Blueprint for the War on Terror

UK counter-terrorism operations aimed at preventing the Islamic terrorist threat began long before September 11, a Flinders University researcher says.

As part of his research into the history of British immigration control, Flinders Postdoctoral Research Fellow Dr Evan Smith (pictured) has found that border protection strategies were used to prevent terrorists from the Middle East entering the UK from as early as the 1970s.

“The government papers of the time warned airport officials to look out for Middle Eastern people – they were considered a special category of visitors and were given two month visas instead of six,” Dr Smith, based in the School of International Studies, said.

“The first time the UK really started putting blanket restrictions on Middle Eastern arrivals happened when Abdul Razzaq Al-Naif, the Iraqi Prime Minister before Saddam Hussein, got shot in London in 1972 so from then on all Iraqis had to be security checked,” he said.

“A lot of the focus of modern research has been on counter-terrorism in the last 10 years but my research has shown that it has a much longer history and in the UK context, the Middle East threat has always been a concern – much more than people realise.”

Dr Smith said that while most current research on the link between national security and border security considered airports as the key to the War on Terror, “the level of security and the number of checks we have to go through now” existed long before the international military campaign began in 2001 in response to the September 11 terrorist attacks in the US.

“9/11, the 2002 Bali bombings and the 2005 London bombings certainly made airport security a lot tighter but the strategies, interrogations and deportations of suspected terrorists have been going on for decades, it’s just that we have better technology and more gadgets now.”

Despite an abundance of modern research on Islamic terrorism, Dr Smith – whose research has been funded through the Australian Academy of the Humanities’ David Philips Travelling Fellowship – said it was important to trace the history for a complete picture.

“In the historical literature of counter-terrorism in Britain, there’s been a narrative of the British only being concerned with Irish terrorism then moving on to global terrorism more recently but they have always been concerned about the Middle East.

“There’s a lot of talk nowadays about certain nationalities receiving discriminatory treatment and while it may have escalated in the last decade, certain groups were given similar treatment in the ‘70s, it’s just that they were in smaller numbers back then.”

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