Friday, November 10, 2006

The state's war of terror

Is MI5 flying a kite for sweeping changes that would further undermine democratic rights? That’s just one of the conclusions you could draw from the claim by Dame Eliza Manningham-Buller, the head of the spy agency, that MI5 has identified 30 major terror plots in Britain and more than 1,600 individuals engaged in promoting attacks here and abroad. She warned that chemical and even nuclear devices could be used to attack innocent civilians. Apparently – and with MI5 the real truth is always obscured – there is insufficient evidence to arrest the alleged plotters. Cue the opening of the new parliamentary session next week and New Labour’s plans for yet more anti-terror legislation. Will Blair and Brown use the MI5 head’s speech – so conveniently leaked to the media – to justify laws that enable the state to use "preventative detention" to hold terror suspects on the basis that it is better to be "safe than sorry"? We shall see.

One thing is certain, however, and that is the state has no answer to terrorism except to adopt ever more draconian measures. In this way the state imposes on society an endless "war on terror", with no winners and no losers, which then turns inevitably into a war of terror by the state against the population as a whole. MI5’s budget continues to expand – it has recruited 1,000 more agents since 2001 – while surveillance increases still further. Before you look round you have a fully-fledged police state, with identity cards and monitoring of people’s activities on an unprecedented scale. We are not that far from away from this point. State repression is clearly no solution to the fact that increasing numbers of British-born Muslim youth are attracted to martyrdom through indiscriminate acts of terror. Calling for the Muslim community to adopt "British values", as New Labour insists, doesn’t help much either. These cherished "values" presumably include the tradition of invading other countries and promoting crude forms of market capitalism and commercialism. Put like that they don’t seem very attractive. It’s hard to imagine, but think of a government that withdrew from Iraq and Afghanistan and apologised for the invasions; broke off relations with Israel until it conceded self-determination to the Palestinians; condemned repressive dictatorship like Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Egypt; challenged and socialised the power and resources of the global corporations; drastically reduced social inequalities and promoted secularism in education and society as a whole. The existing political system is, of course, geared up to maintaining the status quo at any cost, so turning imagination into reality will require a massive change.

Paul Feldman, communications editor

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