Thursday, October 13, 2005



Destroying freedom in order to "save" it

Tony Blair has introduced his new anti-terrorism legislation to the British Parliament amid a storm of criticism from human rights groups, the judiciary, and even his own anti-terrorism watchdog. And it's not surprising. The bill [PDF] includes:

  • Allowing terrorist suspects to be detained for up to 90 days without charge. This amounts to effective internment of anyone the police don't like; all they need to arrest someone is "reasonable grounds for suspicion" - which is about the same standard of evidence they were exercising when they murdered Jean Charles de Menezes. There is simply no way this complies with the ECHR's ban on arbitrary detention, and Blair's own anti-terror watchdog, Lord Carlile, has said that he believes it to be "unlawful" and that it would fail any legal challenge.
  • New offences of "encouragement" and "indirect encouragement" of terrorism. Combined with the definition of terrorism used in the bill of violence against people or property to influence a government or people for a political purpose, this amounts to a ban on voicing support for the overthrow of any government, anywhere in the world, no matter how repressive. People are already dragging out the Nelson Mandela comparisons, but I think there's a far better example: this bill would have criminalised anyone who, pre-war, expressed support for the idea of the Iraqi people overthrowing Saddam Hussein. It would also ensnare anyone who voices support for the students of Tiananmen, the Prague Spring, the Hungarian Revolt, the 1989 Romanian Revolution which led to the overthrow of Nicolae Ceau?escu, and the victims of the Uzbek regime in Andijan earlier in the year. Not to mention Guy Fawkes and Oliver Cromwell. The sheer breadth of this law (and the requirement for the Attorney-General to grant leave to prosecute) means it will be applied selectively to those the government does not like, rather than consistently - which is fairly abhorrent in and of itself.
  • Criminalising the dissemination of "terrorist publications" - which includes anything "encouraging" terrorism or providing information "capable of being useful" in the commission or preparation of such acts. If this seems overbroad, it is limited; whether something is or is not a "terrorist publication" is to be determined in the context of its publication or making available for sale. So, a book may be a "terrorist publication" (and its owner liable for up to seven years in jail for making it available to others) in the context of a Muslim bookshop - but not in the British Library or on an MP's bookshelf. Wonderful. Note that this section allows summary conviction, though with a lesser penalty of "only" a year in jail - so in the UK they'll be jailing (some) people for posession of a banned book.
  • Allowing the proscription of groups for "glorifying" terrorism, making their members liable to imprisonment. According to one columnist in the Guardian, one of the targets of this is Hizb ut-Tahrir - which while being Islamist and promoting the restoration of the Caliphate, comdemned the London bombings. The sole "evidence" of its involvement in terrorism is a refusal to condemn violence in Iraq or Palestine. Meanwhile, there are absolutely no plans to proscribe the BNP - an organisation which carries out actual violence within the UK.
  • Allowing British citizenship to be removed from those with dual nationality.
  • Allowing terrorist suspects to be deported to regimes where they risk being tortured. This section is also likely to fall foul of the ECHR (not to mention the refugee and torture conventions), and has sparked clashes with the judiciary over perceived pressure from the government to ignore international law in favour of a simple declaration from the Prime Minister in a press conference that "the rules of the game have changed".

As can be seen from the above, a constant theme in the bill is selectivity. While this is an aspect in any law - not every offence is prosecuted, and nor should it be - the sheer breadth of these provisions amounts to a deliberate strategy and raises the spectre of a return to pre-Enlightenment standards of justice. Under the ancien regime, crime was in the eyes of the monarch, and so law was essentially arbitrary. This simply removes things a step - everything is illegal, and it is prosecution which is arbitrary. But the effect is the same: arbitrary justice, with criminality decided by the whim of the powerful rather than the rule of law.

That aside, the bill rides roughshod over core human rights - including freedom of expression, the right to liberty, and the right not to be tortured - and erodes fundamental standards of justice, such as Habeas Corpus. In other words, Blair's plan is to destroy freedom in order to "save" it.

If Al Qaeda's goal is to destroy western civilisation, then they couldn't have dreamed of a better way of doing it in the UK.

4 comments:

This is not good. And as you say, a return to law as defined by those who have the majority of the power.

These are just such fundamental human rights that are being revoked, still perhaps we have taken such things for granted that some won't really appreciate their loss until it causes identifiable suffering.

And I would suspect that joe average voter isn't going to care much about these loss of freedoms because they assume it will only apply to those nasty Muslim terrorists.

Posted by Muerk : 10/13/2005 05:04:00 PM

fantastic post idiot/savant. (as always) love your blog. read it daily.

Jake.

Posted by Anonymous : 10/13/2005 05:21:00 PM

maybe we shouldnt be so hard on alquaeda after-all they are opposed to much of the terrorism in iraq
http://www.boston.com/news/world/middleeast/articles/2005/10/12/seized_letter_outlines_al_qaedas_long_term_goals/

But anyway

Alquada's main goal is to unite the muslim world under a single Caliphate.
http://www.fas.org/irp/world/para/ladin.htm

I dont thin "destroying the west" really features as a significant first order goal - although I guess 1) in terms of strategies it stops getting in the way of them setting up their caiphilate both socially (if you are dead you can't protest against them obeying islam and using the death penalty) and governmentally (if your country is weak it cant stop them liberating/annexing corrupt islamic countries).

2) It might be possible to replace a "destroyed west" with an islamic government

However in both those cases I think they would be quite unhappy with the new UK laws.

The liveral vs conservative argument would be a "weak enemy" vs a "strong enemy" debate rather like that quote from osama I think about how the US/democrats retreated in sudan and that they might have lost if it was a republican government. Ie you can still say the republicans are wrong but you cant call them the friends of terrorism.

Posted by Genius : 10/13/2005 05:25:00 PM

We can learn from previous conflicts:

The IRA originally wanted to establish a one-party socialist state in Ireland (both North and South).

In the end they settled for an end to discrimination against Catholics, limited power sharing and a partial amnesty.

Posted by Rich : 10/18/2005 10:48:00 AM