Another attack and another opportunity to demagogically exploit emotions of the public and catalyse the rising far-right by presenting an authoritarian like, machoistic “strength”. Theresa May has explicitly expressed her intention to “rip up human rights laws” that impede new terror legislation dealing with suspects. In other words, those that have not committed any crimes will be targeted at the expense of human rights. She stated,
“I mean doing more to restrict the freedom and movements of terrorist suspects when we have enough evidence to know they are a threat, but not enough evidence to prosecute them in full in court.”
There are a number problems with this statement. If the burden of proof is not satisfied then per the rule of law nothing illegal has been committed. If there is evidence that a suspect is a “threat”, then they should be prosecuted or dealt with under the “pursue” strand of Britain’s counter-terrorism strategy. Principles like the rule of law and legislation like the Human Rights Act are there to safeguard citizens from arbitrary power and arrests. It is precisely this type of bombastic, fascist rhetoric which it guards against. It is a very short slippery slope for the state to target those it does not like. Right-wing papers are hell-bent on labelling the opposition leadership “terror-apologists”. If a law is brought in which violates human rights and requires little to no evidence to action, will measures be placed against the opposition leadership too?
I have long argued on this blog that the neoconservative threat festering in Parliament has its sights set on fomenting a docile closed society. The Human Rights Act is a particular obstacle for neocons because it inhibits their ability to do “wrong” in particular circumstances – illegal wars, extraordinary rendition, torture, detention without trial, internment…
As the political squabble over the definition of “extremism” shows, human rights also present a barrier to thought-policing, repressive proposals such as the Counter-Extremism Bill. The enshrinement of counter extremism measures into law coupled with the proposals of a thought-policing commission would grant extraordinarily broad powers to the state, allowing it to effectively shut down dissenting voices and interfere with the private sphere of religion. Take for example Richard Kemp. Kemp is a former member of Cobra and a former head of the international terrorism team at the Joint Intelligence Committee. He is said to have “huge influence at the highest level of government”. He is also whitewasher of Israeli aggression and a student of the IDF and Mossad. Kemp believes “devout” Muslims are “waging a war of religion against us” citing anti-Islam activist Melanie Phillips’ article titled “Terror will continue until Islam is reformed”. Phillips herself was cited by white supremacist terrorist Anders Breivik’s web of hate. Kemp called for “zero tolerance on extremism” and added that this should start by shutting down the due process and rule of law advocacy organisation CAGE. His call does not exactly scream freedom.
Privacy is also a big problem for a government which seems ever hungrier for snooping powers. Despite this excessive intrusion on liberties, repeated attacks show that the issue is not human rights or encryption, but rather the ability to effectively wield existing powers to protect the country. These attacks clearly show that hurling draconian legislation and Stasi-esque policies at political violence to stop it will not work.
By any reasonable yardstick not embedded in a fascist, totalitarian metaphysics, May’s announcement is extreme. Amnesty International took May to task too, declaring her comments “reckless and misinformed”.
May’s “extremism” is nothing new here, of course. I have compared her actions against the PREVENT definition of “extremism” in the past; they ride a horse and cart through the definition. PREVENT defines “extremism” in an ideological, nationalistic fashion as “vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs”.
Theresa May has quite vocally and actively opposed individual liberty and rule of law. Now, the question remains, will PREVENT officers take any action against the prime minister and demonstrate that PREVENT tackles “all forms of extremism”? Or will there be inaction laced in hypocrisy, reinforcing the reality that the counter-extremism frameworks are a tool for repressing dissident voices?
These are questions for PREVENT lobbyists; good luck getting convincing answers.