April 26, 2006

First they came for the terrorists…

... and I said nothing, because I was not a terrorist.

Over the last few years Britain has been undergoing changes which are consistent with a slide into authoritarian rule. This is not to say that Britain has become an authoritarian or fascist regime, or even to say that it is comparable to one. This distinction is apparently too subtle for the home secretary to grasp. In his recent attempt to defend the government's civil liberties record in the Guardian, he wrote:

So some commentators routinely use language such as "police state", "fascist", "creeping authoritarianism", while words such as "holocaust", "gulag" and "apartheid" are used descriptively in ways that must be truly offensive to those who experienced those realities.

Making this distinction leads us to an interesting and – I think – pressing long term question. Where do we draw the line? At what point do the actions of the government become so extreme that it is no longer possible to protest within the system? Undoubtedly we haven't yet reached that point. Substantial democratic avenues of resistance still exist and must be exploited. These include legal forms of protest; disruptive behaviour (such as the no2id renew for freedom campaign); consciousness-raising campaigns; etc.

If the trend continues then at some point these legal, democratic forms of resistance will cease to work. It is by no means a certainty that this point will be reached, but it is a possibility that is worth thinking about because it is not as outlandish as it seems at first sight.

Firstly, we do not live in a fully free and democratic society, so it is possible that the pressure that can be brought to bear through legal and democratic means could be insufficient to withstand the pressure that the state can bring to bear. There are a number of facets to this including but not limited to the fact that access to various forms of media is undemocratic and largely based on wealth or influence. It would also be interesting to know to what extent the secret services would play a role. To mention the secret services is often seen as tantamount to conspiracy theorising, but that is not the case. It is, I believe, not widely disputed that the security services have in the past played a reactionary political role; spying on, infiltrating and disrupting political groups such as the communists, the anarchists and the Labour party (the old one that was seen as a threat to the established order, not the new one). Indeed, it is likely that they even went so far as to spy on Harold Wilson (the Labour PM). Given that they did these things in the past it isn't too far fetched to imagine that they are doing something similar now. Again, to say this is not to say that Britain is equivalent to a fascist state with a secret police by any means. I merely wish to point out that within our still broadly democratic society there are strong antidemocratic forces whose effect cannot be ignored.

Secondly, it is possible that an authoritarian takeover of a democratic society could be implemented legally. The case of the creation of Apartheid in South Africa is instructive. The following paragraph is from the Wikipedia article on Apartheid:.

J.G. Strijdom, who succeeded Malan as Prime Minister, moved to strip coloureds and blacks of what few voting rights they had. The previous government had first introduced the Separate Representation of Voters Bill in parliament in 1951. However, its validity was challenged by a group of four voters[1], who were supported by the United Party. The Cape Supreme Court upheld the act, but the Appeal Court upheld the appeal and found the act to be invalid. This was because a two-thirds majority in a joint sitting of both Houses of Parliament was needed in order to change the entrenched clauses of the Constitution. The government then introduced the High Court of Parliament Bill, which gave parliament the power to overrule decisions of the court. This too was declared invalid by both the Cape Supreme Court and the Appeal Court. In 1955 the Strijdom government increased the number of judges in the Appeal Court from five to eleven, and appointed pro-Nationalist judges to fill the new places. In the same year they introduced the Senate Act, which increased the senate from 49 seats to 89. Adjustments were made such that the NP controlled 77 of these seats. Finally, in a joint sitting of parliament, the Separate Representation of Voters act was passed in 1956, which removed coloureds from the common voters' roll in the Cape, and established a separate voters' roll for them.

When the 'law' becomes so morally bankrupt and reprehensible, it becomes the duty of the citizen to resist it, not to obey it.

As I said before, we haven't yet reached this point, but we need to think about two things: how do we know when we have reached this point? and what are the acceptable forms of illegal resistance? The no2id campaign lies on the boundary between legality and illegality; it clearly contradicts the spirit of the law if not the letter.

I haven't yet reached a position on these questions, and I would be interested in debate and opinions. I can imagine that some might argue that certain forms of illegal protest are already justified. For example, protesting outside parliament without written permission (which is now illegal). But I doubt that anyone but some very diehard revolutionists would argue that armed insurrection is justified. I suspect that a complete exploration of these issues would require an understanding of the nature of collaboration. Why do ostensibly good people go along with things they know are wrong? What can be done about it? A simple question along these lines which continually perplexes me is: why does the Labour party go along with what Tony Blair wants even though he is quite clearly a Tory? (Tories, please don't be offended by this, I say this only for rhetorical effect.)

Some might respond that these are bourgeois political concerns to be worrying about, and that we would do much better to concentrate our energies on other political matters of global concern. There is some truth to this; large scale poverty around the world, the environment, political instability and oppressive regimes are all issues which are in some sense more important than British civil liberties. However, I think things have now got to the stage where the problem cannot be ignored. We cannot take our freedoms for granted.


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  1. Christopher Rossdale

    Nicely put.
    The laws that worry me are the ones against 'glorification of terrorism' – when terrorism is a purely subjective term. Noam Chomsky puts it best when he remarks that it would be best to describe terrorism as the calculated use of violence or threat of violence to achieve political, economic or ideological aims – the only problem being that that also defines official policy. If the government can decide who are terrorists and make supporting them illegal, well…...
    So supporting Hamas is illegal, but supporting the Israeli government is fine. How long is it for Greenpeace? And the Anarchist movement?

    26 Apr 2006, 02:38

  2. the instruments are already in place. only question is whether anyone is powerful enough or if power is concentrated enough to be completely (bcz it is already to a great extent) misused, i.e. dictatorship to come about.

    what is the point where we should start worrying? for some people there is no point (unfortunately). they just want to b allowed to live and they dont want any trouble. the kind that survives all regime changes because they "just go with the flow". most other people, in my opinion are not as bad but r very close, cuz they exercise very little or maybe none of their civil liberties, they pay very little attention to the political climate of their surrounding bcz it doesnt directly affect their livelihood BUT they like to think of themselves as "aware", "intellectuals" and "active" so they might sign some petitions if a bunch of protesters in front of westminster asks them to and if the cause makes some sense. so, the majority, again, in my opinion, r like this – passive but seldom active, which is better than nothing. on the other hand, this same type of people is the type of people that dont join protests against the war in Iraq, against free trade exploitation etc. all in all, they will not rise unless sth significantly affects their lives, i.e. they dont have enough to eat or drink. and even then, with the threat of force, the number of those who were thinking about rising will fall by 99% (figurative #, of course). therefore, if someone were to now say: "i am going to use all these beautiful video cameras, troops, guns and police to change this country's regime into a fundamentalist fascist authoritarian regime + if i add some nice and glossy marketing to it, spin it a little bit, call it 'proactive adaptation' and take over the media, most wont even know!", chances r, not many out of the entire population would rise to stop it.

    so….... i think that all the tools r already in place and the stage is set for it as well.

    what is happening in Nepal i think is a bautiful example of when people still believe in ideals and want sth out of their lives. but even here it is a question of whether the resistant force of civilians would/will b enough without international intervention/backing up (which in turn has its costs as well, hehe). also, we must take into account that Nepalese people do not have even their livelihood. so it is really a question, whether they would rise up against the king if they didnt feel hunger when they went to sleep.

    26 Apr 2006, 03:49

  3. 2nd part:
    finally, to reiterate on what i mentioned at the beginning: it is a question of whether the power will b sufficiently concentrated to b able to do such damage as invoke terror.
    but the real things that i think safeguard us today and in the future from crazy shit happening are these:
    -the fact that there is and always will b enough ego-power-maniacs that will constantly try and steal power from one another, therefore dilluting it
    -the system which at least in one way or another makes sure that people r sth to b considered if u want to rule
    -human nature which i think is in its essence good – which remains as the final hope i guess; the hope that if someone had the power and opportunity to push the button that they would choose not to

    all in all i think it is an interesting circle that the ruling class forms with its 'ruled-over class'. the former needs the latter to stay and gain power; the ruling class ultimately want to act in the way that best fits them and not the people, but need the people to remain the ruling class. because if they dont have the 'power of the people' behind them then it is brute force that rules amongst the ruling class, and "might is right" becomes the only instrunction u need to know to get a driving licence…

    and i agree: we must not take our freedoms for granted. therefore, we must everyday work on the eradication of sheep-like (non)thinking. (not to say that i dont like sheep as animals)

    i've gone on for long enough….baaaaaaaa

    f.

    26 Apr 2006, 03:49

  4. fukin hell, i've been writing this for so long, the rabbit has stopped chasing the carrot and is only hugging it now….triiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiipppppppyyyyy stufff….....

    f.

    26 Apr 2006, 03:51

  5. Dan, is your blog entry title a paraphrasing of this poem?

    THE HANGMAN
    by MAURICE OGDEN

    1.

    Into our town the Hangman came,
    Smelling of gold and blood and flame—
    And he paced our bricks with a diffident air
    And built his frame on the courthouse square.
    The scaffold stood by the courthouse side,
    Only as wide as the door was wide;
    A frame as tall, or little more,
    Than the capping sill of the courthouse door.
    And we wondered, whenever we had the time,
    Who the criminal, what the crime,
    That Hangman judged with the yellow twist
    Of knotted hemp in his busy fist.
    And innocent through we were, with dread
    We passed those eyes of buckshot lead;
    Till one cried: “Hangman, who is he
    For whom you raise the gallows-tree:
    Then a twinkle grew in the buckshot eye,
    And he gave us a riddle instead of reply:
    “He who serves me best,” said he,
    “Shall earn the rope on the gallows-tree.”
    And he stepped down, and laid his hand
    On a man who came from another land—
    And we breathed again, for another’s grief
    At the Hangman’s hand was our relief.
    And the gallows-frame on the courthouse lawn.
    By tomorrow’s sun would be struck and gone.
    So we gave him way, and no one spoke,
    Out of respect for his hangman’s cloak.

    2.
    The next day’s sun looked mildly down
    On roof and street in our quiet town
    And, stark and black in the morning air,
    The gallows-tree on the courthouse square.
    And the Hangman stood at his usual stand
    With the yellow hemp in his busy hand;
    With his buckshot eye and his jaw like a pike
    And his air so knowing and businesslike.
    And we cried: “Hangman, have you not done,
    Yesterday, with the alien one?”
    Then we fell silent, and stood amazed:
    “Oh, not for him was the gallows raised.”
    He laughed a laugh as he looked at us:
    “. . . Did you think I’d gone to all this fuss
    To hang one man? That’s a thing I do
    To stretch the rope when the rope is new.”
    Then one cried, “Murderer!” One, cried, “Shame!”
    And into our midst the Hangman came
    To that man’s place. “Do you hold,” he said,
    “With him that was meant for the gallows-tree?”
    And he laid his hand on that one’s arm,
    And we shrank back in quick alarm,
    And we gave him way, and no one spoke
    Out of fear of this hangman’s cloak.
    That night we saw with dread surprise
    The Hangman’s scaffold had grown in size.
    Fed by the blood beneath the chute
    The gallows-tree had taken root;
    Now as wide, or a little more,
    Than the steps that led to the courthouse door,
    As tall as the writing, or nearly as tall,
    Halfway up on the courthouse wall.

    /cont

    26 Apr 2006, 10:34

  6. cont.

    3.
    The third he took—we had all heard tell—
    Was a usurer and infidel, And:
    “What,” said the Hangman, “have you to do
    With the gallows-bound, and he a Jew?”
    And we cried out: “Is this one he
    Who has served you well and faithfully?
    The Hangman smiled: “it’s a clever scheme
    To try the strength of the gallows-beam.”
    The fourth man’s dark, accusing song
    Had scratched our comfort had and long;
    And “What concern,” he gave us back,
    “Have you for the doomed—the doomed and black?
    The fifth. The sixth. And we cried again:
    “Hangman, Hangman, is this the man?”
    “It’s a trick,” he said, “that we hangmen know
    For easing the trap when the trap springs slow.”
    And so we ceased and asked no more,
    As the Hangman tailed his bloody score;
    And sun by sun, and night by night,
    The gallows grew to monstrous height.
    The wings of the scaffold opened wide
    Till they covered the square from side to side;
    And the monster cross-beam, looking down,
    Cast its shadow across the town.

    4.
    Then through the town the Hangman came
    And called in the empty streets my name—
    And I looked at the gallows soaring tall
    And although: “There is no one left at all
    For hanging, and so he calls to me
    To help pull down the gallows-tree.”
    And I went out with right good hope
    To the Hangman’s tree and the Hangman’s rope.
    He smiled at me as I came down
    To the courthouse square through the silent town,
    And supple and stretched in his busy hand
    Was the yellow twist of the hempen strand.
    And he whistled his tune as he tried the trap
    And it sprang down with a ready snap—
    And then with a smile of awful command
    He laid his hand upon my hand.
    “You tricked me, Hangman!” I shouted then,
    “That your scaffold was built for other men . . .
    And I no henchman of yours,” I cried,
    “You lied to me, Hangman, foully lied!”
    Then a twinkle grew in his buckshot eye;
    “Lied to you? Tricked you?” he said, “Not I.
    For I answered straight and I told you true:
    The scaffold was raised for none but you.”
    “For who has served me more faithfully
    Than you with your coward’s hope?” said he,
    “And where are the others that might have stood
    Side by your side in the common good?”
    “Dead,” I whispered; and amiably
    “Murdered,” the Hangman corrected me;
    “First the alien, then the Jew . . .
    I did no more than you let me do.”
    Beneath the beam that blocked the sky,
    None had stood so alone as I—
    And the Hangman strapped me, and no voice there
    Cried “Stay” for me in the empty square.

    —————————————————————

    Because if it isn't, it could be!

    26 Apr 2006, 10:35

  7. James

    I don't have time for a response of the same length as some posts here, so I'll just briefly sketch the opposite view. We are always on the slippery slope. Economically we have far more freedom than recent decades. In many forms of expression we have more freedom as well. So in several important respects we're heading in the opposite direction to totalitarianism. As to political freedom, we are signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights, which among other things codifies the common law right to freedom against arbitrary detention, unfair trials and torture. Thus our chances of being overrun by a zealous bunch of fascists are slim.

    Increased anti-terrorist measures are being brought in, as you say. But the most fundamental freedom is that not to be killed. We have the right not to be murdered by suicide bombers. It is they, not the Government, which is shifting the goalposts or changing the gradient of the slippery slope or whatever metaphor you choose. In times of grave national threats then the rule of law allows for the erosion of personal liberty and the handing over to the executive of some of the powers normally the preserve of the judiciary. This happened in WWII with what's known as Regulation 18B, where the Home Secretary could detain persons on reasonable suspicion that they were enemy agents. The House of Lords, mindful of the threat the country then faced, ruled – controversely but not necessarily incorrectly – that it was for the Home Secretary to determine what was reasonable.

    Take the old cliche about it being better for nine guilty people to go free than one innocent man to be imprisoned. That might be true ordinarily – as in times of peace when there's no threat to the nation. It might be true even for heinous crimes such as rape or even murder. But would it be true of suicide bombers? I'm not so sure. Only 19 committed the 9/11 attack; 9 of them on the loose would be a very great evil indeed. Are we not entitled to assume that they would be detained by the Gvt until no longer considered a threat? Already 54 are dead because there was not enough evidence to satisfy normal requirements to detain the 7/7 bombers. I was in the City of London that day and don't want to be next.

    26 Apr 2006, 12:11

  8. Martin Niemöller

    I rather think it was my poetry that inspired the title of this blog. Read here

    26 Apr 2006, 12:24

  9. Filip, I had no idea that it ever stopped chasing the carrot, I thought it went on and on for ever.

    Richard, no it wasn't that poem it was the Niemoller one linked to in post 8. But you're right, it could just as easily have been the hangman one. Thanks for posting it.

    James, wow! It's like having the home secretary himself writing on my blog.

    "... we are signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights, which among other things codifies the common law right to freedom against arbitrary detention, unfair trials and torture."

    Is detention arbitrary if they don't have to give you a reason for it, or tell anyone about it?

    Is a trial without a jury fair?

    Is 'extraordinary rendition' tantamount to torture? What about accepting evidence obtained through the use of torture in another country in a British court?

    "But the most fundamental freedom is that not to be killed."

    Did Jean-Charles de Menezes have that right? Do asylum seekers sent back to countries where they will likely be tortured or killed have that right?

    "It is they [the terrorists], not the Government, which is shifting the goalposts…"

    Terrorism is not a substantial threat. Last year in Britain deaths caused by terrorist incidents were about 2% of those caused by car crashes (about 50 compared to about 3000).

    "Take the old cliche about it being better for nine guilty people to go free than one innocent man to be imprisoned. That might be true ordinarily – as in times of peace when there's no threat to the nation."

    The 'threat of terrorism' will never go away, are you advocating a permanent 'state of war'?

    26 Apr 2006, 15:32

  10. James

    Far too many issues to give detailed replies, but here are a few thoughts:

    "... we are signatories to the European Convention on Human Rights, which among other things codifies the common law right to freedom against arbitrary detention, unfair trials and torture."

    Is detention arbitrary if they don't have to give you a reason for it, or tell anyone about it?

    Yes. This is not the case in the UK. SIAC and its procedures are controversial, but the fact that it includes members of the judiciary means you are wrong to suggest people in the UK can be detained and no-one can be told about it, so your statement is just inaccurate scaremongering.

    Is a trial without a jury fair?

    Many 'civilised' countries don't have juries, so yes. I'm far from convinced that the jury trial is the best safeguard of liberties.

    Is 'extraordinary rendition' tantamount to torture?

    ER is done by the US, not Britain. If you've evidence that Britain is complicit in it, then you've a decent scoop to flog to the press for a lot of money.

    What about accepting evidence obtained through the use of torture in another country in a British court?

    That isn't the case, if you bothered reading the recent House of Lords decision on the point properly or at all.

    26 Apr 2006, 15:57

  11. James

    Continuing:

    "But the most fundamental freedom is that not to be killed."

    Did Jean-Charles de Menezes have that right?

    Yes, but his killing was entirely justified. Put yourself in the position of the police. The second round of attempted terrorism occurred just beforehand (and no-one was to know it would be the last for several months thus far). YOu and I could run away if we saw a terrorist suspect. The police don't have that choice – they have to run straight at the suspected terrorists, who may well have explosives taped to them timed to go off at a particular time. They would have a massive amount of adrenaline going through their system, and have to make a split second decision about whether to take the risk that Menendez was innocent or not. He chose to run. Apparently this was because of his fear of police derived from living in the chaotic country of Brazil, with its death squads. That's unfortunate, but it's a criticism of Brazil, not the UK, and in particular not the police on the spot (yes I know you'll just say his killing was the slippery slope towards death squads appearing here). Again, put yourself in the police's position at the time. Having decided to shoot him, they shot him several times. Entirely ordinary procedure when faced with the risk of explosives.

    Do asylum seekers sent back to countries where they will likely be tortured or killed have that right?

    Most 'asylum seekers' are never deported from here – even murderers, rapists and terrorists – and most aren't asylum seekers to begin with. Those who step off a cross channel ferry have come from a safe country and are therefore economic migrants. And the scale of abuse of the system is truly frightening.

    "It is they [the terrorists], not the Government, which is shifting the goalposts…"

    Terrorism is not a substantial threat. Last year in Britain deaths caused by terrorist incidents were about 2% of those caused by car crashes (about 50 compared to about 3000).

    I feel better already. I can do something about being in a car crash – driving safely – (not avoiding the risk altogether, obviously) but I can do little about loonies wanting to blow me up because of religious rubbish. And car crashes aren't going to involve dirty bombs or botulism or anything else any time soon. You'll say the same re terrorism, but no-one predicted 9/11 either.

    "Take the old cliche about it being better for nine guilty people to go free than one innocent man to be imprisoned. That might be true ordinarily – as in times of peace when there's no threat to the nation."

    The 'threat of terrorism' will never go away, are you advocating a permanent 'state of war'?

    No, but I'm advocating closure of all 'faith' schools for a start. I'd love to be able to get rid of religious extremism but wonder if that's achievable. Again you miss the very point here – it is the terrorists that cause problems in the first place.

    Of course I don't advocate some sort of Nazi police state, if you read my earlier blog you will note it was solely concerned with sketching out the alternate viewpoint to the scaremongering we always get from the chattering classes. And I despise the Home Secretary, and his predecessor, as it happens.

    26 Apr 2006, 15:58

  12. Hold on, James.
    Your comparing the situation now to the situation in WWII. Even bringing talk of "grave national threat" into discussion about the current situation proves nothing but that you have a lot to learn. I suggest you make a movement on this pressing issue.
    I love talk of "terrorists moving goalposts" in supposedly serious discussion. Pretty much ends the discussion. I don't think the opposing view has to counter particularly well to (intellectually at least) win the argument when people like you and our current Home Secretary mention this kind of nonsense in serious discussion about very serious things.

    As to the last paragraph:
    "...as in times of peace when there's no threat to the nation."
    again, what are we talking about? If this is not peace, there has never been peace. If you're of the opinion that there was never peace, that's reasonable, but it would compel you to drop your previous statements on the difference in governance in different times. Take the time to consider previous post-war decades, and think about whether we were in "peacetime" then. The other part of this sentence, the "threat to the nation" is again pure rhetoric, pure nonsense. What constitutes "threat to a nation", what constitutes "peace/conflict/war", and who is responsible for these situations? You need to think about these terms when you use them. You need to stop believing people who keep restating that we are "at war" or some other nonsense. Understand how these terms are being used, and how they are misused, and why they are misused.

    "...I was in the City of London that day and don't want to be next."
    Why do people think feeeling that they themselves are in physical danger should influence a rational man's mind on an issue of wider importance?

    26 Apr 2006, 16:06

  13. Thios is getting progressively more hilarious.

    "Yes, but his killing was entirely justified. Put yourself in the position of the police. The second round of attempted terrorism occurred just beforehand (and no-one was to know it would be the last for several months thus far). YOu and I could run away if we saw a terrorist suspect. The police don't have that choice – they have to run straight at the suspected terrorists, who may well have explosives taped to them timed to go off at a particular time. They would have a massive amount of adrenaline going through their system, and have to make a split second decision about whether to take the risk that Menendez was innocent or not. He chose to run. Apparently this was because of his fear of police derived from living in the chaotic country of Brazil, with its death squads. That's unfortunate, but it's a criticism of Brazil, not the UK, and in particular not the police on the spot (yes I know you'll just say his killing was the slippery slope towards death squads appearing here). Again, put yourself in the police's position at the time. Having decided to shoot him, they shot him several times. Entirely ordinary procedure when faced with the risk of explosives. "

    My God. Some kid in my kitchen tried pulling that on me. I was like..nah…obviously don't know what you're talking about.
    Some points to get you started:
    1. the place they were watching, a block, what door did De Menezes come out of? Did anyone else come out of the block at all? Did they even know what flat they were watching?
    2. Follow him, but let him walk to the bus stop.
    3. Let him get on the bus, take a bus ride. A bus is a thing similar to an underground train in that it is a vehicle for transporting mulitiple people from A to B, whatever their As and Bs are. The bus is overground, however, with many other cars and such like around it. Why was he not apprehendedprior to getting on the bus?
    4. "he was wearing a big coat in summer"..."no, he wasnt wearing a big coat, we made that up".
    5. Accosted in the tube station. A "tube station" has many people in it on an average day. Why was this danger not present before now, why was he allowed to get to a tube station with many people in it? What if he had detonated his non-existant explosives at that moment? what then?
    6. De Menezes bolts. That's what people do when men in civilian clothing accost them in London.
    7. [related to 6.] Absolutely no information is given on how/if the agents identified themselves.
    8. Why exactly does this accosting, from all reports, sound like two men walking up to have a chat with someone instead of a proper operation in such a situation which is to draw weapons and identify your agency correctly and clearly.
    9. shall we stop now to save my time, or do you need more?

    The story they eventually came up with was more riddled with holes than De Menezes' body. Basically, when he bolted, they panicked, thinking "we've bollocksed this up, havn't behaved properly, what if he runs off, gets down there and does something? we're in for it then!".

    You don't have to be a "liberal" or a "lefty" to realise such facts. You'd have to be ignorant or a lier not to.

    26 Apr 2006, 16:29

  14. *"liar", that is. haha

    26 Apr 2006, 16:30

  15. James

    Vincent,

    As always with your posts one has to sift through a whole heap of ad hominen abuse to find something resembling an argument.

    I should have made clear that I don't think our situation is as severe – or near it – as WWII, I was just making the point that circumstances can exist when we have to lessen the protection of the trial process in order to stop large numbers of people getting killed. How grave the current threat is is a matter of debate.

    Interesting you should mention 'rational man' in contradistinction to me, on the basis I said I don't want to get blown up (a sentiment presumably others in the City and elsewhere also share). It is people who believe in religious war who aren't rational. Those who believe absurdities will commit atrocities, as the cliche goes.

    26 Apr 2006, 16:33

  16. James, thanks for giving us the opportuinty to argue with someone!

    While the death of fifty people is a tragedy, that many people die in car crashes in a week. For those odds, I'd take my chances on the tube (and yes, I do commute from time to time) over a government which is increasingly happy to ride roughshod over laws which have been in existence for centuries. My brother was in the City on 7/7 so the risk was there. We still have a 100% death rate, and I'd prefer to live the days I do have in a free and open society rather than one which is living in fear of everything.

    These liberties are not, as the home secretary is ignorant/mendacious enough to suggest, inventions of nineteenth-century men in top hats. They are the product of centuries of trial and error, and have stood the test of time. Liberty, and the rule of law, are timeless concepts.

    For a state of total war, such as '39–45, where thousands of civilians are dying in bombing raids to say nothing of the threat of invasion, then of course a serious curtailment of these liberties is necessary. But the Nazi regime could have torn our society from top to bottom if it had won. These terrorists don't have that ability. In addition, the Nazis were defeated in 1945, and we went from a state of war to one of peace. There is no such distinction in the 'war on terror' – the government can perpetuate this wartime state for as long as it pleases. (See 'War is Peace', 1984 :).)

    With regard to jury trial: those countries that have it are (historically) much less likely to lock up innocent people. It's not flawless, but in an imperfect world it's the best we've got.

    26 Apr 2006, 17:37

  17. alex goodman

    I have to say that Charles Clarke's use of sanctimonious digs at political commentators is disingenuous and without credibility. The fact that people might use language which is over the top is likely to offend people who lived through apartheid a lot less than the host of measures being implemented to detain foreign nationals including young children, mentally ill and seriously ill failed asylum seekers who have committed no crimes for indefinite periods of time; for denying them basic access to medical care, denying them the right to marry, forcing them to live in destitution; to perform compulsory labour in a Western country for the first time since the nineteenth century, for finding loopholes in the absolute bar in international law on complicity in torturous practices, for imposing house arreest and control orders etc. The vast array of measures designed to persecute immigrants and asylum seekers is discriminatory and racist in a fashion that has not been seen in english legislation since the early twentieth century.
    He is right to say that his attempts at persecution of minorities have not yet reached the levels achieved by Apartheid South Africa or Nazi Germany at their height, but they have reached the levels of those regimes at their inception and that is why the comparisons are drawn.

    The last two weeks have seen mass hunger strikes in three immigration detention centres in England. In one, 143 out of 145 detainess striked simultaneously against the cruel and degrading treatment they received. These are people who have no right to be here, no right to work, no right to own property, no right to marry, no right to liberty and no proper access to medical care. Their only form of protest is hunger strike. There are no other outlets for them. They are treated far worse than suspected terrorists because the criminal law contains more safeguards than civil immigration law.

    In a case called Karas v Secretary of State for the Home Department in the High Court earlier this week Munby J, a High Court Judge found that the Secretary of State's attempt to detain and remove a couple of asylum seekers in the middle of the night without prior warning and without contacting their solicitors when they had outstanding claims for asylum was unlawful. He said at paragraph 87:

    "What the present case and others like it reveal in my judgment is, at best an unacceptable disregard by the Home Office of the rule of law; at worst, an unacceptable disdain by the Home Office for the rule of law, which is as depressing as it ought to be concerning"

    Presumably Charles Clarke would regard the comments of this High Court Judge, a conservative member of the establishment who has spent his life devoted to the rule of law as another example of use of language which would be truly offensive to those who have experienced regimes that really disdain the rule of law.

    The reality of regimes who disregard and disdain the rule of law is that none of them ever admit it. There is a sickness at the heart of the Home Office which has now come to routinely abuse its power.

    I think the title paraphrases this poem written in 1945 by pastor Martin Niemoller an opponent of the Nazi Party in the 1930s in Germany:

    First They Came for the Jews
    First they came for the Jews
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for the Communists
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a Communist.
    Then they came for the trade unionists
    and I did not speak out
    because I was not a trade unionist.
    Then they came for me
    and there was no one left
    to speak out for me.

    26 Apr 2006, 17:49

  18. James,

    You're correct about the House of Lords ruling on the use of evidence obtained through the use of torture. My reply was written in haste and I got it wrong.

    I think we'll have to agree to disagree about SIAC. It's too complex to go into in this thread. I think we'll also have to agree to disagree about jury trials.

    You're completely wrong about Jean-Charles de Menezes. I don't have much to add to what Vincent said.

    "I can do something about being in a car crash – driving safely – (not avoiding the risk altogether, obviously)..."

    Ah, the illusion of control. I suppose you can choose not to go on the bus or tube. You can choose not to live in London but in a small village in Scotland where you're unlikely to be affected by any terrorist activities. Control is not the issue here. Irrational fear is the issue, and the way governments exploit it (and have done throughout the ages).

    "... I was just making the point that circumstances can exist when we have to lessen the protection of the trial process in order to stop large numbers of people getting killed. How grave the current threat is is a matter of debate."

    Indeed, and as Edward and I have correctly pointed out, the threat is minimal. I note that in another thread you said you were against the smoking ban. The rationale behind this is that it saves people from increased risk of death due to passive inhalation (something over which they have no control other than the option to stay at home and not meet people in public places etc.). There is some evidence for this increased risk, but it isn't conclusive. Why is this legislation wrong but the anti-terrorism legislation right? Is it because THE TERRORISTS COULD KILL EVERYONE IF THEY GOT HOLD OF A NUCLEAR BOMB!!!!!?

    "Interesting you should mention 'rational man' in contradistinction to me…"

    Using long words doesn't make you rational. ;-)

    26 Apr 2006, 18:05

  19. "But the most fundamental freedom is that not to be killed."

    We can all be grateful we didn't think like that in 1940.

    Sometimes we have to risk our lives for the right to live in a liberal democracy.

    Better to die where liberty lives than live where liberty has died.

    26 Apr 2006, 21:02

  20. I think it's time to quote Ben Franklin, seeing as it hasn't been done yet.

    "he who gives up a little liberty to gain a little security deserves neither liberty nor security.

    26 Apr 2006, 23:35

  21. thank you kelly. a good qoute.

    James, "as always", your reasponse in the face of damning evidence is…well…not to answer the questions posed.
    The extent of your tackling of the issue seems to be, "How grave the current threat is is a matter of debate."
    I was looking for a little more, really.

    27 Apr 2006, 02:52

  22. Gareth Herbert

    Firstly the title of that guardian article is idiotic, to draw any kind of equivalence to the Nazi persecution of minorities and the fact that western governments seek to imprison terrorists and prevent acts of terrorism is utterly ridiculous. Perhaps the second third lines of his text would have been something along the lines of "then they came for the rapists, but I did not speak out because I was not a rapist, then they came for the asian gang bosses, but I did not speak out because I was an asian gang boss…"

    Chris – Noam Chomsky's definition (in typical Chomsky form) is so idiotically general and relativistic that one could argue that from that definition of terrorism that by fighting the Nazis and resisting tyranny the UK were engaged in terrorism. Noam Chomsky is an idiot.

    Richard – I thought that poem was terrific.

    Dan – Under British law if an asylum seeker is believed to face torture or death then legally they cannot be deported to those nations. If you believe that this has occurred then your issue is not with this aspect of policy per se but with the occasional errors and misjudgements that hamper the efforts of those administering this policy. Jean Charles de Menezes' death was a tragedy and arose from a series of enormous cock ups, it's wrong to characterise it as the result of a political system that does not care about human rights or as the moral bankruptcy of those involved.

    I think the 'virtue' of trial by jury is overrated – it's the result of some misguided sentimentalism that advocates that deep down, every Joe Public has a reservoir of untapped wisdom and knowledge that can be actualised by calling them a juror, or that by shoving twelve random people into a room you'll some create some great social microcosm that reflects and enforces the nation at large.

    The merits of being judged by ones peers ought to be reconciled with the fact that your average "Joe public" is no king Solomon, they're generally average guys that wants to get the whole trial over as quickly as possible so that they can catch the United game on TV or see their kids. The merits of jury trials are debatable as it is, and ought not be considered "fairer" than any other trial simply because there are twelve of them, and when it comes to the handling of sensitive information that has been judged by the security services as vital to the security of this nation, I'd rather it be ruled on by a judge rather than a group of people who might well mention the next time they're in the middle of a conversational lull. Providing that the rulings of the judge are wholly independent I have no problem with the abolition of trial by jury in certain fields.

    Terrorism does not cause fear because of the numbers killed, nor is it the result of a "media scare campaign" or government senstationalism. Terrorism caused fear because of the wholly erratic and unpredictable nature in which attacks occur. Car crashes for instance, can be considered a daily risk that tempers our behaviour in our day to day lives: we look both ways before we cross the street, we indicate at junctions we wear seatbelts etc. A terrorist attack on the other hand inspires so much fear because it is a totally random act that we cannot evaluate in terms of risk and which destroys our tidy notions of order and is a violent and dramatic intrusion into our schema of day to day life.

    27 Apr 2006, 03:44

  23. David Ezekiel,

    Nice point about 1940. I hadn't actually looked at it that way.

    David Kelly,

    Soon we'll have all pertinent aphorisms on this thread. :-D

    Gareth,

    "Firstly the title of that guardian article is idiotic…"

    If you're referring to the title of my blog entry, then I'm glad to tell you I came up with the title and wrote the blog entry all by my little own self. Thank you for the compliment.

    "... to draw any kind of equivalence to the Nazi persecution of minorities and the fact that western governments seek to imprison terrorists and prevent acts of terrorism is utterly ridiculous."

    Did you even read the first paragraph of my entry?

    "Perhaps the second third lines of his text would have been something along the lines of "then they came for the rapists, but I did not speak out because I was not a rapist, then they came for the asian gang bosses, but I did not speak out because I was an asian gang boss…""

    I think perhaps the next lines might be more likely to mention "terrorist suspects", "terrorist sympathisers", "those who would not condemn terrorism", and so forth.

    I'm surprised you didn't mention paedophiles, that always goes down well, everyone hates them. I guess you didn't think of it?

    "Under British law if an asylum seeker is believed to face torture or death then legally they cannot be deported to those nations."

    Yes, this is technically the law. The practice seems to be rather different. For a flavour of it, I refer you to my brother Alex's post number 17 above.

    "Jean Charles de Menezes' death was a tragedy and arose from a series of enormous cock ups, it's wrong to characterise it as the result of a political system that does not care about human rights or as the moral bankruptcy of those involved."

    No, and you'll note that nobody did so. In fact it's the result of mass hysteria which affects the police as much as everyone else. The difference is they carry guns and are allowed to kill people, so they ought to have higher standards. Are you saying that the nobody should be held accountable for the 'cock ups' involved?

    "I think the 'virtue' of trial by jury is overrated…"

    As I said to James, we'll have to agree to disagree.

    "Terrorism does not cause fear because of the numbers killed, nor is it the result of a "media scare campaign" or government senstationalism."

    Don't use quotation marks if you're not quoting something, it's deceptive and misleading (although not necessarily intentionally). Nobody said there was a media scare campaign. I would say that the media is to a large extent rather hysterical about terrorism. And, of course this rubs off on people. By not being the voice of reason, the government is also culpable.

    "A terrorist attack on the other hand inspires so much fear because it is a totally random act that we cannot evaluate in terms of risk and which destroys our tidy notions of order and is a violent and dramatic intrusion into our schema of day to day life."

    I don't think so. It is easy to evaluate the risk. Not precisely of course, but you can say (through looking at all the available evidence) that it is a tiny fraction of the risk associated to road use. Are you saying that a car crash is not a "totally random act" and not a "violent and dramatic intrusion into our schema of day to day life"? Tell that to someone who has had a family member or friend killed in an accident which wasn't their fault.

    Regardless, is there a political point to your musings on the psychology of the fear of terrorism?

    27 Apr 2006, 05:02

  24. James

    Many good comments, which I don't have the time to respond to in any sort of detail. I would observe, however:

    1. Vincent, I pointed out the ad hominen nature of some of your comments in the hope that such comments would desist. Instead I get more. Track back over our respective blogs and see who has posted the most intemperate and abusive messages. I have no wish to get into a slanging match. I welcome your views, not despite but because they often differ from mine. There's no need to take it personally.

    2. I was quite rightly taken to task for making a reference to WWII without making clear that I don't think the threat we face today is comparable (yet!). Yet many others choose to make scaremongering references to WWII as if the current Gvt is in danger of becoming akin to Nazis! That's just as bad in the other direction. It is easy to come up with nice quotes like Franklin's but you can find them to support any position you choose.

    3. If what Vincent says about Menendez is true, then it would seem that there was an element of police incompetence regarding his shooting. I don't know enough about the case, though I do know an ex-armed offenders policeman who I think would be justly resentful at the Keystone-Cops portrayal in Vincent's post. And what I was trying to say was that we need to remember the circumstances under which the police were operating that day (without, of course, giving them carte blance to shoot anyone they feel like).

    4. The asylum system is indeed in chaos. Not just Munby but dozens of senior judges have said so, though again it isn't helped by some dishonest lawyers such as those Justice Maurice Kay slammed a while back. There are a lot of reasons behind the chaos, including government ineptitude, though it is really a separate debate.

    5. Back to 1940 for a moment. I wasn't alive then, nor I suspect was anyone else posting on this blog, but George Orwell was. So too was the author of this article link
    which makes most of the points I would have done had there been time.

    6. I wasn't the James who blogged on the smoking issue. For the record, I would support a ban in public places such as railway stations and hospitals, but not in privately owned places such as pubs. In that case it is up to the proprietor.

    7. I'm not sure that the fact that terrorists have so far killed fewer people than car crashes really gets us anywhere. More people die on the roads in the USA each year than in the whole of the Vietnam War – should we therefore dismiss the Vietnam casualties as insignificant? Certainly far more die on the roads than British forces are dying in Iraq – does that influence the debate over Iraq (a mistaken invasion, in my view, just to be clear).

    8. Once again, to be clear, I don't have much time for this government, consider ID cards a waste of time, and certainly think Blair has been a constitutional vandal. His reform of the Lords was inept; his attempt to abolish the Lord Chancellor a farce; and one could go on and on. But I don't think that the threat of terrorism can be discounted or thought of as insignificant.

    27 Apr 2006, 11:05

  25. Christopher Rossdale

    ER is done by the US, not Britain. If you've evidence that Britain is complicit in it, then you've a decent scoop to flog to the press for a lot of money.

    link

    Where do I pick up my cheque?

    27 Apr 2006, 13:13

  26. Gareth Herbert

    When I made the disparaging comments about the Guardian article I was under the impression that it was the basis for your title, I did not realise you had come up with it independently. Had I done so, whilst I would not have changed the nature of my comments I would have expressed them less rudely, so for that I apologise. Likewise, my criticism of the equivocating Nazi persecution of minorities and modern anti-terror laws were an indictment of the Guardian, not of yourself.

    I did actually think of mentioning paedophiles, but I decided that it would be a tad sensationalist and I couldn’t live with myself for being an echo of tabloid sensationalism.

    Nobody actually stated in those words that Charles de Menezes died as the result of a lack of respect for human rights, but in response to someone claim that the most fundamental right of all is the right not to be killed you said “did Charles de Menezes have that right”. What did you mean by that? As far as I can see you were using it as an example to make the point that I was criticising. I do not seek to defend the police on this one who appear to have acted rashly and incompetently, not do I seek to justify or condone what happened, I do believe though that it is not endemic of a systems failure as has been argued on other occasions.

    I placed the words “media scare campaign” in inverted commas because it’s one of these phrases that seems to be bandied around a lot, especially on the political left.

    Death is always tragic, and in fact I do have first hand experience of someone close to me being killed in a car accident. Whilst it is no less upsetting I think that having an occasional accident is something that we allow for in day-to-day life, being blown up on a bus or in the tube by some guy with a rucksack is not.

    Actually, my musings don’t really have a point, I’ve enjoyed the thread but it’s hard to really say anything on the eternal liberty versus security question without resorting to specifics. Drawing upon profound quotations, whilst very prosaic and always refreshing to re-read adds very little to constructive discourse.

    27 Apr 2006, 14:47

  27. James

    Good points Gareth. One thing that interests me – perhaps for another blog – is why those who are so against state control which is seen to affect liberty in the way that terrorist measures do are often the same who agitate relentlessly for more state intereference economically. I would have thought many arguments for personal political liberty also apply to economic liberty – and vice versa, yet this seldom seems to occur to people. And I haven't even started on freedom of speech – I trust all you chaps dismissing the 'war on terror' will support the publishing of the Danish cartoons for the same reason (liberty, freedom etc).

    27 Apr 2006, 15:09

  28. "Vincent, I pointed out the ad hominen nature of some of your comments in the hope that such comments would desist. Instead I get more. Track back over our respective blogs and see who has posted the most intemperate and abusive messages. I have no wish to get into a slanging match. I welcome your views, not despite but because they often differ from mine. There's no need to take it personally."

    Again, you're using these defensive irrelevant statements to mask the fact that what actually happened was you got challanged on an issue quite strongly and you had no real, viable response. I thihnk this whole "insults" thing is over–rated at best. Is saying "I was expecting more" an insult? no. Is the rest of this paragraph an insult? no.
    I don't insult you because I take things personally, I call things how I see them. How I saw it was, you were not being very clear at all, and you didn't know what you were talking about. So that's what I said. Both of these things you've later admitted to,

    "I was quite rightly taken to task for making a reference to WWII without making clear that I don't think the threat we face today is comparable (yet!)"
    and
    "If what Vincent says about Menendez is true, then it would seem that there was an element of police incompetence regarding his shooting. I don't know enough about the case".

    What I was saying can be reduced to "Don't make irrational comparisons, and don't talk about things you blatently don't have a clue about". If you don't understand that from reading what I wrote, it's not really my problem. Why were you commenting on the De Menezes issue when you admit to not knowing enough about it? And on the point about your copper mate, no he could not be "justly resentful" about what I wrote. I told the facts pretty straight–up. Again, if you or him want to ignore the facts of what happened, that's your business, but don't bring blatent overlooking of facts into a serious discussion and pass it off as anywhere near on a par with those that forms opinions from facts.
    Was all that an insult? No. Stop thinking you're in the playground when you're challanged on something.
    Was that an insult? oh, no, this is getting crazy.

    As for comment 27,
    in the same way, why do people who conctantly talk about "freedom" and "democracy" at press conferences and in press releases actually not have an interest in this stuff at all when one looks as what actions they take?
    On the actual question posed:
    The "personal freedom" and "economic freedom" linkage is one made by Liberals, not by Socilaists/Communists/Anarchists, so your question is pretty much anathema. Also, considering the differences between conceptions of freedom probably holds the key for you to come to the conclusion above. Again, you're using words, but not defining clearly what you mean by them, not understanding that they are ambiguous (at best) in meaning and interpretation.
    I presume from all this that you were never a politics/philosophy student?

    Oh, and Herbert's "Chomsky is an idiot" claim I hope was [semi] jestful overstatement. Let's not get too big, yes.

    27 Apr 2006, 16:43

  29. James, sorry for assuming you were the other James.

    "Yet many others choose to make scaremongering references to WWII as if the current Gvt is in danger of becoming akin to Nazis! That's just as bad in the other direction."

    Well I haven't. Right from the first paragraph of my blog entry I made it clear I wasn't doing this. I don't think anyone else has on this thread either.

    "I'm not sure that the fact that terrorists have so far killed fewer people than car crashes really gets us anywhere. More people die on the roads in the USA each year than in the whole of the Vietnam War – should we therefore dismiss the Vietnam casualties as insignificant? Certainly far more die on the roads than British forces are dying in Iraq – does that influence the debate over Iraq (a mistaken invasion, in my view, just to be clear)."

    Ah, now here we have something substantive. In considering the number of deaths caused by terrorism, we're weighing the cost in lives against the cost of getting rid of our civil liberties. The comparison with the number of road deaths is meaningful because if road deaths were as low as deaths due to terrorism, we wouldn't tolerate even the current levels of restrictions on driving.

    By contrast, in the war in Iraq we're weighing the long term cost in lives (and other costs too, which are substantial) against the potential benefits of getting rid of a dictator. This analysis is of course very complicated – it's by no means certain that the war in Iraq will lead to stability, we don't know if there were other options, etc. There is also the matter of the legality of the war, but that's a separate issue.

    The point is that we're not considering the absolute number of deaths, but the relative costs and benefits.

    "... why those who are so against state control which is seen to affect liberty in the way that terrorist measures do are often the same who agitate relentlessly for more state intereference economically."

    This is a point for another blog, but I think you'll find that Edward at least would disagree with this. Liberty is an issue for the left and the right.

    "And I haven't even started on freedom of speech – I trust all you chaps dismissing the 'war on terror' will support the publishing of the Danish cartoons for the same reason (liberty, freedom etc)."

    I can only speak for myself, but I am always in favour of free speech, including those cartoons. Are you in favour of the right to glorify terrorism, praise terrorist actions, etc.? The government isn't.

    Gareth,

    "Nobody actually stated in those words that Charles de Menezes died as the result of a lack of respect for human rights, but in response to someone claim that the most fundamental right of all is the right not to be killed you said “did Charles de Menezes have that right”. What did you mean by that? As far as I can see you were using it as an example to make the point that I was criticising."

    It was meant as a flippant reminder that rights have to be balanced against one another. The crude case put by the government is that the 'right to life' trumps all other rights and justifies any infringements on liberty.

    "Whilst it is no less upsetting I think that having an occasional accident is something that we allow for in day–to–day life, being blown up on a bus or in the tube by some guy with a rucksack is not."

    I don't see the difference.

    27 Apr 2006, 17:12

  30. short cuz this thread is already humongous!:

    security is not an absolute concept. whether we want to accept it or not, u can never b 100% secure, that is, in this case, getting rid of terrorism is impossible (at least not by tightening security).
    therefore, how much freedom we choose to sacrifice in order to obtain security should at least b smaller than the freedom that we obtain by the sacrifice of our civil liberties (Baldwin, ‘The Concept of Security’, in Review of International Studies, Vol. 23 (1997), pp. 5–26). i personally dont know what level that would then be…furthermore, i am unwilling to even make an estimate due to the fact that i consider most of the problems that we face today a result of an unfair economic, political and global system and not of individual problems like terrorism, crime etc. far from saying that they r justified but i dont think they r the cause but instead the effect.

    and final point, and the most anal one, that i just must make: the term is AD HOMINEM, so please, if u r gonna use academic posh fancy terms then at least spell em properly :P

    27 Apr 2006, 17:54

  31. Sorry, but I find it ironic that someone who's pedantic enough to point out a spelling mistake in Latin is still willing to use the letters "u r" for the words "you are". If you're going to be a spelling/grammar pedant, you'll be taken much more seriously if you use correct spelling and grammar yourself.

    Apologies for making a comment irrelevant to the topic of the blog.

    27 Apr 2006, 18:57

  32. why those who are so against state control which is seen to affect liberty in the way that terrorist measures do are often the same who agitate relentlessly for more state intereference economically. I would have thought many arguments for personal political liberty also apply to economic liberty – and vice versa

    In the old days James that's how we distinguished between left and right political parties. The Tories protected our economic freedoms but we paid the price on civil liberties (hence Conservative Home Secretaries being hauled up by the courts).

    And Labour Governments tended to protect our civil liberties but we paid the price in terms of economic interference (hence it was Trade ministers getting on the wrong side of the courts).

    Now of course we don't know where we are.

    27 Apr 2006, 20:01

  33. Kelly, i wasnt being pedantic i just found it funny that people R using very sophisticated expressions so as to sound more academic and boost their arguments' credibility whilst being unable to spell them properly – that's all. it was a joke. funny. humorous. haha. u know… what people sometimes do?

    but ok, i agree, people commenting here might B far too serious for such things. altho, i think it might b of some use to them to know how to spell it if they plan to use it in future discussions or maybe even essays. as 4 my horrible abreviations, i apologise, they help me save time.

    anyway, loosen up! it's not a competition and i am the last to make a comment with malicious intent such as patronising. that is y i understand that ur comment was probably not malicious and u probably thouht i was just a pedantic nob pointing out spelling mistakes in order to sound intelligent instead of doing so by relevant arguments. but i really wasnt and i think in future u should maybe give people more the benefit of the doubt.

    either way, now that we r acquainted there r no more worries.

    27 Apr 2006, 23:15

  34. In the 1930s debate over air power, they said that 'the bomber will always get through'. Now, it's a bit of a bad pun, I know, so forgive me, but I think the point is still well made when it comes down to terrorism. The result, therefore, is to strike at the bases to persuade them not to come (hey, this was a good choice of metaphor/pun). All the best and most costly defences will not work because it is an attacker's war. There is always a way around the defenses: metal detectors? use a plastic bomb case etc. You have to persuade the bombers not to come, there's no other way around it. Going no further than trying to lock the bombers out is a loser from the start.

    One problem is that the politicians are going for the 100% solution. The only way to get a 100% solution is lock down society so no one can move. Otherwise we (and the politicians) have to accept that there will be casualties. Hey, wasn't it George Bush that said he is a War President (before he told the waiting journalists to watch his tee shot)? Politicians are too afraid of the media these days, and too afraid of being challenged over every little mistake. Well, terrorism isn't a theatre to play politics. It's a place to rise above all that and really go and do something like a true statesman. At the moment, foreign affairs are being run for domestic consumption whether in the US, in the UK or in Iran. What about if politicians remember that they're people for a change? If the media and party supporters will let them.

    Sorry, went off on one there, a bit…

    28 Apr 2006, 14:57

  35. Christopher Rossdale

    Noam Chomsky's definition (in typical Chomsky form) is so idiotically general and relativistic that one could argue that from that definition of terrorism that by fighting the Nazis and resisting tyranny the UK were engaged in terrorism. Noam Chomsky is an idiot.

    Gareth, in your mad instinctive rush to insult Chomsky, you failed to understand the point of what he was saying – which is that modern governments such as Britain use the wholly subjective term of 'terrorism' to define their enemies in a near–unanswerable way – i.e. no–one dares to defend 'terrorists'. He wasn't actually claiming that all such action is terrorism, merely that that our seeming definition of terrorism is broad so that any group 'could' be a terrorist – very useful for the governments. God forbid you should have to spend longer thinking about Chomsky than is absolutely necessary though.

    28 Apr 2006, 19:24

  36. James

    i just found it funny that people R using very sophisticated expressions so as to sound more academic and boost their arguments' credibility whilst being unable to spell them properly

    I hit the wrong key. Terribly sorry, though I'm pleased it seems to have caused amusement. Incidentally how sophisticated is that expression? Surely the average Warwick student at least might be familiar with it. Years ago, so I'm told, the Labour party decided only to use 4,000 different words in its publications, because some study had shown that that's all the Sun used, so the average voter (so the logic went) would only be familiar with that many. I guess if they'd stuck to that the job of spin doctors would be more difficult.

    " Are you in favour of the right to glorify terrorism, praise terrorist actions, etc.? The government isn't."

    I'm not the government! Yes I would say that freedom of expression requires that we allow such statements, and indeed those of the BNP which are about as bad in the other direction.

    Despite the colourful expressions on this thread, and all the talk about 'rights', I think the real disagreement is the more prosaic one over how real the threat actually is, and then how to go about countering it. I would suggest it might be more severe than some who dismiss it almost out of hand, because the terrorists haven't yet been as successful as they'd like, but as I've tried to make clear I am certainly not endorsing all the measures yet tried.

    30 Apr 2006, 12:52

  37. James,

    Looks like we agree on free speech anyway. That's good.

    The debate is not only about how serious the threat is, but the fact that the threat isn't very serious is certainly a significant factor in the discussion. It's not the only important thing though. There was debate about infringements on civil liberties even during the second world war, and there was absolutely no doubt about the seriousness of the threat then.

    30 Apr 2006, 14:01

  38. James

    I don't think you can say that it is a "fact" that the threat isn't very serious. It is your considered opinion, based presumably on the fact that "only" 54 died last year as a result. A lot more might have done had (i) one of the bombers let his off on a tube rather than a bus; and (ii) if the second round had worked

    30 Apr 2006, 14:16

  39. I don't know what the figures are, but does anyone know the average annaul death count of terrorism and terrorism related activities in the UK over the years of the Troubles in Northern Ireland? Mainly, was it similar to the 54 figure being quoted here. If the number is similar, surely that means that the threat level isn't much more serious than it was then. I admit that the IRA generally didn't target civilians, and did most of their activities in Ulster rather than mainland Britain, but I don't personally consider the threat of terrorism now to be any more serious now than it was when the IRA were active.

    30 Apr 2006, 14:45

  40. Gareth Herbert

    Chris –

    Well actually I don’t feel that Chomsky was attempting to say that. Noam Chomsky’s work is very little more than an anti–western tirade dressed up in a suit of smarmy intellectualism and the fact that he will go as far as launching apologetics for tyrannical regimes or denying the Serbian genocide to achieve this merely makes me despise him even more. And in fact Noam Chomsky would claim that all such action is terrorism (read the title of the footnoted thread for instance) since one of Noam’s favourite ways to criticise the west is via various forms of moral equivocation, as though he doesn’t understand the subtle distinction between people who use violence to fly planes into buildings full of innocent people and people who use violence to prevent people flying planes into buildings full of innocent people. In this particular instance he has drawn up a definition of terrorism that he feels is broad enough to meet his overwhelming fetishist urge to condemn the west irrespective of context and scream: “look at us – we’re engaged in terrorism!!!!”

    link

    I think you’re right in the respect that the word “terrorism” is applied far too broadly, as is the term “Al–Qaeda” to any extremist Islamic group =, both of which hinder a constructive debate about terrorism or about reconciling civil liberties with the need to protect society. It’s a tough debate, and much harder to hold in the abstract without reference to any proposed policies or solutions.

    30 Apr 2006, 15:53

  41. James, hehehe, I thought that my saying "fact" would get a comment. :–D

    I might write a new blog entry about the fear/threat of terrorism. I will say that you must tread very carefully if you let yourself go down the what "might have" been road. It's easy to imagine terrorist atrocities of any scale (just watch any of series 2 through 5 of "24"), and to say that this danger justifies any restrictions on civil liberties, but this is an emotional and not a rational response.

    David, it might even be smaller now. Something in my memory is saying it is, but I might be wrong. But then they withdrew habeas corpus in NI so what are we to make of that?

    30 Apr 2006, 15:54

  42. Also, dunno if anyone will be interested in this, but I wrote an article on terrorism and civil liberties in Feb '02 for a magazine I was coediting. link

    30 Apr 2006, 15:55

  43. Gareth,

    I hate to say it but Chris is right you've missed the point of what Chomsky was saying in the linked article. If you go beyond the title (to the last paragraph!) you find:

    "Terms like "terror," "aggression," etc., and other terms used to deal with human affairs are not defined well enough to yield an explicit answer for every situation."

    Anyway, this is Chris' and your argument, so I'll step aside now. I'm sure Chris will find time to write a response at some point.

    30 Apr 2006, 16:11

  44. I don't know what the figures are, but does anyone know the average annaul death count of terrorism and terrorism related activities in the UK over the years of the Troubles in Northern Ireland?

    Around 3500 people were killed in activities related to terrorism between 1969 and 2001. Most of these were between 1969 and 1994.

    Paramilitaries were responsible for 90% of these (police/soldiers etc the rest).

    You're right in saying most of the people died in Northern Ireland as opposed to the mainland but annually twice as many people were killed as were killed in the bombings last year.

    If you divide those 54 by 5 (ie since 9/11) then it represents an annual figure of around 10% compared with 'The Troubles'.

    The bombing in Omagh kiled 29 people. All civilians including 9 children.

    I am not convinced the current threat is entirely unprecedented.

    As for internment. Between 71 and 75 around 2000 people were detained suspected of involvement in terrorism. In the final year of internament a total of 274 people were killed.

    In the words of lord gardiner who headed an inquiry into internment in 1975 'the prolonged effects of the use of detention are ultimately inimical to community life, fan a widespread sense of grievence and injustice...Detention can only be tolerated in a democratic society society in the most extreme circumstances...'

    So if internment ended in NI in the same year 274 people were killed, is there justification for it now?

    30 Apr 2006, 19:17

  45. Thanks for those figures David.

    30 Apr 2006, 21:35

  46. just read comment 40.
    laughing out loud.

    04 May 2006, 11:46


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