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     The New Terrorism Act



THE NEW TERRORISM ACT: A means to terrorise Muslims

Blackburn is the constituency of Home Secretary Jack Straw. It is a town with a sizeable Muslim population, and to reward them for their support, Adam Patel, the key contributor to the Labour Party in Blackburn was made a member of the House of Lords. The rest of Muslims might, however, not be as pleased. In spite of Lord Patel’s launch of the “Forum Against Islamophobia and Racism (FAIR)” with Jack Straw as the Chief Guest, the home secretary’s record is could be described as one of anti-Islamic prejudice. In February the new Terrorism Act came into force, and the list of organizations branded as terrorist which accompanies the legislation is almost exclusively made up of Muslims. Supporting any allegedly terrorist organization, if only by fund-raising or publicly speaking in their favour, could land you with a custodial sentence of up to 10 years.

In line with the media portrayal of Muslims as fundamentalists and terrorists, this law now gives the state the instrument to arrest anybody whom they consider undesirable. The legislation is phrased so open-ended that any activity by anybody can easily be made to fit the bill. Simply being acquainted with somebody said to be supporting a proscribed organisation might be sufficient to warrant your arrest. Even to express support for an organisation like Hamas by wearing their logo on a piece of clothing will be a breach of the new legislation. And if you do not cooperate with the police in cracking down on such a “criminal” individual, that is illegal too. Because terrorism is a serious charge, anybody so accused will inevitably spend at least a year in prison before the case even comes to trial.

The new legislation has not been used extensively yet, but it is there on the statue books, ready to be used when required. If the Bosnian experience were engineered to be ignited here in Britain, this law would give the police a carte blanche. Discussion of the bill before it became law has been very limited. As hardly anyone considers themselves to be terrorists, the erosion of civil liberties implied in the law and the slippery slope towards a police state have been completely missed by most.

It is important to remember that the definition of terrorism is extremely vague: the term is used politically to discredit groups and individuals seen as detrimental to the aims of those in power. As power constellations change, the definition may change, too. The most striking example is in the Middle East of today, were both Israel and the Palestinian Authority are headed by individuals once branded terrorists by Britain: Ariel Sharon and Yasser Arafat, respectively. Both are now accorded the status of respectable statesmen.

Little wonder then that state-sponsored terrorism, like the bombing of Sudan by the US in 1998, or the starving to death of hundreds of thousands of children in Iraq by the so-called world community, or the oppression of innocent people in Chechnya by Russia or the unlawful annexation of Kahsmir by India or, indeed, the apartheid system imposed by Israel on Palestinians do not fall within the definition of terrorism as seen by the new legislation.

When Rechavam Ze’evi, a minister in Ariel Sharon’s government and former army major general asks for all 3 million Palestinians to be expelled from the West Bank and Gaza, this is not openly supporting terrorism, nor is Menachim Begin’s statement that Palestinians are “beasts walking on two legs”. Who knows, however, the Bible might be outlawed as a terrorist training manual for containing texts like these: “Woe to you Ariel, Ariel, the city where David settled” warns the prophet Isaiah “Suddenly, in an instant, the Lord Almighty will come with thunder and earthquake and great noise, with windstorm and tempest and flames of a devouring fire.” [Ariel was the original name for Jerusalem].

So when your candidate comes round knocking your door, don’t bother asking him/her about obtaining a sponsored place in a Muslim school or free circumcision on the NHS. Let them declare their stance on real issues which must include foreign policy on Chechnya, Kashmir, Iraq, Palestine etc. Ask whether they will lend their voice to demands to renounce this new terrorism act. Else you might soon not have a voice yourself and – to recall the experience of Sinn Fein – anybody trying to speak up on your behalf might have to be quoted using an actor’s voiceover.

Date Published: May 2001

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