On Wednesday 9th of November, the House of Commons delivered a very serious blow to Tony Blair; rejecting his proposal for holding terrorist suspects for 90 days without charge. It was Blair’s first defeat since he won power in 1997. Doubts are being expressed whether Blair would be able to serve his full third term.
However, such questions conceal many other weighty issues that the proposed Terrorism Bill raises; it contains provisions, which obliges Britain to monitor utterances and conduct of individuals around the world; for example a virulent utterance from Kandhar to New York, are equally culpable under the new proposed legislation. Amongst other concerns, this legislation proscribes a certain type of personal conduct and indirectly leads to re-defining acceptable individual behaviour, which places it head long into a tussle against the Islamic belief system. Further, I do not think any nation has the capacity or resources to do that kind of international policing.
The principle law applicable in the UK, for the fight against terrorism is contained in the Terrorism Act of 2000. Terrorism is defined as the use or threat of action, which meets the following three criteria; a violent action or its threat designed to influence the government, or to intimidate the public, or the threat is used for advancing a political, religious, or ideological cause. This action includes action outside the UK. Government could be the UK or any government and public includes UK’s or any other country’s public.
The proposed new bill goes further than the proscriptions carried in the Terrorism Act 2000. It proscribes further private acts and adds to the definitions already contained in the Terrorism Act 2000. The new law makes it culpable to give or publish statements, which encourage terrorist actions. Furthermore, the bill proposes to make it criminal for any one any where to glorify, preparation or commission of terrorist actions. Glorification, has been defined to include any form of praise or celebration for actions, which would be defined as terrorist actions under the principle legislation.
I feel that the issues involved in the new legislation raise many questions, which deserve serious consideration. Otherwise, this type of legislation is surely going to create a nightmarish situation for Britain and those countries, which have close collaboration with her. It will make the UK a paranoid society; a descent into an Orwellian night-mare.
Cause & effect
Is this legislation progressive? It will be rhetorical to ask what would be the status of all those reformers, who had found an existing situation intolerable. Would the writings and speeches of Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, Mao or the leaders of Zionism be treated as offences, had this legislation been on the ground at that period? How would you judge now the support by prominent US lobbies for the IRA or the violent utterances by the Sein Fein? All of them wanted to change what they considered to be an unjust and iniquitous situation?
Another question is what about utterances made against injustices committed by states? What about the massacre at Shatila? It was the existence of such injustices, which led to the rise of Hamas and the myriad other violent organizations in the Middle East. Similarly, the perceived injustice in the Indian held Kashmir has led to the creation of organizations, whose creed is based upon violence. The consequences of these are with us even today.
If a group or an individual reacted with a violent speech condemning the abuse at Abu Gharaib in Iraq or the burning alive of Taliban fighters in Afghanistan, would you like to try them under the new legislation? What I am saying is that it is all very well to speak of a Ghandian approach to conduct, but could states be forced to adopt a similar philosophy, since in many cases it is their actions, which have provoked the violent reaction in the first place? Many violent organizations and acts are the product of state provocation. States are the source of a major proportion of violence around the world, yet remain unaccountable. Witness the new scandal brewing in the US about torture by the CIA, in other jurisdictions. This will cause reprisals and acts of revenge. This is the nub of the problem of terrorism.
Would the Security Council send its Mehlises to investigate atrocities committed by a super power? Since injustices emanating out of state acts remain unrequited, committed persons often take steps to seek reprisal. This is what creates an Osama. It would be utopian to suggest that the state would ever give up its stripes. Therefore, in such an imperfect world one has to live with violence. But change in such an attitude is essential, if we want to escape a future nuclear or a biological apocalypse. We must identify the causes of terrorism. Only then would countries be able to come out with credible solutions.
Jihad in Islam
It is apparent that the thrust of the new terrorist legislation is aimed at the philosophical and religious constructs of Islamic thought. At the risk of over simplification, let me state that there is a peculiar and a particularistic sociology in Islam. Its basic creed is to do away with injustice. It is a huge concept and places the total aggregate of human conduct, both state and non-state, on the pedestal of justice and equity. Similarly, on the same comparative level, the kernel of Christianity is based on the central theme of compassion and grace minus Jesuit acts in the name of religion.
Having said that, one can begin to comprehend the construction of the world view incorporated within Islam. To those, who are the victims of actual or perceived injustices, a possible recourse within Islam is the path of jihad. Its aim is to fight and correct the situation. It may involve physical or mental actions. It could be limited to one person or be collective. The end is to establish the condition of justice within a situation. Sacrifice in achieving the objective is deserving of the highest accolade recognized in Islam. Martyrdom in the name of Allah is the highest sacrifice. If these are the basic constructs of Islamic belief and ideological system, then reactions to events would be forthcoming within the operation of this particular idiom in the mind. No amount of legislation can fight against a belief system. Instead, the same effort could be more usefully spent in identifying injustices and to seek their removal. It will be much more productive.
Malaise of the Islamic world
It is now widely recognized that when hope is lost, then a situation is ripe for violence. This is down the road of death and destruction. A look at the Islamic world shows its huge problems. The existing questionable policy followed by the western world of supporting non representative governments in the muslim world for unobstructed access to their resources or strategic location, is the basic cause of violence. The fashionable term for which is terrorism.
The phenomenal growth of the world economy is transforming it rapidly without an adequate share for the majority living in the Islamic world. Excepting some countries, the rest of the Islamic world is entrapped in a medieval time warp. With a huge youth demographic bulge and an absence of opportunity, places most of these countries on a time bomb.
A UNDP study of 22 Arab Islamic countries found that collectively, they have a population of 280 million while their annual collected aggregate GDP was lower than middle income Spain, whose annual GDP was $ 580 billion.
My recommendation to Blair will be to spend his political capital on dealing with the issues retarding the growth of the Islamic countries instead of security legislation. The only beneficiaries of such legislation will be the police and the intelligence services, whose security needs, are never ending. Their ultimate goal is a police state. You cannot cordon a belief system like Islam with legislation. Please provide the Islamic world with more freedom and justice and peaceful international change will surely follow. If this prescription is not followed, then I fear that there will be permanent violence slowing world growth and progress. It is for this reason that I find Mr. Blair’s wish to have the new terrorism legislation misplaced; the Prime Minister has tremendous energy but has perhaps become impatient with the system and time given to analysis of remedial measures. However, this should not mean the weakening of UK’s engagement with the Islamic world; Britain has so much to offer in bridging the gap between Islam and its opponents.