Terrorism is probably the most studied crime in the world today. Since 9/11 a thousand new books have been added to the terrorism literature each year.
Most are concerned with the same question that haunted Americans in the aftermath of 9/11: “Why do they hate us?”
In The Muslims are Coming Arun Kundnani notes that the new front in the war on terror is the home-grown enemy, domestic terrorists who have become the focus of sprawling counter-terrorism structures in the US and Europe.
Domestic surveillance has mushroomed — at least 100,000 Muslims in the US have been secretly under scrutiny. British police have compiled a secret suspect list of more than 8,000 Al Qaeda “sympathisers”, and almost 300 children aged 15 and younger have been investigated.
Kundnani compares the US and the UK policies, weaving together the continuities and parallels between each country’s experiences.
Common to both is the underlying belief in “the myth of radicalisation”. As Kundnani writes, the term was little used before 2001, but by 2004 it “had acquired its new meaning of a psychological or theological process by which Muslims move toward extremist views”. So much so that by 2010 over 100 articles on the topic were being published in peer-reviewed academic journals each year. Despite this wealth of research, the underlying ideological assumptions mean that the academics systematically fail to address the reality of the political conflicts they claim to understand.
Kundnani goes on to suggest that 2005 represented a watershed year in which the 7/7 bombings in London brought the UK into close alignment with the US. As a result, the substantive historical, socio-political and demographic differences fell away and the UK and the US were united, not only in their ideologically inspired military encroachments, but also in their counter-terrorism measures.
However, in focusing so much on the alignment of the US and UK he fails to look enough at the differences between the two. At times Kundnani does address US-specific contexts such as the more overt tactics of “create and capture”, which amount to entrapment. It would have been good to understand more about the country-specific impacts of such initiatives. In the British context, for example, the Prevent Agenda cannot be assessed in isolation from the Community Cohesion Agenda which preceded it, and broader debates on multiculturalism and Britishness in which it sits.
Overall the book is sharp, punchy, unapologetically hard-hitting and rich in evidence. Kundnani has successfully outlined how the baseless “radicalisation theory” and racialised assumptions about Islam is driving counterterrorism practices which have had devastating consequences on our rights and liberties.