chapter  8
21 Pages

Muslims, crime, terror and the law

Since events of 7/7, the UK Government has developed a range of policies and practices to disentangle the processes of violent extremism, and to help realise appropriate and necessary solutions. When the Preventing Extremism Together (PET) report was put together by independently appointed Muslims two months after the events of 7/7, New Labour responded with a focus on counter-radicalism and de-radicalism.1 Reducing socio-economic inequalities and building cohesion to eliminate violent extremism are closely related. However the focus in the current period in relation to de-radicalisation has closer associations with policing, security and intelligence initiatives.2 More recent incarnations of this approach have focused on the idea of ‘counter ideology’. Therefore, it is important to analyse the impact of the New Labour response in relation to changes to legislation in the wake of the events of 9/11 and 7/7, and how it has affected Muslims in Britain. There is a need to study the ways in which ethnic minorities are treated within the criminal-justice system in general, followed by a fuller analysis of how Muslims are presently experiencing particular problems. If we consider how young British African-Caribbean men faired in the criminal-justice system in the late 1970s, the parallels with young Muslim men today are remarkably similar. However, what separates the current experience is the intersection of local, national and global factors in the formalisation of the ‘Muslim problem’ in matters of criminology, the socio-legal realm, various aspects of the criminal-justice system and, the law itself. Historically, the experience of minorities within the criminal-justice

system has been notoriously problematic. Social research on how ethnic minorities are ‘processed’ by the British criminal-justice system over the past few decades, carried out in academia as well as in government, continues to

show negativity at the level of enforcement and sentencing.3 The issue of racial discrimination was first addressed in the Race Relations Act 1965 and then strengthened in the Race Relations Act 1976. Under English law, racial discrimination is defined as treating an individual less favourably than another on the grounds of perceived ethnic or racial difference. Irrespective of the nature of this treatment, the fact that a difference has been identified on the part of the victim is enough to make it unlawful.4 The Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000 now makes it unlawful for a public authority, including any government department, to discriminate while carrying out its functions. There is a positive duty on all public bodies to promote race equality, to have due regard for the need to eliminate racial discrimination and to promote equality of opportunity and good relations between people of different ethnicities. Specific duties affecting government departments include publishing a race-equality scheme on how organisations and institutions assess and consult on the impact of policy in relation to the promotion of race equality. In addition, there is a duty to monitor the proportion of staff from ethnic minorities in employment, their appraisal and also promotion. Interaction with the criminal-justice system begins with the police. The

police have more a direct impact on the lives of people than any other enforcement agency of the Home Office. Frustration among certain ethnic-minority groups is based on ‘criminalisation and harassment on the one hand and inadequate attention to race crime and behaviour on the other’.5 The 1999 Stephen Lawrence Inquiry referred to institutional racism in a large public sector organisation, in this case the Metropolitan Police Service. Initially there was an unfavourable reaction to the Inquiry from different police authorities and public policy commentators. In everyday policing situations, however, it did have the immediate impact of dramatically dropping the incidences of ‘stop and search’ (when a police officer physically searches a person, their clothing and anything they are carrying, in accordance with statutory powers). A decade since the publication of the report, however, both ‘stop and searches’ and deaths in custody continue to remain disproportionately high for ethnic-minorities.6 It is clear that as ethnic minorities first became embedded in the inner cities of Britain, the racialisation

they experienced also affected the ways in which they were labelled criminals within the ‘host society’, at one level, and how they became victimised, at another. This experience remains today in relation to young ethnic minorities and the youth justice system.7