Terror’. She is author of the article ‘On the North West Ten: Postcoloniality, the British Racial State and the War on Terror’ and co-edited The State of Race published in 2013.
Image Credit: Carthaginian solutions