Column on the Brussels Attacks

Last evening The Conversation published a column from me on the terrible attacks in Brussels yesterday. The piece has already been picked up and reprinted widely, including by ABC’s The Drum and the Sydney Morning Herald, and can be read in full here. The introduction is as follows:

The attacks of March 22 in Brussels were shocking, but not surprising. They reinforced what many have known for years: Belgium has a serious problem with terrorism.

For a long time, security analysts have expressed anxiety about the depth and extent of radicalisation and fundamentalism in the country. It is thought that Belgium has the highest per capita rate of foreign terrorist fighters of any EU country. A February 2016 “high-end estimate” puts that number at 562 out of a population of just over 11 million.

Last November it was revealed that some of the Paris attackers had Belgian connections and were known to the security forces there, and Brussels was virtually locked down for almost a week.

Over recent years there have been attacks on Belgian museums, supermarkets and trains, raising questions about why the country cannot seem to effectively tackle the challenges of insecurity.

As ever, the answer is not a simple one. Rather, as observed by Tim King, Belgium’s “failures are perhaps one part politics and government; one part police and justice; one part fiscal and economic. In combination they created the vacuum that is being exploited by jihadi terrorists”.

Hybrid (Counter-) Terrorism: New Chapter

In March 2014 I spoke at a workshop at the University of Birmingham on the idea of hybridity. At the time, as this post shows, I was somewhat skeptical of what the concept of hybridity (as lens, or frame, or otherwise) might have to bring to law and, especially, to counter-terrorism and the law. However, the workshop got me thinking and next year (2016) an edited book from the workshop will be released for which I wrote a chapter building on my intervention at the workshop.

The chapter was written in the fall of 2014, and may be revised before finalisation of the manuscript to take account of post-Paris developments, but it brings together in a short form some of my key thoughts about hybrid (counter-) terrorism. I have uploaded the pre-print here, and the introduction gives a flavour:

Legal scholars have written much about different ‘models’ of counter-terrorism, with the ‘criminal justice’ and ‘military’ models dominating the discourse. However, these models of counter-terrorism law and its place within a broader ecosystem of counter-terrorism measures, policies and practices, fail to appreciate the breadth, complexity and drivers of counter-terrorism when viewed in the round. Indeed, this is indicative of legal scholarship on counter-terrorism, which tends (in contrast to some sociological scholarship in the field) to focus almost exclusively on doctrinal legal research, infrequently placing counter-terrorist law and policy within its broader context. In this, hybridity may be a helpful lens through which to view counter-terrorism law and practice; it may facilitate our understanding of counter-terrorism as a field of practice with multiple limbs and elements, indicating more fully the terrain on which critical engagement with terrorism and counter-terrorism ought to focus. This chapter aims to illustrate the hybrid nature of terrorism and counter-terrorism as mechanisms of resistance within asymmetrical power relationships and, through considering its combination of measures and engaged actors, to illustrate the critical usefulness of conceptualizing counter-terrorism as a hybrid phenomenon.

Participatory Research and PhD Study: New Chapter

Last autumn I was very pleased to go to the University of Limerick and present at their excellent conference on methodologies in law. The conference was aimed at doctoral students and there were many in attendance. I presented on participatory research: what is it? Why would you do it? What are the benefits, and the risks, of engaging in this approach to research? The organisers are now finalising an edited book coming from the conference, and I have written up my presentation as a short chapter. The chapter does not purport to tell people how to go about particular means of doing participatory research. Rather, it aims to open doctoral students’ minds to the possible benefits of doing participatory research and to the sets of questions that one might usefully work through when undertaking participatory research. The full chapter in its pre-print mode is available here, and it ends:

Originality is, of course, the Holy Grail of doctoral students. That the candidate has made an original contribution to knowledge is, at core, the basic requirement for being awarded the degree for which you have studied for at least (and often far more than) three years. Originality is also achievable in many means: there is no one right way to establish it. Certainly a well-constructed, curious, intelligent research question that pushes the boundaries of existing knowledge is more or less essential, but so is how one pursues the fundamental task of the PhD: pursuing that question through a well designed research project. In doing that, your choice of methodological approach is important, and participatory research can be an excellent framework for the acquisition of original knowledge, which is then processed, considered, analyzed and marshaled into an argument that constitutes an original contribution to knowledge. Participatory research can lend a new kind of authority to assumed knowledge, present real world heterodoxies to doctrinal orthodoxy, enrich a set of findings, and greatly enhance the originality and practicability of research findings. However, all of this can only be achieved if two conditions are met: (i) the research enquiry justifies the methodology, and (ii) the researcher engages seriously and carefully with the process and the participants.

New Conversation Blog: on GCHQ, data collection, and effectiveness

On Monday a new post from me was published on The Conversation. It is reproduced below.

The release of yet more of Edward Snowden’s leaked files reveals the still-astonishing scale and breadth of government surveillance after more than a year of revelations. These recent papers revealed to The Intercept website discuss a programme within Britain’s GCHQ known as “Karma Police”, in which the intelligence agency gathered more than 1.1 trillion pieces of information on UK citizens between August 2007 and March 2009.

Spurred on by the expansion of intercept warrants under the Terrorism Act 2006, this information is users’ internet metadata – details of phone calls, email messages and browser connections that includes passwords, contacts, phone numbers, email addresses, and folders used to organise emails, but not the actual content of messages or emails. Continue reading “New Conversation Blog: on GCHQ, data collection, and effectiveness”