Since 9/11, there has been a shift from catching terrorists to policing Muslimsby Zaheer Kazmi / April 11, 2017 / Leave a comment
Recent moves by the Trump administration to ban entry to the US of citizens of several Muslim-majority states seem to be a striking departure from western counter-extremism policies. These strategies have focused until now on the proscription of specific individuals and terrorist groups rather than on blanket bans on whole countries.
Meanwhile, the administration’s parallel desire to designate the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organisation is also gaining steam. This has revived perennial tensions in western policy circles over how to deal with the apparently non-violent Islamist “movement,” which has been notoriously difficult to define as a unitary entity.
But while they may appear to augur a new era, Trump’s actions have deeper roots, which reveal the coming together of two distinct but related policy developments since 9/11: attempts by western governments at proscribing non-violent Islamist groups; and the direction of travel in definitions of extremism. The pattern has been to target violence, then non-violent extremism and now, it seems, followers of a particular faith.
The growing intimacy between these trends has been most apparent in the evolution of the UK’s counter-extremism policy, especially since 2014 and the subsequent period of Conservative ascendancy following their election victory in 2015. The problems associated with these recent policy developments point to three underlying issues the Trump administration now also faces: the need for clarity in defining “extremism” and “political Islam”; the limits of policing transnational movements by unilateral domestic means; and the efficacy of using proscription as a policy tool.
In the UK, these issues have been especially apparent in evidence presented to two influential cross-party parliamentary committees, whose reports were published last year—one by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in July 2016 addressing the government’s proposed Counter-Extremism (and Safeguarding) Bill, the other a House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee report on the Muslim Brotherhood published in December 2016. Both provide windows on to the growing impasse in western counter-extremism policy. As products of cross-party deliberation, they are also unusual for being non-partisan interventions in a public policy debate so often dominated by polemic.
The shift from focusing on both violent and “non-violent” extremist ideologies that “lead to terrorism” was originally broached in the UK’s Prevent Strategy in 2011. It was the object of some criticism then for its introduction of an…