“Why the fuck can’t we rewrite human rights legislation?” Tony Blair shouted in exasperation to his officials and minions at a meeting shortly after the 7 July London terror attack. According to the Observer he was, as early as this, contemplating the introduction of more repressive legislation to deal with terrorism. Blair is a man who has forgotten every principle of bourgeois liberal and democratic justice trainee lawyers learn in law school.
But then the hallmark of the New Labour clique has been a willingness to abandon all principles and any principles in order to win power, stay in power and justify their grip on power.
But they feel the pressure to “do something” and to be seen to “do something” very acutely.
As always they want to head off the reactionary-populist rantings of a tabloid press demanding deportations and an end to immigration.
For the Government, existing anti-terror law (much of it introduced by New Labour) and existing criminal law are not sufficient to deal with the current threat, despite what numerous legal experts tell them.
Among other things the new laws include deportation of immigrants who advocate terrorism, even if they have become British citizens (their citizenship will be “revoked”).
The demand for deportation has been the lead campaign of the Sun for some weeks.
The Government has become very fond of saying that “free speech is not an absolute”.
But however obscene the rantings of some Islamist preachers, we should not let the capitalist state gain powers to criminalise free speech — as distinct from actual incitement to violence. The effects of that will be greater than any likely benefits, even if the first victim of such powers were to be clerical apologetics for al Qaeda.
Terrorism is defined by the Government in the 2002 Terrorism Act as “an action designed to influence the government or...for the purpose of advancing a political, religious or ideological cause”. This is far too broad and vague. An action does not necessarily involving violence. “Serious damage to property” or sabotaging a computer system for political reasons is, according to the Government, terrorism. Many potential actions carried out by the trade unions and the anti-capitalist movement will come under this definition.
It is equally dangerous to treat “citizenship” for people of non-British origin, as something that can be politically “revoked”. This effectively creates a kind of second-class citizenship for the foreign born, a citizenship that is subject to the whim of the government. And it will inevitably stir up more racial tension.
Under existing law terror organisations can be “proscribed”. The latest to join a long list are two ultra Islamist organisations, al-Muhajiroun (and its offshoots) and Hizb ut-Tahir.
Al-Muhajiroun is a split off from Hizb ut-Tahrir which also has ultra-Islamist views — wishing to see the establishment of an world-wide Islamic state. But here in Britain at least, and even according to the security services, Hizb ut-Tahrir has no links to terrorist groups.
The problem again is that state bans on all reactionary groups, people and networks give too much power to the capitalist state, its police and security services. The approach of the working class movement in combating reactionary groups has always been different. We mobilise the labour movement and the victims of the reactionaries; we combat their ideas; we fight for a political alternative.
In some parts of the world where ultra-Islamist groups are strong enough to organise mass intimidation of the people they hate — women’s groups, trade unions and progressive NGOs — the labour movement and the left has had to organise physical self-defence.
Our approach remains consistent with these tactics. As Labour MP Shahid Malik points out, “By banning them their ideas are still there, but unanswered” within the communities where their recruiters target.
There are different accounts of Hizb ut-Tahrir’s strength in the UK but it is not a small organisation. And so, as another Labour MP, Sadiq Khan, has warned, banning Hizb ut-Tahrir will cause further alienation among people of Muslim background.
As he points out, there is no proposal to ban racist organisations with a track record of violent crime, such as the BNP and the National Front, even though there have been two shocking racist murders since the 7 July attacks.
These two not very left-wing Labour MPs are right to oppose division, something that these new laws will only make worse.
The July bombings and attempted bombings in London naturally evoked strong expressions of human indignation and solidarity. But they have also created suspicion, mistrust and hostility against Muslim people in the UK. The different and various Muslim communities of the UK will all be feeling pressure. The demand from all sides, MPs, religious leaders and political commentators is that political-Islamism should be tackled within the Muslim community. The question is, how should it be opposed?
With an appeal for a more tolerant religious discourse? With, as the pseudo-left would have it, a renewed campaign to get the troops out of Iraq regardless, as if that will drain away the anger of potential suicide bombers? As if the bombers thoughts and deeds were simply a more extreme expression of general opposition to the war in Iraq among Muslim people!
Such approaches are doomed to failure. It is the urgent responsibility of the thinking left to debate and work out a response which gets to grips with the problems of the society in which we live, the world-wide inequalities and political failings which have helped to.create the British suicide bombers.
The suicide bombers are not, as the pseudo-left, would have it an “avant garde” of general Muslim opinion. As Oliver Roy writes in the August issue of Le Monde Diplomatique, “ These are young people who have broken mentally with their backgrounds [i.e. the mainstream Muslim backgrounds of their families]. They lived their radicalised existence on the fringes of their home environment… These radicals are not fighting for a specific national cause… Their enemy is the US and the West in general. They are not fighting to establish an Islamic state in Iraq or Palestine. [They are not] involved in the conflicts and practical problems of Muslim populations in Europe… Their goal is to combat the world order as they see it.”
Socialists have to have a vision of a different world order. Our ideas are based unashamedly on what are sometimes called “western values” — democracy, liberty — but reforged accordingto an internationalist working-class point of view. We want human solidarity. We want a world free of poverty, exploitation and oppression.
The ideas of genuine socialism provide a rounded answer to all reactionary ideas. But our voice is not strong. We are also debilitated by “leftists” who appeal to Muslim communities on the basis of communal identity rather than working-class politics. A “left” which forms political alliances with right-wing and Islamist organisations in order, they hope, to build their organisations.
There are many things that we can do push forward general ideas about the centrality of class and the importance of political and social freedom; we do this by way of labour movement campaigns where we aim to build working-class solidarity across the communal divides.
We oppose the anti-terror legislation. But at the same time we publicise the campaign of tube workers and other public transport workers for greater safety measures such as guards on tube trains.
At the same time as defending Muslims, and black and Asian people, from physical attacks and harassment, we do not hesitate to tackle the reactionaries head on. We do not pander to Muslim communal identity.
We campaign against cuts, closures privatisations and for better services in the poorest areas.
The Government also plans to increase the powers of the police. Most people today are happy to have their bags checked at airports and in other public places; they understandably want reassurance. But the police will always act in a racist and prejudiced way.
The reality of this was demonstrated two weeks ago by the fatal shooting of Jean-Charles Menezes at Stockwell Tube station. He was a Catholic from Brazil, but three armed plain-clothes police officers assumed he was a suicide bomber because he lived near a suspect and had dark skin. So they followed him to the Tube, pulled out their guns and, when he ran away, they shot him five times in the head. Under new guidelines, called “Operation Kratos”, the police will be allowed to shoot to kill suspected suicide bombers.
They have a rationale: if suicide bombers have explosives strapped to their bodies they will be able to set them off if they are shot anywhere but in the head.
But we cannot endorse or trust the police to guarantee public safety, even though the police officially do many things to protect people from harm. Our central demand must be that the police be subject to accountability and the maximum possible democratic control. Everything they do needs to be under the scrutiny of elected bodies.
Metropolitan Police: no sense of humour
On 7 August, the Metropolitan Police continued their crusade to gag peaceful protest by arresting six people outside Parliament under section 132 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Bill.
At midday around 200 demonstrators gathered on Parliament Square Green to take part in a “Mass Act of Defiance”. It now illegal to demonstrate here without prior police permission. Even before the protest started, police officers had encircled the square, photographing and getting names and addresses from anyone who entered.
Towards the end of the protest, as the police issued notices of an unauthorised demonstration, there was an unexpected visit from the Clandestine Insurgent Rebel Clown Army. The clowns had not been seen since the anti-G8 protests in Scotland a month earlier.
Twenty minutes later, the police moved in on protesters, arresting anyone with a banner. One clown was held under stop and search laws, but was soon released when the only weapon found on him was a multicoloured tickling stick