Anti-Terrorism - Smokescreen For State Repression

There can be no doubt that the advent of 9/11 provided the bourgeoisie of the metropolitan countries with the perfect alibi for bolstering the State’s arsenal of repressive powers. First off was the US Patriot Act that hit the statute books with virtually no opposition from Congress just 6 weeks after the twin towers came down. The Patriot Act allows for a massive increase in the state’s powers to detain foreign nationals without trial, and to spy on citizens by means of wire taps, interception of electronic communications and clandestine searches. In the true spirit of Orwellian doublespeak, the government must obtain a court order for the authorisation of a wire tap but, the court has no grounds to object to a government request. And it goes further, with the White House arguing that such surveillance can be instituted by order of the President without any judicial scrutiny at all. But the legal powers the state gives itself is only part of the story. Not satisfied with “legal” means, the US leads the Western world with illegal actions in violation of all “human rights” agreements such as the Guantanamo Bay detentions, the torture of detainees in Iraq and “extraordinary rendition”, the kidnapping and abduction of alleged suspects to third countries to be tortured locally by forces effectively under a franchise agreement with the American state; a practice in which the British state is certainly complicit.

The New Repressive Measures

Not be left out, the British state has also jumped on the anti-terrorist bandwagon. Even before 9/11 the Blair regime brought in the Terrorist Act 2000 which extended the 1974 Prevention of Terrorism Act (introduced to ban the IRA and exclude its members from the UK) to apply to terrorist groups anywhere in the world. Section 44 of the Act gives the police wide stop and search powers which have been used against those attending peaceful protests. Following 9/11 Britain had to have its own Patriot Act in the form the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001 which as well as making the use of nuclear weapons an offence, empowered the state to detain foreign terrorist suspects indefinitely without charge or trial if they cannot be deported without risk of torture. A more sinister section provides that those so detained are not entitled to be informed of the grounds for their detention if the government chooses not to tell them. This is the Act that led to the indefinite detention of foreign nationals in Belmarsh prison, which only last year was declared to be unlawful by Britain’s most senior judges in the House of Lords. The Government’s response was to change the law in another piece of legislation, The Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. This introduced “control orders” which can apply to British as well as foreign nationals deemed to be terrorist suspects. Although control orders do not permit detention they can include house arrest and other restrictions on freedom of movement.

Hot on the heels of the Prevention of Terrorism Act is the Terrorism Bill currently going through the parliamentary process. This is a wide ranging bill covering issues such as acts deemed to be in preparation of terrorism and the offence of “glorification of terrorism” which was rejected by the House of Lords but re-instated in the Commons. There will also be an offence of “encouragement of terrorism” which does not require any intention to incite others to commit terrorist acts. It is clear that these broadly drafted sections are open to broad interpretation and could be used to curtail a wide range of militant political dissent. The bill also contained a provision to extend detention without charge for terrorist suspects from 14 days to 3 months. This was too much to stomach even for many MPs and the government was forced to accept a compromise extension of up to 28 days.

The state has also attempted to overturn the prohibition in British courts of using evidence obtained by torture and has obtained worthless assurances from countries such as Jordan and Algeria that nationals of these countries will not be subject to torture if they are deported by the UK

This legislation is designed primarily to counter the threat of Moslem terror, a threat which although hyped by the state is nonetheless real, as clearly demonstrated by 9/11, Madrid and the London bus and tube bombings. It is a conflict between western imperialism and the equally pernicious Moslem extremists whose actions clearly demonstrate their hatred of the working class. As communists we have no reason to care whether individual reactionary scum such as Abu Hamza are detained indefinitely or returned to their beloved Moslem homelands to face torture. Yet at the same time we have very good reason to be concerned about the increasing powers the state is awarding itself, that can be used equally to wage a war of terror against the working class and its militants in a future period of heightened class struggle.

A Kafkaesque World

The anti-terror laws are just one strand of the growing authoritarianism of the state which is seeking to exercise greater control over the population by various means from identity cards to ASBOs and “citizenship” lessons in schools which aim to indoctrinate students into buying into the myth of democracy. Since Labour came to power in 1997 hundreds of new criminal offences have been created and the prison population has doubled. The criminal law has seen numerous changes to give the police greater powers, not just against suspected terrorists but against all citizens. A piece of Tory legislation, The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) provided for the first time some statutory control over police powers to stop and search and, to deprive liberty through arrest and detention. Under Labour many of these “safeguards” have been eroded. Fingerprints, which previously could only be taken if deemed necessary for an investigation, can now be taken as a matter of routine. Whereas detention beyond 24 hours was previously only permitted for a “serious arrestable offence”, since 2003 it can now be permitted for any arrestable offence. Now anyone detained for anything other than a minor offence could be detained for up to 4 days. From January 2006 major new police powers make it possible for a person to be arrested for any type of offence no matter how minor, subject only to a test of “necessity” that the police will have little difficulty in satisfying. The principle embodied in PACE, that a person should only be deprived of their liberty if warranted by the seriousness of the matter has effectively disappeared.

In a recently published report “Human Rights: A Broken Promise” Amnesty International has condemned British anti-terror legislation as bad law framed in “broad and vague terms” which undermines the rule of law and places terror suspects in a “Kafkaesque world” where they do not know the nature of the accusations against them.

A Marxist Stance

A serious question for communists is whether we share the indignation of Amnesty and other liberal critics of the authoritarian state. There is no doubt that the trend is disturbing and unwelcome but, our critique of bourgeois state power is far more profound than a condemnation of illiberal laws. As Marxists we recognise that the state is a dictatorship of the ruling bourgeois class and that institutions such as parliament and the courts, as well as concepts such as democracy and the rule of law are means to legitimise and disguise the nature of that class dictatorship. Our historical analysis informs us that “rights” are historically contingent; what the bourgeoisie grant one day can be taken away the next. We have seen this earlier in relation to the erosion of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act. An even more dramatic example is the much vaunted 1988 Human Rights Act which incorporated the European Convention on Human Rights into UK Law. Yet only a few years later the same government is implementing indefinite detention and collaborating with the US in facilitating torture flights. Moreover legislation must be certified by the Secretary of State as being compliant with the Human Rights Act which of course means that it always is. The hypocrisy of the bourgeoisie and the transient nature of rights has never been more apparent. We therefore see little value in supporting liberal and leftist campaigns for democratic rights that serve only to bolster illusions in the sham nature of bourgeois democracy. If PACE had been in place in 1983, it is unlikely to say the least, that it would have prevented the police from arresting, detaining and beating up striking miners. When the bourgeoisie are faced with any serious challenge to their order, the law goes out the window in favour of naked force.

The “War on Terror” has replaced the Cold War in the bourgeoisie’s pantheon of demonology. It is a never ending war which combines actual war eg, Afghanistan and Iraq with an ideological war to legitimise the actions of the US and its allies and stifle all dissent on the grounds that it plays into the hands of the terrorists. Against the War on Terror, and against the Islamic terrorists, the working class must fight its own war, the class war. This is the only war worth fighting to end the tyranny, oppression and exploitation perpetrated by the imperialist order.


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