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Tuesday, September 20, 2005


Talking terrorism

The blogger at Blood and Treasure, a self proclaimed ‘top public intellectual’, has given us a rundown of what we can only be described as ‘articulated jihad’. That’s right, under our current anti-terrorist legislation the fuel protestors can, without any misrepresentation, be categorised as terrorists.

Now, I am not a fan of the fuel protestors, so I look forward to those glorifiers of terrorism, Richard Littlejohn and Jeremy Clarkson being ‘detained’ in Belmarsh. Seriously, this exposes the utter stupidity of the laws being proposed to criminalise the ‘glorification’ of terrorism. Now, I have a feeling that these are a political ploy, a tactic of extreme proposals that has characterised the Home Office in recent years. This tactic involves setting out a hard-right authoritarian policy, and then pulling back to a merely right-wing authoritarian policy under pressure from opposition groups. By doing so, the government can pass nasty, illiberal (and often plain bad) legislation while appearing to be engaging in discourse and dialogue. Of course, by controlling the debate so well, they get everything they wanted, even when they have pulled the worst of the bad lot off the table.

Crooked Timber has a good piece on the absurdity of criminalisation of the glorification of terrorism.

In this case, I expect the criminalisation of the glorification of terrorism to be withdrawn from the new legislation, leaving us with the equally absurd prospect of people being jailed for ‘indirect incitement to acts of terrorism’. What, exactly, is indirect incitement? No, don’t tell me a story of someone who could be prosecuted under the law that prohibits incitement. Yes, you can tell me that it will make convictions easier to secure, but that only tells us of the poverty of your charge that the cited speech actually incites terrorism. Indirect incitement sounds, in practice, like nothing more than ‘glorification’, except it adopts the rhetorical strategy of making a tenuous causal connection between the speech and acts of terrorism.

With a definition of terrorism so broad that it could include any disruptive form of protest, in other words, any effective form of protest, offences of glorification and indirect incitement have a serious possibility to shut down speech. And this is before we consider the ability of this definition to restrict legitimate participatory political action. One defence the government can make is that the law will be applied arbitrarily. And when that is a defence of legislation, the government ought to be replaced.

But, paradoxically, while the definition of terrorism that Britain uses is so broad we have to be thankful that Blair did not manage to force to UN to adopt it, it is not broad enough to prevent people demanding war, sanctions or airstrikes. It is not enough to detain people who propose stripping away our civil liberties, or deport those who see little moral problem in torture. No, and here we see the terrorism laws for what they are. Rather than prohibiting all means of human destruction and all methods of increasing suffering, or at the very least demanding that such actions have to pass through the most rigorous process of democratic accountability, we support arms fairs, deal with dictators, launch wars and strip away human rights. We allow the apologists for such actions to occupy positions of power and influence. The use of force remains the domain of the state and their mercenary proxies (what better expression of the third-way is there than outsourcing warfare to multi-national corporations killing for profit?), barely qualified by concerns over human rights, dignity or welfare. There is, it seems, no moral problem is being an agent of human destruction when pursuing the political designs of an extant state. By contrast, the use of force by non-state actors, excepting those who murder for money, is thoroughly criminalised, without regard for the justice of the cause. Indeed, the cause is irrelevant. Death and destruction are evils in themselves, there can be “no excuse, no justification for terrorism of any kind”. When we have a situation in which those who attempt to articulate the legitimacy or justifications of such actions are detained, deported and shut out of debate we have a recipe for repressive authoritarian sclerosis, with violence certainly not removed from the human condition, merely moved into being a monopoly of state and capital the globe over.

Will the Die Hard films become video nasties now?
Well, no. Because neither Hans Gruber or John McLane (sp?) are Muslims.

Which is why my copy of V for Vendetta will remain on my shelf. But if V quoted the Koran as he blew up London, I'm guessing that it would be extremist literature.
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