This will lead to violence

This will lead to violence

The theatrical nature of recent anti-terror raids suggests a show is being put on to keep us fearful

Faisal Bodi, The Guardian, June 8, 2006

‘You can only imagine if they fail to take action and something terrible happened what the outcry would be then, so they are in an impossible situation. » That was Tony Blair’s take on last week’s « anti-terrorism » operation in Forest Gate, London.

But something terrible did go wrong. A man was shot in what seems like a misconceived and violent raid. His brother, and a next-door family, were terrified by gun-toting police. And a hole was blown in the already frayed trust between the Muslim community and law-enforcement officials.

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If that doesn’t qualify on Blair’s horror scale as terrible, perhaps the cumulative impact of the anti-terrorism legislation his governments have instituted might. According to the Islamic Human Rights Commission, since 9/11 some 950 people, the majority of them Muslims, have been arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000. Of these only 148 were charged and only 27 convicted of terrorism, defined so broadly now that a question mark hangs over some of these cases.

Many thousands more have been stopped under the increased stop-and-search powers that anti-terror laws have given police. In 2003-2004 they were up by almost a third. Last year British Transport police statistics revealed that Asians were five times more likely to be stopped than whites. In the month following the London bombings, they had apprehended 2,390 Asian people. None was subsequently charged.

Anti-terror legislation is unpopular enough in our communities, where it is seen as an instrument of oppression. Far too many incidents have taken place for the government to pass Forest Gate off as a well-meaning botch-up.

Remember the ricin plot? Yes, the one where an al-Qaida cell allegedly planned to smear the toxin on door handles in a callous act of mass murder. The case slipped off the radar in 2005 after one of the longest criminal trials in British legal history. After political exploitation of the arrests and frenzied headlines about a north London chemical factory, no ricin was found.

Only one man, Kamel Bourgass, was convicted of « terrorism » after handwritten recipes for ricin were found in his possession, which he claimed was intended for use in his native Algeria. It also emerged that Mohammad Meguerba, the man who had informed on Bourgass, had probably been tortured by the Algerian authorities.

With all the signs suggesting police won’t recover any chemical bombs from Forest Gate, the shooting is also likely to go down as a failure of intelligence.

Which prompts the question of why law-enforcement officials are making so many errors. An obvious answer lies in the decline in standards that has accompanied the anti-terror legislation. So latitudinous are the laws – and so enticing the prospect of bagging a terrorist – that they have never had it so easy to stop and arrest and detain and charge individuals. We should not be surprised if police and prosecuting authorities have jettisoned normal safeguards.

The theatrical nature of recent anti-terror raids – the swoop on Forest Gate, involving 250 police, was similar to the 2003 raid on London’s Finsbury Park mosque, which also involved a helicopter and a battering ram – suggest that a show is being put on for the public.

Fear is what keeps people onside in Blair’s war on terror, and few things provoke more alarm than special forces in chemical suits descending on a city street. It might help sell an increasingly abhorrent war, but Blair should not forget that this type of policing comes at a high price: the alienation it engenders not only acts as a recruiting sergeant for anti-state violence, it also lays the foundations of internal civil unrest.