chapter  6
21 Pages

‘I read it in the FT’: ‘everyday’ knowledge of counter- terrorism and its articulation


Introduction In the years that have now passed since the 9/11 attacks, numerous states around the world have adapted and upgraded their menu of counter-terrorism programmes and initiatives (for overviews, see Banks et al. 2008; Cole 2003; Haubrich 2003; Jackson et al. 2011: 222-248; Roach 2011; Walker 2009). In the UK, these changes included alterations to the scope of pre-charge detention powers; the introduction of a control orders regime, now replaced with Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures or TPIMs; and, a range of initiatives attempting to ‘Prevent’ terrorism and violent extremism (Baker-Beall et al. forthcoming). Much critical commentary on measures such as these has focused on their impact on civil liberties in general, as well as their particular consequences for specific minority populations widely deemed ‘suspect’ or risky (for example, Choudhury and Fenwick 2011; Gearty 2007; Kundnani 2014; Said, 2004; Sivanandan 2006). What has been largely missing from this debate until recently, however, is any form of sustained engagement with the voices of ‘ordinary’ citizens themselves and their views about these developments and their impacts (Gillespie and O’Loughlin 2009; Johnson and Gearty 2007). More recent interventions have attempted to correct this imbalance (see Jarvis and Lister 2013a, 2013b, 2013c; forthcoming; Gillespie and O’Loughlin 2009; Mythen 2012; Mythen et al. 2013; O’Loughlin and Gillespie 2013). Such research has brought to prominence the ways in which citizens think about terrorism and (more frequently) counter-terrorism measures, as well as offering insights into how such developments have affected citizens’ attitudes, behaviour and perceptions. Our previous research has, for example, noted the ways in which many citizens, and particularly those within minority ethnic groups, feel that their citizenship has been directly compromised by counter-terrorism measures since 9/11 (Jarvis and Lister 2013a). Yet this research – and the associated interest in the politics of the ‘vernacular’ and the ‘everyday’ (see Jackson and Stanley, forthcoming) has opened a series of subsequent questions around how citizens know what they know (or think they know) about (counter-) terrorism. Jackson and Hall (2012), for example, have noted that whilst there is a great deal of attention paid to terrorism discourse emanating from politicians, the media

and security professionals, rather less is afforded to what ‘ordinary’ people think about (counter-)terrorism, and how their views thereof are formed and articulated. This chapter seeks to address these questions and, in so doing, to contribute further to contemporary ‘vernacular’ security research (Jarvis and Lister 2013b). To do so, we draw on a UK-based research project that made use of a focus group methodology to explore the relationships between the lived experiences of citizenship, security and counter-terrorism powers. Four key sources of knowledge upon which individuals drew in these discussions are explored below. These are: (i) personal experiences, whether direct or vicarious; (ii) media sources, including the news media and popular entertainment; (iii) exemplary events and especially high profile government errors; and, paradoxically, (iv) a perceived lack of reliable or accurate information from which to assess the necessity, effectiveness or legitimacy of counter-terrorism powers. Our analysis of how and from where citizens form their views of counterterrorism offers, we suggest, scope for optimism and pessimism alike for critical scholars concerned with the impact of such policies on specific communities, citizenship and politics more broadly (with some methodological caveats noted below). Optimism resides in that we encountered a prevalence of sceptical readings of media and governmental narratives around terrorism and the threat that it poses. We find, amongst participants in our research at least, very little evidence either of a hegemonic discourse on (counter-) terrorism, or indeed, of uncritical acceptance of potentially hegemonic sources. Pessimism, however, might be found in that the absence of authoritative sources, and the reliance upon personal experience for knowledge in this context, perhaps precludes large-scale oppositional discourses to contemporary counter-terrorism logics, measures and frameworks. Indeed, echoing Jackson and Hall’s (2012) findings, the lack of authoritative, trustworthy, sources of information about counter-terrorism led some of our participants to describe a form of powerlessness and acquiescence to government decisions in this context. An inability to ‘know’ about (counter-) terrorism, in other words, led some participants to defer to government, trusting that political elites knew best (or at least better than the average citizen).