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Terrorism, parliament and the ritual of proscription

Banning them, securing us offers a rich and expansive exploration of the politics of proscribing – or banning – terrorist organisations in Britain. The book calls attention to the remarkable, and overlooked, role of proscription debates and decisions in contemporary UK politics. Using primary empirical research, the book shows how parliamentary processes of proscribing ‘illegitimate’ organisations is as much a ritual performance as it is a technique for countering political violence. This ritual, we argue, is a performance of sovereignty and powerful framing of Britain as a liberal, democratic, moderate space. Yet, it represents a paradox too. For proscription’s processes have limited democratic or judicial oversight, and its outcomes pose significant threats to democratic norms, human rights, political dissent and citizenship more broadly.

The book breaks important new ground on the politics of terrorism, counter-terrorism, security and democracy. It will be widely read by researchers and students across Security Studies, International Relations, Political Science, History, Sociology and beyond.

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Securing us?

This chapter reflects on the UK’s use of proscription, and the implications of this for our knowledge of national security today. The historical and relational contexts explored in the book demonstrate – we argue – the ongoing relevance of proscription, and particularly the international influence of the UK’s proscription traditions, in shaping state administration. The multiple functions assigned to this power, moreover, also exposes proscription as a versatile tool of political convenience for regulating ideas and, in particular, political symbols. Here we suggest that central to proscription is the British state’s preoccupation with symbolic power, whether displayed through the flying of flags, the wearing of uniforms, the performance of rituals or the recitations of oaths. On this analysis, proscription is concerned with denying symbolism to illegitimate entities even though, or perhaps because, citizenship itself is a symbolically constituted status. This sensitivity to rituals, we argue, has wider implications for security scholars insofar as it potentially renders visible other security moves by state institutions, and for our understanding of the political more broadly.

in Banning them, securing us?
Sources of parliamentary support and opposition

Chapter 4 begins the book’s analysis of British parliamentary debates by outlining the diverse ways in which the power of proscription is positioned politically and normatively therein. The chapter demonstrates that proscription is consistently depicted as a power of significance that merits a certain seriousness. For proscription’s advocates, this significance comes from its contribution to national security via the prevention, deterrence and disruption of terrorist ambitions, as well as its symbolic value in communicating British or parliamentary resolve to would-be terrorists. Parliamentary critics of proscription, on the other hand, see the power as important, we argue, because of its deleterious implications for social and political life within Britain. These include issues around its effectiveness; its potentially counter-productive implications; the civil liberty consequences of listing organisations; and the impact of proscription upon democratic processes more broadly. In reflecting on these arguments, the chapter highlights some of the rhetorical strategies upon which politicians draw within these debates, as well as a tendency – not uncommon – for distraction and diversion therein.

in Banning them, securing us?
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Banning them

This introductory chapter outlines the scope and rationale of the book, establishing its core arguments, conceptual framework, structure, research questions and contributions. It introduces our understanding of proscription as a form of political ritual that is as much focused on the performance of liberal democracy, as the provision of national security. The introduction situates this approach within our discursive theoretical framework, and sets out the structure of the chapters that follow.

in Banning them, securing us?
Constructions of self and other in parliamentary debate

Chapter 6 argues that British political debate on the proscription or banning of terrorist contribute to a process of identity formation. The process is one in which the UK self – or components thereof such as Parliament and parliamentarians – is distinguished from various terrorist others. Proscription debates – and the banning of terrorist groups – are, therefore, performative in that they confer illegitimacy on their target(s): producing particular organisations and their members as ‘unacceptable in this country’. In doing this, moreover, they (re-)produce the United Kingdom as a particular type of political entity with specific – and, very explicitly, liberal, democratic – attributes and characteristics. This sets up a relatively straightforward antagonistic relationship between, on the one hand, a liberal, open and responsible UK self which is mindful of cultural and religious difference, and both cautious and moderate in its actions. And, on the other, a series of illiberal, irrational and extremist terrorist others who remain steadfast in their determination to wage immoral violences against states such as the UK and their publics. Importantly, although there are – again – examples of genuine dissent in these debates, critics of proscription or its application tend to reproduce rather than contest this binary relationship, by appealing for the UK to be truer to its own self-identity.

in Banning them, securing us?
Historical, geographical and political dynamics

This chapter situates the British use of proscription in its international context. Our core argument is that the increasingly expansive global deployment of proscription or blacklisting powers in the contemporary period is a product both of desperate legislative responses to al Qaeda’s precipitous emergence in the late 1990s and 2000s, and – at the same time – a continuity of long-standing precedents of political control. The chapter begins by exploring the use of proscription by colonial authorities in the early twentieth century, especially in attempts to contain emancipatory movements, and the increased hardening of political processes to communism in the post-war period which involved exclusions of local communist movements across states in the global North. In its second part, the chapter sets out the prevailing proscription frameworks employed by the UN and EU along with those of a selection of important states. This, we suggest, underscores the influence of the United Kingdom’s proscription laws on other countries. In the final part of the chapter, we consider how scholars have responded to the contemporary wave of blacklisting laws. Here we engage with a range of scholarships including in law, political science and sociology to unpack prominent criticisms of proscription’s efficacy and ethics.

in Banning them, securing us?
A tough but necessary measure?

This chapter traces the historical roots of various powers which have facilitated the designation and/or exclusion of specific enemies of the state or society. This is a partly genealogical exercise in which we return to the murky origins of outlawry on the British Isles, and reflect on proscription's gradual displacement of such powers as the principal means of political exclusion. The chapter begins by exploring the importance of outlawry to early medieval society as an instrument of social control, criminal justice and monarchical power, before showing how proscription is woven throughout Parliament’s history as a means of consolidating authority: first, in the proscription of Royalists and Jacobites and then later in the prohibitions of political reformist groups in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The chapter then turns to twentieth-century expressions of proscription: first, as a means of control employed by colonial authorities; second, in response to the spectre of fascism in the 1930s and 1940s; and, third, as a precursor and reaction to the maelstrom of violence throughout the Northern Ireland conflict. The chapter ends by reflecting on the contemporary deployment of proscription under the regime introduced through the Terrorism Act 2000. Here we explore today’s proscription powers, the process of their enactment, and the manner in which proscription has unfolded since 2000. We conclude by sketching the core principles of political exclusion as these have evolved through the British state’s encounters with diverse political foes over the centuries.

in Banning them, securing us?
Holding government to account?

Chapter 5 focuses on the types of question that are asked by politicians within parliamentary debate on the proscribing or banning of terrorist organisations. It argues that these questions help to demonstrate the legislature’s discursive role in shaping proscription’s meaning; a role that includes appealing for – and perhaps even demanding – justification, explanation, elaboration and clarification from the executive on this power’s application. The questions asked by parliamentarians therefore matter, we argue, for at least three reasons. First, they provide a significant component of the content of these debates – occupying a lot of the time taken by this ritual – and taking them seriously therefore provides a fuller understanding thereof. Second, they illustrate the importance of contestation, dispute and debate that we see as central to the proscription ritual and its performance of liberal democratic accountability. Third, these questions also have wider conceptual significance for helping us to think through the temporalities and fixedness of specific roles within security dramas, as well as the heterogeneity of participants therein.

in Banning them, securing us?
Reproducing liberal democracy

Chapter 7 explores some of the most significant characteristics of parliamentary debates on the proscription or banning of terrorist organisations. These characteristics include, we argue: a remarkably standardised and repetitive framing of proscription; the existence of a core script which is often repeated, with minor alterations, across parliamentary debates; a set of established and identifiable roles that are taken up by participants within these debates (participants who, of course, come and go with the passage of time); repeated arguments around the importance of respecting these debates and their outcomes; and – perhaps most significant of all – a predictable, seemingly near-inevitable, outcome which is known in advance to those parliamentarians present at these debates. These characteristics indicate that proscription debates should be approached not – or, at least, not only or not primarily – as a decision-making exercise in which the outcome is genuinely to be decided. Rather, as a form of contemporary political ritual that reinforces the identities of its subjects by performing that which it claims to represent: liberal democracy. Vital within this, we suggest, is the appearance of dissent amidst broader cross-party consensus on proscription's necessity and legitimacy.

in Banning them, securing us?
discourse, argumentation and ritual

Chapter 3 outlines the theoretical and methodological framework for this book. It begins by making the case for moving from causal to constitutive questions in analysing the power of proscription, arguing that refocusing our attention thus entails greater reflection on proscription’s processes than outcomes. Upon this we situate our research within constructivist approaches to the political, before elaborating on our understanding of three key concepts that structure our empirical investigation: discourse, identity and political ritual.

in Banning them, securing us?