|SocialismToday Socialist Party magazine|
Terrorism & the law
AT 4AM on Friday 2 June 2006, the adjoining houses 46 and 48 Lansdown Road, Forest Gate, east London, were raided by over 250 police, headed by 15 officers decked out in chemical and radiological protection suits. The brothers Abdul Koyair and Mohamed Abdulkahar were arrested and held without charge for over a week. Their mother was treated in hospital for shock, a neighbour sustained a head injury requiring hospital treatment, and Mohamed was shot in the arm by a policeman. The police found nothing.
The recently-published Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) report into the operation arrogantly states that "if police do not find an explosive device this does not mean they were wrong to have launched the raid". But each botched raid and terror scare that comes out now is greeted with growing scepticism by a broad layer of workers, especially after the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes. This is particularly the case among Asian workers.
Asian workers are among the poorest in British society. In 1999, whereas 28% of white families lived below the poverty line, among Bangladeshi families this was a staggering 84%. Shahedah Vawada, a Muslim woman living in Tower Hamlets, interviewed by the International Herald Tribune, stated: "There is a total lack of opportunity for Muslim youths, as in any ghetto, and that is the primary source of the problem. You have teenagers wanting to get back at the world, and they will fall prey to people inciting them to violence and hatred". Add to this the growing sense of alienation and persecution felt by many young Asians, as well as the profound anger over the government’s continued participation in the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, and you can see how a tiny minority is prepared to support, or even take part in, terrible attacks like the 7/7 London transport bombings in 2005.
Workers and young people across the UK were disgusted by the 7/7 terrorist bombings and the indiscriminate killing and maiming of ordinary black, white and Asian workers commuting to their jobs. It is natural for people to support action to prevent further death and destruction by terrorist acts. However, we must stand against divisive measures ostensibly passed to combat terrorism. These sort of ‘emergency measures’ do nothing to combat the social base from which support for terrorism can be fostered.
The 2006 British Social Attitudes survey revealed increased support for curbs on civil liberties. Seven out of ten people thought compulsory identity cards for all adults were ‘a price worth paying’ to reduce the threat of terrorism. Eight in ten thought the authorities should be able to tap the phones of people suspected of involvement in terrorism, open mail and impose electronic tagging or home curfews. Twenty-five percent thought that police should be allowed to interrogate suspects for up to a week without letting them see a solicitor. Commenting on the survey, Conor Gearty, professor in human rights law at the London School of Economics, said: "The very mention of something being counter-terrorism makes people more willing to contemplate the giving up of their freedoms. It is as though society is in the process of forgetting why past generations thought those freedoms to be so very important". (The Guardian, 24 January)
The government’s anti-terror laws have proved to be not just ineffective but also counterproductive as they exacerbate tensions between different communities, deepen divisions, and ultimately create the ground for an increase in terrorism. More than 70% of people now believe government foreign policy has made Britain more of a target for terrorists. New Labour’s repressive anti-terror laws can also play a role in pushing a small layer of Muslim youth into terrorism.
We must do all we can to build unity among workers, whatever ethnic background they come from, as it is only through a unified working class fighting back against the attacks of the capitalist class that we can win – be they attacks on public services, imperialist war and occupation, or job cuts. But it is not just on these grounds that we oppose the anti-terror laws and the actions of a police force seemingly above the law.
David Shaylor, the MI5 whistleblower, stated in an interview with The Socialist in 2001: "I think that a lot of the restrictive laws that are in place now are not just there to be used against terrorism but against the trade unions also, anti-capitalist protesters and the left in general". This was before 9/11 and the introduction of the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, which goes much further in curbing civil rights than the laws Shaylor was commenting on.
In 2004, two protesters and a baby were prevented from holding a banner and leafleting outside Reed Exhibitions in Richmond, the organiser of Defence Systems and Equipment International, the world’s largest arms fair. Police issued an Anti-Social Behaviour Order banning the protesters and their child from Richmond for 24 hours. In 2005, a 25-year-old chef was convicted for reading aloud the names of the British soldiers killed in Iraq. Earlier this year, the ex-boxer Chris Eubank was arrested for driving up Whitehall with an anti-war banner! In the future, it is likely that anti-terror legislation will be used against anti-war activists and trade unionists on a much larger scale.
The state, be that the judiciary, police or armed forces, acts in the interests of the capitalist class and, in the final analysis, exists to defend its property rights and profits. Despite this, there is a dual nature to the role of the police force. On the one hand, it is looked to by workers to deal with crime. Its main priority, however, is protecting the interests of big business. See how long it takes the police to turn up if your TV has been stolen and compare that to the £72 million that was spent policing the 2005 G8 conference in Gleneagles! The same logic applies to legislation attacking civil liberties, whatever covers are used to gain support for it.
Laws curbing the right to assembly, ostensibly passed to combat Oswald Mosley and his Black Shirts in the 1930s, were only ever used against trade unionists and those on the left! The Russian revolutionary Lenin was the subject of the first MI5 file, written in 1909. The state’s interest in his activities was down to the fact that his political ideas were a threat to the rule of profit.
The IPCC report, branded a ‘whitewash’ by the brothers involved, came directly after February’s anti-terror raids in Birmingham, where it was alleged that a group of young Muslim men were plotting to kidnap and behead a Muslim serviceman. One of the nine arrested stated that Britain has become a ‘police state for Muslims’. At this stage, that is an exaggeration, but it is understandable that increasing numbers of young Muslims feel this way. The commentator Martin Jacques stated: "It is hardly surprising, though, that many young Muslims feel alienated. They face worse discrimination in education and employment than any other ethnic minority, Anglo-American policy in the Middle East has had the effect of demonising the Muslim world, and the Muslim community here finds itself the victim of a barrage of hostile propaganda". (The Guardian, 15 February).
Young Asians, particularly men, face a huge increase in police harassment. In London 2001-02, there was a 41% increase in ‘stop and search’ of Asians by the police. Even high-ranking Asian police officers publicly objected to the government’s proposal for ‘passenger profiling’ on flights after last year’s alleged plot to blow up planes. Chief Superintendent Ali Dizaei and Assistant Commissioner Tarique Ghaffur described this as, in effect, creating a criminal offence of ‘travelling while Asian’. Between the introduction of anti-terror legislation in 2000 and the 7/7 bombings, 700 people were arrested under the new laws. Only 17 were convicted of any crime, and only three of any crime relating to terrorism! We are seeing the emergence of a kind of parallel ‘justice’ system, where people who are Muslim, or ‘look’ Muslim, are subject to more aggressive policing and a harsher application of the law.
The IPCC report went on to state that the police tactics "may well be grounds for an equally high profile public apology". We must demand much more than just an apology! In the final analysis, under capitalism, representatives of the state – the police, secret services or armed forces – protect the rule of profit. We can counter their divisive methods by campaigning for increased democratic control and accountability to elected community and trade union based bodies. But fundamentally what is required is a transformation of how society is run. Only under socialism could we see a permanent end to poverty, imperialist wars and police harassment and victimisation. In building support for socialist ideas it is vital that we expose the role that the state and the government’s undemocratic anti-terror laws play in class society.