In his speech on 14th November, 2007 Prime Gordon Brown outlined his latest proposed anti-terrorism measures. Many Muslims may have felt a relief that they were spared the belligerent tones that accompanied such speeches in the past. The proposals were accompanied by suggestions of how to expose more people to Islamic art and culture. However this veneer masks a raft of draconian measures. A close examination of these proposals shows the following:
- They will further establish oppressive measures and a parallel system of justice which will almost exclusively be applied to Muslims. They will lead to the further targeting of Muslims as suspects, further lengthy periods of detention, further charges and convictions for non-violent offences which are labelled ‘terrorism’, further lowering of the standards of justice under anti-terrorism laws.
- They will create a McCarthyite atmosphere where ideas and beliefs labelled as ‘extremist’ will be monitored by ‘thought police’ in communities and Universities, coupled with policies that will generally heighten a sense of fear in society.
- They include policies to create a established government approved Islam, with Home Office Imams which will seen as interfering, oppressive and authoritarian, and heighten feelings of alienation.
We address some of the details below but would say that such policies in Britain only further illustrate the fragile nature of liberal democracy, which abandons the principles it says it values, for political reasons. Viewed from the Muslim world, where policies such as these have been the norm for decades under the various repressive regimes, it will only strengthen people’s desire for the Caliphate as an alternative for the Muslim world.
Terrorism in Britain now includes possession of books and other material which are not meant for any purpose of violence, as illustrated by the recent cases of Abdul Patel and Samina Malik, who was convicted under Section 58 of the Terrorism Act which states: A person commits an offence if … he collects or makes a record of information of a kind likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism.
‘Terrorism’ has been defined so broadly that it encompasses many non-violent political activities and causes. The laws have already been used thus and have been applied regardless of whether or not the accused intends a violent use. Information ‘which could be useful for terrorism’ can mean nearly anything e.g. having tourist maps, tourist photos or researching into companies. This could be used for speculative charges to harass or criminalise political activists.
The debate about whether to extend pre-charge detention from 28 days – already the most draconian in Europe or America – has become a distraction from the other raft of measures which promise to oppress ordinary Muslim citizens and suppress any voices of dissent about British foreign policy in the Muslim world. Brown is now suggesting 58 days pre charge detention in addition to allowing ‘post charge questioning’, which was originally proposed as an alternative to extending the period of detention before charge. Now both measures are expected to be put forward together.
Heightening Fear and Suspicion of Muslims
Brown promised greater security at railways stations, airports, and ports. This included: "Up to 160 counter-terrorism advisers will train civilian staff to identify suspect activity and to ensure premises have secure emergency exits, CCTV footage used to best effect, and regular searches and evacuation drills." All of this will doubtless lead to more Muslims stopped, as they are already, and questioned by police and border police about their political and religious beliefs.
He also proposes travel restrictions for ‘suspects’. Hence, a mere suspicion of involvement in terrorism, anyone could face travel restrictions and be deprived of their passport. Protesters could be prevented from travelling to international demonstrations. This would be punishment without trial, and further strengthens an idea that a ‘terrorist suspect’ is guilty until proved innocent.
"Mccarthyite" Policies Aimed At Silencing Muslim Voices
Brown has proposed policies to oppose ‘extremist’ views in communities, on the internet and in Universities. The term extremist is undefined and can be applied to anyone whose views fall outside the mainstream of political opinion. Government ministers have used this term to attack people who verbally express anger at British foreign policy. Former Prime Minister Tony Blair and David Cameron have variously labelled advocating Shariah law and the Caliphate in the Muslim world as ‘extremist’. Membership of non-violent Islamic political groups has also been labelled as ‘extremism’.
Regarding universities, Brown said that "those extremists can never stifle debate or impose their views." In reality it will be the government who will stifle debate. Many Muslim students already feel intimidated about expressing fairly mainstream political views.
Regarding communities, he has proposed a new ‘thought police’ under Local Authorities. He said "a new board of experts will advise local authorities, local councillors and local communities on tackling radicalization and those promoting hate." The implications of this are huge in terms of people’s jobs and their ability to speak in public about their views.
He has also proposed government approved Imams and government approved Muslim colleges in a manner similar to the repressive regimes in the Muslim world who seek to control religious institutions in order to push a compliant establishment version of Islam. This will be seen as authoritarian and interfering.
Hizb ut-Tahrir, Britain will work to rally opinion against these proposals and to expose the injustice for what it is. We hope that Muslims will see that some of these proposed policies are not merely about security but are a means to silence their political voice, which is insultingly labelled ‘radicalisation’. Any complaint about injustice is slapped down as complaining; any cry about global oppression is slapped down as fuelling the grievances of terrorists; any call for an Islamic alternative is slapped down as ‘extremism’.
We believe it is our duty to keep speaking out against such injustice, our duty to keep on engaging with non-Muslims to overcome the propaganda and subvert the McCarthyite agenda of those who plan witch hunts against dissenting voices.
15th November 2007