Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths
Politics, media and war: 9/11 and its aftermaths

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1.4 Preview: Political impacts in the UK – matching civil liberties with security

Introduction by Paul Lewis

Paul Lewis

Hello and welcome to sections 9 and 10 of this course.

I’m Paul Lewis, Professor of European Politics at the Open University, and I’ve been responsible for this part of the course, which is concerned with the impacts of 9/11 on British society, and the civil rights issues it has raised. Although the primary events of 9/11 took place in the US, both the origins of the actions and the response to them were international or global in character. You’ll have examined these developments in the first five sections of the course. More recently, you’ve seen how these perceptions have filtered through the media. In sections 9 and 10, we will turn our attention to the consequences of 9/11 and the effects they have had on British society.

The primary development that followed 9/11 in Britain concerned the bomb attacks in London in July 2005 – as well as the discovery of a number of further terrorist plots. This turned attention from global issues to far more local concerns, most of which focused on the position and diverse attitudes of the British Muslim population. What motivated young Muslims, many of them born in Britain, to contemplate terrorist action and perpetrate such violence? What part did religion play in their mind-set? How far were they influenced by high-profile Muslim clerics with close ties to extremist international groups? How has the British Muslim population as a whole viewed these developments?

You’ll examine a range of sources to explore these questions, including the writings of Muslim scholars working in Britain; the views of polemical journalist Melanie Phillips; and the findings of Jason Burke, an investigative journalist and leading expert on al-Qaeda and Islamic terrorism. They trace the emergence of what is now seen as the ‘Muslim issue’ in British politics, starting with the Rushdie affair of 1989, through what Phillips calls the ‘Islamisation’ of parts of London and other major cities, to what she sees as the irresponsibility of the British authorities in tolerating the presence and activities of foreign extremists. You’ll also consider the problems of social exclusion and sense of disconnection from mainstream British society felt by many Muslims, and the rather slender evidence that exists about why a very, very small minority do become motivated to commit acts of terrorism.

In section 10, you’ll look at other ways in which the events of 9/11 and the spread of global terrorism have impacted on British politics. The British government, like those in other parts of the world, has responded to the rise of the terrorist threat by passing new laws to increase security, enhance police powers and protect citizens from new dangers. Such measures have, of course, been open to conflicting interpretations. Police protection for some people necessarily means restricting the activities and freedoms of others and enhanced security goes hand in hand with limitations on freedom. Some would go so far as to argue that the British state is effectively doing the terrorists’ work for them by undermining the ‘British way of life’ and eroding its core values.

Again, we use a range of sources to explore these issues. Key features of the British response to the terrorist threat are outlined by Sir Richard Mottram, the former permanent secretary to the Cabinet under Tony Blair for security, intelligence and resilience. Meanwhile, Open University professor Michael Saward identifies key features of post-9/11 British legislation. Finally, the prominent writer and journalist Henry Porter argues why Britain needs a new Bill of Rights, which is a subject also discussed by Richard Mottram and Henry Porter.

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