Study the past if you would define the future*

November 18, 2010 — Comment

Written by Anne Singh

A report comparing Irish and British Muslim experiences of the government’s counter-insurgency policies provides a unique insight into their impact on those who find themselves on the frontline and national security.

The report Countering Terror or Counter-productive?: Comparing Irish and British Muslim Experiences of Counter-insurgency Law and Policy, produced by Professor Mark McGovern with Angela Tobin, documents two days of discussions between human rights and community activists in the North of Ireland and representatives of British Muslim groups. The report succeeds, with understated clarity and without resort to rhetoric, in demonstrating the corrosive nature of the impact of British counter-insurgency measures. The depth of experience of those dealing with the consequences of counter-terror law and policy is apparent from the astute analysis of the history of counter-insurgency measures, the recognition of the similarities and respect for the differences in the circumstances and experiences of communities in the North of Ireland and of Muslims in Britain and the acumen for meaningful and effective campaigning strategies.

The evolution of statutory ‘counter-terror’ provisions is examined and comparisons drawn between the Irish and the Muslim experience: Diplock trials, secret evidence and SIAC; internment, the extension of detention without charge and control orders; and criminalisation, harassment and stop and search provisions. It is noted that apparent ‘progress’ in access to legal representation has been wholly undermined by the out sourcing of torture and continued use of secret evidence. The consequences of this normalisation of ‘security’ measures was considered to be the loss of any confidence in the rule of law, the further deterioration of state-community relations leading to poorer, not better, intelligence and an increased likelihood of the very ‘radicalisation’ these measures seek to prevent.

The account of the impact of counter-insurgency measures on individuals, their families and communities set out in the report offers the reader an invaluable insight into the profoundly personal experience of state ‘security’ strategies. The report identifies how government strategies based on a fundamental misunderstanding of ‘radicalisation’ and which emphasise ‘intelligence gathering’ have created divisions within communities and have contributed to a sense of fear which is inherently destructive. The human cost, including mental illness, of the criminalisation, demonisation and creation of ‘suspect communities’ is recognised and documented sensitively but without sentimentality. The sense of solidarity between the symposium participants is palpable.

Long experience of human rights and civil liberties campaigning in the North of Ireland informs much of the discussion about challenging the counter-productivity of counter-insurgency measures. Moreover, it is this history that, notwithstanding some of the qualitative differences in experiences and prevailing circumstances, validates the emphasis on human rights and civil liberties focussed strategies in respect of practical and personal support within communities, campaigning, lobbying and legal challenges.

Although not the first and likely not the last to draw connections between the impact of the government’s counter-insurgency measures in the North of Ireland and the impact of the ‘war on terror’ on Muslims in Britain, in documenting the sharing and comparing of experiences, this report has succeeded in cataloguing the true human and political consequences of British counter-insurgency strategies. The report concludes that the British government’s policies are counter-productive, however, the personal impact of reading this report was a more cynical conclusion that one salutary lesson to be learnt from history is that a concern for security and peace in our communities is not an aim shared with the British state nor is it the true aim of counter-insurgency measures.

Related links

Download a copy of Countering Terror or Counter-productive?: Comparing Irish and British Muslim Experiences of Counter-insurgency Law and Policy (pdf file, 3.2mb)

* Confucius. Countering Terror or Counter-productive?: Comparing Irish and British Muslim Experiences of Counter-insurgency Law and Policy, Professor Mark McGovern, Edge Hill University with Angela Tobin, July 2010. Download a copy here (pdf file, 3.2mb).

The Institute of Race Relations is precluded from expressing a corporate view: any opinions expressed are therefore those of the authors.

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