CAGE Researcher Azfar Shafi published a long-read essay titled The 9/11 complex: The political economy of counter-terrorism, for the Transnational Institute’s report State of Power 2021: Coercive World.

Below is an abstract for the essay, which can be accessed in whole here.
The other essays in State of the Power 2021 edition can be found here.

‘Counter-terrorism’ is a set of policies, an ideology, a political project and, increasingly, an industry. Today, the ambit of counter-terrorism extends beyond the criminal sphere. Passengers at ports can be subjected to suspicionless ‘Schedule 7’ examinations – superpowered stop and search examinations – often arbitrarily, sometimes spurred by surveillance from the UK’s sprawling intelligence-gathering architecture. Such an encounter can set in motion an escalating set of counter-terrorism interventions, leading up to recurrent police harassment, passport seizures and more.

Looking at the case of Hilal Al-Jedda, an Iraqi refugee who was stripped of his British citizenship twice, The 9/11 complex roots the growth of ‘counter-terror’ and ‘national security’ policies in Britain in the post-Cold War 1990s, arguing that this served the need to maintain Britain’s position in a hierarchy of nations amidst an evolving global context. 

In the period of the ‘War on Terror’, it shows how these policies took on a specifically political character, working to contain dissent from its population by marshalling a complex of policing, surveillance and ideological apparatus that allow for a set of politics to be recast as ‘extreme’ or ‘terrorist’, for sections of the population to be rendered ‘threats’ – and for both to be subjected to an expanding array of disciplinary, coercive and punitive powers.

The piece looks at the political economy of securitisation, mapping the mutually reinforcing relationships between policy, politics, profiteers, and practitioners as well as the role of the private sector and thinktanks in advancing security policies. It shows how groups like the Henry Jackson Society, through a mix of private lobbying and public advocacy, attempt to move their own agendas and secure their own interests through the burgeoning counter-terrorism industry – and in turn generate a self-reinforcing drive towards further securitisation, surveillance and profit.

It also looks at the role of British civil society in security policies, and argues that rather than the rosy picture often presented of civil society organisations, many have served as conduits of security policies rather than critics.

Finally, The 9/11 complex traces ways of reshaping resistance to ‘counter-terror’ policies that go beyond the legalism and myopia that has too often characterised such struggles, argues for a turn towards the broad political programmes contained within struggles for prison and police abolition.

Tackling the counter-terror complex necessarily means taking on consolidated power blocs, well-monied interest groups, and a state able and willing to exercise all manner of coercive instruments in its defence – not least, counter-terror policy itself.

Reframing the struggle against ‘counter-terrorism’ as part and parcel of the wider struggle against state violence requires a reconsideration of strategies, allowing us to go beyond simple reactive opposition to the ongoing barrage of laws and policies.


Read the full piece The 9/11 complex: The political economy of counter-terrorism. 

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