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Whose War on Whose Terror? Reclaiming Our Rights

Nafeez Ahmed | 09.12.2006 18:20 | Analysis | Anti-militarism | Repression | Terror War | London | Sheffield

Yesterday, I was fortunate to have been one of the opening plenary speakers at the 'Reclaiming Our Rights' conference at the Human Rights and Social Justice Institute at the London Metropolitan University, organized mainly by the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities (CAMPACC). It was an excellent conference bringing together some of the leading dissident organizations involved in political activism against the anti-terror laws. Speakers included people like Craig Murray, former British Ambassador to Uzbekistan; Mark Thomas, political comedian and journalist; Gareth Pierce, leading human rights lawyer; Brian Haw, the permanent Parliament Square protestor; among many others.

Due to a glitch in the schedule, I ended up as the opening speaker. Below is the text on which I based my presentation:

Whose War on Whose Terror?

In the name of security -- that is in the name of defending our security, the security of you and me, the British public -- the government has systematically erected a vast legal apparatus of social control, which in both principle and practice violates our most cherished and hard-won human rights and civil liberties.

State Totalization

Ironically, the government has quite cynically used the law, to violate the very rule of law itself. The overarching direction of the anti terror and civil contingency laws is simple:

1) broadening the scope of activity of the police and intelligence agencies and their ability to not only monitor individuals in both their public and private lives; but also proliferating the array of instruments and pretexts available to them to take punitive action, be it through indefinite detention; obtaining convictions using so-called ‘secret’ evidence whose validity cannot be impartially assessed; deportation; the appropriation of private property, at will, in conditions deemed by the government to constitute civil emergencies, etc.

2) Simultaneously, the anti terror laws narrow down who has the prerogative in implementing these legal instruments in practice, firmly away from publicly-verifiable scrutiny and accountability: They centralize the role of the state itself in administering and executing the decisions which justify implementing such practices, by reducing the pretext to vague and unspecified conditions such as "suspicion", and many other such categories that can be applied by the state, at will, again without public scrutiny and accountability.

In summary, the legal apparatus that has been established in the post-9/11 period, and whose stranglehold has dramatically intensified since 7/7, grants to the state the power to do almost anything it likes against the British public in the name of security. The provisions of this legal apparatus are now so vague, and so totally devoid of external oversight, that within the new legal order of the "War on Terror" it is almost, virtually impossible to challenge state policies, if they come packaged under the title of "security."

Indeed, it is now possible for the government to proscribe any political organisation and imprison or deport any person, British or non-British who 1) expresses, has expressed or will express a political opinion different from the government’s position concerning a violent conflict anywhere in the world; and 2), who associates with anybody or anything, or moreover participates in any activity, that the government deems to be objectionable on the basis of its own self-prescribed interpretations of the new laws. It is now possible to declare unlimited legal power in the case of any sort of social unrest regarding which a Minister declares he is "satisfied" that it constitutes an emergency [Civil Contingencies Act]. It is now possible for the state to involve itself in almost unlimited, unrestricted electronic surveillance [Regulation of Investigator Powers Act]. And so on and so forth.

So far, we have seen an escalating stream of cases illustrating the state’s real objectives in enacting such laws. Summary powers have been and are being used on peaceful protestors. The state has fought with the Law Lords in attempts to send asylum seekers back to countries like Zimbabwe, in the face of direct evidence of the probability of their being tortured or abused. The state has locked up people portrayed as high profile terrorists in Belmarsh for 4 years without even bothering to question them. The number and nature of these cases is so huge that lawyers are struggling to keep up. But clearly, the actual scope of state power now extends far beyond these cases. If anything then, we are seeing not only the state’s unabashed attempt to arrogate to itself even further powers of unhindered, unaccountable social control; we will continue to see the state grow increasingly arrogant in its application of the existing legal apparatus.

What we are therefore seeing today, then, is not the enactment of law to protect us. On the contrary, at face value, the state is manipulating and abusing the process of law in order to systematically erode, deface and ultimately eliminate the rule of law entirely. And in its place, what is being established is the ability of the state to consolidate policies of social control, to control and intervene in the life of the public at will, with impunity, and without accountability. For now, we can call this process, a process of totalization.

But what is happening is, obviously, not exclusive to Britain, although one might suggest in certain issues Britain is leading the way. What is happening represents a disconcerting phenomenon that cuts across the liberal democracies of the United States, Britain and Western Europe. In all these liberal democracies, similar types of anti terror legislation have been, and are being, actively pursued and enacted by Western states. In other words, these two essential processes which we described above in application to Britain -- the broadening of the scope of the state’s arsenal of social control policies; and the narrowing of the decision-making base in determining the implementation of such policies to a centralized executive incubated from external oversight -- are also occurring in all the major Western liberal democracies.

This has an absolutely critical implication -- it means that the phenomenon of state totalization in the UK cannot be accurately or properly understood in isolation. It has to be understood as a phenomenon that is intimately, intrinsically connected to parallel processes of state totalization continuing and intensifying across the Western world, processes which began in the post-Cold War period, and are now accelerating exponentially post-9/11.

But in turn, if we are to understand this new Western pandemic of state totalization, we must attempt to situate it in the wider social relations within which these totalizing Western states subsist. I have identified three relevant aspects of these social relations.

1. Criminalization of Target Communities

With the burgeoning growth of the new anti terror legal apparatus, we have seen the simultaneous, indeed integrally connected phenomenon of the state’s attempt to increasingly identify and criminalize target communities. The criminalization of these communities is associated with the escalation of activities of police state repression, justified under the mantle of security, and also accompanies the escalation of racial hatred and socio-cultural division.
In Britain, the last few months has seen a litany of escalating hysteria premised on the perception of Islam and Muslims as some sort of grave existential and ideological threat to the national security and national identity of Britain -- a veritable fifth column. Jack Straw, the Leader of the House of Commons, and former Foreign and Home Secretary, tell us that Muslim women who cover the face with a veil or niqab make community relations "more difficult." And this is because, he says, concealing the face is "a visible statement of separation and difference."

We then had Home Secretary John Reid's admonition to Muslim parents in East London that they ought to watch out for "tell-tale" signs of their children becoming terrorist extremists. Dr. Reid qualified his statements in the Sun: "I appeal to you (the Muslim community) to look for changes in your teenage sons -- odd hours, dropping out of school or college, strange new friends."

Recently, the conservative political commentator Ian Dale has reported that Sir Ian Blair, Metropolitian Police Commissioner, in a closed meeting said that he knew there would be another terrorist attack on Britain, and that when it happens, there will be a need to consider mass "internment."

These sorts of attempts to gain political capital by fomenting religious suspicion and hostility are intensifying across the EU.

In France, Islamophobia has been a staple of French politics for years, with parties of the mainstream right and left backing the ban of the hijab in public schools for the last several years. A year ago, the heavily Muslim immigrant suburbs of Paris erupted in riots after two youth died while being chased by police. In early November, 72 Muslim airport staff, mostly baggage handlers, were barred from Paris’ main airport on the grounds they posed a security threat. The decision, backed by French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy, was taken months after the publication of a book by Phillipe de Villiers, a politician of the far-right party Movement for France who will stand in next year’s presidential elections, which talks about Muslim "infiltration" of French airports.

In Germany eight out of sixteen states (that’s roughly half the country) have voted to ban the hijab in public schools. A study by the German Center for Turkish Studies at Essen University found that in parliamentary debates between 2000 and 2004, politicians increasingly drew connections between Islam and terrorism, and made comments putting Muslims in Germany under general suspicion as a security threat, rather than calling for religious tolerance.

In Belgium, the far-right Velaams Belang nearly captured control of the Antwerp city government in mid-October on an openly Islamophobic platform, winning 33.5 percent of the vote, compared to 35 percent assembled by a Socialist coalition.

In the Netherlands, this past November the government decided to enforce a total ban on women wearing burqas and face veils in public, on the pretext that they endanger "public order, security and the protection of citizens". The decision was announced only days ahead of elections which the ruling centre-right party won, as expected.

These are just a few examples of a phenomenon spreading across the USA and Europe. As the 2005 report of the International Helsinki Federation for Human Rights (IHF) on ‘Intolerance and Discrimination against Muslims in the EU’ has documented, attacks on Muslims in western Europe have increased dramatically. Across western Europe, such attacks have accompanied an unprecedented escalation in:

"... widespread negative attitudes toward Muslims; unbalanced and stereotypical media reports portraying Muslims as 'alien' to EU societies and as 'an enemy within'; verbal and physical attacks on Muslims and Muslim institutions and property; discrimination against Muslims in employment and other areas; aggressive political rhetoric used by right-populist parties to target Muslims;and security and immigration measures contributing to public perceptions of Muslims as a 'fifth column'."

Thus, according to Glyn Ford, a British member of the European Parliament, "Europe is in danger of seeing its extreme-right parties move into the mainstream. Islamophobia has become the prejudice of the day, but the threat from the extreme right is real and it is found across the European Union."

But one needs to go further than this. It’s not merely that the far right is growing increasingly mainstream -- the political mainstream itself is moving in the direction of the far right. We are seeing a disturbing convergence of political ideology and methodology amongst Western states on issues of race, religion and terrorism. The identification and criminalization of target communities, increasingly Muslim communities, across the Western world, is both a cause and an effect of the anti-terror laws. The reduction of Muslim communities to the status of "threat" legitimizes the state’s enactment of increasingly draconian anti-terror laws. Simultaneously, Muslims are the principal, though by no means the exclusive, victims of the same laws (numerous other communities have been victims of these laws, e.g. Kurds, Tamils etc.) The process of ideologically separating these communities, in this case particularly the Muslim community, off from their own societies, by portraying them as incompatible with Western societies by the very practice of their faith, is crucial to the state’s attempts to consolidate and expand its powers of social control.

2. International Criminalization: Theatres of War; Theatres of Terror

The accelerated consolidation of domestic state power is correlated with the projection of state-military power in the international system, beyond the borders of the state itself. In the post-9/11 period, we have seen the opening of new theatres of war in Central Asia and the Middle East, involving predominantly Muslim countries, namely Afghanistan, Iraq, and Lebanon. And if Seymour Hersh’s reporting in the New Yorker is anything to go by, then we know that the Anglo-American allies are currently actively planning a war on Iran, which by the latest publicly available information has been postponed until next year. In other words, the criminalization of Muslim communities within Western states correlates directly with the intensification of Western conflict with predominantly Muslim populations abroad.

The opening of these multiple theatres of war has gone hand-in-hand with a string of regional military deployments beyond Afghanistan and Iraq, in areas of vital geopolitical interest on every inhabited continent. According to the Defense Department's annual "Base Structure Report" for fiscal year 2003, which itemizes foreign and domestic U.S. military real estate, the Pentagon currently owns or rents 702 overseas bases in about 130 countries. These include military installations in areas of the "new" Europe -- Romania, Poland, and Bulgaria; in Asia -- Pakistan (where we already have four bases), India, Australia, Singapore, Malaysia, the Philippines, and even Vietnam; in North Africa -- Morocco, Tunisia, and especially Algeria; and in West Africa -- Senegal, Ghana, Mali, and Sierra Leone (even though it has been torn by civil war since 1991). And so and so forth.

This massive US military expansion, in which Britain actively participates by way of both military and diplomatic contribution, has occurred under the mantle of fighting the post-9/11 "War on Terror", in other words, in the name of our security. Military expansionism has in turn accompanied the institutionalization of criminal practices by the very state, military and security agencies themselves including:

1. The unilateral launching of war in violation of international law and in contempt of the United Nations.

2. The deliberate killing of hundreds and thousands of civilians through indiscriminate aerial bombardment against civilian infrastructure.

3. Extraordinary rendition, or in other words, the illegal imprisonment, trafficking and torture of thousands of people who remain innocent before the law.

4. The establishment of secret detention centres, which perhaps should be recognized for what they are -- concentration camps -- where such people remain incarcerated and tortured for years.

5. The formation of alliances with tyrannical regimes which engage in serious human rights abuses.

6. Illegal financial relationships with corporations and other financial donors; in the US, for example, military officials have testified that the Bush administration has shown improper favouritism in awarding military contracts to Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s former company. In the UK, we see the New Labour regime engulfed in the cash-for-peerages scandal. Much of this, and more, has been pursued within the parameters of sustaining Western security in the framework of the "War on Terror". But security for what and against whom?

3. International Terrorism

Amidst the construction and expansion of this massive global architecture of military repression, Western states have systematically perpetuated military, financial and intelligence ties to the very terrorist networks that are supposed to be the primary targets of the "War on Terror", in every major strategic region, the Balkans, Central Asia, the Middle East, the Asia-Pacific, and North Africa.

This process commenced in earnest no sooner than the end of the Cold War. As one CIA analyst told Swiss TV journalist Richard Labeviere, chief editor at Radio France International (as recorded in his book Dollars for Terror):
"The policy of guiding the evolution of Islam and of helping them against our adversaries worked marvellously well in Afghanistan against the Red Army. The same doctrines can still be used to destabilize what remains of Russian power, and especially to counter the Chinese influence in Central Asia."

US military intelligence planners saw remarkable potential for the bin Laden doctrine of Islamist destabilization to counter US rivals in Eastern Europe, the Balkans, and Central Asia.
And this is precisely what happened, is happening even now. Today, we barely have time to look at one of these regions, and we will begin with the Balkans.

In 1993, al-Qaeda operatives reportedly bombed the World Trade Center. From 1992 to 1995, the Pentagon, with British complicity, flew thousands of al-Qaeda mujahideen from Central Asia into Europe, to fight alongside Bosnian Muslims against the Serbs. The mujahideen were "accompanied by US Special Forces equipped with high-tech communications equipment," according to intelligence sources. Bin Laden’s mercenaries were used as shock troops by the Pentagon "to coordinate and support Bosnian Muslim offensives."

The west was supposed to be involved on humanitarian grounds -- but the truth is that mujahideen aggravated ethnic conflict. A horrified western public quickly approved NATO involvement, guaranteeing a US military presence on Russia’s doorstep.

The pattern extends to Kosovo, where ethnic violence broke out between Albanians and Serbs. Again, NATO had supposedly intervened on humanitarian grounds on behalf of Kosovan Albanians in March 1999. But as with Bosnia, the West escalated violence, again, using al-Qaeda.
In 1998, the KLA was listed by the State Department as a "terrorist organization", financed by bin Laden. US, Albanian and Macedonian intelligence reports prove that KLA fighters train in al-Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and Albania, and sponsor border crossings into Kosovo from Albania, of hundreds of al-Qaeda mujahideen from Bosnia, Chechnya and Afghanistan. Ralf Mutschke, Assistant Director of Interpol’s Criminal Intelligence Directorate, said that one KLA commander was an emissary of bin Laden himself, sent to lead "an elite KLA unit during the Kosovo conflict".

Despite this, British SAS and American Delta Force instructors were training KLA fighters as early as 1996. The CIA supplied military assistance up to and during the 1999 bombing campaign, including military training manuals and field advice, under the cover of OSCE ceasefire monitors.

In the same period, al-Qaeda pulled off the 1998 US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania. One of the conspirators, former US Army Sergeant Ali Mohamed, was a close associate of bin Laden’s own right-hand man, Ayman al-Zawahiri -- the man who has claimed al-Qaeda responsibility for the London bombings. According to Yossef Bodansky, Director of the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare, a CIA emissary identified only as "al-Amriki" (the American) approached al-Zawahiri in the first half of November 1997, offering him $50 million if he ensured that al-Qaeda protected US interests in the Balkans.
European intelligence sources confirm that NATO has continued to supply arms to the al-Qaeda sponsored Albanian guerrillas in their conflict with Macedonia, long after 9/11.

So why the Balkans? Gen. Sir Mike Jackson, then commander of NATO troops in the region, summed it up nicely in 1999: "We will certainly stay here for a long time in order to guarantee the safety of the energy corridors which cross Macedonia." The General was talking about the Trans-Balkan pipeline passing through Bulgaria, Macedonia and Albania, planned to be the main route to the west for Central Asian oil and gas.

NATO is thus playing the role of regional security firm for Anglo-American corporate energy interests; and al-Qaeda mujahideen are its willing salesmen.

The Security Matrix

The real direction of the "War on Terror", in other words, has never been to fight terrorism, but is on the contrary designed to facilitate imperial expansion into regions of vital geostrategic significance. The urgency of this initiative is linked to the increasing fragility of the global system. Numerous government and official documents, as well as independent academic studies, confirm that the global system is currently plagued by multiple, escalating crises on both a national and international scale. Without going into detail, the system is plunging into an unprecedented decline on the following fronts:

1. Energy: a growing consensus amongst oil industry experts, as well as the assessments contained in internal government documents (such as from Dick Cheney’s Energy Task Force; or from the UK Dept of Trade & Industry), suggest that global oil production has peaked and is already moving into decline, resulting in increasing energy shortages and culminating in a full-blown crisis within the next few decades.

2. Climate change: the Pentagon has already produced studies to consider the ramifications of rapid climate change, acknowledging that such change occurring within the next few decades, could fatally destabilize existing political and economic structures involving escalating conflicts over resources in an unpredictable environment.

3. Economic crisis: Gabriel Kolko, professor emeritus at York University, concluded in late July this year that: "All the factors which make for crashes – excessive leveraging, rising interest rates, etc. – exist... Contradictions now wrack the world’s financial system, and a growing consensus now exists between those who endorse it and those, [who oppose it]. If we are to believe the institutions and personalities who have been in the forefront of the defense of capitalism, and we should, it may very well be on the verge of serious crises." Leading financial analysts in Washington, New York and London estimate a serious crisis in the banking system as early as 2008.

4. Political crisis: popular participation in electoral politics across the Western world has declined to unprecedented lows -- that is, governments are increasingly elected by a minority of the actual population, a sign of the growing gulf between Western states and their own domestic support-base that is supposed to legitimize their existence. Projected trends suggest that this situation is only worsening as people become increasingly disillusioned with two or three party systems that appear to offer little in the way of meaningful policy alternatives.

The official narrative of the "War on Terror" thus carefully conceals the reality of Western state policy, which is designed not to protect human security, but rather to protect the security of vested interests tied into a global system that is crumbling under its own weight. Western state consolidation both domestically and internationally is driven, fundamentally, in response to these growing, global systemic crises. The attempts to totalize state power by criminalizing communities, particularly Muslim communities, are conjoined to the attempts to expand Western power into predominantly Muslim regions of vital geostrategic interest, a process which has, surprisingly, been aided and abetted by the selective sponsorship of Islamist terrorist networks.

Therefore, to truly re-claim our rights, we need to interrogate and expose precisely these multi-causal, system-wide geopolitical dynamics driving Western states to adopt increasingly draconian policies of social control. We have to direct our attention not merely to the methods of the Machine, but to its very operational structure.


Nafeez Ahmed
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Gareth Peirce condemns Britain's police state

09.12.2006 19:57

Lawyer Gareth Peirce questioned whether anything had been learned from the history of what had happened to perpetuate the conflict in Northern Ireland.

Addressing a conference organised by the Campaign Against Criminalising Communities at the London Metropolitan University Mrs Peirce recalled how the way Irish Catholics demanding their rights had been treated helped perpetuate the conflict. "If we go back to Bloody Sunday and before, it was the reaction to the suppression of rights to education, employment and housing that fuelled injustice year after year," said Mrs Peirce. "If we only learnt one lesson from history in Northern Ireland, it should be that the reaction by British forces helped perpetuate injustice."

Mrs Peirce expressed exasperation that now it seems as though the mistakes of Northern Ireland are being repeated only worse with the Muslim community. "Today people are being locked up without any due process at all," said Mrs Peirce. "People have stayed in prison for 3.5 years without trial. A number went mad and finished up in Broadmoor."

A number of the men were then released on control order but re-interned a year ago. The Government is now seeking to return a number of these men to torturing countries like Algeria, Jordan and Libya on the basis of Memorandums of Understanding agreed between the governments. She called for the re-education of the judges in human rights. Human rights activist Bruce Kent told of the detainees living like ghosts.

"People are completely unaware of what is going on. There are people walking around like ghosts, tagged with restrictions on their movements, and likely to be picked up at any time by the police unaware of what they have been accused of," said Mr Kent. "There are two sets of rules operating in this country, one where someone commits an offence, the other with people being held on no evidence."

Professor of Law at Birkbeck College Bill Bowring said that if people really wanted to focus on terrorism then they should look to what has gone on around the death of Alexander Litvinenko. The trail of radiation that has caused death and serious illness. "If that is not terrorism I don't know what is." Said Professor Bowring.

Paul Donovan
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