Thanks to generous funding from the Joseph Rowntree Charitable Trust, a team of us–me, Jessie Blackbourn, and Lydia Morgan–spent 18 months mapping, conceptualising, and investigating the operation of the counter-terrorism review assemblage in the United Kingdom. Throughout the project we maintained a website about the project and its animating ideas, and the project’s main output has now been published. This is a book entitled Accountability and Review in the Counter-Terrorist State published by Bristol University Press. The book goes on sale officially on 4 December 2019 but can be preordered here at the pre-publication price of £27.99.
Last November I was delighted to present a Current Legal Problems lecture at UCL. The article that emerged from that lecture has now been published in advance access format by the CLP and will appear in this year’s hardcopy. It is available here, and the abstract is as follows:
We live our lives in an often-unseen transnational counter-terrorism order. For almost two decades now, counter-terrorist hegemons have been acting on multiple transnational levels, using a mixture of legal, institutional, technical and political manoeuvres to develop laws, policies and practices of counter-terrorism that undervalue rights, exclude civil society, limit dissent and disagreement, and expand greatly the reach of national and transnational security. The assemblage of laws, institutions, forums, processes, bureaucracies, and cooperative networks that have emerged from these machinations should be understood as a transnational counter-terrorism order that is intended to instantiate on a global level ‘an arrangement of social life…[that]…promotes certain goals or values’ (Bull), whether or not they conflict with rights, whether or not they emerge from legitimate and participatory processes. This paper brings together various seemingly-technical or esoteric strands of law, institutions, policy and politics to show their connections, interdependencies and interactions and, thereby, to illustrate the emergence of this transnational counter-terrorism order. It argues that unless we recognise the connections between and multi-scalar implications of the seemingly disparate, sometimes opaque, and often bureaucratic elements that make up the transnational counter-terrorism order, its scale and implications will remain hidden in plain sight and we may find ourselves unable effectively to insist on fidelity to the constitutionalist values of rights, accountability, and democratic legitimacy.
Together with my Birmingham colleague Katherine Brown and her PhD student Jessica White, I was commissioned by the Commission on Countering Extremism to undertake research on human rights and countering extremism. The result of this work is a report entitled “Embedding human rights in countering extremism: reflections from the field and proposals for change”, which was published by the Commission early in August 2019. The abstract summarises our findings:
Countering Extremism (CE) programmes and policies have been criticised for infringing on human rights because they are state-centric and security orientated in design, and because they can have unintended disproportionate impacts on rights such as those to freedom of expression, assembly, family life, and non-discrimination. The expanding remit of CE (and counter-terrorism) since 2001, but particularly since 2005 in the UK, means that state and security agendas now infuse many more areas of ‘ordinary living’ than would previously been countenanced, with disproportionate impact on socio-economically disadvantaged parts of society. As a consequence CE can be ineffective: extremist beliefs regarding state excess and victimisation of populations can inadvertently be affirmed, extremist behaviours strengthened as the state loses trust as the provider of human security or wellbeing, and extremist modes of belonging and identity normalised. As a result, there are vocal demands for alternative approaches to CE in the United Kingdom.
There are two main challenges to unpacking these critiques and responding to calls for change. The first is recognising ‘how’ CE produces outcomes of this kind, and the second is identifying alternatives that may mitigate such impacts and produce better outcomes. This paper begins to address these two knowledge gaps. It does so through utilising expert and practitioner testimony via a small number of interviews (18) and an expert workshop, as well as a review of existing research on countering extremism. It proceeds by (a) outlining our participants’ general understanding and critiques of CE in the UK, (b) drawing out specific critiques requiring attention, and (c) proposing the instigation of a rights-based approach to CE and of independent review of CE activities so that the effectiveness and outcomes (including negative societal impact) of CE initiatives can be identified through systematic and robust independent processes.
The report is available from the Government website here.
The European Review of International Studies recently published my latest article, entitled “Politicisation, Law and Rights in the Transnational Counter-Terrorism Space: Indications from the Regulation of Foreign Terrorist Fighters” ((2018) 5(3) European Review of International Studies 115). In the article, I extend my ongoing work on transnationalism and counter-terrorism, and especially on the European Union as a relevant counter-terrorism actor. Here is the abstract:
Since 2001 a transnational counter-terrorism space has emerged that is vast in its scale and ambition and which can be discerned at both ‘universal’ (i.e. United Nations) and regional (e.g. European Union) levels, as well as in other formal and informal international organisations (for example the G7 and the Global Counter-Terrorism Forum). This article explores the question of politicisation within that transnational counter-terrorism space, and the potential for meaningful politicisation in respect of initiatives and measures emanating from transnational processes. Taking the example of ‘foreign terrorist fighters’ it argues that a shift in arena to the transnational counter-terrorism space has fundamentally challenged the capacity for effective and meaningful politicisation; that the transnational counter-terrorism space can be depoliticised by design, that where this happens the domestic counter-terrorism space is depoliticised by implication, and that the legal benefits of politicisation may thus be lost to the detriment of rights, legality and accountability.