Monday, September 19, 2005

Proportionality and unintended consequences

The UK, unlike the U.S., has a history of a terror threat. (Now we COULD consider the Klan and innumerable lynchings and bombings as terrorism, but for now let's not). And they have a history, recognized by many, of making the terror threat worse. Polly Toynbee, writing in the Guardian, draws parallels between the IRA and Islamist terror.
Once deep in a bomb crater, stop digging. It is time to learn the lessons of Iraq - and remember those of tackling the IRA. It is all about proportionality and unintended consequences. Even if the intention is good - ridding the world of Saddam or trying to stop bombers murdering tube travellers - any action that makes the threat worse is a mistake. Labour is keen on what works; Iraq has made the world more dangerous and these anti-terror laws risk the same.

Bad responses to IRA bombs prolonged that terror. Mass internment on the flimsiest of evidence radicalised a generation, seriously limiting intelligence from informants. Most attempts to quell terror made things worse by disproportionate action taken in anger.

Islamist killers took terror to a new level on 9/11, but catching and deterring perpetrators needs the same techniques. Never forget the IRA murdered publoads of ordinary people and came within a splinter of slaughtering the prime minister and cabinet. Ordinary Muslims may detect an elemental horror of dark-skinned bombers that strikes a deeper fear than Irish Catholics. Why else yet more draconian action?

Clarke's move to jail for up to five years anyone who "glorifies, exalts or celebrates" terrorist attacks is as daft as it is dangerous. Consider how we tolerated the endless Irish glorification of terror. Neither giant street paintings celebrating the gun and bomb nor IRA killers in berets and sunglasses shooting guns over the coffins of "martyrs" had the army charging in. Nor did police raid pubs in Kilburn to arrest maudlin old men indoctrinating wide-eyed youngsters in deathless songs such as this:

Just before he faced the hangman,
In his dreary prison cell,
British soldiers tortured Barry
Just because he wouldn't tell
The names of his brave comrades,
And other things they wished to know:
"Turn informer or we'll kill you!"
Kevin Barry answered "No!"

Incidentally this song and many similar can be found on the BBC's history site; will it be prosecuted too? Lawyers are stumped as to what genuinely dangerous act of glorification wouldn't already be caught under the law against incitement to violence.

Similarly, why is it only when confronting the Islamist threat in the 2000 Terrorism Act that it became a legal duty to inform on possible terrorists? Under this law the brother of the British suicide terrorist who murdered many in Israel is this week being retried after a trial where the jury couldn't decide whether to convict. But the law never forced the Irish to inform. Perhaps it was recognised that any Irish family informer would be tarred and feathered, kneecapped or killed. But why are we putting a higher expectation on Muslim families, equally in fear? It seems as if we fear these new terrorists as more alarmingly alien, less one of us, though Catholic and Islamist bombs have the same effect. The IRA was undoubtedly the more organised enemy, so probably more lethal. Or is it just that politicians need to be seen taking "new" action, despite perfectly good existing laws?

Nor is it clear why Islamist terrorist suspects have to be held without charge for three months, when the Prevention of Terrorism Act for the IRA allowed one week. Police inefficiency is legendary: once they know they have three months, an investigation will lose its urgency. Intelligence "evidence" is even more notoriously bad; many Muslims will be arrested on slender or useless information only to be released three months later, seething with indignation. So let the evidence be collected before arrest. Even if it does take expensive surveillance, it is a price worth paying. This is not about the abstract rights of terrorists. It is about what works in protecting citizens without stirring worse terror. This is about proportionality and unintended consequences.

Read the whole article...


Small Business Printers said...
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mpg said...
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