Naheed Akhtar

Is Islam Being Criminalized By UK Counter Terrorism Laws Post 9-11?

Supervisors: Joe Bennett and Ingrid Storm

Following the 9-11 attacks in the US and the 7-7 London bombings in 2005, terrorism became a central security concern for the West. The UK responded to the threat by increasing anti-terror legislation, policies and practices, which this thesis argues discriminately targets Muslims, and which in turn has led to the securitisation and criminalization of Islam (CAMPACC: 2003; Croft:2012).

This research aims to examine the ways in which UK anti-terrorism laws enacted after 9-11 and 7-7 contribute to an environment in which Islamophobia is normalized and made unproblematic, by constructing Muslims as the new suspect community and by extension, criminalising Islam (Pantazis & Pemberton: 2009; Peirce: 2010). The hypothesis examined here is that religion, particularly Islam or Islamic beliefs is being misunderstood or misinterpreted in order to arrest, detain and prosecute Muslims under the new counter-terrorism legislation. This approach compounds the perception that Islam or Islamic beliefs motivate terrorist attacks. Alarmingly, the law is being applied discriminately to Muslims who face the risk of arrest and prosecution based on everyday activities such as internet searches and even writing or possessing something that could be said to ‘incite’, ‘glorify’ or ‘encourage’ ‘terrorism’.

Consequently, since 2001, the UK has some of the most extensive counter terrorism laws in the world (Anderson: 2012), with research indicating that the negative and discriminatory effects of these new laws impact most notably on Muslims (Butt & Dodd: 2006; Choudhary & Fenwick: 2011; Hickman et al: 2011; Pantazis & Pemberton: 2009), with thousands of Muslims arrested under these laws (Atwal: 2004).

The research seeks to examine the legal discourse of terrorism surrounding Muslims and Islam within the legal sphere. Select legal documents and interviews will be used to gather data from those working in the area of terrorism and counter terrorism.

The data will be analysed using Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA) which integrates three different levels of analysis: the text, the discursive practices and the social practices. As such, the textual analysis is not done in isolation but incorporates the broader social context in which the text is located and produced to enhance understanding of it.

Overall, in seeking to critically examine the impact of these laws upon Islam as a religion, the study seeks to contribute to the largely neglected field of religious discrimination.


  • BA English Language, Literature & Art (UoB)
  • MA Special Applications of Linguistics (UoB)

Research Interests

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Terrorism and Counter Terrorism
  • Law
  • Islam


Naheed completed her BA in 2001 with a class one honours in English language, literature and Art. Naheed completed her MA in 2002. Naheed returned to Birmingham to do my PhD part time after having her children.

Having studied the relationship of Islam and the media for her BA and then the contrast between the Islamic divorce and English divorce systems for her MA, Naheed was interested to pursue a PhD where she could combine all three of her research interests, Islam, law and language to researching the impact of counter terrorism laws on Islam as a religion. The importance of doing this research is particularly pertinent to contemporary understandings of Islam in a secular liberal society, where a more nuanced understanding is desperately needed, but perhaps more so in the legal context where the rationality of legal decisions are rarely questioned.

Contact details 
Twitter: @naheed973