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Islamophobia and Securitization

Islamophobia and Securitization : Religion, Ethnicity and the Female Voice

  • Book Title:
 Islamophobia And Securitization
  • Book Author:
Tania Saeed
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Introduction: Gender, Islamophobia and the Security Discourse                    

          In February 2016, Tareena Shakil became the first British Muslim female to be found guilty in a British court of law for joining the terrorist organization Daish, also known as the Islamic State of Iraq or the Levant (Isil or Isis).

In his ruling, the judge presiding over Shakil’s case observed, ‘[y]our role as a woman in Isis was different to that of a man but you embraced it and were willing to support those in Raqqa, and potentially those outside, to come and play their role in providing fighters of the future and were willing, shamelessly, to allow your son to be photographed in terms that could only be taken as a fighter of the future’ (Morris  2016 ).

Shakil’s case, like the fifty or more British Muslim women dubbed the ‘jihadi brides’ who have fled to join Isis, has shocked the British public, with experts and policy makers struggling to understand how and why British Muslim women are joining terrorist organizations (Sanghani  2015 ).

As noted by the judge in Shakil’s case, these women are providing a supportive role as wives of existing Isis members, or mothers to future terrorists. British Muslim men like ‘Jihadi John’, on the other hand, are a direct physical threat who are violent, as evident in Isis’ video of Jihadi John beheading fellow British citizens, and later threatening to unleash terror on his return to Britain (Sawer  2015 ; BBC News  2016 ).

While the reasons why Muslim men and women join such terrorist causes continue to be investi-gated (Hoyle et al.  2015 ; Saltman and Smith  2015 ), where radicalization is no doubt a problem that needs to be carefully tackled, the response of media and political actors in Britain and across Europe has resulted in a sensationalized narrative that implicates all Muslims as potential terrorists, hidden in plain sight.

The security agenda has crept into the mundane and the ordinary with families, school teachers, universities and other social institutions all carrying the burden of preventing the radicalization of young Muslims (see HM Government  2015a ).

While the Isis phenomenon is more recent, the Muslim community has been submerged in a discourse of (in)security and terrorism since 9/11 and 7 July 2005.

 Th e radicalized Muslim female first emerged in 2007, when Samina Malik was tried and found guilty under the Terrorism Act 2000 for possessing material ‘useful’ for terrorists (Bowcott  2007 ). Media and political actors responded with a sense of heightened insecurity and paranoia about the Muslim community, with the Muslim woman located within an oxy-moronic spectrum of the vulnerable-fanatic, one susceptible to radicalization and therefore in need of being rescued.

The Muslim male, however, continued to be perceived as dangerous, posing a more direct physical threat, with examples of terrorists such as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab (BBC News  2011b ), who attempted to blow up a plane bound for the USA. Th is paranoia led to counter terrorism policies that, since 2005, have increasingly brought social institutions within the ambit of security, often at the expense of human rights and freedoms—which, ironically, are what these policies aim to protect as ‘British values’.

The entire Muslim community of 2.7 million Muslims have been ‘securitized’ (Croft  2012 ; Offi ce for National Statistics  2012 ) and made to take responsibility for the actions of self-defi ned ‘Islamist terrorists’, who are as much a threat to the Muslim community as they are to the British public at large. Th is securitization has further increased suspicion and discrimination of the Muslim community in the form of Islamophobia, resulting in physical and verbal assaults, direct and indirect, where Muslim men and women have constantly to prove their innocence, against a wider socio-political discourse that labels them as would-be terrorists.

Th is book enters this conversation by exploring the ‘everyday,’ mun-dane realities of British Muslim women that are submerged within this wider discourse of insecurity and paranoia. Forty British Muslim and non-British Muslim women living across England share biographical nar-ratives highlighting their experiences of securitization and Islamophobia.

These women express diff erent ‘degrees of religiosity’ from those who wear the niqab, hijab or jilbab, 1  to practising Muslims without any religious signifiers, highlighting how the level of acceptability of a Muslim in modern day Britain is determined by a non-Muslim host community, where Muslim acceptability fl uctuates within an extremist/moderate spectrum.

 Th ese Muslim women are educated, either studying in universities or, on graduation, entering the labour market. Media and political stereo-types of the Muslim terrorist also evoke the ‘educated’ ‘alienated’ Muslim citizen, vulnerable to radicalization within educational institutions. Th is evident particularly in the Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015, which has made it legally incumbent on universities and other educational institutions to report on any student in danger of ‘being drawn into terrorism’ (HM Government  2015a , sect. 26(1)).

 Police officials and anti- terrorism experts have also been working with universities in attempts to provide student ‘welfare’ by countering radicalization on campuses (Association of Chief Police Offi  cers  2012 ).

Between the tragedy of 7 July 2005 and the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015, a period of ten years, the Muslim student identity has been subject to ‘surveillance’ and a discourse of constant (in)security (Home Aff airs Committee  2012 ; Saeed and Johnson  2016 ). As educational spaces—not just in Britain, but also Europe and the USA—become implicated in the security discourse of the state, the experiential narratives in this study provide insights into the realities of Muslim female students, who become vulnerable targets of hate, ignorance and surveillance as a consequence of such counter terror-ism measures.

Islamic student societies (ISocs) and the ISoc sisters, placed within the vulnerable and ‘at risk’ category are further implicated in the security discourse, having to defend their innocence against accusations of radicalization and extremism (Home Aff airs Committee  2012 ; HM Government  2011c ).

 While the exploration of Islamophobia and securitization highlights the racialized religion and gendered identity(s) of the ‘educated’ Muslim, the book further unpacks the category ‘Muslim’ to examine how other categories of identity, such as ‘ethnicity’, play a role in experiences of hyper-securitization and Islamophobia. For the sample presented in this book, the ethnic identity is Pakistani; both British Muslim women with a Pakistani heritage and Pakistani Muslim female nationals living in England are part of the sample.

 Their experiences highlight how the dominant ‘security’ discourse related to terrorism, Islam and Pakistan creates paranoia about the Muslim and the equally dangerous Pakistani. Islamophobia often takes the form of a ‘Pakophobia’, where both identities become problematic in the socio-political imagination. Th e religio-ethnic conflation is important in high-lighting diversity in experiences amongst the Muslim community, which is often overlooked when Muslims are treated as a homogenous group, or a single category.

These differences are not only important in developing an in-depth theoretical understanding of Islamophobia informed by lived experiences, but has further policy implications for Muslim communities who, at particular points in the socio-political narrative, may be at greater risk of discrimination because of the hyper-securitization of not only their religious identities, but also their ethnic identities. A case in point is the Syrian connection in a post- Isis socio-political context, where either Muslims from Syria, or those travelling to Syria and the region, are more likely to be viewed as suspect.

 Th e narratives further reveal how young Muslims are not simply pas-sive victims of discrimination and securitization, but are also playing their part in resisting the dominant stereotype about their identities as potential terrorists, by the simple act of resistance through dialogue .

They are attempting to ‘normalize’ their presence in universities and across communities to counter the hatred and insecurity that results from sen-sationalist accounts of their identity in media or political rhetoric. By presenting biographical narratives of (in)security and Islamophobia, the book focuses on individuals who get lost in sensationalized reports about Islam and terrorism.

The representation of Muslims, their ‘otherization’ ‘racialization’ and ‘securitization’ ( Said  1994 ; Meer and Modood  2010 ; Croft  2012 ) primarily focuses on the male; women are reduced to a phys-ical embodiment of the quintessential ‘victim’. Muslim women are more likely to be talked about rather than included in a conversation about their lives as Muslim women in Britain.

    The Context: Islamophobia, Orientalism and the Security Discourse

I n understanding the experiences of Muslim women in this book, one needs, fi rst, to examine the nature of Islamophobia that Muslims confront in their day-to-day lives. In attempting to defi ne such a controversial con-temporary phenomenon, it is crucial to investigate the historical context that contributed to its inception, and the existing realities that continue to mould and defi ne its meaning (see Abbas  2004 ; Fekete  2009 ; Malik  2009 ; Allen  2010a ).

As Kumar ( 2012 : 9) observes, ‘the history of “Islam and the West,” as it is commonly termed, is a story not of religious con-fl ict but rather of confl ict born of political rivalries and competing imperial agendas’. Drawing on Britain’s Imperialist history, Islamophobia is situated within an ideological Orientalist struggle, where ‘[a]t the heart of Islamophobia is […] the maintenance of the “violent hierarchy” between the idea of the West (and all that it can be articulated to represent) and Islam (and all that it can be articulated to represent)’ (Sayyid  2010 : 15).

This ideological struggle has resulted in what Fekete ( 2009 ) describes as ‘European Orientalism’, where ‘the Orient’ is ‘not […] a separate geo-graphical region but […] a problem located […] within the boundaries of Europe (the Occident) itself’ (2009: 193).

 Such agendas as outlined during the Crusades and Europe’s Imperialist ventures are important historical points of intersection between the West and Islam, encounters that led to exaggerated stereotypes and caricatures of a violent Islam (see Esposito  1999 ; Gottschalk and Greenberg  2008 ; Fekete  2009 ; Allen  2010a ; Sayyid  2010 ; Zebiri  2011 ; Kumar  2012 ; Lyons  2012 ; Sardar and Ahmad  2012 : 2–3). Th ese stereotypes gained further meaning in the context of the war against Al Qa’ida and its  affiliates,…

Muslims, South Asians and the Pakistani Community in Britain: Intersecting  Security, Identity and Belonging                    

          A community’s identity is located within the particularities of a socio- historical context, but is by no means confined by it. Tariq Ramadan’s exploration of the Muslim identity in the West highlights how ‘new kinds of citizens’ have emerged who ‘are increasingly “integrated” into society’, who are ‘visible through their color, their dress, and their differences, but they speak the country’s language’ (Ramadan  2010 : 25).

Their identity has evolved from the immigrant to that of a citizen, with all its differences and similarities, where the notion of what it means to be a citizen of a particular country also evolves over time. Th e nature of that evolution is dependent on not just the immigrant community, but also the host society’s interaction with what they defi ne as an ‘outsider’ in their midst.

The extent to which the ‘outsider’ is given a space to belong, without being consumed by the dominant status quo (read: assimilated), is a testament to that society’s evolutionary capability.

I n Britain, policies of different British governments towards immigrants have varied from ‘assimilation […] to integration in the 1970s, which in turn was replaced by multicultural pluralism in the 1980s, lead-ing to the celebration of diff erence and diversity under New Labour in

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