Sheffield Hallam University
The re-launch of the Race, Ethnicity and Postcolonial Network (REaPN) kicked off at De Montfort University on the 28 June, exploring the topic of Radicalisation in Culture and Media with unavoidable forays into the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act and the Prevent Agenda. Opening the day, the keynote speaker, Bob Brecher, from the University of Brighton, advanced the idea that ‘terror’ has taken on a new meaning in our austerity-led neoliberal era: we are all terrorised on a daily basis; examples flowed in the way the UK government policies ‘induce terror’, from continuing privatisation of fundamental public services (the NHS, education, the BBC, etc.) to the introduction of the Counter-terrorism and Security Act 2015 and the Prevent agenda. This notion of state and non-state terror as a political strategy was further reinforced by the contribution of Stuart Price, who also argued that the collusion between state and non-state actors is key to the definition of terrorism, extremism and radicalisation. The constant coupling of these terms along with the ‘ubiquitous character of surveillance’, create a climate of fear tainting all public and media discourse.
A specific empirical example of this climate was reflected upon by Ben Harbisher, also at De Montfort, who proposed that in 2004 a paradigm shift took place in the reclassification of ‘terrorist and public dissenter’: the first receiving the designation of ‘violent extremist’ and the second of ‘domestic extremist’, also termed as multi-issue extremism (MIE) from the original definition by Kevin Walby. This has in turn constituted the basis for the creation of ‘fusion intelligence centres [which] target political groups as well as their main areas of interest, by changing the definition of terrorism’. Fusion centres have been created throughout the western world, and these organisations, again functioning in a private/public mode are redefining the ‘democratic state’ and the concept of rights and civil liberties. The conclusion reached is not so dissimilar to the other two speakers; who is the real extremist here?
Universities have been a particular target of the Prevent agenda and the ensuing surveillance of international staff and students has prompted a group of campaigners to create the #UnisResistBorderControls network. Sanaz Raji spoke forcefully about the inherent racism and xenophobia at the heart of the monitoring process introduced by university management; examples from The Times Higher and Deadline News (18 and 11 April respectively) about everyday monitoring measures adopted by the University of Edinburgh and Glasgow illustrated the way in which this is extended to monitor general staff and student productivity in an unfolding ‘nexus [between] surveillance culture, race, citizenship and class and neoliberalism’. More everyday terror…
The implications of the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act were also explored by Ahmet Çeçen in his attempt to map out a trajectory from what he termed sub-discourse (usually from far right parties) about Islam and the presumed East-West conflict, to mainstream media discourses such as to be found in The Guardian and The Times.
Gurvinder Aujla-Sidhu concentrated her efforts not only on the organisation of the day conference but also provided a detailed contribution about the ways in which the BBC constructs a ‘racialised news agenda’. Particularly concerned with Muslim audiences and their perception of ‘unbalanced coverage’, she interviewed reporters from the BBC Asian Network to find out first-hand what it means to report ‘sensitively’ about issues of radicalisation and their often failed attempt to get airtime for ‘positive news stories about Muslim communities’. In addition the predominant ‘taste’ is for stories that fit into ‘the general preoccupation’ with Muslims, at the expense of ignoring other Asian communities.
Inevitably, as the launch took place in the immediate post-Brexit climate, the implications of the outcome of the referendum on immigrants and BAME communities could not possibly pass unobserved and many speakers and contributors from the floor suggested we may look at this for our second event…will keep you posted.