Counter-terrorism strategy for Britain:

Stay at home


The Prevention of Terrorism Bill, which allows for the imposition without trial of “control orders” up to and including “house arrest”, was passed on 11 March, the first anniversary of the Madrid bombings.


Both sides of the argument referred to the events in Madrid a year ago, those in favour saying that these measures are necessary in order to prevent such an awful thing happening here, and those against saying that, despite the awful events of a year ago, Spain hasn’t introduced measures of this kind.


Nobody mentioned that Spain took a very significant step within weeks of those events: it withdrew its troops from Iraq; it ceased being part of the US/UK led aggression against a Muslim country, and made its citizens safer as a result.


All sides in Parliament were at pains to agree that Britain was under threat from “international terrorism” and that special measures of some kind were necessary to deal with it.  But nobody asked the question why?  Why are we under threat (assuming we are) and why now?


A year after 9/11, Zbigniew Brzezinski, who was President Carter’s National Security adviser, wrote:


“Missing from much of the public debate is discussion of the simple fact that lurking behind every terroristic act is a specific political antecedent” (New York Times, 1 September 2002)


The same could be said of the public debate here, such as it was, over the past few weeks.


The political antecedent of the “international terrorism” directed against us is our actions in support of the US in the Muslim world.  If Britain ceased stomping round the world in the wake of the US, we would be safe from “international terrorism” at home: we wouldn’t need “control orders” without trial, or concrete bollards around every public building.


All we need to do is stay at home as a country.  It’s a very simple, and a very cost effective, counter-terrorism policy – don’t spend money and blood invading Muslim countries, and you won’t need to spend money protecting Britain from terrorism emanating from the Muslim world in response.


It would be a good idea to begin by bringing our troops home from Iraq.


* * * *


It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that the furore in recent weeks about the terrorist threat to Britain has got little to do with reality, but a lot to do with the imminence of an election at which the Prime Minister wants to portray himself as tough on terrorism – which is ironic since he, more than anybody else, has been responsible for fuelling terrorism and increasing the threat to Britain.


To get Parliament into a suitable frame of mind to pass the new legislation without pausing for thought, the Prime Minister told us a few weeks ago that there were hundreds of terrorists at large in Britain plotting attacks.  At a very convenient moment for the Prime Minister, this was confirmed by Sir John Stevens, the recently retired Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, who said, in his first column for the News of the World, that the reports that crossed his desk when he was commissioner “made his hair stand on end”.


The unanswered question was: why did the Prime Minister not take measures against these apparently dangerous people long before now?  They were presumably not foreign nationals, otherwise they would have been deported under the 1971 Immigration Act on the grounds that their presence in the UK is deemed by the Home Secretary to be, in the words of the Act, “not conducive to the public good”.  And, if it wasn’t safe for them to go home, and they couldn’t be deported to a third country, they would have been locked up indefinitely under the existing provisions for detention without trial – as about 20 foreign nationals have been.  So, they must be British nationals, who couldn’t be detained without trial under the existing legislation.


According to the security services (as reported widely in the press), the people the Prime Minister is referring to are British Muslims, who have been to Afghanistan but returned home after it was invaded.  Most of them have been back in the country for years – and yet the Prime Minister didn’t introduce any special measures to control these apparently dangerous people until now.


The new legislation has been constantly discussed as if it were a replacement for the existing detention provisions, which were due to expire on 14 March.  But the scope of the new legislation is much wider, since it applies to people of all nationalities suspected of “international terrorism”, not just to foreigners who cannot be deported.


One could be forgiven for thinking that it is going to be applied to the hundreds of apparently dangerous terrorists the Prime Minister has allowed to roam our streets for years without let or hindrance.  The reality is likely to be that, with a few exceptions, these apparently dangerous terrorists will continue to roam our streets uncontrolled – because they are not really dangerous at all, but the Prime Minister felt the need to mention them in order to frighten Parliament into passing the Prevention of Terrorism Act.


And it worked.  Much has been made of the stout resistance of the Lords to the Prime Minister’s will, and how the legislation was greatly improved as a result (and Parliament will have the opportunity to amend it further in the next 12 months).  This is mostly hypocritical claptrap: the only significant amendment accepted by the Prime Minister, as a result of pressure from the Lords, was that a judge, rather than the Home Secretary, is responsible for imposing “control orders” without trial.  Individuals are still not going to have a trial: they are not going to be charged, and have the opportunity to rebut the charge, before a judge and jury (or even a judge on his own).  The judge will make his decision on the basis of evidence from the security services.


A final point:  does anybody understand why it is now safe to allow terrorists, who were so dangerous for the past three years that they had to be locked up in solitary confinement in Belmarsh and Broadmoor, to be out of their homes for 12 hours a day?  Has there been fresh intelligence, coincidentally about all of them simultaneously, that they weren’t so dangerous after all?



Labour & Trade Union Review

March 2005