Terrorising communities / FRFI 200 Dec 2007 / Jan 2008

FRFI 200 December 2007/January 2008

On 14 November, in advance of the publication of a National Security Strategy, Gordon Brown summed up the measures already in the pipeline and set out to Parliament his newest plans to ‘root out terrorism and to strengthen the resilience of communities to resist extremist influence’. NICKI JAMESON reports on the Labour government’s latest tranche of regulations aimed at terrorising communities.

The security budget, already £2.5 billion this year, is due to rise to £3.5 billion in 2011. An additional £240 million between now and 2011 from the Home Office budget will be allocated to finance counter terrorism policing. A further £400 million will be spent over the next three years through the Foreign Office, Department for International Development and British Council to ‘tackle radicalisation and promote understanding overseas’. Yet another £70 million is being invested in ‘community projects devoted to countering violent extremism’.

The number of personnel employed in the security service will increase to over 4,000, having already increased from under 2,000 in 2001 to 3,300 today. Dedicated regional counter terrorism units ‘responsible for overseeing investigations into those who recruit terrorists and promote hate’ have been established, employing over 2,000 police and support staff.

New security measures will include:

  • increased surveillance at railway stations, airport terminals, ports and ‘sensitive installations’, including additional baggage screening and searching of passengers
  • new guidance for cinemas, theatres, restaurants, hotels, sporting venues, commercial centres, hospitals, schools and places of worship, including advice on ‘training staff to be more vigilant’
  • 160 counter-terrorism advisers to ‘train civilian staff to identify suspect activity’ and ensure premises have secure emergency exits, use CCTV footage ‘to best effect’ and carry out regular searches and evacuation drills
  • local authorities to be required as part of their performance framework to assess the measures they have taken to protect against terrorism.

The government is shortly to introduce a new Counter Terrorism Bill, which will contain yet stronger sentences for terrorist-related offences and new powers for the police to continue to monitor the activities of people who have been released from prison. The Bill is likely to contain a proposal to increase pre-charge detention of terrorism suspects from its current 28 days, a figure the government has never been happy with since being defeated on its original proposal of 90 days in 2005. There will also be measures to

  • enable post-charge questioning of terrorism suspects
  • allow the drawing of ‘adverse inferences’ from refusal to say something which can later be relied on in court
  • extend use of DNA profiling
  • ban people from travelling overseas and cancel visas
  • freeze assets.

The government plans to create 14 new specially protected courtrooms. A single senior judge and a single senior lead prosecutor in the Crown Prosecution Service will be responsible for all terrorism cases.

Following the 2004 House of Lords ruling that indefinite detention without trial of suspected ‘foreign terrorists’ was unlawful, the government has brokered ‘memoranda of understanding’ with Jordan, Lebanon and Algeria so that Britain can deport asylum seekers from those countries in return for a promise they will not be tortured. Nine people have recently been deported and a further 24 foreign nationals are currently subject to deportation proceedings on ‘national security grounds’. And although it has nothing to do with anti-terrorism, Gordon Brown ensured that his speech neatly conflated a selection of the tabloids’ favourite bogeymen by adding that ‘4,000 foreign prisoners are likely to be deported this year’.

The government plans to increase surveillance in prisons with a ‘specialist unit …tasked with stopping extremists using prison networks to plot future activities’. But the web spreads to far more unexpected quarters, with Brown assuring Parliament that ‘Following evidence that some of those involved in promoting violent extremism have made use of outdoor activity centres and sports facilities, we are working with Sport England to provide guidance for the sector to ensure that these facilities are not abused’. This presumably gives licence to monitor the activities of any non-white person who goes climbing, hiking, abseiling or canoeing.

Conviction for violent poetry

The proposed new Bill will be Labour’s sixth anti-terrorism law since coming to power in 1997, with each Act more draconian than the last. On 7 November, 23-year-old Samina Malik was found not guilty of possessing an article for a terrorist purpose under Section 57 of the Terrorism Act 2000. The jury went on to convict her of collecting articles ‘likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism’ (Section 58 1). Though described in the press as the ‘lesser charge’, both carry a maximum sentence of 10 years.

Samina Malik, who changed her internet ID from ‘lyrical babe’ to ‘lyrical terrorist’ because it ‘sounded cool’, had downloaded manuals entitled The Mujaheddin Poisoner’s Handbook and How to Make Bombs, and written and emailed out poems entitled How to Behead and The Living Martyrs. Like many other British young people she appears to have had a fascination with sadistic imagery and wrote poetry about her violent fantasies. Had she been a white boy obsessed with Death Metal lyrics about rape and ritual slaughter, or who fantasised about joining the British army and violently killing Muslims, or even about Nazism, in the absence of any actual violence this would have attracted little attention. And of course the Sun newspaper bloggers who, following Samina’s conviction, commented that she should have her throat slit or be stoned to death, have not been hunted down and put on trial.

But as a Muslim living at a time when Britain and the US are waging bloody war against two Muslim countries, and the government is engaged in a propaganda offensive to ensure that support for the resistance in those countries does not grow, her every word and action has been scrutinised and criminalised. While Samina Malik’s writings do not appear to have been anti-imperialist or even anti-British, with the targets of the fantasy violence largely ‘infidels’ or betrayers of the faith, her conviction is nonetheless a warning by the British state to every Muslim to stay away from religious radicalism, away from any view, opinion or thought that is not 100% supportive of the British Christian capitalist establishment. She has been convicted, not for any deeds or even plans, but for her fantasies and thoughts.

No fair trial – no comment
Even criticising the conviction of someone like Samina Malik could land you in court. When, after 21-year-old Scottish student Mohammed Siddique was found guilty of providing training material on bomb-making and spreading terrorist propaganda on websites, his lawyer Aamer Anwar read a statement which said he did not receive a fair trial and the ‘verdict was a tragedy for justice and for freedom of speech’, adding ‘Young Muslims live in a climate of fear no different to that experienced by the Irish community in the last century’. This statement so outraged judge Lord Carloway that Anwar now faces the prospect of himself standing trial for contempt of court.

Criminalising dissent
With no end in sight to Britain’s wars against the people of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Labour government is stepping up its attack against potential supporters of resistance. At present the main targets are Muslims living in Britain but the massive and expensive programme of repression, surveillance and counterpropaganda set out by Brown is potentially directed not just at supporters of Islamic militancy but at everyone who opposes Britain’s imperialist wars.