Blair’s statement on anti-terrorism measures. Mostly fairly typical, platitudinous stuff, and all to be expected. A few bits stand out for confusion, however. But I’ll keep this brief as I’m knackered and have work to do.
First up, people will now be able to be deported for “fostering hatred, advocating violence to further a person’s beliefs or justifying or validating such violence”. All very well and good. But considering the government’s line over the last few weeks has been “if you say Iraq is a reason for why London was attacked, you’re giving excuses for and justifying the attacks” it’s a tad worrying. What, exactly, counts as “justifying” these days? Although I seem to be getting into trouble every time I link to Talk Politics these days, this post may help to point the way to some of my concerns.
Is suggesting that an action – which has led to Al Quaeda’s second in command and one of the 21st July bombers explicitly listing it as a reason for their terrorism – may be a contributing cause of the terrorist attacks a justification or validation? According to the rhetoric of the government and some of its supporters, it would appear so. So should we start deporting everyone who suggests a link between Iraq and the London attacks? Again, from the rhetoric of the government it would appear so.
There’s also the specific reference to “The sort of remarks made in recent days should be covered by such laws. But this will also be applied to justifying or glorifying terrorism anywhere, not just in the UK.”
Does that include George Galloway? How about Gerry Adams, who Blair had a chat with just the other day? Is it going to become illegal to say that you can understand that in the Israel/Palestine conflict Israel has the military advantage, so Palestinian methods are understandable, as Ken Livingstone (a member of Blair’s own party) did not long ago? (A statement which did not, despite it’s rapid spinning by his critics, actually condone Palestinian terror tactics, but as that spinning proved could be interpreted as such.) Considering the part which states “For those who are British nationals and who cannot be deported, we will extend the use of control orders. Any breach can mean imprisonment” will Livingstone and Galloway find themselves presented with control orders?
I surely can’t also be the only one to find “Should legal obstacles arise, we will legislate further, including, if necessary amending the Human Rights Act” a cause for concern? We all know what happened the last time the Law Lords pointed out the flaws of some Blairite terrorism legislation – rather than just lock up foreigners without trial, we can now ALL be locked up without trial. (Something which could get worse with the mention of “a way of meeting the police and security service request that detention pre-charge of terrorist suspects be significantly extended.”)
Then there’s the clampdown on freedom of speech, which could also lead to innocent people getting screwed: “Once the new grounds take effect, there will be a list drawn up of specific extremist websites, bookshops, centres, networks and particular organisations of concern. Active engagement with any of these will be a trigger for the home secretary to consider the deportation of any foreign national.” So if you have, in your browser’s history, a visit to an Islamic fundamentalist website, does that count as “active engagement”? Could following a blog link to a statement from a terror cell count? How about unwittingly visiting a proscribed bookshop, or reading a proscribed book (an idea I find fundamentally abhorrent)? Or will we all be able to take the Pete Townsend “research” defence?
You’ve also got to wonder, when you read things like “the Home Office and Foreign and Commonwealth Office are compiling an international database of those individuals whose activities or views pose a threat to Britain’s security” why on earth they hadn’t done that years ago. How can you defend the country if you don’t even know who our enemies are? If they don’t know who our enemies are, this surely means that they’ve been able to enter the country with valid passports for years – making all the guff about both ID cards and illegal immigration sound even more like a load of bollocks.
There are naturally also some valid statements, like “Cases such as Rashid Ramda wanted for the Paris metro bombing 10 years ago and who is still in the UK whilst France seeks extradition, are completely unacceptable”, and a good part of what Blair says can’t really be denied as being relatively sensible anti-terror measures. The thing about recalling parliament in September is also welcome (although the qualifier “[if] the right consensus is achieved” has slightly sinister undertones…) Even bits some people may not expect me to welcome I do think need to be said, namely “coming to Britain is not a right. And even when people have come here, staying here carries with it a duty. That duty is to share and support the values that sustain the British way of life. Those that break that duty and try to incite hatred or engage in violence against our country and its people, have no place here.”
Nonetheless, there is also a lot to cause concern. A lot of vagueness which needs to be made specific. A lot of things which could easily be turned to political ends, rather than to security means.
As for the statement that “The rules of the game are changing”, it’s understandable (which is not to say that I condone it, please note) – it’s just rather disappointing. What happened to “We will not allow violence to change our society and values”?