Tuesday, 17 February 2009

Action and reaction

It seems that there is a ream of problems facing the Government over counter-terrorism measures that are all unravelling at the same time.

The Daily Telegraph this morning leads with an interview with Dame Stella Rimington, ex-head of MI5, who warns that the Government have used the fear of terrorism as an excuse to erode civil liberties. What is more concerning is the she believes that “It has achieved the opposite effect: There are more and more suicide terrorists finding a greater justification.” Several other right-wing papers publish the story with the words ‘police state’ in the title.

Secondly, a report published by the International Commission of Jurists has accused the UK and US of undermining international law and “presents alarming findings about the impact of counter-terrorism policies worldwide and calls for remedial action.” The press release regarding the report also states that “the report calls for the rejection of the ‘war on terror’ paradigm and for a full repudiation of the policies grounded in it.”

Thirdly, the interview comes at a time when some potentially embarrassing reports have come out, including those of local councils using anti-terrorism laws of 2002 to catch people fly-tipping.

Finally, BBC’s Panorama programme last night was on the radicalisation of Muslims due to their lack of trust in British people. The investigation more alarmingly unveils concerns that centrally-funded community projects are being used to gather intelligence about potential radicals to ease MI5’s process of following every extremist in the UK.

All these come at a time when the Home Office is preparing to publish plans to further surveillance in a new series of counter-terrorism ideas. Furthermore, a new level of authorities is to be authorised, with powers above police officers, by the Home Office. This measure was slipped into the Borders, Citizenship and Immigration Bill. Lack of trust? Who can blame them?

So where does the fault lie? Potentially with several parties.

It is easy to blame the government, as they are the ones in direct control of the increase in surveillance and data control. Regardless of whether or not you support them in the policies, New Labour have presided over the greatest rolling back of basic civil liberties in peace-time Britain, and that’s still with some of the most serious policies – ID cards and 90 day detention – having fallen short.

Similarly, it is easy to blame the neo-conservatives. What do they have to do with anything? Well, the neocons were in power in the American administration that dealt directly with the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. The US, following a rally-round-the-flag syndrome, created the Department of Homeland Security and passed the Patriot Act. Britain, still seeking to be very much in line with the US, followed suit with a set of policy proposals that increased governmental observation over the lives of its citizens.

You could also try and pin it on the Islamic fundamentalists. If they hadn’t perpetrated the attacks on 9/11, the Madrid bombings, 7/7, and several failed operations including 21/7, Glasgow airport, and the nightclub bombings, then we would not be on the lookout for terrorist potential everywhere.

While all of these are plausible, and do in fact have some truth to them, the main problem is not with the government, or the US neocons who led the world in government control, or even the fundamentalists themselves. The problem is, as with so many things, the state of the media coverage.

The media, particularly the widely-read and little-questioned right wing tabloid media, would lay all of the blame at the feet of Islamists themselves, and actively seeks to make divisions between communities.

The root of the problem then, is what is causing the lack of trust that so alienates young Muslims and leaves a window open for radicalisation. This cannot be the governmental policies alone, and to try and blame America or fundamentalists themselves is ludicrous. The media, who wield their great power often so irresponsibly, are to blame for the greater part of the distrust that has been created.

Maybe a little more tolerance and a little less scare-mongering wouldn’t go amiss.

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