Criminology Crime, (In)Security, and Islam
Basia Spalek, Laura Zahra McDonald, Dan Silk, Raquel Silva
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 September 2013
  • LAST MODIFIED: 30 September 2013
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396607-0155


Traditionally within criminology, minorities in relation to issues around crime and security have been approached predominantly through the lens of “race”/ethnicity and gender. Modern Western society is also dominated by secularism, where religious considerations are often excluded from civil affairs, and issues in relation to equality are viewed largely through the secular framework of multiculturalism. As a result, religious minorities have often been overlooked by criminological research. Nonetheless, increasingly research has focused on Islam and Muslim communities with respect to crime and questions of security. This has been a result of wide-ranging social, political, and other factors, including the Iran hostage crisis in the late 1970s, the controversy surrounding Salman Rushdie in Britain in 1988, the al-Qaeda terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City on September 11, 2001, and a series of acts of extreme violence committed by far right and Islamist extremists. Security is a broader notion than crime, as it includes not only questions about nation-state security but also about community security and issues around social cohesion and integration. These issues link to wider debates regarding the increasing presence of religious minorities in Western democratic societies, particularly the increasing numbers of Muslims in Europe and their claims for public recognition, which can be viewed as a threat by Western secular states that separate politics from religion. Thus, research in relation to crime, (in)security, and Islam is broad-ranging. This work can perhaps be framed using the following key themes: whether post 9/11 Islam as a religion has undergone securitization and whether Muslims have become “suspect” communities; the role of Islam in Muslim youth work aimed at tackling crime-related and other issues; Islam, gender, and victimization; the role of Islam and Muslims in counterterrorism; Islam and Muslims in relation to policing; the extent and impacts of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim hate crime, including the role of far right extremism; and wider questions around Islam and Muslims in relation to social integration.


In the context of the so-called Global War on Terror, the connection between Islam, Muslim communities, and the actions and narratives espoused by violent actors affiliated with al-Qaeda has ensured that Western states have focused their security agendas almost exclusively on Muslim citizens locally, nationally, and internationally. The subsequent securitization of state engagement with Muslim communities, as well as the impact of state security practices on those communities, has created a sense of suspicion, fear, and alienation that the following texts explore. The facets of state security are diverse: Choudhury and Fenwick 2011 provides an overview of both law and related security practices, while Kundnani 2009 focuses on the specific impact of British Prevent policy on the experiences and perceptions of the state toward the Muslim grassroots. Connecting discourse with the lived reality of Muslim communities, Fekete 2009 and Pantazis and Pemberton 2009 examine the resulting stigma and Islamophobia, and the implications for human rights and equality. Finally, a detailed study of key concepts including extreme, radical, and antisocial and an analysis of underlying narratives such as the “clash of civilizations” are provided by Spalek and McDonald 2010 and Vertigans 2010.

  • Choudhury, Tufyal, and Helen Fenwick. 2011. The impact of counter-terrorism measures on Muslim communities. International Review of Law, Computers, and Technology 25.3: 151–181.

    DOI: 10.1080/13600869.2011.617491

    The article presents an analysis of contemporary British counterterrorism laws and practices and their impact at the grassroots, including hate crime against Muslims, youth alienation, and inter- and intracommunity divisions.

  • Fekete, Liz. 2009. Islamophobia, human rights, and the anti‐terrorist laws. In A suitable enemy: Racism, migration and Islam. Edited by Liz Fekete, 193–233. London: Pluto.

    Fekete provides a series of important articles analyzing the connections between anti-terrorist laws and the spectrum of Islamophobic discourse and practice. The role of human rights in critiquing this relationship is placed centrally within the texts.

  • Kundnani, Arun. 2009. Spooked!: How not to prevent violent extremism. London: Institute of Race Relations.

    An in-depth report based on extensive qualitative data, Kundnani explores the experiences and understandings of the Prevent strand of British counterterrorism strategy. It provides insight into the fears and concerns felt by members of Muslim communities particularly in relation to covert surveillance and stigmatization by the British state.

  • Pantazis, Christin, and Simon Pemberton. 2009. From the “old” to the “new” suspect community: Examining the impacts of recent UK counter-terrorist legislation. British Journal of Criminology 49:646–666.

    DOI: 10.1093/bjc/azp031

    As part of an ongoing academic debate, Pantazis and Pemberton explore the concepts within Hillyard’s seminal work on the notion of “suspect communities” in political and social discourse. They argue that the security framework in the context of the Global War on Terror has constructed Muslim communities as “suspect,” and that this now informs the relationship between Muslim communities and the state.

  • Spalek, B., and L. Z. McDonald. 2010. Terror crime prevention: Constructing Muslim practices and beliefs as “anti-social” and “extreme” through CONTEST 2. Social Policy and Society 9.1: 123–132.

    DOI: 10.1017/S147474640999025X

    This article provides an in-depth discourse analysis of the narratives contained within British counterterrorism policy. Spalek and McDonald identify ways in which normative Islamic practices and beliefs are linked with violent extremism, and explore ways in which these discourses may impact on the experience of Muslim communities in this context.

  • Vertigans, S. 2010. British Muslims and the UK government’s “war on terror” within: Evidence of a clash of civilizations or emergent de-civilizing processes? British Journal of Sociology 61.1: 26–44.

    DOI: 10.1111/j.1468-4446.2009.01300.x

    In this article, Vertigans critiques the concept of a “clash of civilizations” in relation to Muslims and “the West” and the ways in which this discourse has been securitized. Vertigans further explores the complicity of majority communities and the state in the construction of this narrative, in the promotion of “public” and state security over a more inclusive human or community security.

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