Dr Tarek Younis argues that ‘colour-blind’ ideas of extending CVE programmes to the far-right mask the more fundamental issues at play – including the securitisation of mental health, and how the unfettered nationalism propagated from the highest levels of the state downwards itself produces the modern far-right.

This article is published as part of CAGE’s new series of expert essays ‘Perspectives on the War On Terror‘. You can sign up to our Perspective mailing list here so you never miss a new essay.


On the 20th anniversary of the War on Terror, there is glaring clarity and blurred lines. As for the clarity, a few items are inescapable for Muslims across the Global North: war is truly endless; the future is colonised with “catastrophe” and a colossal security industry has emerged to avert it; state violence and its various forms of Islamophobia are not only getting worse, they have become central to political success.

This clarity has revealed itself through policies indirectly (banning of ostentatious religious symbols) and directly (banning of niqab, pre-crime public duties). The rising normalisation of Islamophobia increasingly reflects the Global North’s relation to Islam and Muslims; a Eurocentrism which cannot be simply cordoned to the vocal racists on the peripheries of society.

The Muslim question presses and pierces the West’s own self-image of a liberal democracy. Islamophobia today operates on the back of liberal ideals (or what Cameron called, “muscular liberalism”) revealing how these are in service of those in power and, ultimately, at the discretion of the Nation-State itself—universal human rights be damned.

Former British Prime Minister Theresa May

Here, it is worth remembering Theresa May’s incredible quote, truly an emblem of the War on Terror’s spirit:
“If our human rights laws get in the way of doing [counter-terrorism], we will change the law so we can do it.”

The very construction of the Good Muslim/Bad Muslim divide—just as the Good Immigrant, etc—is built on liberal foundations which privilege a white, Eurocentric middle-class.

This liberal fabric sings the praises of model minorities who display utmost loyalty and productivity to the State, at the expense of those who don’t, won’t or can’t.

Islamophobia was never then only about the physical and verbal abuse.

It is rather a process of rendering the Muslim as a mirror which the West uses to reflect back its own goodness, one which “reaffirms a global racial structure through which resource distribution disparities are maintained and extended.”

As Yasir Morsi writes in I Refuse to Condemn, the Muslim “is a projection of the West’s intimate knowledge of its own worst colonial violence. It is a name synonymous with Europe’s sense of what is destructive in itself.”

While the dynamics of the “The Muslim Question” are clear now, there is blurring nonetheless, and perhaps today’s blurring is a more pervasive than before. This blurring can be found in the domestic expansion of the War on Terror’s racist project into all wakes of life.

“The rising normalisation of Islamophobia increasingly reflects the Global North’s relation to Islam and Muslims; a Eurocentrism which cannot be simply cordoned to the vocal racists on the peripheries of society.”

The focus of this this reflection piece will be two particular blurred lines at the sight of this expansion: the security industry’s ever-expanding reach into the Far Right and anti-racism, and the awkward muddying of pre-crime, from ideologies into the psyches of individuals.

Blurring unto the Far-Right

The rise of illiberal expressions of nationalism evade just how dominant nationalism has been normalised. The growing interest in white supremacy—an issue central to the construction of Nation-States—has reconfigured ‘extremism’ as a colour-blind cancer facing society alongside Islamists.

To this, the readily emboldened security industry, constructed on the fear of Muslims, claims it’s ready for the job.

Muslims may find the War on Terror’s pivoting towards the Far-Right alluring, given it promises to tackle ethnonationalist violence which, obviously, targets Muslims across the Global North.

“An expansion of CVE does not focus less on Muslims, but shrouds a racist strategy.

It is this colour-blind equating, this all-pervasive attempt to establish a unifying theory and strategy for “extremism” writ large, which is the greatest hurdle we face now.

But this is far from the reality. An expansion of CVE does not focus less on Muslims, but shrouds a racist strategy by allegedly equating the threat of the Far-Right to be on par with Muslims considered to be seditious in their ideas and beliefs.

It is this colour-blind equating, this all-pervasive attempt to establish a unifying theory and strategy for “extremism” writ large, which is the greatest hurdle we face now.

Colour-blindness is a convenient strategy for liberal democracies to evade how Muslims are racialised as a threat in the public imaginary. There is no accountability or reckoning then for counter-terrorism’s continued racist operations, nor how racism pervades society, simply because they allege to go after all extremists—regardless of their ‘colour’.

For Muslims to celebrate this, then, is to fundamentally misunderstand where Islamophobia comes from, and how they normalise speaking about it in mainstream structures.

A revealing example of this is the following: when the APPG definition of Islamophobia suggested it was a form of racism, police chiefs rejected this, stating this would impede their counter-terrorism efforts.

Unless we fully appreciate what this admission reveals, we cannot move forward. It is the normalisation of the ideologies (nationalism) and social conflicts (War on Terror) which racialise Muslims, which in other words, see the thoughts and behaviours for Muslims as in need of surveillance and management.

This is precisely why being “against the Far Right” is not being anti-racist.

Those who are anti-Far Right, without referencing decades of literature detailing how racism permeates all facets of social structures, play an essential role in maintaining a status quo whereby Muslims remain the dominant Other, while white people who drive home the logic of nationalism to its fullest extent are criminalised.

This approach lacks self-awareness and follows a mainstream centrism positioning which is well-documented to move towards the Right.

As we know, the Left is not immune to nationalism either, with the “immigration question” now seen as a bi-partisan issue across the Global North.

And make no mistake: the interest in the Far Right can, and very much does, reflect an auto-immune response to the nationalist politics which are entirely mainstream.

By focusing on particular groups on the “margins”, what we see is an evasion of the problem—nationalism—focusing rudimentarily on its worst appearances.

The threat of nationalism—a threat many have rung alarm bells on for decades—is only viewed from the prism of its worst offenders, that is the illiberal Far Right. This is not anti-racism.

Case in point is the recently-appointed Prevent independent reviewer, William Shawcross, who ascribes to the Far-Right idea which correlates the growth of European Muslim populations with the possibility of threat:
“European countries have vastly, very quickly growing Islamic populations and frighteningly large numbers of the young men in these, both in Britain and in Germany and in France, are turning to radical Islamism.”

It does not take much deliberation to recognise the racist dog-whistling of nationalists, regurgitating sensationalist headlines out of sheer ignorance or political gain—often both. Either way, in a twist exemplary of contemporary Islamophobia, this dog-whistling will still have you appointed to review a strategy widely cited as Islamophobic.

Blurring unto Psychology

If you follow Counter-Terrorism Policing UK on Twitter, you’ll note an invigorated attempt to educate and inspire the public to refer individuals they suspect are showing psychological vulnerabilities to radicalisation—which in effect means general distress.

This is but a glimpse of how ‘psychology talk’ is now the de facto language of public counter-terrorism strategies. Though it serves as a means of deflecting how this legitimises racial prejudice, it is important to highlight its wider expansion of the War on Terror’s reach.

As public unrest increases across the Global North, the War on Terror as a governing logic projects itself towards anyone of the ‘protest class’ (as Sageman would call it) and the psycho-social profiles of those who may join them.

While projects focusing on mental health and resilience are increasingly funded for this purpose, the securitisation of mental health is far wider than most can imagine.

In the UK, mental health has officially taken primacy in the War on Terror through a number of avenues: viewing radicalisation as a safeguarding issue for vulnerable individuals; the establishing of  mental health hubs which embed counterterrorism and the NHS; the addition of ‘mental health’ as a factor in extremism risk assessment frameworks, despite the lack of evidence of what this means in practice; and finally, the institutionalisation of evidence-less counter-extremism measures as a mandatory part of risk assessment for all patients in some mental health trusts across the nation.

In the US, the recently published Targeted Violence and Terrorism Prevention Grant Program shows investments close to a million dollars for projects “that will target the reduction of mental health problems and increase the social belongingness among adolescents.”

This is all especially relevant to how Prevent statistics are collected in the UK.

A cursory analysis of a recent Prevent statistic shows a significant deflection and obfuscation of racism.

One of the ways the racism of referrals is being dismissed, is through the creation of all-new but entirely ridiculous category of pre-terrorism: the mixed/uncertain/unstable (MUU) category. This MUU constitutes an astounding 38% of all referrals to Prevent.

But what is a radicalisation referral without clear, ideological indicators of “extremism”?

Drawing all of the evidence together, this category clearly encompasses those individuals whose “mental health” is deemed vulnerable. Given how widely documented racialised minorities receive psy-diagnoses associated with violence, notwithstanding a long trajectory of Orientalist thought which sees Muslims as inherently violent, this addition of MUU potentially constitutes a modern-day scandal of racism we have yet to fully understand.

The general discourse around mental health has yet to truly have its reckoning in the War on Terror.

So far it is largely positioned as an assured ‘good’ to understand and help everyone—terrorists and victims, pre- and post-criminals.

In other words, there is a distinct lack of politicising the discourse of mental health itself, one which is seen as a solution to all of society’s problems.

This is not to criticise efforts of psy professionals, but to recognise that, on the 20th anniversary of the War on Terror, we must do better to understand how and why the psy disciplines are positioned as natural solutions to highly unstable political climates.

“The general discourse around mental health has yet to truly have its reckoning in the War on Terror.”

A decolonial approach to Muslim mental health is necessary. Decolonial here is not one of diversity, as if adding Muslims and Islam to contemporary structures is sufficiently decolonial.

Rather, to question the War on Terror is to question the structures of knowledge and practices—including the psy disciplines—which facilitate the continuous oppression of Muslims.

Dr Tarek Younis
Dr Tarek YounisLecturer in Psychology at Middlesex University
Dr Tarek Younis researches and writes on Islamophobia, racism in mental health, and the securitisation of clinical settings. He teaches on the impact of culture, religion, globalization and security policies on mental health.

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