Police-Community Engagement and Counter-Terrorism:
Developing a regional, national and international hub
Dr Basia Spalek
Dr Laura Zahra McDonald
Institute of Applied Social Studies
University of Birmingham, UK
Context & Aims 4
Issues and Areas of Interest 5
Impact of Social and Political Contexts 5
Role of Religion, Faith and Theology 6
Community involvement 6
Intervention Work 8
Innovations in countering terrorism 8
Ways Forward 10
Currently, there is little joined-up research, policy and practice in relation to examining the
role of communities in helping to defeat and/or endorse terrorism, nor in relation to the
interface between community and state efforts to counter terrorism.
We are creating a virtual research and resource hub, based at the University of Birmingham,
and connecting interested parties locally, nationally and internationally. The hub will provide
a unique platform for collaboration between researchers, communities, policy makers, police
officers and other practitioners in order to produce applied, policy and practice-focussed
outputs based on rigorous research.
Partners will be an integral part of the research process, and will play an important role in
developing research questions and approaches, ensuring that findings are as relevant as
possible to practitioners, policy makers and local communities.
This report summarizes the outcomes of the inaugural workshop, held on December 9th 2010
and led by Dr Basia Spalek, which brought together experts with diverse knowledge and
experience from around the globe to discuss the development of the hub, with a particular
focus on synergies between Britain and the United States. The diversity of perspectives and
approaches is of particular value to the creation and continuation of this dialogue:
participants came from a multiplicity of national, cultural, religious and professional
backgrounds, adding great richness to the workshop discussion.
context & aims
The workshop confirmed the necessity for developing knowledge and skills in relation to
police-community engagement and counter-terrorism, the reasoning simple and compelling:
Current social and economic challenges will inevitably contribute to personal and communal
grievances, creating vulnerabilities which may be exploited by terrorist strategists seeking to
encourage and recruit individuals to violent extremism and terror crime.
Developments within counter-terrorism policing indicate a growing confidence to engage
more openly with the public and with communities, to share understandings of the risks and
challenges, and to build partnerships and cooperation across the public sector and within
Community understandings of state and human securities are increasingly sophisticated. As
counter-terrorism policing looks towards gaining legitimacy and accountability with local
communities, the development of partnership work has become crucial.
The need to connect expertise and share best practices within the counter-terrorism
context requires a mode of exchange, accessible locally, nationally and internationally.
Seeking to seize the moment of opportunity the University of Birmingham will create a
virtual research and resource hub to connect researchers, communities, policy makers, police
officers and other practitioners and their work.
The hub will instigate a programme of applied research that will help inform and empower,
contributing to the development of knowledge relating to community-focussed counter-
terrorism approaches and partnership work.
The hub will act as a body to provide oversight and coordination for research, resource
sharing, events and networking.
Issues & Areas of Interest
The workshop provided a forum for speakers and participants from both sides of the Atlantic,
and indeed as far afield as Saudi Arabia and Australia, to share their experiences and
expertise in relation to state and community engagement and partnership in countering
terrorism. This section of the report attempts to summarize the key points made during the
day. Perspectives reflect the diversity of contexts in and from which individuals operate
providing a range of invaluable insights that will inform the development of the hub, and act
as pointers to the progression of research questions and future projects.
Impact of Social and Political Contexts
The politicisation of the security agenda, particularly in relation to the
stigmatisation of Muslim communities impacts negatively on actually achieving both
state and human security.
An equality of suffering in relation to Muslims must be recognized in the wider public
sphere. The increasing Islamophobic atmospheres of the UK, the US and Europe, and
rise of anti-Muslim hate crime undermines security in all its forms.
The use of New Terror language and discourse feeds the notion of a war on Islam,
increasing the sense of alienation and disenfranchisement felt by many young Muslims.
An increasing sense of marginalisation is considered a major driver in the process of
The conflation of counter-terrorism with issues of immigration, cohesion, national
identity and values serves to isolate the very communities with which the state needs
Hard counter-terrorism tactics, such as stop and search, raiding and covert
operations performed without sensitivity to communities undermine the trust,
confidence and willingness of community members to engage.
Role of Religion, Faith and Theology
Islam theology, personal belief and identity plays a fundamental role in the
prevention of violent extremism and in challenging violent extremist ideology.
The role of religious duty and ethical consciousness more broadly are key elements
of individual and community involvement with the security agenda.
A level of unity within Muslim communities and schools of thought, despite
theological and cultural diversity is necessary to counter the divisive discourse of
The attempt to define moderate and radical forms of Islam amongst some popular
commentators, academics and policy makers, particularly in relation to Sufi and Salafi
communities undermines a coherent community response to violent extremist
Jihad is an important and basic Islamic concept and practice: jihad is not terrorism
and terrorism is not jihad. The use of the term in relation to violent extremism
legitimises the actions of terrorists who seek to justify their actions with a cloak of
authenticity and righteousness.
The recognition of community expertise and experiences that currently and
potentially contribute to countering-terrorism is vital.
Good success stories are rarely heard: community involvement and perceptions are
influenced greatly by the popular perceptions and attitudes that the media and
politicians have the power to change.
Inclusive practices are being developed, with partnership between communities and
state institutions increasingly viewed as important. Comparisons between the UK, the
US and other countries are of great interest, illustrating the importance of wider
context and variation in security objectives.
The empowerment of communities including education and legal support regarding
civil rights does not undermine security; rather it is vital to the functioning of liberal
democracy and the building block of active citizenship.
Neighbourhood policing and its tradition of community engagement offers valuable
insights for the changing world of counter-terrorism, in which overt work is gaining
increasing credibility as a vital strand in the prevention and disruption of violent
extremism and terror crime.
A cultural shift within counter-terrorism policing in the UK, especially in relation to
covert work and accountability is underway. The impact of these changes deserves
further analysis, documentation and comparison with other contexts, including the US.
Community partnership and buy-in is imperative to successfully identifying and
tackling violent extremism in all its forms.
Policing by consent the Peelian mantra is foundational for ensuring the requisite
levels of accountability and legitimacy on which community engagement is built.
Trust and confidence is vital to the creation and maintenance of relationships
between police and communities, and a cornerstone to partnership work.
Proactive policing engenders the trust and support of communities; reactive policing
especially in a counter-terrorism context can create grievance and mistrust which
undermine both state and community efforts to prevent violence.
Protection not persecution: the ways in which counter-terrorism practices are
perceived and ca