The museum has been a site of terrorist violence on multiple occasions and in a variety of jurisdictions in the past decade: from the United States and France to Tunisia and Belgium. This paper re-interprets the contemporary museum within the context of a ‘single narrative’ of global jihadist terrorism; an outlook that justifies and legitimises the targeting of socio-cultural sites from both instrumental and symbolic perspectives. In response to recent terrorist targeting, propaganda, and operations this paper particularly explores counter-terrorism security practices at museums in the UK.
Drawing upon qualitative research undertaken in 2017 – including interviews and responses to Freedom of Information requests – this paper seeks to uncover the key actors and agencies involved in assessing the nature and extent of the terrorist threat to museums and those responsible for recommending and implementing counter-terrorism security measures in the museum environment. Our work particularly highlights the criticality of the role of the museum security manager as the interface between the (heterogeneous) museum and the complex UK counter-terrorism policing and security network. It will outline two key challenges facing museum security managers: the cost implications of implementing counter-terrorism measures and the cultural challenge of communicating a counter-terrorism security message, and responsibly and proportionately embedding security thinking, in everyday practice in the museum.
The research also reflects upon the potential consequences of the securitisation of museum spaces, particularly raising how such measures may impact upon those individuals deemed to be from ‘suspect communities’. Such securitisation practices must be considered critically for their exclusionary effects and potentially discriminatory consequences, and any failure to do so may simply reinforce the divisive narrative propagated by contemporary global jihadist terrorists.
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