Youth mobilisations of ‘suspect communities’

This ethnographic case study looks at how communities positioned as ‘suspect’ through the UK government’s ‘Prevent’ agenda respond to it. It aims to explore how the stigmatisation this can generate affects young people’s choices about social and political participation.

The threat of ‘home-grown terrorism’ since the 2005 July bombing in London and the wider ‘war on terror’ has led to counter-terrorism strategies being expanded in the UK with a focus on prevention. The most controversial counter-terrorism measure has been the Prevent strategy which initially had a strong community led approach. However, being rooted in counter-terrorism legislation, the programme failed to take root in communities and was criticized widely for disproportionately subjecting Muslim communities to surveillance and invoking narratives of ‘suspect communities’. A subsequent revision to the Prevent strategy made it a statutory duty for schools, universities, health, and social services bodies to implement the Prevent programme in 2015. Under this duty, public sector frontline practitioners including teachers are required to identify and refer people at risk of radicalisation and extremism to the government’s Channel programme, which delivers early intervention and support to vulnerable individuals.

Young Muslims are particularly affected by these policies. On the one hand youth civic engagement is encouraged and celebrated as a crucial part of a functioning democracy. On the other hand, young Muslims are perceived as a ‘vulnerable’ group at risk of radicalisation. While the former celebrates young people’s agency, the latter treats them as a security concern.

This case study aims to understand how young Muslims negotiate their place in society and if, and how, they are able to deploy their agency in such a climate of suspicion. We intend to interview 25-30 young Muslims age 14-29. The participants are recruited through schools, colleges, community centres, University student organisations and national and local youth organisations or organisations in which young people are involved. Participants will be recruited primarily, but not exclusively, in the Manchester area.