Issue 244, Friday 28 August 2009 - 8 Ramadan 1430
Since 9/11, the Government has outlawed groups or individuals who use violence to liberate their land from occupation. Many Muslims have been arrested because of their support for such groups under the draconian terror laws. But now this appears to have changed with Foreign Secretary, David Miliband, suggesting that terrorism can be justified in certain circumstances.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Great Lives programme in which he chose to pay tribute to South African anti-apartheid activist, Joe Slovo, Miliband said that there were circumstances when terrorism can be “justified” and can be “effective.” He did not dispute the assertion that if Slovo was to be termed a ‘terrorist’, then so should the Bush administration for using ‘terror to pursue political ends’ when invading Iraq. “The importance for me is that the South African example proved something remarkable: the apartheid regime looked like a regime that would last forever, and it was blown down,” the Foreign Secretary said in discussing the role of the African National Congress’s military wing.
Miliband’s comments were seized upon by Shadow Foreign Secretary, William Hague, who said they were ill-judged and that ministers must be very careful before advancing any argument that seems to legitimise terrorism in some circumstances. “When so much of the efforts of our security services, and the sacrifices of our troops in Afghanistan are devoted to defeating terrorists, this is hardly the time to argue that terrorism is sometimes acceptable,” Hague said.
The justification of selective terrorism opens Pandora’s box at a time when one of the main beneficiaries has been Israel by its exclusion from official British condemnations and the inclusion of Palestinian group stigmatised for their struggle against occupation. It reopens the ancient axiom that “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter.” More so, it exposes the inherent defects in the Government’s counter-terrorism policies.
There is no universally accepted definition of terrorism. This was the first of 16 conclusions reached by the Government’s independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, Lord Carlile, after being asked to report on a definition nearly four years ago. The existing definition, which still has yet to be revised, is too wide to satisfy the clarity required for the criminal law, according the University of Essex. In its report on The Rules of the Game, the University says it “leaves room for political bias and could be used to prosecute people active in legitimate social or political movements who are exercising their rights.”
Miliband’s remarks put another spanner in the feasibility of the UK terror laws, which are already based upon a number of false premises. But they must offer hope that strategies are being amended along with the Government’s pledge to revise the whole raft of terror laws into a single more equitable legislation.
Current policies are not only wrong but also offensive. This includes the disparaging portrayal of the Palestinians, who are being treated as the perpetrators of terrorism rather than the victims of state terrorism.
Like the Foreign Secretary, Muslims should also be allowed to express their opinions rather than be in fear of arrest under the draconian anti terror legislation and be marginalised by the Government’s Prevent strategy.