The New State Of Fear

Long rant – not really atheist if you want to skip it!

Today’s headlines on the BBC news page are a touch disconcerting, even though they are pretty predictable. At the moment, the lead article is headlined “Brown plans new anti-terror laws” which shows that Gordon Brown is intending to take the reins of government with a firm hand. Sadly, this firm hand seems unconcerned with what is good for the nation, society or pretty much anything other than stealing the Conservatives thunder on the “Tough on Crime” issues.

Terrorism is a wonderful bugbear for UK political parties. We have lived with the constant spectre of terrorist attacks for longer than I have been alive now – I remember from my youth regular news items about bombings in London, Manchester, Birmingham, Guildford and the like. Every Christmas there was a new IRA terror campaign aimed at scaring people away from the shops. Litter bins were removed from public places. The troubles across the water in Northern Ireland were an order of magnitude greater, to the point at which attacks which only killed a few people were two routine to mention on the news.

During the years of the troubles (probably counted as late 1960s to the end of the millennium), all the UK political parties thought they knew how best to deal with the terrorist threat. There were more than just the IRA though, numerous Marxist, socialist, or other crackpot groups with some form of agenda had a go – the IRA (or Provisional IRA to be more accurate) were just better at it and got more publicity. Many methods were tried – increased military presence in Northern Ireland, decreased military presence, negotiations, “tough tactics” and even internment with out trial. Generally, most were unsuccessful and what seems to have been the most historically successful tactic seems to have been public acceptance. When the terrorists stopped getting media coverage they had to resort to more “spectacular” outrages, this had the knock on effect of removing the grass roots support they had in the past and eventually they began to run out of steam. Obviously, the US deciding to declare War on Terror probably played a large part, but by 2001 it was nearly over.

It seems the current Government (and to an extent the population) of the UK has forgotten the lessons learned in the last forty years of hardships. The five or six years of safety and prosperity we had before Iraq got invaded appears to have lulled the population into the soft, sleepy, idea that staying alive for one more day is so important everything else can take second place. Liberties are just something that can be thrown away if they even hint at restricting the “Security Services” from carrying out their tasks. This is something which amazes me.

Internment of IRA suspects caused all manner of outrage and provided massive support from the communities to the “local boys” who became seen as martyrs to the cause. Remember these are innocent people. If you intern someone for 90 days, or 28 days, then let them go, how do you say sorry? How do you explain to the community that you are not “targeting them” but it was a “genuine mistake?”

It didn’t work with the IRA and it certainly wont work against the current terrorist threats. Despite this, there is the idea in the halls of power that longer detention (without charge) of suspects is required. The BBC website reports:

But Constitutional affairs minister Harriet Harman, one of six Labour MPs vying to be Mr Brown’s deputy, said she thought MPs would back new laws – including 90 day detention – if Mr Brown could prove they were needed.

“I don’t think there will be a huge problem if there is a proper debate about it – if evidence is brought forward about why current powers are inadequate and what the safeguards will be,” she told BBC One’s Sunday AM.

Flabbergasting. The critical thing to remember about this, is the requirement for this detention period is suspicion the person is involved in terrorist activities. No evidence is needed. If that isn’t ringing alarm bells I have no idea what else would.

The current 28 days detention is shocking. Basically, if the intelligence services – for what ever reason – decide you are in any way linked to terrorist activity, the police can lock you up for 28 days before they need to have enough evidence to charge you with an offence. A month. A the end, they can (and have done) say “sorry” and let you go. This can be done to you pretty much an infinite number of times. All without a shred of evidence which can be used in court.

Now don’t get me wrong, we have the best intelligence services in the world but people still make mistakes (and, worryingly, the intelligence services are not publicly accountable so you have no way of knowing what their motives are…). Intelligence is a hit and miss business which often relies on educated guesses and “gut instinct.” This should (and still does) be used as the basis from which police work takes place, but the police work still has to happen. This is why we have courts of law and police men. Hopefully this is one of the things that prevents the slip into police state (yes, slippery slope fallacy but the rest of my point is still valid). How would you feel if you were the person detained? Is this detention something which will be acceptable because, lets face it, the majority of detainees will be of middle eastern extraction and probably Islamic?

leaving the civil liberties issues aside, as we are obviously now a society which cares not about such trivia, there is the effectiveness aspect. The main, good, lesson from the Vietnam war (along with all the other counter insurgency wars) has been that you need to win the “hearts and minds” of the people from which the terrorists are drawn. If the communities feel the state is against them then they will view the terrorist as a freedom fighter and provide succour. When the state is seen as the enemy, the terrorist agitators have won – they will no longer need to radicalise people to fight, ordinary people will be willing to join in.

Given the already marginalised communities from which these people are drawn, what effect will 28 days detention without evidence of a criminal act have? This is giving a massive Christmas present (pun intended) to the radicals and the agitators. Even the most basic spin can be used to make it look like people are being persecuted for their skin colour or beliefs – maybe that is even the case. Is it going to become an offence, punishable by 28 (or 90!) days detention without trial, to be Islamic in a Public Place?

As a parting shot, from the director of Liberty:

[Shami Chakrabati, director of pressure group Liberty,] said Mr Brown was making “a grave mistake” in proposing to extend questioning without charge beyond 28 days.

“Twenty-eight days is already the longest period to hold a person without charge in the free world. If you go beyond 28 days it is internment,” she told BBC News.

To me, 28 days without evidence is already internment.

[tags]Civil Liberties, Law, Enforcement, Terrorism, Anti-Terror, Rights, Islam, intolerance, stupidity, society, northern-ireland, gordon-brown, liberty, culture, human rights[/tags]

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