Author: Tasawar Ashraf – Glasgow Caledonian University

The United Kingdom’s Counter-Terrorism Act 2000 defines terrorism broadly to include all violent acts pursuing the advancement of political, cultural, religious, or racial causes. However, the laws introduced during the last decade, particularly the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, shifted the focus of the counter-terrorism laws towards jihadist terrorism. This over-emphasis on the threats of jihadist terrorism reflects on the operations of the law enforcement authorities, which perceive jihadist terrorism more serious threat than far-right terrorism and thus institutionalisesIslamophobia with the law enforcement authorities. The DRad report on ‘De-radicalisation and Integration Legal and Policy Framework’ in the UK highlights the explicit role of the law enforcement authorities in shaping the counter-terrorism laws and defining what constitutes terrorism. It shows that the determination of the threshold of ‘reasonable suspicion’ for stop and search by police varies from case to case and constable to constable. This is the main reason police stop and search data, overwhelmingly includes the case of stop and search of individuals of a specific religious and racial profile.

Moreover, the broad nature of the definition of terrorism affords the Crown Prosecution Service a wide discretion in deciding whom to prosecute for terrorism and whom not to. For example, Thomas Mair – the murderer of Labour Party MP Jo Cox – was prosecuted and convicted for murder to advance a political cause that was not formally designated as a terrorist until after the conviction. However, the recent murder of the Conservative Party MP – David Amess – was declared an act of terrorism without knowing the intent of the culprit. 

However, such discriminatory treatment of the equally harmful phenomenon of terrorism by the law enforcement authorities, as the vast body of existing literature suggests, is feared to be counter-productive. On the one hand, the law enforcement authorities subdivide far-right terrorism into political terrorism, white supremacy, neo-Nazism, and white cultural imperialism. On the other hand, they place all acts of jihadist terrorism under the broad umbrella of Islamic radicalisation. Many acts of jihadist terrorism taking place in the UK had no religious motive; therefore, it was wrong for the law enforcement authorities to treat those attacks as cases of Islamic radicalisation. For example, Khalid Masood, the Westminster attacker pursued revenge for western powers’ military actions in Iraq. His action must have been treated as an act of political violence. This approach of differently treating acts of violence has wide stigmatisation and alienation effects for the Muslim Community in the UK. 

Thus, the report on ‘De-radicalisation and Integration Legal and Policy Framework’ in the UK report recommends that a uniform process must be applied to different cases of terrorism. Where the evidence permits (e.g. the Thomas Mair case) terrorism charges should be levied to every case of violence when it comes under the definition of terrorism. The report further recommends that jihadist terrorism must also be subdivided according to the political, cultural, religious, and racial ideologies of the offender. Such an approach is more likely to help in applying uniform process to all acts of terrorism and redress some of the lasting impacts of institutionalised Islamophobia within the UK legal context. 

For more insights, see the REPORT >>, that provides a conceptual account on existing policies and laws addressing radicalisation, to pinpoint their most critical aspects and best practices, and to develop evidence-based policy and guidelines.