When fighting a ruthless enemy there is always a danger that democracies can lose the moral upper hand through over-reaction. The Abu Ghraib prison scandal was bad enough but the latest UK government anti-terrorism proposals (full statement here) seem to be going a long way too far in an attempt to curb terrorism. Making “justifying or glorifying” terrorism anywhere an offence and “automatically refusing asylum to anyone with anything to do with terrorism anywhere” seem OK on the surface but are rife for misuse. As our mayor Ken Livingstone points out, twenty years ago these laws could have been applied to Nelson Mandela and his supporters.
The fact that some of the proposed rules may be applied retrospectively is also very alarming. And while many of the most draconian restrictions are applied to non-citizens resident here, Blair envisions the extension of powers to strip existing citizens of their citizenship for being “engaged in extremism”.
As with all such rash laws they may well be used initially to target people most of us would consider dangerous or distasteful (and the blurring of the distinction between the two is an important part of the problem). However there is no guarantee that such laws would not be misused by a future administration.
There has been a lot of alarm raised (by the BBC among others) about sites and people who publicise and glorify the terrorism of Al Qaeda and its ‘fellow travellers’ but rather than trying to stamp them out (probably a hopeless task) and criminalise writers and readers shouldn’t we be keeping an eye on those who are already involved and (as I noted earlier) shouldn’t we be trying to minimise legitimate Muslim grievances so the radicals eventually lose their moral ‘ammunition’?