Not Saussure

November 14, 2006

The Rules Of the Game

Filed under: civil liberties, UK, War on Terror — notsaussure @ 12:20 am

The Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust have published a report, The Rules of the Game: Terrorism, Community and Human Rights; in the words of the Telegraph [the links in the quote are theirs]

The Government’s anti-terrorism policy is being damaged by party political interests and vote-seeking on the part of ministers, a report has claimed.

It also accused Tony Blair and John Reid, the Home Secretary, of playing to a “tabloid agenda” and “trying to win over the white working class vote.”

Sensible plans to combat terror are now being “submerged by the Government’s ‘electoral motives'” according to the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust.

The respected think-tank warned that anti-terror measures were having a disproportionate effect on Britain’s Muslim community and risked alienating people who could play a vital role in defeating extremism.

Both Rachel and Garry have written about it. I’m going to refer to it at length later in the week, when I’ve had a chance properly to read it (it’s 70-odd tightly argued and researched pages, so it’ll take me time to digest it) but the report’s authors don’t pull their punches:

It is our view that the government’s counter terrorism laws and the thrust of policy and rhetoric are actually doing more harm than good. The vast majority of people, non-Muslim and Muslim alike, want the police and security forces to apprehend the terrorists. However, mounting heavy police raids in pursuit of the ‘violent extremists bent on destruction’, hectoring Muslim parents to spy on their children, raising a ‘healthy debate’ about women who wear the veil, may play well with the Sun’s readers and the electorate at large, but it is all likely to drive a wedge between the Muslim and non-Muslim communities and to make it harder to win over the minority of those who feel sympathy with terrorists in Muslim communities. This model of counter terrorism is as dangerous as terrorism itself. (p 16)

In a very timely warning, given the impending Queen’s Speech and all that it’ll doubtless contain, they say

first and foremost there is the crucial challenge of holding the balance between public safety and fundamental democratic liberties and values. On safety, as one participant in the seminar on this report in draft commented, ‘the politicians are terrified of failing the people’. But there is also for any government the fear that it may be held culpable for a major atrocity or a series of blunders and thus lose the public support that its continued existence in power depends upon. So ministers will wish to arm themselves as powerfully as possible against the immediate threat. There is also real pressure on government to provide greater assurance of security against terrorism – and hard choices have to be made as to what to do.

This government has to its eternal credit secured civil and political rights (and given passing protection to some economic and social rights) through the Human Rights Act. The destruction of our commitment to democracy and such rights is one of the principal goals of the current wave of terrorism across the world. One of the more immediate goals of the terrorists is likely to be to exploit the state’s sensitivity to the insecurities of majority opinion to provoke an over-reaction which could further alienate the Muslim minorities that are the focus of suspicion and thus make it easier for terrorists to build footholds within those communities. (pp 16-17)

And, in an excellent point from the body the report, which will bear repeating given the rhetoric that’s already emerging, yet again, from ministers, they explain

Tony Blair talks of ‘rebalancing between the rights of the suspect and the rights of the law-abiding majority’. John Reid declared to the Labour party conference , ‘It cannot be right that the rights of an individual suspected terrorist be placed above the rights, the life and limb of the rest of the British people. It cannot be right – it is wrong, no ifs, no buts, it’s just plain wrong.’ But these are false dichotomies: ‘suspects’ are members of the ‘majority’. They are innocent until proved guilty, their rights and those of the majority hang together. (It is a miserable fact, however, that thanks to its constant use, the word ‘suspect’ is now charged with the presumption of guilt – so much that the Guardian recently wrote of ‘alleged terrorist suspects’.) (p 42)

This, it seems to me, is the point that mustn’t be forgotten. An attack on anyone’s civil liberties is an attack on the civil liberties of all of us. Forget the government’s reassurances that the ‘law-abiding majority’ (white, non-Muslim, of course) have nothing to fear. The authorities are very non-racist in at least one respect; once powers are there, they’ll get used in all manner of ways. The fast-track extradition procedure to the US,for example, was sold to us — and, I’m sure, originally conceived, as an anti-terrorist measure. No doubt Giles Darby, David Bermingham and Gary Mulgrew never thought — and they would have been quite right to think — that they’d be suspected of involvement with Islamist terrorism.

Didn’t stop them being suspected of something else, though.


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1 Comment »

  1. […] Not Saussure has more. This is the nub of the problem. The ministerial dimwits currently in charge of formulating anti-terrorism policy are no help when all they seem to do is generate illiberal and idiotic policy measures that get us nowhere. […]

    Pingback by Pickled Politics » The problem is Blair, not Muslims — November 15, 2006 @ 2:56 pm


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