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.