Comment, Comics and the Contrary.
Jack Straw has today rebutted the conclusions of the report [pdf]
produced by Chatham House. According to the Guardian
, the report “found that a key problem in the UK for preventing terrorism is that the country “is riding as a pillion passenger with the United States in the war against terror”.” Straw’s response was reported as “I'm astonished that Chatham House is now saying that we should not have stood shoulder to shoulder with our long-standing allies in the United States,” Now, this is not what Chatham House have said. They have said that this position is not a productive position with regards to reducing the level of terrorist threat. This argument may be wrong, but Jack Straw is not arguing this. He is simply engaging in a piece of misrepresentation.
But his utter stupidity comes when he cites the bombing in Turkey this weekend. The Guardian writes; “Mr Straw said Saturday's attack at a beach resort in Turkey also showed that terrorists “will seek any excuse” to strike. “They struck this weekend in Turkey, which was not supporting our action in Iraq,” Mr Straw said.”
Hang on. First, it is not correct to say that Turkey did not back the attack on Iraq. Turkish airspace was used by Coalition aircraft, and there are US military bases in Turkey. It may be the case that there are no Turkish troops in Iraq, but it is rather disingenuous to suggest that Turkey is disconnected from the War in Iraq.
But this is a minor point. The attack in Turkey was not the work of Al Qeada-inspired terrorists, so far as we currently know, but the work of the PKK
, a Kurdish non-Islamist group fighting for Kurdish autonomy. Kurds fighting for independence are useful heroes in one context and damnable villains in another, it seems.
The PKK may commit terrorist acts. But to imagine that they are part of the same phenomena or ideology as Al Qeada inspired terrorist acts is to commit yourself to a nursery school analysis where the IRA, ETA, Al Qeada, the Tamil Tigers etc. are all equivalent.
Furthermore, as the PKK are the prime suspects in this weekend’s bombings, the idea that there would be no link to the Iraq was is hardly surprising. Jack Straw is, appropriately enough, attacking a straw man, though one so poorly constructed it is difficult to know where to begin criticising his anatomy.
Given that Jack Straw is Foreign Secretary, you would expect him to have spotted that Turkey is blaming the attacks on the PKK, and to know the difference between Kurdish separatists and Islamists. So, the question is; is Jack Straw as misleading dissembler or simply an incompetent Foreign Secretary?
I have already written on my concerns at the arbitrary criminalisation that is part and parcel of Anti-Social Behaviour Orders. It appears that the legislative response to the London bombings will be the rushing through of a whole batch of far more wide-ranging laws which can only be enforced in an arbitrary manner.
According to BBC News Online;“New offences could cover people going to terrorist camps overseas or finding out how to build a bomb through the internet, said the Home Office.”
Now, unless these camps and the organizations that run these camps are specifically named – which would be a legal nightmare, open to simple sidestepping through name changes or the employment of ‘clean’ managers and trainers – this law will have to be phrased in such a way as to cover any training which might be applied to terrorist ends. And indeed, as the reference to internet ‘training’ demonstrates, this must be the case – or else it will be legal to look at military instruction on a neutral website, but illegal on a ‘jihadi’ website, which would make the law an ass. Will this apply to mercenary companies and ‘civilian contractors’ who train their staff in military techniques? I somehow doubt that ex-British service men who are trained to kill Africans to protect the property of mining companies and the like will be classed as having received ‘terrorist training’, despite the fact that the training itself is practically identical to that which might have been received at a muhajadeen training camp. What is different is the ethno-religious identify of those involved.
We must ask questions of the Home Office. Would these laws have prevented young Muslim men from volunteering to fight in the Bosnian army during the Balkan Wars? If the answer from the Home Office is that they would not, we must ask just how these laws will be worded if it is possible to be trained in military techniques outside the British military establishment while remaining unprosecuted, while at the same time expecting these laws to prosecute anyone. If the answer from the Home Office is that these men would have been prosecuted, had these laws been in place during the 1990s, then we must ask just how the wording of these laws will allow our mercenary companies to operate. For it most certainly will. The only way that I can see these laws operating in the way that the Home Office hope that they will is through the use of arbitrary prosecutions; people will be able to break the letter of law with impunity, so long as those with the power to prosecute turn the blind eye.
Furthermore, we should note that a trained muhajadeen does not become untrained once he has left prison. Neither does a white man who was trained in firearm use in a militia camp in the Appalachians, or at the third world training camp of a private military contractor, become untrained when he is released from prison. But that is redundant point, because he training in the techniques of killing will not, in itself, be criminal. Or at least, will not be prosecuted.
But that is just an arbitrary entrée. Far more worrying is the proposed law which will make it illegal to ‘indirectly’ incite terrorism. What does this mean?“Ms Blears [the Home Office minister] said: “It would apply where people would seek to glorify terrorist activity, perhaps, for example, saying ‘isn't this a marvellous thing that this has happened’ and ‘these people are martyrs’.””
Will this apply to other people who glorify or legitimate criminal behaviour? Will it apply to those who call for the internment of Muslims in the Western press, or those who write apologias for torture? Will those who celebrate Dresden or Nagasaki do so without fear of prosecution? Or will these, far more direct incitements to inhumanity remain unpunished? And if this is the case, how exactly will the law be worded? I cannot think of any wording of a modern, just law which would criminalise the imam who argues that a suicide bomber is a martyr and would leave a right-wing newspaper columnist free after he calls for the use of torture or supports the use of extra-judicial death squads. But these laws will not be used to imprison Gary Bushell or Richard Littlejohn, I will promise you.
So what must this law involve? It must involve the use of arbitrary prosecution, with some celebrations of acts that are terroristic being ignored while others are prosecuted. Arbitrary prosecution has no place in a just, civilised legal system. I have argued on other blogs that the real threat to the survival of the values and institutions of ‘Western civilisation’ that we must defend are not under threat from ‘jihadis’, who can kill people but, in themselves, effect no real change. Rather, it is from a reactionary response to these bombings. These new laws are reactionary and will, I believe, tremendously damage our legal system. Why is a Labour government bringing in this kind of legislation? Well, it would be comforting if we could put it all down to the undeniably idiocy of Hazel Blears. But it is part of an authoritarian trend, which, while purporting to be part of the left, criminalises, controls and disciplines largely powerless people while allowing capital greater and greater freedom. If a Labour government must give the state arbitrary powers, then it ought to grant itself the power to imprison and dispossess those in the City of London who have complicit in third-world corruption, it ought to grant itself the power to intern arms dealers whose products are used in repression and tyranny, it ought to grant itself the power to take windfall taxes from the massive profits of corporations in order to fund social programmes that will enrich the lives of people.
Instead, what do we get? Identification Cards, Anti-Social Behaviour Orders and arbitrary anti-terrorist legislation. The decent left? It reads much more like the legislative programme of right-wing free-market authoritarians to me.
INCIDENTALLY: Before anyone shouts at me, ‘arguing’ that we must do anything we can to fight terrorism, let me make sure that you are all aware of the Home Office’s favoured definition of ‘terrorism’. George Monbiot, writing in 1999, wrote;“The Home Office would like the definition of terrorism to be expanded to include “serious violence against persons or property, or the threat to use such violence for political, religious or ideological ends”. It would like the definition of “serious violence” to be broadened to include “damage and serious disruption” which might result from attempts to hack into computers or interfere with public property. In other words, offences currently defined as criminal damage could, as long as they are politically motivated, be raised to the status of “serious violence””
and thus, legally speaking, terrorism.
Do we think that the Home Office would now like a narrower definition of terrorism? Such a belief would be extremely foolish. This definition of terrorism is so nebulous that any kind of direct action, including boycotts and pickets, could be categorised this way. If we look again at the proposed laws against training and ‘indirect incitement’ to ‘terrorism’, not only are they flawed when we use a narrow definition of terrorism, but when we adopt the Home Office’s own wide-ranging understanding of the term we will be putting in place a set of legislation that will criminalise many aspects of our democratic culture. There will be no more participation (a key plank of democracy), but only consumption of politics (a legitimating veneer). Is this legislation ill-considered? The accidental laying of the foundations of tyranny? If this is the case then Hazel Blears (and the rest of those responsible) should resign on the grounds that her idiocy disqualifies her from such a position of power. If this legislation has been considered, then, quite frankly, she (and the rest) is a danger to the continued existence of humane civilisation. Patently, I believe, and hope, that this is simply a demonstration of our government’s stupidity. But that is no excuse for passing bad laws.