Fahad Ansari writes this piece in light of David Cameron’s latest proposals against “extremism”, which threaten to erase whatever freedoms and civil liberties remain alive. Ansari points out that the solution to terrorism does not lie in criminalising the law-abiding population of this country but in tackling its root causes. This will require a considerable degree of honest introspection and enquiry.
Just over ten years ago, eight Algerian men walked free from the Old Bailey after a jury acquitted them of conspiring to murder through the manufacture and spreading of the deadly ricin poison. The acquittals were understandable as the evidence at trial confirmed two crucial issues surrounding the ‘ricin plot’. Firstly, that there was no ricin. Secondly, that there was no plot.
Despite the government research laboratories at Porton Down confirming within 48 hours of the terror raids on the suspects’ premises in January 2003, that neither ricin nor any other toxin was present, the police, media and government were notified of the exact opposite. While the men remained in prison for the next two years, the lie that ricin had been discovered was used to spread mass hysteria by then Prime Minister Tony Blair, members of his cabinet and even the then US Secretary of State Colin Powell who linked the “finding” to an “Iraq-linked terrorist network” during his presentation to make the case for an invasion of Iraq at the UN Security Council.
Although the eight men were vindicated by a jury of their peers following a seven month trial that cost the taxpayer an estimated £20 million, they continued to be treated as terror suspects by the government at the time. Within weeks of the verdict, the government announced that they would be deporting the men to Algeria despite several of them being asylum seekers who had been tortured in their home country.
In the months following the 7 July bombings later that year, the innocent men were again rounded up and detained as “threats to national security”. After several months in jail, they were released and subjected to strict immigration bail conditions (Control Orders in all but name). Terms of their release included wearing an electronic tag, being curfewed for up to 22 hours a day, limiting their movements to a small geographical area and having their premises searched regularly. Potential visitors had to be vetted and approved by the Home Office.
Although some were later cleared of all suspicion in a secret hearing by the Orwellian Special Immigration Appeals Commission (SIAC), others remain subject to those conditions until today, a decade on.
These Algerians are not the only ones to have been harassed and penalised in this manner despite obeying the law. Last year, Palestinian imam Abu Qatada was acquitted of all terrorism charges in a Jordanian court.
The court verdict came after Qatada spent over a decade in detention and under very restrictive SIAC bail conditions in the UK. Despite an ugly vilification campaign against him in which he was accused of encouraging terrorism and inciting hatred, Qatada was never charged with any criminal offence (although laws were in place to prosecute him).
This was because he never broke the law in the UK. Nevertheless, he and his family were subjected to the full brunt of counter terrorism measures for over ten years before he voluntarily left the UK.
For David Cameron to therefore market the need for new counter terrorism laws by claiming that the UK has been “passively tolerant” of those who “obey the law” is simply disingenuous. The government’s last Counter Terrorism and Security Act was only introduced in March this year.
It obliges public service providers such as doctors, nurses, firefighters, university lecturers, teachers and even nurseries to monitor and report their patients, students and toddlers for signs of the vague undefined notion of “extremism”. None of these victims of the 1984 society that is being created have been left alone, despite their law-abiding behaviour.
The reality is that these latest proposals threaten to erase whatever freedoms and civil liberties remain alive, are only the latest chapter in a policy that has not only miserably failed to achieve its objectives – end terrorism and make Britain safer – but has proven counterproductive.
Introducing banning orders such as were used in South Africa against the ANC in its struggle against apartheid may appease a population that has been frightened into believing that it is an illegitimate grievance culture that fosters extremism and violence, but history has proven that it is only by fairly addressing those grievances that progress can be made.
Those who supported the apartheid government and called for Mandela to be hanged yesterday, hail him as a hero today.
The solution does not lie in criminalising the law-abiding population of this country but in tackling the root causes of terrorism. This will require a considerable degree of honest introspection. We all have our role to play in tackling terrorism in our respective spheres. It is easy to point the finger at the mosques, Islamic schools and social media. If there is a problem, it has not been proven, but measures are in place to deal with any problems.
It is far more difficult to admit that government policies may play a role in that radicalisation process. Until we recognise that subjecting individuals to severe harassment and persecutory measures will only serve to alienate them and foster resentment against the state, we will never win the battle against terrorism.
It was encouraging to note that within hours of CAGE stating that the security services may have played a role in the radicalisation of Mohammed Emwazi, David Cameron ordered an inquiry into allegations that the security services may have been complicit in the mistreatment of Michael Adebolajo in Kenya in 2010.
Adebolajo would become notorious three years later as one of the killers of Fusilier Lee Rigby on the streets of Woolwich, an incident that Mr Cameron is today exploiting as a reason to introduce these new laws. Perhaps Mr Cameron should await the findings of that inquiry before seeking to restrict our civil liberties further.
(NOTE: CAGE represents cases of individuals based on the remit of our work. Supporting a case does not mean we agree with the views or actions of the individual. Content published on CAGE may not reflect the official position of our organisation.)