‘Trust Your Instinct’ means ‘Don’t Trust Muslims’

A few days ago I woke up to the sensational headline that 13 potential terrorist attacks have been prevented in the UK since June 2013. Minutes later I heard news that the government just launched a new counter-terrorism campaign: Action Counters Terrorism (ACT), and every day since I’ve been putting up with interruptions on Spotify urging me to report suspicious and potential terrorist activity when just trying to enjoy the ‘Feel Good Friday’ playlist; suffice to say each advert makes me feel less and less good.

My initial irritation was at the obviousness of the fear-mongering and perception of increased terrorist threat which coincided with calls to ‘report suspicious activity’. The ACT campaign website asks the public to ‘be our [the government and police’s] eyes and ears’ by reporting suspicious activity to the police. To me its obvious that this acts as a massive thumbs-up to racial profiling and the criminalisation of Muslim people. The idea that everyday citizens can be the ‘eyes and ears’ of the state is an incredibly explicit devolving of policing powers to ordinary people. It’s a way of saying, ‘we trust that we’ve given you enough years of rhetoric so that you know exactly who in this society is a legitimate target to report’. The very idea of ‘suspicious activity’ is made absurd by the website’s suggestion that it includes ‘anything that seems out of place, unusual or just doesn’t seem to fit in with everyday life’!

It hardly needs to be said that this gives absolute free reign to people to target any Muslim for anything at all. Don’t feel that the language those people are speaking fits in with your conception of everyday life? Report it! Does it seem unusual to you that someone takes time out of the day to pray? Report it. The examples the government themselves provide include ‘ordering unusual items online’ so I personally feel almost everyone born since 1990 should be culpable under this advice.

I really do find it absurd and hilarious, but then I realise its not a parody.

[ACT website screencap. It shows a white person on the phone with concerned expression and text reads: ‘You can play your part in helping to tackle the terrorist threat facing the UK.’]
A campaign asking the public to report suspicious activity emerges in a context where we know exactly which bodies are suspicious. It won’t be the unusual activities of middle-class white people that get reported, or the ludicrously ‘out of place’ behaviours of wealthy politicians and white hipsters. Of course not. Instead we’ve long been taught that suspicion and fear are attached to non-white bodies. To beards and hijabs, ‘foreign’ clothes and ‘foreign’ tongues. I’ll place my bets on brown and black men being the overwhelming reason for many of the phonecalls that occur in light of this campaign. In fact, BBC iPlayer’s recent drama-documentary, The Attack: Terror in the UK taught me that. A dramatized enactment of the ‘most likely scenario for Britain’s next major terror attack’ proved that suspicious behaviour mainly included a) conversion to Islam and b) being a black or brown man in Britain. Thank God they made an hour-long film interspersed with threatening music and fear-mongering facts to tell me that!

act 2
[Screencap from The Attack: Terror in the UK. Image of two men – black and brown – boxing.]
It’s important to understand that devolving policing powers to everyday people, encouraging people to treat Muslims in the UK as criminal at all times, and raising levels of fear about an ‘inevitable’ terrorist attack works to justify more and more surveillance, more and more detention, and more incarceration. Numbers of Muslim prisoners in the UK rose by 122% between 2002 to 2015 – a ‘crime mystery’ in the BBC’s eyes. Well here, let me see if I can solve this one:

What better way to control your Muslim population than locking them up for minor crimes? Beats having to launch actual investigations into ‘potential’ terrorist activity and waste resources on allegations that might probably prove wrong. This way you lock away your problem populations to pre-empt their entry into terrorist activity. My guess would be that this is no ‘crime mystery’ but that we’ve made one group in our society an especially ‘suspicious’ one deserving of policing. Ironically, the BBC drama-documentary also shows prison to be a site of ‘radicalisation’… making it actually not feel too far-fetched to suggest that the government are producing the very terrorists they tell us to be afraid of.

And isn’t that interesting? Because if nothing else, this ACT campaign and the suggestion that terrorist threats have risen surely suggests that the government’s counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation programmes thus far have not worked. It seems almost as if the Prevent strategy has not been preventing this rise in the ‘inevitability’ of violence… almost as if policing, monitoring and controlling the Muslim population has not dealt with any of the political causes of terrorist violence…

But rather than addressing this and its own violence – at home and abroad – as a cause of antagonism and grievances amongst Muslims, the state would rather deflect from its own failures by pointing the finger at any and every Muslim person whose existence has been constructed for years as ‘unusual’.

The ACT website urges, ‘trust your instinct’ and ‘don’t be cautious’, because it tries to convince us that only a mass surveillance state, criminalisation, persecution, discrimination and violence against Muslims will prevent Muslim people from committing acts of violence. It says, ‘your Islamophobic instinct is legitimate and your racism will be rewarded by the badge of Good Citizen’. In fact, the lauding of public help in preventing 1/3 of potential terrorist attacks (can we get some clarification on what a potential attack is??) is a lauding of everyday Islamophobia. And it makes sense. If you’re bombarded with messages to ‘Run, Hide and Tell’, images of Muslims as always shady, always suspicious and always Other, then of course; of course more surveillance, more detention and more incarceration is in order. But I’ll also bet that means more terrorist violence too.

5 thoughts on “‘Trust Your Instinct’ means ‘Don’t Trust Muslims’

  1. As a brown woman, I am also wary of policies that increase suspicion towards brown people. But I am curious, what other measures would you suggest the gov. take to stop terrorism? Terrorism by ISIS is a valid threat to the UK. It isn’t an imaginary unicorn. ISIS terrorism is a real threat. And while white people HAVE been known to join ISIS, the unfortunate truth is that brown people like us are statistically more likely to join up than people from other groups for a variety of reasons. So policies to prevent terrorism have to take that into account. It’s just basic logic.

    I appreciate what you’re doing in this post – pointing out the racial implications for vulnerable minorities. I agree it’s gonna make our lives harder. But it’s what has to be done. If we were in Pakistan and there was a white supremacist terror group threatening the country and an attack was likely, then the government would implement policies asking us to be on the lookout for suspicious behavior. And whilst doing so, we’d probably be more wary of white people simply because it would be statistically likelier that they’d join up. This would suck for the innocent white people in Pakistan, but it would just be the logical approach.

    I actually think the gov. has been very decent about not explicitly naming Muslims or brown people. Remember you’re coming at this issue from the vantage point of an academic/BME activist – your points are valid but someone positioned differently, say the Head of National Security, will have different priorities and responsibilities. What do you think?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi there.
      1) what other measures would I suggest are taken to stop terrorism? My point is that preventative measures have to deal with causes not symptoms. The causes and therefore the measures govt should take would include addressing structural inequalities, actually engaging in a conversation about the political and foreign policy decisions made which frustrate some people in this country, creating a dialogue with young Muslims asking how THEY would seek to tackle this issue and asking if racial profiling is helping or not. I am not a policy maker so my ideas are half-baked, my point here is that measures to stop terrorism can’t be the current ones since the evidence proves theyre NOT preventing terrorism (see work on Prevent) and in some cases theyre even fostering political antagonisms because they’re targeting one community.

      2) Whilst I see where your example is coming from its completely ahistorical. My point is that the way we’re policing Muslim minorities in Britain has a history and context that is being ignored. A white supremacist group in Pakistan is not comparable I’m sorry.

      I’m sorry I can’t agree with you. The lack of explicit naming of Muslims or brown people is because they dont HAVE to, theyve already created the context in which we *know* who is being named. Of course the Head of National Security has different priorities, my point is that those priorities are not neutrally about “security”, they’re biased and therefore tackling symptoms of a problem not its causes.


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