Monday, February 20, 2006

The Controlled State

Osama bin Laden's greatest achievement was not to mastermind the flying of planes into the Twin Towers. No, it was to spook the West and allow our alarmed and panicked governments to fill our minds with such fear that we let security oppress our liberty. He was able to take advantage of a West with leaders that are so unread, so lacking in wisdom, so unversed in the democracies they eagerly chose to lead and so lacking in the culture of rights and liberty enshrined within those democracies that they are now so quick to compromise those very same rights and liberties. George W Bush and Tony Blair have the arrogance of my generation that grew up in the Sixties - and, unfortunately, - the ignorance. They have both deceived their peoples and are now bent on stripping them of ancient and hard-fought-for liberties.

It took centuries of struggle by men and women, who were often called terrorists by the governments of the day, to gain us our freedoms, liberties and responsibilities, and it seems it only takes two irresponsible, ignorant men, along with shocked, compliant and fearful populations, five years to demolish. It angers me that their sacrifices are held in such low regard.

But we, also, have a responsibility. We have failed to understand that when we do not protest and demand an end to atrocities committed in our name, something trips in the deep-brain cynicism of the governing psyche, which takes heart from the passivity it finds and devises more ways to control and enforce its will. When we don't protect our liberties, then men of bad faith will always be on hand to subvert it. Those freedoms and liberties belong to the people, not governments.

The attempt to make it a crime to 'glorify terrorism' is typically Tony Blair. It is first of all unnecessary. Every act prosecutable under this new offence could have been dealt with by existing legislation. When a lot of hotheads called for beheadings and terrorist attacks during the Danish cartoons controversy, the police were entirely within the law to arrest those carrying the placards. If they didn't, it was to avoid inflaming the situation. They lacked the will, not the law. But more essentially, this new law will contribute nothing in the fight against terrorism, but, crucially, it will limit what I can say. Should I wish to make the case for Basque separatism, or celebrate the 90th anniversary of the Easter Rising, or explain some distant liberation movement, I might be liable to prosecution. One man's freedom fighter is another's terrorist.

Blair says everyone knows what glorification is, but in a court, the definition would quickly evaporate. He wants to send a signal to al-Qaeda and he feels it is worth giving up this "sliver" of free speech to do so. The man is deluded. No terrorist or lunatic imam is going to take the slightest notice of this dangerous law. I have no objection for the state to pursue these people with vigor, and the security services and police have done a pretty good job in tracking terrorist groups so far under current legislation. They have missed some but they do their best to defend us. But to compromise the freedoms of a society which has no bill of rights and no written constitution to protect it from the menace of future tyrants is irresponsible in the extreme. Laws have a habit of lying around and when Labour eventually loses an election, we must hope that the incoming government draws up a list of laws to remove immediately from the statute books.
Last week, Chris Huhne, a challenger for the Liberal Democratic leadership, gave a speech on freedom to the think-tank, Demos. He made the vitally important point that freedom and liberty has an absolute necessity and duty to defend unpopular minorities - those accused of terrorist crimes, those seeking asylum, those seeking to avoid deportation - because we are all in a minority at some stage and need the protection of the rule of law. 'All of us could be wrongly accused of a crime,' he said. 'All of us could express views which the current government does not like. We all of us sometimes do unpopular things or utter unpopular thoughts.'

I have also made the point, previously, that terrorist are defeated from the moral high ground, - certainly those groups in Europe have been defeated, or contained in this fashion, - not slugging it out like a street fighter that knows no better.

There have been few weeks more disastrous for the cause of liberty in this country. Last Monday, the promised Labour rebellion on ID cards failed to materialise, although ministers freely concede that the ID card will not protect us from terrorists or fraud. It also now seems certain that Britons will be required to hold an identity card and see up to 50 separate pieces of information, including biometric details, entered on a national database to which many arms of government, including MI5, will have access. That thought is chilling. Who knows who will have access to that information in the future, and what they will use it for.

The government insists that we are not and will not be living in a police state, but perhaps that is now rather a 20th-century idea. What we are pioneering in Britain is a 21st-century version of the police state - the controlled state.

Bush and others are watching.

1 comment:

sandegaye said...

And the sheep just keep on baaa-ing & walking into that '1984' scenario.
What will it take to wake them up?!