The war against civil rights and terrorism: tell your MP ‘enough already!’
Last week I gave a talk to the Keele University adult current affairs group of more than 300 people about some of the iniquities of the government’s anti-terrorism legislation since the 2000 Act, and the objectionable features of its new proposals shortly to come before parliament. I argued that existing laws had created enough offences, sufficiently sweepingly defined, to make further offences and powers unnecessary and indeed objectionable. I also urged that the iniquitous Control Orders régime, introduced under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, should be repealed when it comes up for review shortly. To my surprise, only one of the numerous questions put to me after my talk expressed disagreement with my basic points that the continuing erosion of our civil liberties made us all less rather than more safe, since it aggravated the feeling of anger and alienation among many British Muslims who would inevitably be the main victims of the new powers and the new offences: and that the idea of a trade-off between civil rights and security against terrorism was a dangerous fallacy, since we needed both: the two go hand in hand, and it isn’t a zero sum game. All the other reactions to my talk, during and after the meeting, supported the views I had expressed with varying degrees of conviction.
Next day I received an e-mail from a lady who had been at the Keele meeting. Her message, and my reply to her, read as follows:
From Ms X:
*** Message dated 8 October 2005 sent from barder.com website using contact form. ***
Dear Brian Barder,
Was alarmed and impressed by your talk and would like to know who to write to in order to protest about new proposed Govt. legislation – also would be grateful for one or two salient facts to quote. I already noted your main comments re existing legislation which already deals with incitement etc. and knee-jerk reaction of TB to placate the public, as he sees it.
Many thanks. Your talk was excellent, but we must all stir ourselves and not just sit down under the frightening new laws which would be a serious infringement of our civil liberties. WHAT IS GOING ON?
To which I have replied:
From BB, on 9 Oct 05:
Dear [Ms X],
Thank you very much for the message you sent me from my website (I’m glad you found that all right!). Thank you too for your kind remarks about my talk at Keele on Thursday.
I think the best person to write to in order to protest about the government’s new anti-terrorist legislation is probably your MP: you could urge him or her, whatever party he/she represents, to vote against the new Bill, to vote for the repeal of the Control Orders Act (the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005), and to encourage his/her parliamentary and party colleagues to do the same. I suggest that you send your MP a fax, re-transmit it by e-mail if you can find out the MP’s e-mail address, and then print out the message and send it to the MP at: House of Commons, Westminster, London SW1A 0AA. You can identify your MP and send him/her a fax (free) from —
— and once you know the MP’s name (or constituency name) you can send him or her an e-mail, if an e-mail facility is shown in the list, from —
http://www.parliament.uk/directories/hciolists/alms.cfm. You can also usually send an e-mail to an MP by using the surname followed by the initial followed by @parliament.uk: thus the e-mail address of John Smith MP will usually be email@example.com. But that might not work if two or more MPs have the same surname and initial.
It looks as if the new Bill is to come before Parliament next week, so if you are going to influence your MP’s vote, now is the time to contact him or her.
I suggest that three key points you might make in your message are:
(1) Existing anti-terrorist laws and other laws against conspiracy, murder, etc., are now already so sweeping that it is unnecessary, and endangers our basic civil rights, to create yet more offences, defined even more sweepingly, as the latest government Bill seeks to do. MPs should vote against these new offences and new police and government powers to deal with them.
(2) Criminalising more and more kinds of behaviour and taking more and more powers to deal arbitrarily with people suspected of involvement in terrorism, without the proper safeguards of charges for specific offences and trial by a judge and jury, tends further to alienate and anger Muslims in Britain and may thus plant the seeds of future terrorism. The best defence against terrorism in the longer run is to preserve a fair and just society which is under the rule of law and in which everyone is equal before the law.
(3) ‘Control Orders’, introduced in March under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, are completely unacceptable: they give politicians the power arbitrarily to wreck people’s lives on grounds of pure suspicion about what they might do in the future, without any proper opportunity to know what they are accused of or to appeal to a properly constituted court against the imposition of the control order. Terrorist suspects should be charged under one or more of the existing and all-embracing laws and given a fair trial. The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005 is due to be reviewed by parliament later this year or early in 2006 and there will be an opportunity then to amend it or repeal it altogether. MPs should insist on repealing it before Britain is humiliated yet again by a finding in the European Court of Human Rights, or in one of our own British courts, that it breaches our rights under the European Convention on Human Rights.
Incidentally, following my talk at Keele on Thursday, the Guardian reported next day that the Home Secretary had abandoned the barmy and dangerous idea of making it an offence to ‘glorify’ terrorism even if there’s no intention to incite others to commit terrorist offences: it will now only be an offence if an intention to incite can be proved. So the Home Secretary won’t after all have the hilarious task, given to him in the Bill as first published, of drawing up lists of terrorist acts more than 20 years ago that we are to be allowed to ‘glorify’! I didn’t expect such a prompt response to my Keele talk….
Finally, I strongly recommend that you have a look at the website of ‘Liberty’ —
— which has much full and useful information about all these matters, with detailed criticisms of the many defective and objectionable measures that have been wished on us since the Terrorism Act 2000 and those that the government is trying to introduce now. You can join ‘Liberty’ online on its website: it’s a very good cause and well worth supporting.
I hope that helps!
Go thou and do likewise!
9 October 2005