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Summary of key points in the article

The article focuses on counter-terrorism shift of ‘suspect community’ to the Muslims in the ‘war on terror’ (Pantazis & Pemberton, 2009). The author gives an overview of the meaning and scope of the ‘suspect community’ as was first written about by Hillyard (1993). However, where Hillyard (1993) had used the notion of suspect community to describe the experiences of the Irish community under the Prevention of Terrorism (Temporary Provisions) Act 1974; the present article extends the application of ‘suspect community’ to the British Muslims under the recent approaches of the government to the ‘war on terror’. Thus, the use of Contest strategy or the other measures by the government are seen as extending the suspect community notion to the Muslims in UK.

For the purpose of defining ‘suspect’, the article considers ‘suspicion’ as linked to an individual's perceived membership of a sub-group, such as Muslim community. Suspicion does not really relate to only suspected wrongdoing, but extends to a more generalised view on suspicion about a community. Thus, suspect community is not only created by the government. The public discourse, media and general community, also add to the notion of suspect community, with direct or indirect suggestions about the inter-relation between the Muslim community and terrorism.


Islamophobia has been a concern for the last few decades, with increasing migration into the UK and the responses to the migration (Trust, R., 1997). The ‘suspect community’ thesis that has been used by the article to explain the current governmental and agency attitude to the Muslim community (Pantazis & Pemberton, 2009) has also been subject to criticism. An article by Greer (2010) criticises the ‘suspect community’ thesis used in the article by Pantazis & Pemberton (2009) on the ground that the thesis is not supported by evidence that would go on to show that the Muslim community is indeed treated as a suspect community. Moreover, Greer (2010) writes that the article written by Pantazis & Pemberton (2009), despite being the most “detailed, thorough and sophisticated so far” is nevertheless subject to flaws that are analytical, methodological, conceptual, logical, empirical and interpretive in nature (Greer, 2010, p. 1171). It is noteworthy that Greer has earlier made objections to the original ‘suspect community’ thesis by Hillyard (1993) and that the objections made by him were addressed by Pantazis & Pemberton (2009). (Hillyard, 1993)

In context of the Muslim community, to whom the current article extends this thesis, Greer (2010) writes that it is unclear as to how many people really support Islamophobia so as to consider the level and extent to which the state itself supports such discrimination against Muslims in Britain. However, another study points at the growing number of Islamophobic attacks against Muslims and vanadalism of Muslim establishments to show that there is an increasing tendency by people to associate terrorism with Jihad and Islam (Githens-Mazer & Lambert, 2010). Greer (2010) also criticises the definition of suspect community taken in the article and says that it is so broad that it encompasses the entire Muslim community within the UK without considering that the community itself is not homogenous. The reply to these criticisms are given in reiterating that the whole of the Muslim community is targeted by the media, political organisations and the civil society discourses (Pantazis & Pemberton, 2011). Moreover, the thesis advanced by Pantazis & Pemberton (2009) that the term suspect community must not be seen only from the perspective of legal and security apparatus, but from a wider perspective, is also supported by another commentator (Breen-Smyth, 2014). In that sense, the suspect community is not a community that is embodied, but is an imagined suspect community, which is to be seen as a suspect community from the perspective of the beholder (Breen-Smyth, 2014).

A contrary viewpoint to Greer (2010) is seen in the critics of the government’s Prevent strategy, which is seen by them to be alienating of the Muslim community. The use of the Prevent strategy has been targeted at Muslims and the funding allocations have been described as ‘intelligence-led’ and ‘proportionate to threat levels’ (Mythen, et al., 2016).

Awan (2012) argues that the Prevent strategy basically marginalises and stigmatises the Muslim communities in the UK, without really being efficacious. With respect to the article under review by Pantazis & Pemberton (2009) and the principal argument in that article about Muslim community being the new ‘suspect community’ in the face of new terrorism, Awan (2012) finds the arguments made by the authors to be compelling. The use of Prevent strategy to reinforce labels of suspect community with respect to Muslims, is reiterated by Awan (2012).

The Muslim communities in the UK have responded critically to the Prevent strategy and the increasing lack of transparency and accountability by the police in their actions towards members of the Muslim communities under counter-terrorism laws (Thornton, 2010). The confirmation of the Muslims being the new ‘suspect community’ of the UK is found in the greater engagement with Muslims under the Prevent strategy as studies demonstrate that they are the group that the police have engaged with the most under the Prevent strategy (Awan, 2012). The Prevent strategy itself identifies Islam as being a cause of concern in counter-terrorism where it states that radicalization is being “driven by an ideology that sets Muslim against non-Muslim” ( HM Government, 2011, p. 18). The relations between the Muslim community members and the police were demonstrated to be damaged since the application of the counter-terrorism laws and strategies in a project involving focus groups from the Muslim communities (Jarvis & Lister, 2011). The impact of counter-terrorism on the Muslim community has been generally negative due to the focus on Muslim community by the government as well as by the general public (Choudhury & Fenwick, 2011).

The ‘suspect community’ approach as the article under review extends to the Muslim communities in the UK, is subject to criticism. However, there is also a lot of evidence that does support the thesis.



    1. Awan, I., 2012. “I Am a Muslim Not an Extremist”: How the Prevent Strategy Has Constructed a “Suspect” Community. Politics & Policy, 40(6), pp. 1158-1185.
    2. Breen-Smyth, M., 2014. Theorising the “suspect community”: counterterrorism, security practices and the public imagination. Critical Studies on Terrorism, 7(2), pp. 223-240.
    3. Githens-Mazer, J. & Lambert, R., 2010. Islamophobia and Anti Muslim Hate Crimes: A London Case Study. [Online] Available at: http://centres.exeter.ac.uk/emrc/publications/IAMHC_revised_11Feb11.pdf [Accessed 13 March 2017].
    4. Greer, S., 2010. Anti-Terrorist Laws and the United Kingdom's ‘Suspect Muslim Community’: A Reply to Pantazis and Pemberton. British Journal of Criminology, p. asq047.
    5. Hillyard, 1993. Suspect Community: People's Experiences of the Prevention of Terrorism Acts in Britain. London: Pluto Press.
    6. Jarvis, L. & Lister, M., 2011. Values and Stakeholders in the 2011 Prevent Strategy
    7. Mythen, G., Walklate, S. & Peatfield, E. J., 2016. Assembling and deconstructing radicalisation in PREVENT: A case of policy-based evidence making?. Critical Social Policy.
    8. Pantazis, C. & Pemberton, S., 2009. From the ‘old’to the ‘new’suspect community examining the impacts of recent UK counter-terrorist legislation. British Journal of Criminology, 49(5), pp. 646-666.
    9. Pantazis, C. & Pemberton, S., 2011. Restating the case for the ‘suspect community’: A Reply to Greer. British Journal of Criminology, 51(6), pp. 1054-1062.
    10. Thornton, S. 2., 2010. “Project Champion Review.” ., s.l.: West Midlands Police.
    11. Trust, R., 1997. Islamophobia: A challenge for us all, London: Runnymede Trust.
    12. Choudhury, T. & Fenwick, H., 2011. The impact of counter-terrorism measures on Muslim communities. International Review of Law, Computers & Technology, 25(3), pp. 151-181.

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