The near-miss terror attacks in London and Glasgow reveal the futility of the government’s policies and methods, which all lead in one direction – towards full-scale, authoritarian rule. For, in the end, the government’s aim of “defeating terrorism” will require a police state apparatus on an immense and permanent scale. Clearly, MI5 and the police knew nothing about those who tried to blow up a London night club and Glasgow airport’s terminal. This is despite the fact that MI5’s budget has been doubled under New Labour. To remedy that situation, the state will need to know what everyone is thinking and doing, especially those living in minority communities. One half of the country will have to spy on the other half, turning Britain into a nation of informers. The Blair government went a long way down this road, handing the police immense new powers under a series of anti-terror laws. These undermined the principle of habeas corpus, which is supposed to prevent detention without charge or trial. Brown intends to go further, extending the period police can hold suspects and allowing the state to use telephone intercepts in court.
But new laws, however draconian, will make not a jot of difference when it comes to “defeating terrorism”. No self-respecting terrorist will be deterred by the threat of imprisonment or detention without trial. They are committed to their destructive, reactionary acts for ideological reasons. Many are prepared to die in committing atrocities, as the people of Iraq discover to their cost in an horrific way each day. Terrorists do not care if they effectively strengthen the hand of the state they actually oppose.
The prospect of a full-scale police state, parallel with a permanent threat of terror attacks, is unacceptable, self-defeating and, of course, no solution to the issue at hand. So what is the alternative? Brown says he wants to win the “hearts and minds” of the Muslim community in Britain, to encourage them to oust the extremists from their midst. How arrogant this sermonising approach is. We live in an unequal, capitalist society where the “values” of society are more often than not set down by the ruling elites in order to keep the rest of us in check. Being “fair and tolerant”, for example, does not prevent the government from demonising minorities and running scare stories about immigration and integration on a weekly basis to feed the right-wing tabloid press. Muslim communities suffer disproportionately from low-pay, unemployment and poor housing. In Brown’s competitive, “open markets” society, they and other poor people have to sink or swim.
Internationally, “our way of life” is not that attractive to other people. Britain and the United States have together destroyed Iraq as a functioning society, creating a cause celebre for terrorists all over the planet and are restoring the credibility of the Taliban in Afghanistan. They prop up despotic regimes in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and Israel, to name but a few countries, and have driven despairing Palestinians to the point of civil war. The corporate-driven globalisation that Brown champions continues to widen the chasm of inequality worldwide. Only today, the United Nations warned that the whole of sub-Saharan Africa - the poorest region of the world - will fail to meet the goals set seven years ago for eradicating global poverty by 2015. The UN said the world was failing in the battle to combat hunger, cut infant mortality and put every child in school. Creating social and cultural conditions where terrorism is not an attractive option is patently beyond the capacity of globalised capitalism. That is the dilemma we have to grasp as a matter of urgency.
Paul Feldman, communications editor