Terrorism has existed in one form or another and has been an issue within society throughout history. One of the first attempts at a terrorist attack in Britain was Guy Fawkes' gunpowder plot of 1605, terrorism existed throughout Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia during the twentieth century and the definition of terrorism is derived from the French, 'reign of terror' in the late eighteenth century. In a more modern context however, terrorism is often viewed as a twenty-first-century phenomenon, this is far from the truth but it is evident to see that a new era of terrorism has emerged. In 1972 alone the worst year on record throughout, 'The Troubles' in Northern Ireland 476 people were killed as a result of terrorist attacks (Wesley Johnston Website). In contrast to this, according to official data from, 11 September 2001 to 31 March 2016, there were fifty-four deaths in Great Britain as a direct result of terrorist acts (House of Commons). This raises the question, Is terrorism really the current and growing major threat to society that we perceive it to be?
Since 2000, there have been seven deaths per year in the UK as a result of terrorism, this means you are more likely to be killed by dogs (responsible for eighteen deaths per year) according to a study conducted by, The Telegraph (2017). Of course, any intentional act of taking of life should be dealt with with the utmost severity but these statistics indicate that terrorism although a very real threat within our society is exasperated greatly by the government and particularly the media resulting in the creation of a moral panic (Cohen 2011). It is the purpose of this essay to examine the threat terrorism poses on the UK and to evaluate how successful we are at policing and tackling these threats. Terrorism has become a very real threat in today's society and the responsibility to stop it in its tracks lies with us all. The government, security services, and the general public all play a crucial role in the prevention of terrorism.
Terrorism is defined under section 1 of the Terrorism Act 2000 as, 'The use or threat of action ... designed to influence the government or to intimidate the public or a section of the public ... for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause.' This is the idea of using violence to pursue a particular agenda. With specific reference to Northern Ireland, we often fail to recognize that 'The Troubles' from 1969 to 1998 and the IRA terror campaign were one of the largest terror regimes in history. Placed Britain at number one on the 'Global Terrorism Index' from 1970 and for the thirty years that followed. The Northern Irish conflict was second only to Columbia as the longest-lasting terror campaign in the world between 1964 and 2016. Currently, the majority of terror attacks are conducted in the middle east accounting for over eighty percent of terrorist attacks globally since 2000.
Extremism is defined under the Counter-Terrorism and Security Act 2015 as, 'Vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.' Extremists can denunciate the values of a nation in either a violent or nonviolent manner and it is important to consider that they can exert this extremism from anywhere, for instance, an extremist opposed to British values but who is living in Iraq, is still an extremist thus making extremism incredibly difficult to police. Violent extremism seeks change using violence, intimidation, and fear to achieve a religious, political, or ideological agenda. Whilst non-violent extremism is not as pacifistic as its name suggests, defined by Desai (2011), 'Non-violent extremism encompasses those who condemn terrorist attacks in this country but are happy to justify suicide attacks against British troops in the Middle East.'
Radicalisation is defined by Prevent (2015) as, 'the process by which a person comes to support terrorism and forms of extremism leading to terrorism.' Radicalization is best viewed as, 'A process of change, a personal and political transformation from one condition to another.', Muro (2016) also notes 'Becoming radicalised is a gradual process' and highlights that this happens neither quickly nor easily and in many cases, a catalyst event triggers this process according to Horgan (2014). There is a range of perspectives offered to explain radicalization, a sociological explanation suggests that radicalization lies with the individual and is an attempt to reclaim a lost identity in a hostile environment (Kepel, 2004). A Social movement perspective offered by Tarrow and Tilly (2001) believes that radicalization occurs as a result of growing support for a constructed reality typically within groups of like-minded people. Psychological reasoning for becoming radicalized includes emotional vulnerability, dissatisfaction with current political activity, identifying with victims, and belief that using violence is not immoral (Horgan, 2008). Empiricists such as Nesser (2004), argue individual level motivations and socioeconomic gain are the incentives behind becoming radicalized.
One major issue facing the policing of terrorism is the idea that 'one man's terrorist is another's freedom fighter.' as addressed by Moxon-Browne (1981). This often causes tension between the police and not only the terrorists but those who may not be directly involved but understand the motives of these so-called terrorists. The IRA for instance were regarded as terrorists by the state but on a local level, many people supported their actions as they understood their reasoning for doing so. As a result, the majority of the nationalist community grew skeptical of the RUC and later the army, viewing them as enforcers of the state, and to this day the PSNI still face distrust from many members of the nationalist community despite countless attempts to rectify their image.
The Global Terrorism Index is a database used to record the terrorist incidents that occur around the world. A report is published annually offering a detailed account of every incident and providing statistics regarding casualties. The UK has a system used to assess the current threat level. It is currently severe. It is important to have this gauge on the likelihood of a terrorist attack however it is also damaging as it instills fear amongst the public. It has never fallen below substantial since its implementation in 2008. The threat towards Britain from IRA terrorist attacks currently resides on moderate which proves very promising however it also signals this shift in terrorism from the Irish republicans to Islamic extremists. 'Muslim communities today are subjected to a similar process of construction as 'suspect' as Irish communities in the previous era' contends Hickman et al (2011).
In today's society of heightened fears of terrorism, the government must introduce relevant legislation to tackle this. The Terrorism Act 2000 was the first piece of legislation ever drafted to tackle terrorism other than Northern Irish-related terrorism which prompted the issuing of The Terrorism Act 1974. This was under constant review and The Terrorism Act 2006 was released as an updated version due to numerous terrorist incidents globally during this period such as the Attack on the world trade center, in the USA, in 2001, the Madrid train bombings, in 2004, and London 7/7 attack in 2005.
Legislation that tackles terrorism is often critiqued as being intrusive on people's privacy. Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 is the legislation behind 'Prevent' which has been strongly criticized for this. Counter Terrorism and Security Act 2015 and the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 focus mainly on the use of modern methods of communication and the access to terrorist recruitment and sharing of material online.
Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, allowed police to stop and search anybody, the search was only to be, 'for the purpose of searching for articles of a kind which could be used in connection with terrorism', however there was no requirement for the police conducting the search to have grounds for reasonable suspicion that the person may be involved in terrorism. This was addressed and later replaced by Section 47a which laid out a much higher threshold for stop and search to be authorised regarding reasonable suspicion. One of the main criticisms of searches under section 44, where that certain people were constantly targeted because of their characteristics rather than any suspected involvement in terrorism.
The government has implemented various strategies to tackle terrorism. The key one is 'Consent ' which is the UKs counter-terrorism response strategy which aims to, 'reduce the risk to the UK and its interests overseas from terrorism, so people can go about their lives freely and with confidence' (Contest 2018). It focuses on four key areas, prevents, pursues, protects, and prepares. Prevent aims to stop people supporting terrorism or becoming terrorists, pursue focuses on stopping terrorist attacks before they happen, protect work on keeping the public safe by strengthening the protection against a terrorist attack, and lastly prepare deals with mitigating the impact of a terrorist attack should it occur.
Project Champion is part of the Prevent strategy which aims to, 'tackle the wider ideological challenges and causes of terrorism from extremist groups' (HM government 2011). This scheme was based in the Alum Rock area of Birmingham and entailed placing more CCTV in the area where there was a perceived threat of people engaging in terrorist activity. This resulted in the Muslim community feeling targeted and critiques have been raised surrounding the issue that victimization such as this can lead to radicalization thus having the opposite effect of this strategy's intentions. Another key scheme under the prevention strategy is, 'Channel' which is, a multi-agency approach to identify and provide support to individuals who are at risk of being drawn into terrorism.' This is a counter-radicalization approach that targets the most vulnerable.
As a result of these terrorism prevention schemes, there has been an emergence of a new suspect community within the UK. A stigma has been created against the Muslim community. Becker (1963) contends that making people feel as though they are 'suspects' can be a 'self-fulfilling prophecy' a prediction that directly or indirectly causes itself to become true. This was a key concern surrounding Project Champion. Khan, (2006) stipulated, 'We simply cannot ignore the fact that our country's foreign policy is being used... to tell British Muslims that their country hates them.'
The government has implemented a host of legislation and official schemes to tackle terrorism however they have also initiated a range of basic programs at a ground level to ensure that everyone can play their part in the prevention of terrorism. There is a key focus on early intervention and prevention such as the Prevent strategy being implemented in schools and universities as well as prisons. Nationwide campaigns are implemented to teach the public what to do in the event of an attack for instance, the 'Run, Hide, Tell' campaign and the creation of, the 'ACT - action against Terrorism' organization which runs workshops in schools and workplaces and highlights what to look out for with regards to spotting terrorist activity.
With terrorism regarded as such a major concern in our society, it is important that the government and the police respond accordingly. George Bush (2001) declared the 'War on Terror' in response to the 9/11 attack. This was the key event that signaled the change in how we deal with terrorism. A crucial point to consider here is the view of Chomsky (2001) who said, 'The killing of innocent civilians is terrorism, not a war against terrorism.'
'Nine terrorist attacks have been prevented in the UK in the past year,' according to MI5 director, Andrew Parker (2017). The police manage to prevent lots of terrorist attacks and infiltrate known or suspected terrorist gangs or persons on a regular basis however we do not hear of this very often, we only hear of the attacks that are 'successful', It is crucial to bare this in mind. 'society expects the police rapidly and effectively to detect and prevent acts of terrorism' Gregory (1981). As Wilkinson (1992) stated, 'Fighting terrorism is like being a goalkeeper. You can make a hundred brilliant saves but the only shot that people remember is the one that gets past you.'
In conclusion, it is evidently clear to see that the response of the police services and other security organizations across the United Kingdom has played a major role in dealing with the terrorist threat and has been effective to an extent in countering terrorism. Although they have been successful there is still a long road ahead as recent major terrorist events such as the Manchester Arena attack, Westminster and London Bridge attacks in 2017, remind us that terrorism is a real and current problem that needs to constantly be addressed and we must continue to seek new and alternative ways to police terrorism. It is vitally important to remember that it is not solely the responsibility of the police to prevent terrorism as each and every one of us has a crucial role to play in the prevention of terrorism.