Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Why we should defy the 2006 Terrorism Act

A while ago I posted about the Terrorism Act 2006 and advocated defiance of the law was necessary in order to defend basic democratic freedoms. This is the very poorly drafted legislation that criminalises the "glorification" of past, future or current terrorism. Perhaps the intention of the law was quite narrow, but in its broadest interpretation, the actual words of the statute are very wide reaching.

Unfortunately, my discussion of terrorism in that post was a bit injudicious, and caused offence to some comrades who I respect, and one of the other administrators of this blog got cold feet and deleted it!

The issue has arisen again in a debate over on Dave Osler’s blog. A pseudonymous “Trotskist” called SouthpawPunch decided to let the slogan of “military but not political support” out for a run, despite that fact that it was so old and tired it could hardly stand up.

This is the relevant part of the exchange:

SouthPaw: “Communists obviously never offer political support for the Taliban but offer military support in this period.”

Myself: “How exactly are you offering military support to the Taliban? This sounds very rrrr-revolutionary in words, but in practice, what do you do?”

Southpaw: “Military support would mean just that. If comrades were in Iraq or Afghanistan they would seek to attack coalition troops in as part of the 'Resistance'.”

Myself: “your position of military and not political support is just funny, if you mean that the content of it is that some non-existent Iraqi trots should be fighting the occupiers. Actually the British army is here in Britain, the troops are flown out from Brize Norton, and the logistics from RAF Lyneham. If you are offering military support couldn't you at least be sabotaging these bases?”

SouthPaw: “Brize Norton - that question is a provocation, although I sure that wasn't your intention.”

Myself: “what on earth do you mean by "Brize Norton - that question is a provocation, although I sure that wasn't your intention" If you support military support for the Iraqi resistance it is a simple question whether you advocate sabotage of military bases in the UK. Is it your position that you cannot answer that because it would be an offence under the new terrorism act? That would strike me as a bit wussy because simply advocating trots to attack UK troops in Iraq has already crossed that line.”

SouthPaw: “It can be hard to ignore provocations - intended or accidental, but sometimes it's necessary to do so. I don't think anyone is consciously acting for the state (and I'm not thinking of AN whatsoever) but some of their comments only play into the hands of the oppressors. So some things need remain unanswered.”

SouthPawPunch subsequently wrote to Dave Osler and myself. He has insisted that this is a prvate communication, so whereas I originally quoted from it, I have now deleted that reference: but the gist of it is that SouthPaw considers that I am aiding the state by expressing the opinion that what he said may be an offence under the Terrorism Act 2006: a rather po faced response to a flippant comment of mine.

Now let us make something absolutely clear. I think that given Britain is at war, then those fighting for the national independence of Iraq and Afghanistan would be entirely justified in sabotage against these bases, or other military action against the British armed forces, both in the UK and overseas. As defined by section 2, b(ii) of the Terrorism Act 2006, I am “reckless as to whether members of the public will be directly or indirectly encouraged or otherwise induced by [this] statement to commit, prepare or instigate such acts or offences.”

What is more, the military defeat of the US and UK is the better outcome in Iraq and Afghanistan, and although I regret the tragic loss of life for our service men and women, I believe that the Iraqi insurgents fighting them are justified in fighting for their national independence. They draw on a long and “glorious” tradition of brave and heroic anti-colonial struggle, including the fight by the Vietnamese people, the Algerians, the Mau Mau in Kenya, and even George Washington! I use the word glorious advisedly, as it is the term used in sections 3 a, and 3 b of the Terrorism Act 2006. I do glorify (as prohibited by section 3 a of the act) those who have fought for the independence of their countries in the past, and I would argue (as prohibited by section 3 b of the act) that those whose homelands are occupied today are justified in emulating those freedom fighters of the past.

Of course the situation in Iraq is problematic, and alongside the insurgency against the occupation armies there is sectarian violence, and to a certain degree the Sunni militias are fighting as much against a Shia dominated Iraq as they are against the Americans. Similarly there clearly have been anti-Sunni pogroms by Shia militias, including the Badr brigade and Mehdi army. But the continued presence of unwelcome foreign troops is exacerbating not calming those tensions. We should also recognise that military action is not the only way, or necessarily always the best way of opposing the occupation.

I think Southpaw is engaged in futile verbal posturing. The task of the British left is not to offer “military support” to the Iraqis and Afghans, but to build the political pressure for the earliest possible withdrawal of British troops, and a decoupling of British and American foreign policy.
But with regard to the censorship enacted by the 2006 Act, we must resist its broadest interpretation and continue to freely discuss the rights and wrongs of national liberation struggles, this includes the argument that oppressed peoples have a right to fight back in which ever way they choose, although not everyone will acept that. We should not pander to the law and self-police ourselves and ask for people to read between the lines. There are times when armed struggle is morally and politically justifiable, and we should not accept a criminalisation of the discussion of what those moral and political limits are.

SouthPaw seems to be accepting the censorship, and modifying what he is prepared to say and thus diminishing the scope of debate upon the left. I utterly reject the idea that asking comrades to say what they actually mean is playing into the hands of the state! I am sure that MI5 and Special Branch have better things to do with their time.

All war is terror. It is the use of violence to impose a political outcome upon your opponents. What is more the morality of war is different from the morality of peacetime. Because normal people are justly horrified by the brutality of war we try to impose arbitrary limits upon the logic of war – for example fetishising the acceptability of “military” but not “civilian” targets. In reality of course our own British and NATO armies define as military targets such civilian institutions as telecommunications, electricity generation, bridges and even jouranlists, and accept "collatoral damage" -which is what the call the charnel house carnage that they unleash upon the innocents. The British government is contemplating renewing Trident, a weapon that could indiscriminalatly incinerate millions.

Civilians have been killed in their thousands in Iraq and Afghanistan, either directly by British and American troops, or indirectly by the way our soldiers have smashed the infrastructure of that country.

War grows its own morality, and as the imperial power has wrecked carnage on the women, children and men of these occupied countries, then we should not be surprised when that same coin is paid back to us by bombs on trains and aircraft. The responsibility lies with those whose deceit and vanities forced us into these futile wars.


Louisefeminista said...

I broadly agree with what AN argues. Firstly, Southpaw advocating "military support" is misguided and confused as it is, in reality, about showing political support to people living under the cosh of imperialism.

The term of the Terrorism Act 2006 give a broad definition of terrorist acts. In order to catch people like Abu Hamza, who most would assume was aware that some of those he was preaching to would turn to violence as a result of his preaching, the Government crreated a law that could be used to criminalise lots of people opposed to imperialism.

The Terrorism Act 2006 is a slippery slope as it can take down worrying territory (amongst other legislation as well). And socialists should argue and fight against this draconian and very scary law as civil liberties and freedoms are being flushed down the toilet by New Labour. What we need to do is to never back down from saying what we think and if anyone is victimised for speaking out there should be full solidarity with them from all of the Left. BTW we already have the example of Milan Rai and Maya Evans being criminalised for demonstrating against Bliar's wars.

AN said...

It is also worth saying that this is not an abstract question.

Margeret Jones and the others of the Fairford Five did actually commit sabotage to try to commit sabotage to prvent USAF B52s bombing Iraq.

What is intersting is that juries have not convicted them!
It would bizarre is so called rrrrr-revolutionary socialists woudl not be prepared to express support for the actions of pacifists!

AN said...

God my typing...

What I meant is they either "did actually commit sabotage or tried to commit sabotage "

there were three seprate incidents, some did damage military equipment, and some were caught before they managaed it

Louisefeminista said...

AN:"It is also worth saying that this is not an abstract question".

Yes and some revoluntaries do indeed reduce it to an abstract question....

The Fairford 5 could now be done under the Terrorism Act 2006 'cos the definition of a terrorist includes violence against property. This could include, for example, people who trample on GM crops. Does that constitute terrorism? Well, under the Terrorism Act 2006 it does....


AN said...

I'm stil not convinced by this whole thing about being a rrrrr-revolutionary.

It sesm to me just to mean a socialist who sells a newspaper.

Louisefeminista said...

"It sesm to me just to mean a socialist who sells a newspaper".

BIG element of truth in that statement...Oh yes

Badmat said...

Speaking as someone who got very annoyed at what I understood to be AN's views on terrorism last time round without engagaing a scintilla of respect from AN I'm pleased to see the disucssion come back.

Firstly: defiance of the badly worded and unpleasant Terrorism Act. Yes, it is part of an undermining of civil liberties and it's possible to imagine the circumstances in which it is crucial. Have we lost basic democratic freedoms: not quite, it remains marginal - but we need to watch out for what happens at the margins. I remember Galloway saying that he was breaking the law with what he said about the Lebanon (I think) and implying he would get arrested. Didn't happen, which is a shame because then we could have had a defence campaign and greeted him as a hero on his triumphant early release as the state reeled before...etc., etc.(only joking - I would never advocate the arrest of George Galloway, that would be provocation). More recently I went to an anti-Islamophobia session in which a Muslim preacher quoted Malcolm X's famous reaction to the assassination of JFK and said he could be arrested now: left me terrified as only that week in a class, with 30 witnesses, I'd quoted the same quote and kinda pointed out its vaildity.

Which makes me think there is a strong 'all mouth no trousers' (as someone pointed out about 'don't call me 'Southpaw' I'm 'Southpaw Punch' (can the affectionate term 'punchy' be far off). That business about provocation is so silly, like the State cares what he (must be a he) thinks; but more importantly there is something wrong and deeply dishonest about saying 'I can't tell you what I think about this because it's so HARD, and its a provocation -even if an unconcious one - for you to ask, and please Mr Osler make him stop'. Laugh! I never started.

But there is something more serious issue here: what do we do about it. Get oursleves arrested? Join Liberty? And even more seriously, the real (i.e. more important) argument is about whether there is a 'police state for Muslims'. The State isn't bothered about all mouth Trots going on about their completely and ridiculously irrelevant views about Waziristan, it is bothered about the hinterlands and connections and wider communities of the tiny groups of Muslims who have demonstrated their willingness to not just say what they mean but do something about it. Which brings me back to the point where I got very cross with AN last year. And I haven't changed my mind.
AN says:
"we must resist its broadest interpretation and continue to freely discuss the rights and wrongs of national liberation struggles, including accepting that opppressed peoples have a right to fight back in which ever way they choose"
Please note the slide from defending free speech to demanding the acceptance of a particular position which is drawn so widely as to be just daft. I refuse to accept the right of the Chechens to shoot that particular child no matter how extensive the horrors visited on them by the Russians. I refuse to accept the right of that particular person to put that particular bomb in that particular waste-bin in Warington. I refuse to accept... well the list goes on.
And this is a serious issue.

David J said...

I support the Iraq War, and I regard the jihadis and other terrorists in Iraq as fascists.

I don't say that to troll, or to argue my case in a forum which is not set up for me to promote my line.

I say it in the hope that you will at least have a healthy suspicion of me and my motives.

You have come very close to advocating, in full view of someone who is in disagreement with your war aims (me), that you should break your domestic law and attack or sabotage a military facility of the UK State.

And you wonder why Southpaw Punch is suspicious of you? If there comes a campaign where he and I agree, I would be far more likely to listen to his views on operational security, and not yours.

While it is important to not be cowed by the State (see this article by a member of Last Superpower about the frightened vapourings of Australians when new sedition laws were introduced), basic security precautions are not a bad idea, either.

AN said...

Thanks Matthew for pointing out the slide in my argument!

Let me say that i do regret that you and I fell out over this last year, and I accept that there was a lack of respect in the way i agrued with you, for which I apologise - and I hope you accept that we could both have done a bit better!

With regard to the issue of the terrorism Act. I am not trying to be macho, I just think it is importnat that we don't allow the broadest interpetation of the badly drafted law to impede our willingness to discuss the moral and political dimensions of violence. And I intend this post to do no more than highlight the issue.

As Loiuse points out, the law was intended to criminalise those like Abu hamsa who were actually inciting terrorism, which I think is a reasonable and prudent objective on grounds of public safety. But as drafted goes much too far - and the trouble is that as soon as the words security and terrorism are used, sometimes all critical judgement is suspended.

I fully accept your criticism of my argument that it is not necessary to agree with my position on the violence of the opppressed in order to agree that the terrorism Act 2006 is a restriction of free speech. i should have separated the two issues - my bad. I think you are riht that my argument about the 2006 Sct would be stringer had I not joined the two issues - espeically in a way that implied that you ave to agree about revilutionary violnce in order to agree about the censorship.

We can return to the issue of violence on another occassion, which I should point out is (from my point of view) a philospohical positon on the social origins of morality, I am sure that I am as horrified and disgusted by the actual violent acts as you are,.

AN said...

I have modifed the main post slightly to decouple the two arguments -

This might mean that matthews comments don't match the post any more - but I have done the modification becasue I accept his criticism, so hopefully people won't be too confused by the change

The Sentinel said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.