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Social cohesion and counter-terrorism
A policy contradiction?

Charles Husband, Yunis Alam
Paperback, 272 pages, 234 x 156 mm
10 Feb 2011


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North America customers can order this book here from the University of Chicago Press.

"This book is highly recommended for students and scholars of urban studies and related disciplines."
Urban Studies Journal
"Inclusion or exclusion? Engagement or isolation? Contributors to the social whole or threats to the moral order? In this far reaching study of Cohesion and Prevent, two poles of British public policy that have effectively supplanted multiculturalism, Husband and Alam explore British Muslims, social and economic power, and the contemporary meaning of the 'social'. As human rights are sacrificed and economic and social rights disintegrate, social disorder may well be amplified by exactly those policies ostensibly designed to suppress it. A powerful and insightful analysis with global implications."
Andrew Jakubowicz, Professor Sociology, University of Technology, Sydney
"Is a cohesive society always a good one? This extraordinary book points to the alarming way 'community cohesion' intiatives elide assimilation and integration, and are implicated in the stripping of the human rights of the 'enemy next door' and in the scrutiny of Muslim communities. An essential read for anyone who wants to understand multicultural life in Britain."
Les Back, Professor of Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London
"Husband and Alam's study provides an insightful, impassioned and devestating critique of community cohesion and counter-terrorism policy in the UK and sets out the urgent need for radical new directions. Essential reading."
John Flint, Sheffield Hallam University

About This Book

Post 9/11, the imposition of policies of counter-terrorism has seen the erosion of support for fundamental human rights. Simultaneously, Muslim communities in European cities have become a focus for state and local policy, leading to a fixation with policies of social cohesion. This book offers a unique research-based contribution to the debate around community cohesion and counter-terrorism policies in Britain. Through privileged access to the senior management and staff of five metropolitan authorities it reveals the contradictions between these policies as they are implemented in tandem at the local level. A robust critique of contemporary policy, this book is for all academics, policy makers and practitioners concerned with the management of ethnic diversity.

Author Biography

Charles Husband is a fellow at the Helsinki Collegium for Advanced Studies, the University of Helsinki, Finland, and Professor of Social Analysis at the University of Bradford, UK. He has a long history of research on ethnic relations, bringing a distinctive interdisciplinary perspective to his work. Yunis Alam is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Bradford. His research includes projects dealing with mass media, ethnicity, identity and social cohesion.


Community Cohesion: its development and limitations
The prevention of violent extremism
The experience of managing Community Cohesion and Prevent


ReviewsOwn it? Review it!

Social cohesion and counter-terrorism

The recent incidents of terrorist attacks and Islamophobes claim that “not all Muslims are terrorists, but (nearly) all terrorists are Muslims” had put Muslim communities in deep trouble in Europe. Consequently, Muslim communities have become focus of state oriented anti-terrorism and social cohesion policies. This book evaluates community cohesion and counter-terrorism policies in Britain with a particular focus on Muslim communities. In the context of Britain, Husband and Alam explored that the Muslim community of Britain have been the explicit target of these policies and Muslim population is the core object through which policies are developed. Moreover, Community cohesion strategies have challenged the national commitment of Muslim Britons and these strategies have hampered the true sense of assimilation and social integration. Moreover, Prevent agenda is more or less political in nature. The book effectively presented the two faces of these policies and major contradiction between these policies. The evidence presented reinforced that prevent measures have overshadowed the community cohesion agenda as prevention has great relevance for community cohesion at local state level that has changed the ideology of community cohesion in practice. Both policies have failed to address the fundamental issue of the reproduction of class inequalities in Britain. Development of these polices seemed to tackle the consequences of prevailing inequalities rather than as a framework concerning the issues of radicalization and political disinterest. The policy contradiction has greater implication for future with particular reference to ensure human rights which are being neglected, participation of Muslim communities in anti-terrorist initiative, and to build the trust between the Muslim communities and state. Consequently, these policies could result in intensifying the problem rather than defusing it.

Reviewed by Mokbul Morshed Ahmad

Social cohesion and counter-terrorism

April 2011

The organic concept of “cohesion” seems to have been approached by British policy makers as a list of ingredients that certain individuals – particularly faith and minority groups – need to have in order to be successful in baking the ‘Britishness cake’. Moreover, both the academic and public debate on what is really needed in the fight against extremism has not been particularly honest while certain policies and practices seem to have been the reaction of “moral panic” than based on evidence. So, a book that addresses key issues of policy, research and practice on cohesion and counter-terrorism is welcome indeed.

The book is a report of a qualitative research project that was carried out in the five metropolitan authorities of the Association of West Yorkshire Authorities (AWYA). This was a follow up study of Alam, M.Y. (2006). Made in Bradford, Pontefract: Route Publishing. The book is divided into six chapters.

Chapter Two aims to provide an introduction to the development of community cohesion policy in Britain. The Chapter reviews documents dating as back as the 1981 Scarman report and the 2001 Cantle report. It also analyses critical events such as the 1981 race riots. The central argument of the chapter is that cohesion policies that followed these events and documents are very much focused on Muslim communities. Interestingly, the Chapter proceeds to make reference to selected legislative and policy developments within the race equality movement such as the Stephen Lawrence inquiry. It finishes off with a critical review of Labour party politics on community cohesion and a position on the contribution that the last 30 years have made to the cohesion agenda.

Chapter three attempts to provide an understanding of the emergence of counter-terrorism policy in Brittan following the London bombings of 7 June 2005. The chapter is very much based on the premise that counter-terrorism practices, policy and legislation are to a great extent exclusive for Muslim communities. The same argument is made for British media and the wider British society. The Chapter concludes with an interesting, yet extremely brief, account of human rights legislation and policy.

Chapter four explores “the antipathies that may be attached to Islam and Muslims” (p97). It proceeds with a critical analysis of “anti-Muslimism” and “Islamophobia” placing both concepts within the context of modern British society. The authors engage with selected contemporary social and psychological theories to conclude that in Britain, they “see anti-Muslimism as not only some product of an over-socialised shared belief system, but as being also a vehicle for maintaining self-esteem and in-group identity” (p 126).

Chapter five presents the data of the qualitative research that the authors carried out with 12 senior staff, 9 councillors and 21 operational staff. The authors claim that the data is presented “without interpretation” (p 15). This long chapter (60 pages) is broken down into 16 sub-chapters all corresponding to a theme that according to the authors arose from the 42 interviews. A common thread running through all 16 themes is the counter-productive stand towards Muslims and their persecution by policy makers, the legislator, local and central government, and indeed the White British public. The chapter does make some interesting points regarding the significance of locality for definitions and understandings of cohesion as well as the difficult role of local authorities in mediating central government politics and the priorities presented to them within their local populations.

The final chapter provides a critical analysis of three issues. Firstly, it looks at the implications of the operation of the local state in implementing central government policy. Secondly, the chapter explores the issues of class and social inequality in British society particularly in the context of cohesion and anti-terrorism measures. Arguably, this is the most interesting part of the book as genuine attempts are made to discuss cohesion without a strict Muslim focus. The same applies for the last part of this chapter which attempts a critical account of how a democratic polity can be constructed in the promotion of security and cohesion.

The book takes a bold step in developing a clearer picture for cohesion and counter-terrorism policy, research and practice. The language is accessible and provides key, up-to-date statistics and literature on cohesion and counter-terrorism. However, it suffers from three main drawbacks.

First, right from the outset, the book is not honest about its intentions and research focus. Both the title and the authors’ introduction suggest that their interest is the development of an evidence based examination of the “implications of [social cohesion] policies and their impact on British ethnic and religious relations” (p 57) as well as their co-existence with counter-terrorism measures. However, the book’s focus is on Muslim communities, the fairness and contribution of policies targeting them and the condemnation of the various factors that contribute to a counterproductive approach to the inequalities that these communities are facing. An alternative title that included “Islamophobia” or “Muslim” would be a good start.

Related to the above is the second drawback of the book which fails to provide a balanced picture of “social cohesion”. The authors define “social cohesion as the divisions based on social class and economic position” (p. 20). They rightly distinguish it from “community cohesion” which they define as “divisions based upon identifiable communities generally on the basis of faith or ethnic distinctions” (p20). And yet the book is titled “Social cohesion and counter terrorism” though it focuses on Muslim communities. The reader is left to wonder what happened to the other groups that experience the implications of “social class and [their] economic position”. The reader is also left to wonder whether “social cohesion” and “social inequality” are relevant to all Muslim communities. The authors attempt to engage in a debate on race equality but only to confuse the reader who is again left to wonder whether the authors’ arguments should have been better placed within the context of faith, religion and belief which constitute a human right and a much acknowledge equality strand.

Thirdly and most importantly, the book makes almost no connection between community cohesion and human rights. It makes no reference to the Human Rights Act and its implications for counter-terrorism and community cohesion policies. This seems to be a significant missed opportunity given how these areas are linked. For instance, due to this oversight, the book struggles to understand the relationship between community cohesion and equality. The only references to human rights are found on pages 92-94 (in relation to counter-terrorism), page 195 (again in relation to counter-terrorism) and page 224. These accounts are extremely brief and do not unravel the links between human rights legislation, policy and practice and what these could do for community cohesion and security practitioners, policy makers and researchers at the local and national level.

In Gavrielides T (2010) “The new politics of community cohesion: Making use of human rights policy and legislation”, Vol 38: 3 Policy & Politics, pp 429-445. ISNN0305 5736 I argued that social cohesion is an area relevant not just to race and faith inequality (though statistically they constitute the primary reasons for conflict), but to all equality strands including disabled people, gay and lesbian groups, older people, asylum seekers, immigrants and indeed those who are disadvantaged because of their economic status and social class. Human rights bring all equality strands under one roof and approach the issue of cohesion as a breach of the FRED human rights principles of Freedom, Respect, Equality and Dignity. The manner in which legislation and policy developed in Britain has often encouraged competition between equality strands and the analysis and approach of the book occasionally make an uncomfortable read as it seems to encourage this tension. For instance statements such as “By the 1990s, the new Muslim other had supplanted Britain’s previous favored threat to society, the young African Caribbean male” bear evidence to my concern. It also makes the reader ask whether Stephen Lawrence’s murder in 1993 (born to African Caribbean parents) and the many riots and fights by African Caribbean communities were out of time.

There are several other minor, and yet important, omissions such as the issue of funding of community and voluntary sector organisations. Although the book touches on the issues and controversies around resources, it misses completely one of the key policies that had severe implications for Muslim and indeed other groups touched by social inequality. This refers to the Single Group Funding policy which suggested that funders should not support community cohesion projects that are focused on single communities of interest. The policy was legally challenged by Southall Black Sisters a charity set up to meet the needs of Asian and African Caribbean women. Most worryingly the book makes broad statements that are not founded upon its limited qualitative study e.g. “The ongoing salience of race in the British imaginary has, among other things, contributed to the resistance within sections of the majority white population to acknowledging the transition of most of Britain’s Muslims from being once migrant to now resident, British born citizens … thus faith as a salient determinant of identity has emerged in recent years within this already powerfully racialised construction of difference”. A “research based book” (p ix) should have been more careful in including broad and certainly not representative statements as this one”.

Reviewed by Dr. Theo Gavrielides, Director of Independent Academic Research Studies (UK), Visiting Senior Research Fellow at Open University (UK) and a Visiting Scholar at Mount Royal University (Canada)

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