The fallout of counter-terrorism in Europe

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The fallout of counter-terrorism in Europe

Amnesty International flags that counter-terrorism is leading to the discrimination of European Muslims. Our analyst Muhammad Faisal Khalil examines whether Europe is willing to reassess counter-terrorism to better protect and include its Muslims.

This article was written by Muhammad Faisal Khaliland reflects his personal analyses and opinions, rather than those of EARS.

Europe’s relationship with its religious minorities has not been a simple one. Both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia have been increasingly flagged by European Jews and Muslims respectively as critical concerns. In the case of European Muslims, the negative impact of European counter-terrorism has become a key issue. In February 2021, Amnesty International raised the alarm over this challenge in Europe. Amnesty’s Human Rights Guide for Researching Racial and Religious Discrimination in Counter-Terrorism in Europe confirms that counter-terrorism programs are indiscriminately targeting Muslims in Europe, with two repercussions for Muslims themselves.[1]

The impact of counter-terrorism on European Muslims
The first repercussion is a systemic one: these programs are ethnically profiling and putting law-abiding Muslims under surveillance. Among other violations of their rights, some Muslims living in European countries are either facing expulsion from their country or being stripped of their nationality. Eda Seyhan, the author of Amnesty’s guide, said: “In the never-ending ‘War on Terror’, Muslims continue to endure ethnic profiling and are disproportionately subjected to surveillance, limitations on their movements, arrest and deportation.”[2]

The second is a social one: these programs are encouraging a culture of Islamophobia. Muslims are increasingly becoming victims of hate speech[3] and attacks. Seyhan explains: “The targeting of Muslims with counter-terrorism measures by European governments has reinforced the racist view that Islam is a ‘threat’, creating an environment where hate speech against Muslims has been normalised.”[4] Appearing at a time when the Black Lives Matter protests have mobilised many human rights and civil liberties organisations to prioritise anti-racism, the guide is also a response to the greater interventions by European governments into the lives of religious communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.[5] The guide states that the greater state involvement and targeting of religious minorities goes far beyond what is needed to address the undeniable and urgent issue of terrorism.[6]

The threat of homegrown radicalisation in Europe
The terrorist attacks in Europe over the last few years have raised concerns about ‘homegrown radicalisation’: Europeans embracing radical opinions, views, and ideas, that might lead them to commit acts of terrorism.[7] The need to respond to this radicalisation from within has meant that counter-terrorism programs have widened the scope of their efforts within Europe. But these efforts have had a disproportionate effect on both the civil rights and religious freedoms of law-abiding Muslims. The European Union (EU) Counter-Terrorism Agenda and counter-terrorism legalisation in France and Austria are key examples of this.[8]

Is a ‘rethink’ possible?
Amnesty International is calling for a major rethink on counter-terrorism programs within the EU. Law-abiding Muslims need to be protected, and Muslim communities need to be involved. But any reassessments of counter-terrorism programs so far appear to have gone in the wrong direction. The appointment of William Shawcross to lead the long-delayed review of Prevent, UK’s counter-terrorism program, sparked 17 human rights and civil liberties organisations in the UK, including Amnesty International and the Open Society Justice Initiative, to boycott the review.[9] These organisations claim that Shawcross, a former director of the controversial neoconservative think-tank the Henry Jackson Society, has “patently expressed Islamophobic views.”[10] Hopes of “an objective and impartial review” of Prevent seem to be waning now.[11]

Trading Europe for counter-terrorism?
The key concern about these developments is whether the post-war consensus in Europe – to protect and include minorities – is being lost to, or at least undermined by, security concerns. Are European states, and the EU itself, losing sight of painful historical failures that emphasise that discrimination of a minority by a state and society is in many ways in contradiction with Europe’s postwar identity? Human rights organisations seem to be arguing that this is indeed the case: Europe is in danger of compromising on its political and ethical principle forged and implemented over the last 75 years if counter-terrorism advances unchecked.

This article was written by Muhammad Faisal Khalil and reflects his personal analyses and opinions, rather than those of EARS.

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[1] Europe: How to combat counter-terror discrimination

[2] Amnesty: Muslims endure ethnic profiling and disproportionately subjected to surveillance

[3] There is no international legal definition of hate speech, and the characterisation of what is ‘hateful’ is controversial and disputed. Amnesty International, in alignment with the United Nations, defines hate speech as any kind of communication in speech, writing or behaviour, that attacks or uses pejorative or discriminatory language with reference to a person or a group on the basis of who they are, in other words, based on their religion, ethnicity, nationality, race, colour, descent, gender or other identity factor. (See United Nations Strategy and Plan of Action on Hate Speech 2019)

[4] Amnesty: Muslims endure ethnic profiling and disproportionately subjected to surveillance

[5] Amnesty: Muslims endure ethnic profiling and disproportionately subjected to surveillance

[6] Europe: How to combat counter-terror discrimination

[7] Radicalisation in the EU: what is it? How can it be prevented? | News

[8] Amnesty: Muslims endure ethnic profiling and disproportionately subjected to surveillance

[9] UK rights groups to boycott Prevent review over Shawcross appointment

[10] UK rights groups to boycott Prevent review over Shawcross appointment

[11] UK rights groups to boycott Prevent review over Shawcross appointment