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25th January, 2015
To the Members of the House of Lords & House of Commons
Palace of Westminster
Dear Sir or Madam
The Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill 2014-2015: Manufacturing a Witch-Hunt against Islam and Muslims
Background of counter-terrorism legislation
In December 2014, Britain’s shameful assistance in the rendition and torture of dozens of people was revealed. In the same month the government decided to push through yet more draconian “anti-terror” legislation.
When Tony Blair’s government proposed its first ‘Terror Bill’ (what became The Terrorism Act 2000) some informed commentators highlighted that Britain already had more anti-terror laws than most other Western states. It was portrayed as a robust piece of legislation capable of dealing with threats 20-30 years in the future – albeit breaching people’s rights. Yet since that act there have been seven additional statutes passed.
These Acts of Parliament make an absolute mockery of the proud celebrations about 2015 being the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta.
You need no reminding that Magna Carta says: “To no one will we sell, to no one will we refuse or delay right or justice” – yet there have been many detained without charge, without trial under these laws. Justice has frequently been delayed or refused to Muslims, guilty of no crime except by association or for browsing websites and the like.
Magna Carta says that: “No free man shall be taken or imprisoned or dispossessed, or outlawed or exiled, or in any way destroyed, nor will we go upon him, nor will we send against him except by the lawful judgement of his peers or by the law of the land”.
Whilst several commentators have mentioned that in England in 1215, the term ‘free man’ did not include women – few would expect that in Britain in 2015 it would exclude Muslims. For many have been imprisoned, dispossessed under punitive financial restrictions and outlawed or exiled in Guantanamo or Belmarsh.
The Current Bill
Against this background – steeped in hypocrisy as it is – the latest proposal, the Counter Terrorism and Security Bill 2014 has been published. It is the eighth piece of legislation, with further ‘counter-extremism’ policy proposals expected in the coming months.
This bill, which is being pushed through Parliament with uncommon haste, sinks to new depths, for it places a statutory duty upon GPs, teachers and other professionals to police thoughts and beliefs. This effectively makes them a tool in a security policy, not dissimilar to Eastern Block States during the Communist Era.
Currently, the police currently bear responsibility for executing the government’s counter-extremism strategy (Prevent). But Greater Manchester Police Chief Sir Peter Fahy admitted, in an interview published by the Guardian on 5th December 2014, that in doing so the police had become ‘thought police’ [i]. A role now being passed to public professionals who after minimal and pejorative “training” will be expected to identify and report potential “extremists”. Reporting those that could be seen to possibly become or be susceptible to be ‘radicalized’, through to the appropriate channel for de-programming in a new form of McCarthyist nightmare. Those that have undertaken this training report that it unfairly targets and heightens suspicion of the whole Muslim community. Even the former head of MI5 Baroness Eliza Manningham Buller has criticized the Prevent programmed as “clearly not working” and a failure [ii].
Another of Sir Peter Fahy’s complaints was that he described how policy makers had left the definition of ‘extremism’ vague. As a result in his words ‘securocrats’ were left to define it themselves. Commenting on this point, Professor Peter Scott of the Institute of Education, said “These definitions will not only, and inevitably, be politicised but are also likely to be expandable and open-ended” [iii] The drift towards criminalizing “extreme” views, initially what the government define as extreme Islamic views, but open in time to any other political or religious thought is obvious.
It will become the responsibility of non-legal professionals to apply their own definitions – allowing for all manner of bias and prejudice (though they may legally be accountable to someone else’s definitions of ‘extremism’). The constant media and political vilification of Muslims in this country leaves no doubt as to the direction of travel. Race and religious motivated crime against Muslims in London this past year has increased by 66% [iv] and shows no sign of abating with the media and opportunist attacks against Muslims for example re “Trojan Horse” or “Shariah Courts in the UK” just two recent examples. How many single sex schools or all male golf courses face the same vitriol that Muslims do for daring to separate the sexes in for example a class setting?
Travel and Surveillance
The surveillance of personal communications will affect many in society but the travel restrictions and citizenship “stripping” single out Britain’s Muslim minority. In particular, it is targeting those who have travelled to Syria to join the struggle against Assad. For unlike those who travelled to Libya to fight Gaddafi – or those who have gone to fight with the Kurds against ISIS – or those who go to fight with the IDF against Palestinians – this group has joined a struggle that Britain has belatedly labelled ‘terrorism’.
The unprecedented travel restrictions and curtailment on citizenship will affect humanitarian workers every bit as much as ‘ISIS-supporters’. They will face the punishment-without-trial, called TPIMs – similar to the control orders that drove some former detainees to near-madness, whom were not even allowed to see the evidence for why they were being punished.
The absence of safeguards and due process
There are no safeguards for the victims of this system of intervention. How does one challenge the identification of, or an accusation of an individual? Where is the due process? What rights do people have to representation and lawyers? There is no provision in the bill for removal of someone from a security list. There is no allowance for parents and representatives on Channel Panels. (3934 people have already been referred to the Channel programme since 2007 including 1450 under 18 years of age). [v]
Erosion of trust in the system
Confidence in Britain’s political system haemorrhaged after the MPs expenses scandal and the countless broken promises of politicians.
Confidence in capitalism has been eroded with the financial and economic crisis of the past few years.
Trust in the intelligence services and military top brass has been undone by the false intelligence justifying the war in Iraq.
Should this bill be passed, we believe it will similarly undermine trust and confidence in the belief in rights and justice on the part of the British State – as well the impartiality and trustworthiness of the judiciary, schools inspectors and the health service – all of whom will be expected to be part of Britain’s ‘thought police’.
Any political system, such as that in Britain or the US, that champions its way of life around the world as the gold standard for humanity to follow, but then bullies its minorities into silence, punishes without trial, tortures people or facilitates and profits from that torture, is simply proving it doesn’t actually believe in its own way of life.
Any system that changes its goalposts on security every couple of years by arguing there is a never-ending ‘war on terror’ and that has radicalized its own population against its Muslim population deserves at the very least suspicion – and at most derision.
Should we see any of you celebrating the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta (as the unshakable guarantee of English liberty) with one hand, whilst simultaneously rewriting its principles (for the eighth time) with the other, this would not only bring further shame upon your institution – but prove how little faith you have in the principles you claim to uphold.
Concerned British Citizen