- Created: Friday, 22 May 2009 11:20
- Written by Nicki Jameson
As the Labour government gears up for war against Iraq, it has already begun to wage war in this country. The war at home is a racist war, and it is being waged both through the implementation of draconian legislation and by the use of propaganda. The legislation comes in two distinct but interlinked forms: immigration laws, targeting those seeking asylum here, and anti-terrorist laws, aimed at criminalising people already in this country, citizens or otherwise. The propaganda is disseminated on a variety of levels, official and unofficial, with the government claiming unconvincingly to be outraged by the worst excesses of the right-wing press. Many Muslims understandably view the government’s actions as a war on Islam. Nicki Jameson reports.
On Sunday 5 January anti-terrorist police raided a flat in Wood Green, north London, arresting six men. Early press reports intimated that a massive terrorist plot had been smashed, and a lethal and indiscriminate attack, perhaps on the London Underground, been averted. There was talk of cyanide gas and specialist ‘terror cells’ made up of Algerians and trained (of course) by Al Qaeda.
It soon transpired that there was no cyanide, and probably no terrorist cell as such. Ricin, the poison of which possible tiny traces were allegedly found in the flat, is highly unsuitable for a mass attack, as it needs to be administered to the victim. Speculation changed therefore to whether celebrities or politicians, including the Prime Minister, were being targeted.
The scientific properties of ricin were, however, largely irrelevant to the furore. All that mattered to those whipping up fear and hatred was that there was allegedly some poison in a house in London occupied by young men from north Africa.
On 14 January four of those arrested at Wood Green appeared in court, charged under the Terrorism Act 2000 and Chemical Weapons Act 1996. A fifth man was charged with possessing false documents. On the same day, a house in Manchester was raided by police and immigration officers. The raid was authorised by the Home Secretary, using his powers under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act (ATCSA) to certify foreign nationals as ‘suspected terrorists’ and have them indefinitely detained without trial. In the course of the raid a policeman was fatally stabbed.
On 20 January the Finsbury Park Mosque was raided and seven men arrested under the Terrorism Act. The mosque had repeatedly been named by police and press as a centre where fanatical Islam and violent anti-Westernism were preached. The raid could probably have been authorised at any time, but its timing kept the focus on north London, on Muslims and on so-called radical cleric Abu Hamza, whose picture now features on front-page after front-page of tabloid newspapers, which demand his arrest, detention and deportation (despite his British citizenship). In the run-up to the war on Iraq, the enemy at home is being clearly identified and labelled.
More arrests under the Terrorism Act followed in Manchester, Gatwick Airport and elsewhere, including Cheltenham, where three men were ‘seen acting suspiciously’ outside the GCHQ spy base.
As was the case with the vast majority of Irish people arrested in the 1970s and 1980s under the Prevention of Terrorism Act, most of those arrested under the Terrorism Act and the ATCSA are never charged with anything, let alone tried or convicted. This has already been the case for many of those arrested during 2001 and 2002 in high profile operations at Bournemouth, Leicester, Birmingham, Luton and elsewhere.
Many of those arrested as suspected terrorists are subsequently detained under immigration law, clearly demonstrating how interlinked the two processes are, and how anti-terrorist raids double as trawls for anyone suspected of immigration law violations.
On 8 January, sandwiched conveniently between the London and Manchester raids, a part of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 came into force, the effect of which is to deprive all asylum seekers who do not make their asylum claim upon immediate arrival in this country of access to state support.
Legal challenges are in progress on behalf of recently arrived asylum seekers who have been told that they did not make their claims quickly enough, even though some were made within two days of arrival. So far, interim injunctions have been granted on behalf of eight asylum seekers.
This is not the first attempt to deprive asylum seekers of welfare benefits on this basis. The Conservative government tried it in 1996, but was defeated by legal challenges relying on the 1948 National Assistance Act responsibility to provide against destitution. Labour tried again in 1999, amending the National Assistance Act to exclude persons ‘subject to immigration control’, and bringing in the voucher system, which proved both unpopular and ultimately unmanageable. Now we are back on the same track, so all anti-refugee propaganda is useful to the government. What right-minded person would want to deprive impoverished families of a small amount of money that might make the difference between survival and starvation? But, who would want their taxes to fund crazed fundamentalists who have only come here to plot against us?
Worse to come
The Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act was rushed through Parliament in the wake of 11 September 2001. It provides for the indefinite detention of foreign nationals suspected of terrorism. In order to pass this part of the Act, Britain was forced to opt out of Article 5 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which outlaws detention without trial.
Not content with junking one major part of the ECHR just two years after the Human Rights Act enshrined its provisions within British domestic law, Tony Blair is now talking about reviewing Britain’s stance on the Convention as a whole. In particular he is concerned about Article 3, which outlaws ‘torture or inhuman or degrading treatment’. The Conservative Party is openly arguing that Britain should claim exemption from Article 3 in times of national emergency, and that it should withdraw from the 1951 Convention on Refugees.
At present it is illegal under British and European law to deport someone who will be tortured on their return. If either party leader gets his way, such deportations will become legal in Britain.
‘Poison terrorists are asylum seekers’
On 10 January all three of the Daily Mail, Daily Express and Sun newspapers led with virtually identical front page headlines: ‘Poison terrorists are asylum seekers’. By this they clearly meant their readers to understand two things. Firstly, that the men arrested in north London earlier that week were ungrateful scroungers biting the generous British hand that is feeding them. Secondly, that asylum seekers in general are indistinguishable from ‘poison terrorists’.
The Sun is now waging an overtly racist petition campaign to ‘End this asylum madness now’. While the actual petition wording calls simply for a ‘harder line on illegal immigrants’, the articles which accompany the petition coupons claim to speak for ‘all those decent people who are terrorised by Albanian, Kosovan and Turkish drug and vice gangs...a nation that lives in fear of Algerian terrorists who are allowed to roam free among us’.
With breathtaking hypocrisy, Home Secretary David Blunkett has denounced the racism of the right-wing tabloids, as though the policies of his government have done nothing at all to fuel a climate in which it is considered acceptable to vilify foreigners, demand immigrants be arrested or deported without question, and label all those who oppose you as ‘terrorist’. But the right-wing press is doing the government a favour. Compared to the seemingly insane rantings of some of the tabloids, the more measured delivery of Blunkett and co is designed to make racism sound palatable. But no-one should be fooled. The agenda of The Sun and the agenda of the government are the same – racist, imperialist war abroad and at home.
Turkish activists arrested under Terrorism Act
On 11 December 2002 five men and two women were arrested under the Terrorism Act and taken to Paddington Green police station, where they were held until Monday 16 December when they were bailed by Bow Street Magistrates’ Court. They are charged with raising funds for and supporting an organisation banned under the Terrorism Act. The organisation, the DHKP-C, is a Turkish communist organisation.
The DHKP-C has never been involved in any armed actions in Britain. Its members and supporters in this country do community work and provide support for political prisoners in Turkey. The organisation’s inclusion in the list of those banned in Britain was an opportunistic favour to Turkey, as was the timing of these arrests, which coincided with Turkey’s application for EU membership being discussed at the Copenhagen summit.
Kurdish children detained in Scotland
The Labour government’s dispersal system for asylum seeking applicants is being challenged in the courts by one Kurdish family, who have been sent to the Dungavel detention centre near Glasgow. The Ay family have been victims of Britain’s racist immigration laws since they arrived in Britain from Turkey via Germany three years ago. As Kurds they were forced to flee from Turkey’s brutal fascist regime fearing political persecution. Salih Ay, father of four children, was deported from the UK to Germany in May 2002 and then immediately deported again to Istanbul. Since then the rest of the Ay family; mother Yurdugal and her four children aged between seven and fourteen have been subjected to Labour’s dispersal scheme which dragged them away from life and schooling in Gravesend, Kent where they had settled, to the Dungavel detention centre, 450 miles from their adopted home. At the Scottish detention centre the children’s education has been severely disrupted. A Home Office spokeswoman made the government’s position clear on the future of the Ay family stating ‘The point of an immigration centre is not to educate children’.
To contact the campaign write to:
Ay Family Campaign , c/o NCADC
131 Camberwell Road, London SE5 OHF
FRFI 171 February / March 2003