Human Rights, Radicalisation & Counter-terrorism: A young researcher's perspective
Counter-terrorism, European values and radicalization
Since 11/9, Europe has entered an new era of security policy which is eroding European values. In an attempt to fight the so called ‘war on terror’, Europe is undermining its solidarity and openness; countries are increasingly closing their borders and implementing counter-terrorism legislation which violates human rights and the basic principles of democracy. All in all, terrorism has become a priority issue on both the international and national agenda.
As a young person myself, I jointed the RJ4All Institute so that I can understand the complex issue of radicalisation and through this knowledge to help address it. I have written this blog in the context of RJ4All's project Violent Radicalisation, Human Rights and Restorative Justice.
Against this background, many studies have been conducted to try to understand which factors contribute to radicalization in society. Political and social alienation have been identified as important elements in this process of radicalization: isolation increases the likelihood of individuals’ acceptance of violent extremism. I argue that counter-terrorism law, besides undermining democratic and European values and principles, plays a role in increasing radicalization in society by promoting a generalized idea of ‘good’ vs ‘evil’ which increases social and political isolation.
Good vs evil: a radicalizing cultural narrative
Today, the word "terrorism" not only indicates an act of violence; it has become a synonym of a category of people. Terrorists, therefore, are not a specific group acting violently in a given moment in time, but rather a general category of people who constitute a threat to national security. Israeli Prime minister stressed the absence of distinction when referring to terrorists: “There is no such thing as terrorist who are 'good guys' as there is no such thing as terrorists who are 'bad guys', they are all bad”. There is no distinction, for example, between Al-Qaeda who bombed the Twin Towers in 2001 and the Italian Red Brigades who murdered Emiliano Petri in 2003. In this generalization, any difference between the two actors becomes irrelevant; what matter is that they are those doing wrong.
I wonder how restorative this approach is ...
This image of the ‘bad guys’ is usually opposed to the ‘good guys’ who are identified as the West: Europe, the US, Israel and all countries which try to defeat the great menace posed by terrorists. This rhetoric, therefore, gives a clear-cut distinction between who is good and right and who is evil and wrong; the message leaves no doubts and no room for compromise. In doing so, this cultural narrative reinforces the distance between the two groups; any possibility of dialogue and mutual understanding seems, therefore, impossible.
Anti-terrorism law as political and social isolation
Counter-terrorism legislation violates human rights, it ‘does wrong’, by allowing for example torture. However, these violations, this wrong is justified because it is perpetrated to fight a greater wrong, namely the terroristic menace. Put differently, democratic principles and human rights need to be violated in order to be protected.
“If we [Western and European democracies] change our rules to allow us to respond in an evil way […] it is really not so bad (fine even?) because all that is happening is that evil [terrorism] is being met with (lesser/theoretically accountable) evil” 
Counter-terrorism legislation in this way embraces this rhetoric of good vs evil and, therefore, reinforces political and social isolation in society. Indeed, through the implementation of counter-terroristic legislation, certain communities are identified as ‘suspect’. This has been the case, for example, for both Irish and Muslims in the UK. Following the implementation of the Prevention of Terrorism Act, in 1974, the Irish were targeted and discriminated as a group till the point that a different penal system, enforcing exceptional sentences, was created for them. Today, many scholars claim that Muslims have replaced the Irish in the UK. Following the multiple ISIS attacks, Muslims community has been classified as ‘suspect’.
Accordingly, they are targeted by police and investigated not necessarily because violating the law, but just because they are members of the Muslim community. In the end, both the Irish community back then and Muslim community today have been labeled as different and dangerous; this reinforces their feeling of distance in society. Their integration in society is discouraged while their alienation promoted. By feeling different, communities targeted by counter-terroristic measures are more prone to embrace radicalization. If someone is constantly told to be a dangerous menace for society, he is are more likely to actually become one.
This bring us to the conclusion that human rights, at least for now, stand in opposition with counter-terrorism laws which are strengthening radicalization in society instead of fighting against it. Therefore, efforts should be made for legislation to promote human rights, thus, helping to build a more inclusive society in which social and political alienation, leading to violent extremism, are reduced.
Restorative Justice for All, “Violent Radicalization, Restorative Justice and Human Rights,” accessed January 23, 2019, https://www.rj4all.info/RJ-Radicalisation.
Conor Gearty, “Human Rights in an Age of Counter-Terrorism,” Oxford Amnesty Lecture, February 23, 2006, p.2.
Gearty, p. 7.
Gearty, p. 10.
Francesco Ragazzi, “Suspect Community or Suspect Category? The Impact of Counter-Terrorism as ‘Policed Multiculturalism,’” Journal of Ethnic & Migration Studies42, no. 5 (April 15, 2016): 3, https://doi.org/10.1080/1369183X.2015.1121807.
Ragazzi, p. 3
Gavrielides and Santiago, “Human Rights and Prevention of Violent Extremism, 18th Informal ASEM Seminar on Human Rights,” p. 12.