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Security and the Politics of Belonging: Homegrown terrorism, counter-radicalization and the “end” of multiculturalism?

Final Report Summary - COUNTERADICAL (Security and the Politics of Belonging: Homegrown terrorism, counter-radicalization and the “end” of multiculturalism?)

What is the impact of counter-radicalization policies on multiculturalism and migrant membership in Europe? This project engaged in a comparison of counter-radicalization policies in three European countries (i.e. Britain, France, and the Netherlands) in order to assess their impact on multiculturalism and the governance of diversity. The project started from the premise that multiculturalism in Europe is supposedly “dead”. The February 2011 speech of the UK’s Prime Minister David Cameron on the “failure” of multiculturalism echoed an earlier speech by Germany’s Chancelor and French president Nicolas Sarkozy along similar lines: The threat of “home-grown terrorism” and “Islamic extremism” was directly attributed to the fact that “we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream” (David Cameron). In this context, one of the main tools used to enact this “backlash” against multiculturalism ought to be security policies, particularly counter-radicalization policies. Yet has it been the case? This research project finds the opposite. One of the main findings is rather than promoting “assimilation” or other forms of ethnic homogenization, counter-radicalization policies produce and reinforce a division of society into discrete ethno-religious groups. However, such “policed multiculturalism” – understood as the recognition and the management of diversity through a security purespective – has an important consequence in that it removes fundamental questions about pluralism from political debate, casting them instead in a depoliticized language of security as a bureaucratic exercise in problem solving.

This project used Britain, the Netherlands, and France as two “typical cases” and one “less likely case”, respectively. It developped a nested research design combining quali-quantitative discourse analysis with qualitative analysis of state policies, diaspora responses, interviews, and ethnographic observations. The research proceeded in three consecutive steps. It first undertook a large-N systematic and coded discourse analysis of policy documents. Based on results of this analysis, it located dominant actors in the field and select key respondents for in-depth interviews. Finally, from the two first steps it determine relevant subjects and locations for the ethnographic observation.

Three questions and a related hypothesis guided the research. First, why is there a contradiction between the political discourse, the media debate, and actual counter-radicalization practices? The project found that although politicians, relayed by media outlets, might expect electoral gains from an assimilationist stance—it is not shared by security professionals. The project confirmed Didier Bigo and others in arguing that security bureaucracies and security experts have acquired an unprecedented level of autonomy and legitimacy. Thus, an analysis of security policies should be conducted at the level of (a) bureaucratic routines and (b) bureaucratic politics and struggles. This analysis revealed that the security professionals’ social positions and trajectories are key in understading the elaboration of categories of suspicion in the three countries. The second question addressed is how do counter-radicalization practices operate concretely in relation to questions of diversity and citizenship? Everyday practices of state identification and their related technologies are crucial for establishing and maintaining social identities. The research showed that by routinely operating along ethnic and religious lines, counter-radicalization techniques and technologies reinforced them. This was in particular revealed through the ethnographic analysis (through observation and interviews) of counter-radicalization practices (surveillance, ethnic profiling, risk profiling, biometric identification, and techniques of community policing). The final question concerned the impact of these policies on the targeted populations? Counter-radicalization policies in European states have engaged in contested community engineering in order to create acceptable forms of “moderate”, “European” Islam . Furthermore, these policies have aimed at severing transnational ties, and favouring integration in the host countries. The third main finding is that communities have neither begun “assimilating” nor they have cut their ties with homelands; indeed, the opposite is true. Counter-radicalization efforts have had two effects: first, they have reinforced the feeling of community alienation have and therefore been counter-productive in obtaining the objective of futher integration. Second, they have coopted a number of (a) Muslim community representatives and (b) welfare professionals in the counter-terrorism effort, significantly impacting relations of trust between civil society, state institutions and the Muslim population at large.

These findings carry significant importance for a broad range of policy makers, from local authorities, social and youth workers, to national and European actors of counter-radicalisation policies. More about the project can be found here: