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'Suspect Communities'? : Counter-terrorism policy, the press, and the impact on Irish and Muslim communities in Britain

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This report compares the experiences of Irish and Muslim communities in Britain during the period 1974-2007. Drawing on data from policy documents, press articles, interviews and discussion groups the project assessed how these communities were constructed as ‘suspect’. As well as comparing the similarities and differences in how these communities were represented  as ‘suspect’ in public discourse, the report also examined the impact of counter-terrorism legislation on everyday experiences for community members.

Focusing first on key events during the Irish ‘troubles’ (here covering events from 1974 to 2000) and then on Muslim-related events from 1989 to 2007, the team found that the representations and treatment of Irish communities during the ‘troubles’ set a precedent for the experiences of the Muslim communities since 2001. The report’s conclusions include the finding that aspects of government policy have not learnt from the vilification of Irish communities as ‘suspect’ even though this was shown to be counter-productive to national security and community-cohesion aims.

The report makes recommendations about how the press and political establishment could avoid language that demonises particular communities. The team also pointed to an element of hope in terms of how Irish communities, once termed as ‘suspect’, have now been accepted as ‘good citizens’ and this was seen to be a reassuring factor to Muslim participants in the discussion groups.

This is the first report to compare the experiences of these two communities in this way, and it provides an important insight into the effects of constructions of ‘suspect’ communities as well as pointing to some useful lessons to be learnt.

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