Following on from recent posts on KOW ‘Beyond Stupid‘ and on IRG ‘Worrying Implications of the Terrorism Act for Insurgency Researchers‘ about the arrest and detainment of a Nottingham University student researching Al Qaeda terror tactics I received the contribution from a reader and friend who wishes to remain anonymous. I do not think I am making a mountain of a molehill with this case. The threat to academic freedom is not really the main issue; rather it is the wider impact on radicalization which is caused or accelerated by the sorts of police measures we see in this story–particularly damagingly amongst precisely those individuals who are the most vital assets in the ‘war of ideas’. I think our anonymous contributor, a thoughtful, highly-educated student of international affairs, illustrates extremely well why this story is important. Read the whole thing:
The First and Second Story of Radicalization: Why Ideas Matter!
Submitted by an anonymous onlooker
In an academic debate, personal experiences hardly seem appropriate; however, having been held under the anti-terror legislation soon after 7/7, I can say that it’s a pretty shattering process. Unlike our colleague in Nottingham, I was not taken to a police station, or interrogated for six days. But I was stopped on a rather peaceful afternoon in a quiet town in South England, only because my skin tone and age fit the profile the police squad had drawn up. Details aside, the specter of being stopped in a populated town square, having semi-automatic weapons pointed to your head, and being told, rather politely I might add, that I was being searched in accordance with the anti terror law – did little to temper my anxiety. I was kept in the square, surrounded by a yellow police ribbon, asked to stretch my hands wide and not move! After about 25 minutes of standing with my hands stretched – and another 15 minutes or so of my credentials being checked – the ribbon was removed, and a sergeant explained to me that I was held under suspicion because an unidentified object had been placed in the nearby railway station by a group of three young persons of Asian origin. I was hence, a suspected terrorist!
In the end, my training as a research student in the area of terrorism and insurgency allowed me to rationalize the entire 40 minutes in the square. In the preceding week or so, the image of standing in a square with a gun pointed at my head – observed by almost everyone in this small town, became a recurring theme. I toyed with a number of explanations. 7/7 had injected a degree of fear syndrome – hence I reasoned that I should not be surprised that I was stopped under the conditions explained to me. All this was part of a larger strategy to keep me safe, even if in this particular case I might have served as a target victim for the anti terror law. In between this obvious rationality, there were enough and more times that I felt a genuine spur of anger, humiliation, and even disgrace. I was angry at a society that held me in contempt for the way that I looked, even if it was for only 40 minutes. I felt humiliation every time I passed by that square, it seemed to me as though everyone their recognized me (when of course they could not have cared less) and remembered my incident with the police.
In the end, my story ended with a lot of thinking, some writing, and a degree of understanding. In this case, I would even argue that perhaps the anti-terror law was in fact effective. The reality of the situation was that young people of Asian origin had dropped off an unidentified object at a railway station. This, just a few days after a group of youngsters of Asian/South Asian origin had been caught on camera, before embarking on an act of violence that threatened the multi-cultural fabric of this nation (7/7). I was treated well, during the relatively brief investigation, once my credentials were checked and my body searched – I was told why I had been stopped, and then I was freed. Yes, it took a bit of time to find reason in this whole episode. But in the end, that July afternoon remains a distant memory.
The end point is that the anti-terror laws has a number of merits, but imagine if I was a Mosque going student closely related to one of the many Islamic groups in UK universities. Imagine if I cared to narrate my story to the local Mullah as well as a particular brand of Muslim friends. The rationalization process that I had the luxury to conduct wholly on my own might just have provided someone else with fodder for their respective agendas. If this can happen to X, imagine what can happen to Y? We need to stay together? The mosque will shelter you from the infidels? This might very well have been the support base I would have turned to provide myself with an explanation. Aggression, rather than reason might well have ingrained my mind with the politics of division, of sectarianism and eventually, disaster.
Racial profiling is a double edged sword! It serves as a deterrent to potential terrorists or those engaging in terrorist activities in the homeland, and makes it a little bit more difficult for imported Mullahs and their brethren to thrive in increasingly sensitive Western societies. However, the down side is that the physical action of deploying the advantages provided to law and enforcement agencies by the anti-terror law is manipulated by those seeking a Caliphate to recruit their aspirants. I had the fortune of returning from my brief ordeal to a university where I could spend hours talking to professors of international relations and colleagues engaged in academic research. They understood the contradiction that haunted me, and provided me with the support to move on whilst allowing me to confront my fears. Mr. X or Mrs. Y, do not necessarily enjoy these advantages. They return to their homes in East London, Bradford and Manchester. For salvation and reason they turn to their spiritual leader, and for protection, to their local youth groups. They begin attending lectures and sermons delivered via tele conference from Quetta and Karachi. Soon, the brightest of these, who was once but just an innocent bystander, is asked to visit Pakistan and meet with senior Mullahs and thinkers. In two or three years, his minute encounter with a police officer in London or New York is turned into a tale of how the infidel had launched a war against Islam. Having been trained in the art of warfare, and spurred on by a particular brand of ideology that incites the myth of after life and seventy virgins, X and Y return to their country of origin to carry out their chosen Fatwa!
This is the first story of radicalization. The one confronted by Western societies on a daily basis. Already, better intelligence gathering, reconciliation efforts by the UK Home Office, and the abandonment of Islamisist Mullahs – who have little understanding of the peaceful religion that is Islam, have helped temper the anxieties of the many Xs’ and Ys’ in our body-politik. But what we must not forget is that this is just the first story, the second, and more confusing story lies in the fact that Islam, like Christianity, does not recognize color or creed. A Caucasian youngster, born in the Muslim ghettos of Chechnya or Bosnia and living in the UK – will most certainly serve as the next Mr. X or Mrs. Y – waiting to be honed in by the priests of Islamism (not to be confused with Islam in itself) to wage Jihad against anything ‘modern’ or vaguely Western? We, in the academic community need to figure this out faster than the ‘other’ side. Pre-empting the initialization or deployment of the second story lies not with the anti-terror legislation, but with greater efforts to maintain the balance between drying the swamps in far off lands as well as fighting and winning the battle of ideas here, at home! How we do this, is certainly a worthy cause for a presumably far sighted group such as the IRG!