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include those of aid workers who travelled to Syria not national security related

Is it possible that ISIS appeals to some Muslim women, not because they are fooled by it, but because its political vision seems to offer solutions to some of their problems?

mortality and murder that surrounds us

. But this is also a system of policing that experiments with mechanisms that sidestep the usual domain of criminal justice altogether

reported as uncountable ‘the destructive spread of sectarianism, the devastating repression in Syria and Iraq, and the interests of different regional and international powers in the Middle East’ on the ongoing air strikes on civilian areas of Idlib

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Nisha Kapoor

First published on Verso blog on 1st May 2018.

When Empire Windrush docked on the shores of Tilbury in June 1948 it brought workers, British colonial subjects, from the Caribbean who would fill labour shortages in the aftermath of the second world war, a war for which many of the arrivals and their kin had offered their service to. The political establishment sought, in turn, to limit their stay, considered the possibility of sending Jamaicans to East Africa so that their labour might be put to use in other workschemes across the empire, and then later put policy measures in place to make settlement less hospitable in the hope of discouraging others from migrating to the metropole.

For all the nostalgia that has subsequently come to be attached to this moment, and the revisionist history that has worked to romanticise the Windrush generation as a national treasure, we ought not to overlook the significance of attempts to construct this episode as the initiation of race in Britain. To the contrary of the Windrush reimagining which has operated effectively to divorce black presence in Britain from the broader project of colonialism and empire, the salient point to note is that Windrush was simply empire come home.

Around this time the 1948 Nationality Act, which officially granted citizenship to citizens and subjects of empire, including the Windrush generation, was passed with the intention of both warding off growing calls for colonial independence and maintaining an imperial connection with dominions such as Canada who had formulated their own national citizenships. The piece of legislation which formalised the citizenship rights of the Windrush generation offered a way of conceptualising citizenship at the break of empire when the political class were anxious to keep the British empire intact.

I flag this connection, not merely to reiterate the historical connections, and the rights and entitlements of the Windrush generation and their descendants to British citizenship, but to emphasise that the making, unmaking and framing of citizenship is deeply entrenched within an imperialist project. The parameters of British citizenship, which relies on race and class markers to determine the borders of inclusion/exclusion, have always been conceptualised in reference to a global political project that seeks to manage the consequences of imperialist agendas, whether that be in terms of exploiting colonial labour forces, refusing immigrants and asylum seekers displaced as a result of Western military assaults, or criminalising racially othered populations in the name of counterterrorism to both help justify and augment popular support for imperialist interventions and to quash political dissent against such interventions.

The significance of the Windrush moment, however, is that it comes to symbolise the initiation of an artificial separation between the politics of race and nation, on the one hand, and the broader politics of empire, on the other, marking the instigation of a project concerned with reimagining the British national identity. Thanks to the efforts of the political class, not least the decisive contribution of Enoch Powell, Britishness came to be defined in terms of an innate sense of unchanging Englishness, and citizenship more strongly defined according to ideas of blood and soil.

The state response to the resistance against the racism of nationalism helped to cement this artificial distinction further. On the one hand, the violence of immigration restrictions advanced through the 1960s, culminating in the Immigration Act 1971 which introduced the racially coded concept of patriality and meant that only those who could prove their grandparents had been born in Britain would qualify for automatic right of abode, effectively reclassifying ‘New Commonwealth’ citizens into ‘immigrants’. At the same time, race equality legislation was passed to pacify the resistance of postcolonial subjects settled in Britain, symbolizing some commitment at the institutional level, even if an uncommitted one, to a more inclusive citizenship. The problem with this divide is that it has also come to inform how we think and do anti-racism.

So with the ongoing attempts and achieved deportations of the Windrush generation we are indeed witnessing the realisation of the repatriation scheme that has remained a bubbling undercurrent of the British nationalist project in the postcolonial era. Stories of British black Caribbean women and men who have lived in Britain for 50 years plus now sent back in retirement bring anger at the hypocrisy of the refusal to recognise individuals who arrived in Britain as subjects of empire, and deep despair in their exposure of the full reach of the broken, visceral, racist politics that have become so normalised and entrenched. A depressing expression of the Britain we currently inhabit.

But the assault now on this generation cannot simply be conceived of as the endpoint of a process that has been 70 years in planning and preparation; or in a way that positions this cohort as being at the vanguard of the assault. To think in such terms is to further reify and accept as normative the proposition that British citizenship, and its provisos, is derived simply from an insular imagining of the nation-state. The racism that denies recognition and renders black and brown British citizens in a perpetual state of precarity operates in dialogue with the racism that comes to be more legitimately sanctioned against those named as ‘illegal immigrants’, ‘foreign criminals’ and ‘terrorism suspects’. In this sense, the denial, refusal and withdrawal of citizenship exposed in the treatment of the Windrush generation reflects the materialisation of a reconfigured politics around citizenship spearheaded by contemporary imperialist politics. Namely the War against Terror and the intensified deportation regime, which have seen to the cultivation of the most drastic legislative measures for citizenship deprivation in British history alongside the development of a sophisticated infrastructure for mass deportation.

The state violence that is currently being exposed is thus one that has been in germination for some time, mobilised against Muslims criminalised as terrorism suspects and immigrants frequently fleeing war, violence and poverty often with established post/colonial ties to Britain. If the backlash against the deportation of the Windrush generation is to point out that they are in fact citizens, the broader sentiment and state powers that permits citizenship deprivation is already well established. Again, the centrality of imperialist politics for defining the terms of exclusion is illuminated. The expanded powers for permitting citizenship deprivation, which were granted to the Home Secretary under the Nationality Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, allowed for removal of citizenship to include any person (including birthright citizens) who ‘has done anything seriously prejudicial to the vital interests of the United Kingdom or a British overseas territory’. This power, informally known as the Hamza amendment because it was in Abu Hamza’s name that the law was passed, was enhanced again in 2006 so that deprivation could be ordered simply if it was ‘deemed conducive to the public good’. Incidentally it was also in the context of fighting terrorism that the rights to appeal against deprivation orders before they came into effect were retracted. The ‘deport now, appeal later’ policy of the hostile environment had already been ably rehearsed in this other ‘counter-terrorism’ context.

The same law that helped to legislate for the hostile environment, the Immigration Act 2014, also incorporated the most drastic power for depriving citizenship thus far, permitting statelessness again in the name of fighting terrorism. Its stated purpose was to allow for deprivation in ‘the most serious cases – such as those involving national security, terrorism, espionage or taking up arms against British or Allied forces … without regard to whether or not it will render them stateless’. Though the intent around the use of this power is specific, deprivation of citizenship has been used more widely against individuals who have fallen on the wrong side of the law, and the power has worked to lower the threshold of a broader politics of precarious citizenship that now brazenly declares citizenship to be a ‘privilege not a right’. In the name of fighting terrorism significant numbers of Muslims, who have not been charged or prosecuted through the criminal justice system, have been deprived of their citizenship or had their British passports cancelled, in a number of cases for travelling on aid convoys to Syria or for refusing to act as informants for the security services.

At the same time over the course of the 2000s the practice of mass deportation, through the use of charter flights, has become a mainstay of border policing. Private security companies are tasked with removing mass loads of asylum seekers, immigrants and long-term British residents to countries from which they have fled or have no attachment to, where Britain is often involved militarily, and to where the foreign office typically advices (white) British citizens against travel. Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Kosovo/Albania, Nigeria, Ghana, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Sri Lanka have been principal destinations since 2001. Jamaica features regularly too. Partnership between the British Government and the destination states help to realize the possibility. It is no coincidence for example that ‘the first in the new wave of charters to Pakistan took place in November 2011, not long after a visit by David Cameron to negotiate a new “Enhanced Strategic Dialogue”, which included an objective of increasing bilateral trade to £2.5 billion per year as well as a £650 million “education aid” programme’. When charter flights are booked there is a need to fill them and evidence indicates that Immigration Control and Enforcement teams are instructed to round up people of the destination nationality in the weeks leading up to the flight date. Long term residents/citizens from Africa, the Caribbean and South Asia with little proof of nationality are being incorporated into this system.

So now British citizens, not recognised as such, are also being sent to join immigrants and asylum seekers in Yarlswood and the multiple other detention centres around the country where the outcast and most marginalised are criminalised for merely existing. The ‘hostile environment’ policy that has facilitated and augmented this process is part of an arsenal of measures aimed at curtailing immigration, facilitating deportation, and maintaining hierarchies of status for those who are resident. The reason most frequently deployed by the Home Office for denying British citizenship currently is that applicants are ‘not of good character’, a sufficiently amorphous notion that has seen to refusal of citizenship for activities as mundane as speeding fines and incorrectly completing immigration paperwork.

Analysis of these data indicate individuals from Iraq, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Jamaica, Kosovo, Somalia, Vietnam, Democratic Republic of Congo appear to be disproportionately impacted by this trend.

It is this failure to recognise the connections between the racism at home and imperialism overseas that mean MPs such as David Lammy can express visceral anger at the treatment of the Windrush generation whilst also being supportive of the invasion of Iraq, and that Jacob Rees-Mogg, of all suspects, can hold forth indignantly against the deportation of Windrush generation citizens. But this false and short-sighted separation will also be the ultimate obstacle to the consolidation of a more progressive anti-racist politics that moves beyond frameworks of the ‘innocent’ and ‘legal’ citizen, and mobilises instead against the violence of the state – period.

When they take babies from mothers and mothers from babies

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Nisha Kapoor

First Published on Verso Blog 7th March 2018 for the International Women’s Strike.

The Women’s Strike rejects the decades of economic inequality, criminalisation and policing, racial and sexual violence, and endless global war and terrorism. To this end, one central component of this strike must be to address the intensifying violence against and criminalization of rising numbers of Muslim women and children in the name of a fight against terror. The anti-racist and anti-imperialist feminism that we mobilise must recognize the significance of islamophobia for hardening and extending the disciplinary practices of the state.

In October 2016, Mark Rowley, the former head of counterterrorism policing, reported that up to 50 Muslim families were facing care proceedings – proceedings in family court – in relation to suspected radicalisation within the home. In June 2017, it was reported that senior family court judges were overseeing a number of such cases, and evidence from the family high court indicate multiple such cases continue. This increasing use of family courts for counterterrorism policing coincides with rising numbers of arrests of Muslim women for terrorism-related offences, and it is no coincidence. The majority of these women, though not all, are in their late teens or in their twenties. The basis of these arrests range but charges more often than not, like the majority of terrorism-related arrests, concern non-violent acts such as dissemination of material classified as being of a ‘terrorist’ nature, sharing ‘terrorist propaganda’, or encouraging others to engage in acts of terrorism, which typically means criminalisation is based on the association of these women with male family members or partners.

And so the latest turn in counterterrorism policing turns to family court for policing mothers. This is the latest in a pattern. Counterterrorism policing has consistently evaded any need to provide credible evidence to support accusations of threat, usually by taking terrorism cases through immigration and other administrative courts. And as in immigration court, in family court suspicion provides sufficient basis for a judge to rule in support of social services’ applications for care orders. The national security element that comes to be associated with ‘radicalisation’ cases has allowed for the use of secret evidence in family proceedings too. The basis of police evidence used by social services does not need to be open to scrutiny. Typically omitted from such proceedings is the ongoing harassment by MI5 who, as in too many of these cases, make clear that with complicity and agreement to work with the intelligence services, the woman’s hardships will be removed and her children returned.

This twist to the invasive criminalisation of Muslim women follows well-documented police calls for them to act as points of surveillance within their own families and communities, to report to the police any suspicious behaviour of their men folk. Perhaps it is the lack of success of this policy that ramped up the stakes, perhaps it is linked to the crisis of what to do with returning disgruntled male fighters. It is no doubt part of the reinvigorated reconstruction of Muslim women as weaponised and foreboding, as the breeders and reproducers of the terrorist threat.

For women whose families are already under surveillance their children, already routinely criminalised through Prevent, become the bargaining chip, the pressure point for compliance and the route to subjugation. In the Eyes of Aliyah, a film, directed by Ken Fero and made as part of the Deport Deprive Extradite Project, we document the story of a woman arrested at an airport. She was not charged with any criminal offence, but the information obtained by police during questioning was passed onto social services so that the same material not worthy of obtaining a prosecution in open criminal court was used in family court. Her children were taken into care and her visitation rights limited to a couple of hours per week under the watchful gaze of a social worker who would record her interactions with her children. The care order against her applies not only to her current children but to any future children she may bear. When things were looking up and contact time was to be extended, another raid on her home by counterterrorism officers saw to the suspension of contact altogether. Through her efforts to challenge this, contact was eventually resumed and she, like others, is now mobilising to regain full custody of her children.

In other cases, the moment of intervention varies; it is when a woman whose partner is under surveillance is stopped by the police for speeding that a referral is made to social services; or when there are ongoing interactions or contact with an ex-partner as she attempts to flee an abusive relationship. And then care proceedings begin. Perhaps after four months of foster care and repeated cries by the children that separation from mum feels ‘frightening’, and after the court decides the children are sufficiently ‘integrated’ with non-Muslims in their school and community, the order will be dropped. The children can return. Other times, the intervention is more immediate and drastic. For the mother fleeing an abusive partner, and also accused of radicalising her children, there is not only the domestic violence to contend with; there is the police violence against herself and her ex-partner, and the ultimate whammy by social services who offer her baby up for adoption and her toddler to foster carers. The structural nature of violence and oppression in the domestic sphere which critical feminists have long told of, that domestic violence will always be disproportionately experienced by women whose communities and men folk are targets of the most excessive and hard end of police brutality is worth reflecting on. The state interventions that continually work to produce, reinforce and advance such assaults are an equally imperative part of the story.

With this holistic approach to counterterrorism policing – where interventions are made by social services either because children themselves are criminalised or because they are deemed to be at risk of ‘radicalisation’ because of their family – we begin to grasp something of the totalising and pervasive nature of the state’s hand in marginalising, disciplining and ultimately damaging an entire community of people. In the worst-case scenarios mothers are imprisoned and separated from their children, and/or children are taken into care, and the full extent of collaboration between social services and the police comes to light. The way in which counterterrorism policing has infiltrated the interventions of social services – already often brutal when it comes to policing working-class families – has quite particular, sinister effects; simultaneously advancing the reach of counterterrorism for Muslims and further hardening the disciplinary aspects of social services.

Noteworthy is the way the pre-emptive nature of counterterrorism policing has merged with the more widespread practices of social services, who in response to high profile cases of child abuse and neglect take as routine a preventative approach to dealing with children identified to be ‘at risk’. In this sense, the guidance on dealing with children at risk of radicalisation has slotted easily into the regular assessment models for dealing with ‘at risk’ (mostly working class) families. In this ‘at risk’ model, emphasis is placed on preventative interventions that have over the last decade increasingly involved use of its hard-end disciplinary functions, comprising taking children into care, and a move away from supportive measures that might help to ease the pressures placing strains on mums juggling multiple demands and trying to make ends meet. It is worth noting here the range of interventions made against mothers – from those whose children have been removed because they were made homeless, to those whose caring abilities have come under the scrutiny via the Prevent agenda for participating in anti-fracking protests. Just as guidance for policing working-class mothers advises that sometimes difficult questions need to be asked even if it means offending, so in radicalisation cases staff are trained to accept that sometimes islamophobic interrogation is necessary and acceptable in the interests of the child.

But what then for the mothers who are criminalised for radicalising their children? What for the mothers where there is a genuine issue of domestic violence in the home? What happens to the already marginal space to name and address this and what role does preemptive policing play in the mobilisation towards militarisation in the first place?

The result is systemic. Its shut down requires a critical feminist response to securitisation; calling for an end to the criminalisation of Muslim, refugee, migrant and black women, their children and communities; calling for an end to the violent disciplinary systems which only serve to reproduce more violence; calling for an end to Prevent. And so we strike.

Arun Kundnani – The Empire Comes Home: Trump, Brexit, and Islamophobia

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The history of colonialism teaches us that the violence practised abroad always comes home in some form. In the past, the violent conflicts associated with Western colonialism rarely travelled from the periphery to the center. But today they do, as a result of the transnational connections capitalist globalization has enabled. Our governments declare a “global battlefield” and abolish the separation of zones of conflict from zones of peace; terrorist violence on the streets of Western cities is one consequence.

Likewise, the global imposition, since the 1970s, of what Karl Polanyi called the “great transformation” – the subjection of society to the “self-regulating market” – has, since the 1970s, led to millions of people being forced to leave their homes as their existing livelihoods collapsed around them, or as a result of the warfare, ethnic conflict, and political repression that were symptoms of a state’s inability to manage a nation’s “integration” into the global market.

The anxieties attached to the figure of the terrorist, the migrant, the refugee are symptomatic, then, of a deeper shift in the political geography of the globe: the fact that the great wells of human despair, rooted in poverty and powerlessness, can no longer be contained within national boundaries. The failure of Western societies to come to terms with this fact, and recognise in it an unintended consequence of the very brand of capitalist globalization that their governments have promoted, is what lies behind the fear that surrounds those the West defines as “aliens,” whether migrants, asylum seekers or “Muslim extremists.”

The twin political crises of 2016 in Britain and the United States – the votes for Trump and Brexit – are the products of this pathology. They represent the destruction of the liberal pretences of the center by the returning home of imperial authoritarianism – the process that Hannah Arendt identified as a key condition of totalitarianism.

Imperialism is not what Lenin called the “highest stage of capitalism” but an inherent aspect of capitalism throughout its history, which has always involved a polarization between centers and peripheries, and associated racial taxonomies. As Cedric Robinson argued, capitalism has always been a racial capitalism: it does not homogenize but produces racial difference out of the raw material of culture and ethnicity. Racism is not just a ruling class conjuring trick to divide the working class but a material and ideological principle of the system.

Today, at the level of ideology, Islamophobia offers an everyday explanatory framework for making sense of the mediated crisis events that the boomeranging of empire produces: such as acts of terrorist violence and migration flows. It does so in ways that disavow those events’ political meanings (which are rooted in empire, racism, and resistance) and instead explain them as products of a reified alien culture. Islamophobia involves an ideological displacement of political antagonisms onto the plane of culture, where they can be explained in terms of the fixed nature of the “Other.”

This maneuver is also an act of projection in the psychoanalytic sense: the racist and imperialist violence upon which Western capitalist societies depend upon cannot be acknowledged in ostensibly liberal cultures so it is transferred onto the personality of the Brown and Black immigrant and seen as emanating from “outside” the social order. State violence is then only ever a proportionate response to the inherently aggressive and threatening nature of the fanatical Muslim enemy. From deportations to drone killings, violence is desired and disavowed; subsumed within the rationality of law while barely concealing the irrationality of the fantasies it invokes.

In these ways, a Western self-image of innocence and beneficence can be maintained by displacing resistance to the system of global capitalism, at a time when, as Wendy Brown notes, “rich and poor, colonizer and native, first world and third, live virtually and actually in ever greater proximity” in “a world of extreme and intimately lived inequality, deprived of strong legitimating discourses.” A class-divided society is naturalized and depoliticized with this fantasy of a culturally homogenous “us” at the very moment when global capitalism “threatens to loosen the hold of the nation-state over its subjects.”

Since today’s US-led global empire, like all empires, inevitably generates violence and chaotic movements of peoples, it is not hard to find the crisis events around which a projection can be organized, from acts of Palestinian resistance to Syrians seeking asylum. As Stuart Hall and his colleagues argued, such crises never appear in a “pure” form to the public but are made sense of through vocabularies determined by whoever has the power to offer the primary definition of the event. In the case of events involving political violence, the national security arm of the state and its associated “terrorism experts” have a particular authority to define those events because of their presumed role as defenders of society from unknown threats and their claim to hold classified information unavailable to others. These primary definers set the limit for all subsequent discussion by framing what the problem is.

The ideological process of defining and explaining crises is about giving meaning to disturbing and troubling events and restoring a sense of control over the world. The explanations that Islamophobia gives are not logical or coherent but are a way of giving shocking and random events “meaning” and thereby drawing them into the framework of the rational order of “things understood” – things we can work on, do something about, handle, manage, regulate, surveil. And yet this ideological structure cannot fully conquer the instabilities it generates and therefore produces a desire for absolute knowledge of everything that’s happening all the time, to preempt possible disruption and opposition.

The central organizing concept for the surveillance of Muslims is the notion of “radicalization,” which has become the primary lens through which Muslim populations are viewed. The concept of “radicalization” was first introduced by Western European national security agencies in 2004 and then imported to the United States. It is meant to refer to a process by which Muslims transform into ideological fanatics with the potential for violence, a process which can supposedly be observed through subtle but observable changes in appearance. According to the New York Police Department, for example, growing a beard, or wearing what it refers to as “traditional Islamic clothing” are indicators that one is in the second of four stages of radicalization. According to the FBI’s analysis of radicalization, “increased activity in a pro-Muslim social group or political cause” is a sign of being in stage three, one level away from becoming an active terrorist.

The knowledge claims made here are predictive: the indicators of radicalization are in themselves not criminal acts but taken as signs that violence will occur in the future. In this sense, radicalization theory is to counter-terrorism what broken windows theories are to the criminal justice system. Moreover, the observable markers of radicalization are taken to be signs of an inner pathological nature that is otherwise invisible. Hence a surveillance gaze that reads Muslim bodies for the signs of a phantasmic “radicalization” with facial hair and dress becoming racial signifiers of the “bad Muslim.” What it implies in practice is the systematic monitoring of all aspects of Muslim religious and political life to try to detect the assumed radicalization indicators.

Within this surveillance gaze, the question posed to every Muslim is their positioning in relationship to zones of resistance. The so-called “moderate Muslims” are those who detach themselves from their connections to zones of resistance. The “extremists” are those who channel that resistance in the society where they live. But this question is not posed directly; it is always displaced onto the plane of culture: do you accept Western values? This framework imposes itself relentlessly on Muslim public expression, rendering suspicious anyone who refuses to engage in rituals of loyalty to Western culture. In this way, Islamophobia is also a way of containing Muslim knowledge of imperialism: Muslim dissent against empire is never heard as dissent but only as extremism.

The question is not whether Muslims and migrants can be successfully integrated into Western societies but whether the West can integrate itself into the rest of the world. To do so, Europe and the US would need to transcend the histories of racism and imperialism that have, until now, shaped their relationships with others. So long as those histories remain unaddressed, the prospect of authoritarianism – powered by a fearful racism – will be a continuing pathological presence in the politics of the West.

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Originally published in OpenDemocracy: The character of citizenship: denying the rights of asylum seekers and criminalising dissent, 20th May 2017

Refusing citizenship on grounds of ‘character’ reflects the criminalisation of global political dissent and resistance, while these subjective criteria normalise an imperialist system of citizenship.

History tells us that citizenship is a privilege, not a right – so what does its implementation, in terms of policy. tell us about the meaning of citizenship at the current moment?

Aaden’s Story

Aaden was 16 when he arrived at Dover. Fleeing war, as a minor, he was housed with other young asylum seekers for three months before he eventually managed to make contact with his uncle who was living in London.

He notes that turning back to his religion became a way to escape the difficulties and harsh realities that life as an asylum seeker had brought. It took him away from drugs, drink and prison. He began praying and fasting and “being a good Muslim”.

On this path he began to visit different mosques around his neighbourhood, to hear different talks by different religious figures eager to expand his horizon and knowledge of Islam. Socially things improved and he joined a local football team linked to one of the mosques. They played against teams associated with other mosques.

Over time, he began to feel relatively more settled in the UK. He travelled back to the part of Africa where his family were staying to get married and became a father. He returned to the UK living apart from his wife and daughter who subsequently moved to central Asia. He was eager to see them. As a refugee his only identification for international travel was a travel card which does not allow entry into a number of states, including the country in which his daughter resides.

British citizenship and a British passport would provide him with a recognised nationality and grant him freedom of movement. With permanent leave to remain and long term residency he was eligible for naturalisation.

Nine months after he made an application, he received a letter from the Home Office refusing British citizenship. He was deemed, the letter stated, to be “not of good character”. It was “not conducive to the public good” to grant him citizenship. He found a solicitor and they wrote a long letter querying the decision.

He was deemed, the letter stated, to be “not of good character”. It was “not conducive to the public good” to grant him citizenship. 

Shortly after he learned of the Home Office’s decision he received a phone call from ‘John’ who said that he worked for an organisation that helped people get naturalisation. Rejoicing and full of hope, Aaden arranged to meet him in a big hotel in central London.

On arrival he was taken to a room with a big table and all the snacks one could hope for before they told him that the organisation they worked for was MI5. Some of the guys he played football with “were evil,” they told him, and “a threat to the country”. They asked him how he knew them, whether he could work for the intelligence services.

Aaden became afraid. Passports were not their department, John told him, but if he worked for MI5, they could arrange for a British passport and bring his wife and daughter to the UK.

Aaden reports how he explained to the officers that he did not know the individuals they suspected, beyond interactions at football matches. John and his colleagues persisted, stating that they could train him on how to become an informant. They offered money, they offered housing. For Aaden, once again, depression set in.

Leaving the meeting, Aaden found a solicitor, who advised him to get in touch immediately if the intelligence services attempted to contact him again. Next time they called, he did just this, telling ‘John’ that he was seeking legal advice.

Aaden reports that MI5 hung up. Things became more difficult after this. His house was raided by the police on numerous occasions. On one occasion they arrested him, but three days later the charges were dropped. On a subsequent raid they took his travel card. He remains without a passport or recognised nationality of any kind.

Bad character

Since the mid 2000s the number of people being refused naturalised citizenship on the grounds of ‘not good character’ has been gradually increasing. After a small dip in 2014, by 2015, 42% of people were refused British citizenship on these grounds.

It is becoming the principle reason for denying citizenship in Britain. Since this is a subjective measure, it is open to wide range of interpretations. There is no official legal definition of what constitutes ‘bad character’ – but in policy terms, it incorporates: ‘not abiding by or respecting the law’, being ‘associated with war crimes’, not having one’s ‘financial affairs in appropriate order’, being involved in ‘notorious activities’ that ‘cast serious doubt on standing in the local community’, being dishonest with the UK government, ‘assisting in the evasion of immigration control’ or having previously been deprived of citizenship.

The practice of supplementing ‘objective’ thresholds for citizenship with such ‘subjective’ criteria significantly expands the scope for racial sorting, normalising an imperialist system of citizenship.

Terms are kept sufficiently vague that a decision-maker can still refuse citizenship if they have further doubts outside this list. While the framework for demarcating citizens and granting citizenship has always been deeply racialised, the practice of supplementing ‘objective’ thresholds for citizenship such as residency requirements with such ‘subjective’ criteria significantly expands the scope for racial sorting, normalising an imperialist system of citizenship.

The good character requirement for citizenship was revised in 2009 as part of the reforms brought in under Gordon Brown. His government’s ‘path to citizenship’ strengthened a notion in development for some time that citizenship was something to be ‘earned’.

The 2009 enhancement centred around a staged process people seeking citizenship would have to demonstrate contribution to social and economic life in a number of ways, as well as proving a certain degree of assimilation. Sufficient knowledge of life in the UK and the English language would need to be demonstrated, along with showing that one was of reputable ‘character’ – to be shown through paying taxes and contributing to the community.

Though character requirements had long been part of legal provisions for citizenship, policy changes brought in at this time introduced a stricter test, marking a shift in the administration of citizenship that was already underway. As the Immigration Bill passed through Parliament, committee members agreed that it was “prudent to continue to apply the character test…via discretion [of the Home Office] rather than by establishing specific requirements in primary legislation”.

This meant the Secretary of State could continue to hold ultimate authority over who should and should not be refused citizenship. It would not be a decision made by the executive, not judicial authority.

Expansive targeting

While the breadth of the ‘good character’ requirement allows for refusal of citizenship on a whole range of grounds, it is the discourse of terrorism and national security that is predominantly employed in political and media discussions to justify the imposition of more stringent measures.

Within the category of terrorism, in practice what the denial of citizenship amounts to is expansive targeting of a whole range of individuals with quite different political positions and affiliations. Individuals denied under these criteria do not fit one type.

They might be people fleeing occupied countries who may have previously been involved in the military of quashed regimes such as Iraq, or Palestinian refugees who have in some way drawn attention to the Israeli occupation of Palestine. They might be people accused of some association with the PKK; or those with some past association with resistance groups, or anti-regime political factions such as Front Islamique du Salut of 1990s Algeria; or anyone with some tangential link to anyone identified as an ‘extremist’ – such as in Aaden’s case.

Refusing citizenship on grounds of character under the banner of engagement in ‘terrorist activities’ reflects the criminalisation of global political dissent and resistance.

In a number of these cases, evidence accumulated by the Home Office is obtained using informants operating within Muslim communities, and there is a catalogue of instances where those seeking legal assistance to review decisions against them report being asked to work for the intelligence services in exchange for British citizenship. Aaden’s story is not singular.

Refusing citizenship on grounds of character under the banner of engagement in ‘terrorist activities’ reflects the criminalisation of global political dissent and resistance.

In recent challenges to the secrecy around the decision-making process, in cases where citizenship is refused on grounds of terrorism or national-security related concerns, additional information relating to the review criteria has come to light.

In appeals against citizenship refusal heard in the Special Immigration Appeals Commission, (a court which, set up under the rubric of dealing with national security deportation cases, allows for secret evidence to be presented by the state to which those appealing are not privy), lawyers have argued that applicants should be fully informed of the criteria against which they are being judged.

After some reluctance, the Home Office has disclosed some of the guidance issued to caseworkers stipulating that a person might meet good character requirements if they had not associated with individuals identified as ‘extremists’, they had ceased such association once they “became aware of the background of these individuals” and, critically, that they had “presented strong evidence of choosing such associates with the aim of trying to moderate their views and/or influence over others”.

Conversely, applications should be refused if they associated with individuals deemed to have ‘extremist views’ and were aware of this or “provided little or no evidence to suggest that they were seeking to provide a moderating influence”. If a person such as Aaden, then, is considered to be associating with someone identified as ‘extreme,’ and refuses to work for the state, this in itself becomes sufficient reason for refusing citizenship.   

‘Deception and dishonesty’

In the name of counter-terrorism, the surveillance and harassment of Muslim communities in Britain is one way in which citizenship is denied; but the full scope of ‘good character’ requirements allow for stark racial sorting and exclusion in other ways too.

‘Deception and dishonesty’ in any liaison with a state department forms another broad set of criteria used to deny people citizenship, though they otherwise have leave to remain. ‘Deception’ refers to attempts to enter the country using false or misleading documents, or attempts to access public services which a person’s status may prohibit.

The harsh onslaught of legislative restrictions against asylum seekers has made it nearly impossible to arrive as an asylum seeker ‘legally’, without incurring some kind of legal infraction. Exclusion from basic services such as healthcare and housing means transgression becomes a necessity for most to survive.

The criteria of deception and dishonesty offers a way to exclude large numbers of individuals who have arrived seeking asylum from acquiring British citizenship. This is borne out in the data showing refusals of citizenship on the grounds of ‘not good character’.

Since 2002, many of those denied British citizenship have been from war-torn countries, often where Britain has a direct or indirect imperial relationship. The countries receiving the greatest proportion of refusals has varied slightly over time but has ranged between Nigeria, Jamaica, Pakistan, India, Somalia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Iran, Sri Lanka, Serbia, Kosovo, Zimbabwe, Uganda, and Ghana.

Individuals most likely to have arrived in Britain claiming asylum are also most likely to be refused citizenship on the grounds of ‘bad character’.

There is a correlation between the countries from where most asylum applications have come, and the nationalities of individuals refused citizenship, which suggests that individuals most likely to have arrived in Britain claiming asylum are also most likely to be refused citizenship on the grounds of ‘bad character’. Though denial of naturalised citizenship does not mean the right of residency is retracted, it does enforce precarity, restricting freedom of movement and preserving the threat of deportation.

Currently behaviours or histories including divorce, promiscuity, drinking, gambling, eccentricity (including in terms of one’s beliefs), unemployment or other disdained working habits can, depending on scale and persistence, be considered grounds for refusing citizenship. One’s parenting, debt, or bankruptcy, are also factors for consideration.

That citizenship is a privilege, not a right, is something we know all too well. This process gives us some indication of how that privilege is being distributed.

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We would like to thank the artists who have kindly agreed for us to use their artwork on this website:

The images that you can see on the front page are by Aaron HughesAdel Abdel BaryBabar Ahmad and Sarah Mirk.


These images below are by Adel Abdel Bary:


The images below are photos of craft done by Babar Ahmad while he was imprisoned:


The image below are taken by Sarah Mirk while documenting a Guantanamo speaking tour:


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Racism, Rights and Resistance: An Evening of Poetry and Spoken Word
13th May 2016, York

Deport Deprive Extradite organised a public event in York, inviting four poets to reflect on the key themes of our project through poetry and spoken word. Poets Talha Ahsan, Hodan Yusuf, Elmi Ali and Hafsah Aneela Bashir performed their work around Racism, Rights and Resistance. Hodan Yusuf wrote a poem especially for the event, read the poem below and see our videos from the event.

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* This poem is the copyright of Hodan Yusuf and cannot be reprinted without the permission of the author*

Racism Rights Resistance


Fellow Travellers


Frantz Fanon

Wrote the canon

On why you and I

Are excluded


So, let’s not be deluded

Me and you

It’s our hue

And our creed

By which we are judged

Not our deeds






My Race

My Rights

And Resistance



Against those

Arresting my Rights

Because of my Race?


This Face?

This Dress?

This belief?



I’m in disbelief!






The race

To provide



To those whose


Are withheld

Facing Resistance

Because of their Race






Wealth hoarders

Barking orders

“Stay away!

Stay in your dinghy

Your thingy

Your boat

In this moat

Pulling up the drawbridge


We don’t care

Just stay THERE !”



I’ll resist

Their projectile death wish

In the words James Baldwin

And my brother Dean Atta

“I’m nobody’s nigger” either


I’m nobody’s terrorist

None’s Ninja Paki

Black Iraqi

I’m no Pirate Somali Skinny

I’m nobody’s un-endearing


Terms of abuse

I refuse.





Did you build a fence to keep

ME out?

Did NATO just declare WAR

On me

In my dinghy?

Destitute and afraid?


Did you fill your column inches with

Unabating hate?

Did you give up

on fostering discussion

Where we can maybe relate?


If you believe in God

who made Adam

Then I am the daughter of Eve

And if you believe in Darwin

Well I guess you evolved

from Eve.


Either way

The only real race

Is the human one

The rest are


constructs of division


Contemplate that

for just one moment






I am tired

of speaking to you

and humanising myself

to you


Reminding you



I am your human sister


That my blood is red


My children are born from



That they emerge

Naked and helpless


And they cry

for the first time

a lungful of a shared




I am tired of reminding you

that I have a father


who looked after me

and took me to school


And I have a mother

who raised me

combed my hair

cooked the best food



I am tired of telling you

I have siblings

That I played ball with

Nurtured pets



rode bikes with



I’m tired of telling you

Just how tired I am


Just how bad the place

we left


and still



I’m tired of



I’m tired of



I’m tired of the



and the

Desecration of

My Rights



Take a Seat





Hello, I don’t believe we’ve met before.

But I have something

very important to tell you.

I am your sister


I am





My skin may be

A different hue

But when I’m cut

I bleed like you

Don’t make show you


When I burn

My skin

Despite its melanin

it singes just like yours

Don’t  make me show you



I’m not so sure

If you are


At all

When you shoot

At me

As I flee

From those


At me


Who is playing a game

Of blaming?

Not me?


This is CRAZY

And mad





Those images you see

On your television screens

Are not cartoons of animation

When barrel bombs and


Decimate our hospitals




Those are not illusions


When you hear our people


They are not actors

Pretending for the screen


The abject horrors

Are Crazy    and Mad

And Real



Roll Call


The uncivilised

Then colonised

Those oppressed

So repressed

Poor victims

They’re terrorists

A bunch of migrants


Shoot them

Stop them

Hate them


If you don’t know my name

Don’t baptise me with yours

If you don’t know my worth

Don’t make me ingratiate

My noble self

As [your] serf


If you don’t know my name

Learn it

Before you speak it.


It’s on my birth certificate

I am your human sister.



See the Sea



I used to paint the sea

when I was a child in school


With rich colours of pastel blues

Turquoise shades


Golden sand dunes

and yellow suns


Distant Black birds

Like little letters v’s on the horizons


That was before

the Bombs


the Bloodshed

Before a time

When family sat around tables for dinner

Laughing as they fed


When blankets were used

To keep us warm at night

Instead of body bags

To wrap up our dead


The sea is not so pretty

And Serene

I found

When you are cold

And sick

When you’ve thrown

Everything you owned


Well, what was left of it



Not so pretty

or calm

When you’ve witness

Every kind of wrong

And you’ve had to give your

fellow travellers

a burial at sea


Men overboard!

Women overboard!

Babies overboard!



I used to love the seaside



I just want to be landlocked

And safe.


Safe from drowning

Safe from bombs.

Safe from rape

Safe from wrongs

Safe from hunger

Safe from snipers.


Safe from…safe from.


Safe from injustice

Safe from abuse

Safe from insults.

Safe from racism


Safe from… safe from.


Before you call me

An illegal immigrant

Refugee migrant

Crisis causing

undocumented person


I am a human being


And the troubles I flee from

Have their roots

In YOUR corridors of power


Cometh the hour


I’m your human sister

And you can’t choose family

So deal

with Racism

And my Rights

And the Resistance



I Made It


I made it

With or without your help

I made it

To safety.


I made it.

With God’s Help I made it

I rested my bones

And made myself a new home


With Memories


Some make me weep

Others lighten my load

And make me smile

Reminding me of

Times gone by


I’ve met good people



Who concerned themselves

With my Rights

And Resistance

Worked for the greater good



The Race we shared

Was Human

And God showed me

Mercy through them


I had more children

And met new



I made new friends

Who had a similar story

Perilous journey

Lost loves


Lost lives

High costs

But at

What price?


Unmarked graves

Of Fallen men

And fallen women

Babes in arms

And Exhausted children


If they

Cannot speak

From six feet under

Those of us who made it

Will shout over this hateful thunder



Severed ties


Broken bonds

Men in grey suits


Selective souls

“Smugglers and routes

Migrant Crisis



Broken records

And mantras

While we sleep

With the fishes


Somebody tell me what this is?



Human debris

Washing up

On the Beaches


Is that how low

Our reach is?


We Will speak

For those whose

Deaths haunt us


We will live

And we will thrive

We’ve come too far

To not survive


The Human Race

Is One



The Rights you afford yourselves


Must be Won

For All


But until


Insistence on



-Hodan Yusuf


VIDEO: 3 minute summary of event

VIDEO: Full video of the event


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Welcome! On the DDE blog we aim to share reflections, events and news associated with the core themes of the project.