Security agenda must be backed by inclusion measures
Following the Paris terror attacks in January, EU and national decision-makers have rushed to propose a number of measures to improve counter-terrorism in Europe.
EU leaders are meeting this Thursday (12 February) for a special ‘counter-terrorism’ summit. It is important, though, that European leaders refrain from adopting hasty and intrusive policies which could have a discriminatory impact and potentially counter-productive results, in particular further alienating young people who belong to ethnic and religious minorities.
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The recent tragic events and their consequences have demonstrated that now more than ever, states must live up to their equality, social inclusion and democratic obligations.
Security threats must be addressed in a way that is respectful of human rights, including the right to non-discrimination.
Preventive surveillance and other restrictions are likely to have a disproportionate impact on ethnic and religious minorities that fit certain general profiles. European Muslims, for instance, are subjected to greater scrutiny, which in turn increases their stigmatisation by the general public.
In this respect, it is crucial that counter-terrorism measures do not give rise to discriminatory profiling and data abuses.
Passenger Name Records and other data mining and surveillance practices could lead to racial profiling and prohibited processing of data revealing race, ethnic origin or religion through the use of proxies.
Additional categories in hotels or planes, such as ‘dietary requirements’ for instance, could provide such proxies to religion. Names are also used as a proxy for race, ethnic origin or religion, while being often an inaccurate indication.
Other information such as residency status, home address, nationality, place of birth, phone calls to certain countries, time of bank operations or physical appearance (a beard, a veil, etc.) could be used to ethnically/racially profile individuals.
Evidence from ENAR Shadow reports on racism in Europe and the EU Fundamental Rights Agency shows the disproportionate effects of post 9/11 practices on Muslim communities. ID checks at mosques for instance have been reported even in countries with a low terrorism risk.
Racial profiling is also ineffective and counter-productive in that it alienates the very communities whose support is necessary for fighting crime and terrorism. Policing depends on cooperation from the public to report crime, provide suspect descriptions and give witness testimonies.
Research shows that poor police-citizen contacts and bad treatment by law enforcement officers has a negative impact on public confidence in law enforcement and results in reduced cooperation with the latter. Ethnic minority communities should be included in every step of the design and implementation of counter-terrorism and counter-radicalisation policies.
To ensure their effectiveness, they should be developed by engaging in real community outreach. Community engagement and minority-led initiatives should be supported as an alternative to coercive investigations. Efforts should also be made to restore ethnic and religious minorities’ trust in law enforcement authorities and promote community policing.
Authorities must resist the temptation to transform civil servants, nurses, youth workers, university staff into surveillance agents as is currently the case in the UK in the framework of the enhancement of the Prevent programme. That is the best recipe for disaster as amply demonstrated in Northern Ireland.
Counter-terrorism measures should also be backed up by long-term measures to ensure social inclusion and address inequalities.
The impact of the financial and economic crisis on ethnic and religious minorities is overlooked, although it is a cornerstone of ISIS’ propaganda aimed at luring young Europeans into extreme violence. ‘Radicalisation’ is seen from a religious perspective only with little consideration for the economic and social factors, which would require much deeper reforms.
Social inequalities lead to exclusion and violence, and youth who do not feel they are part and parcel of the social fabric, without any perspective of a better future, are increasingly attracted towards ideologies and groups rejecting our societies and promoting radical violence, whether jihadist organisations or far-right movements.
Likewise, discrimination may reinforce radicalisation and violence patterns. Equality and non-discrimination standards must be complemented by specific policy strategies to address all forms of racism, including anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.
More long-term social investment in education, employment and housing policies is crucial. Security alone will not be enough to break the vicious circle of exclusion, mutual fear and suspicion – and terror.
Michael Privot is the director of the European Network Agaisnt Racism (ENAR)