by Mashrufa Miah, Student of International Relations at King’s College London.
Theresa May’s Counter Terrorism Bill, which received royal assent this month is one of the most dangerous pieces of legislation this country has ever seen. It is safe to say that the image of the UK as an advocate of liberal democracy and human rights is rapidly diminishing.
With no pre-legislative scrutiny or public consultation, this government has chosen to adopt draconian, coercive measures which will force us to live in a straightjacket for the rest of our lives. Some of the key issues are as follows;
1. Bar returning extremists. This includes a ‘managed return’ of British citizens giving them one of two choices; live in Britain but remained monitored by the security services or face the prospect of being banned from the country for 2 years. Never did I think I would agree with Nick Clegg, but he made a valid point; these “people we are talking about are our citizens, like it or not. That gives us some responsibility”. A form of medieval exile will not help tackle terrorism but instead will entrench the already existing ‘us’ and ‘them’ narrative, further perpetuating a climate of fear and suspicion between different communities within British society. Amnesty International has stated this is a breach of international law. But then again, that didn’t stop us in Iraq. It is also a deeper constitutional issue in that it departs from the Magna Carta itself. In chapter 29, it states “No Freeman shall be …outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed…” The state’s gradual shift towards authoritarianism is deeply unnerving.
2. Freedom of thought. Only last month after the abhorrent attacks on Charlie Hebdo’s staff were we all rallying in support for freedom of speech. Now we want to limit free speech. When are we going to make our minds up? This bill will call for a statutory duty on nurseries, universities, prisons and doctors to effectively ‘spy’ on the students, inmates and patients. It is ironic how we come to university to question concepts and interrogate key issues; but now we will be monitored without our consent. Now we will be sanctioned for our views. Now our voices are being silenced. This Bill not only stifles academic freedom but further entrenches any ill-thought feelings towards the British establishment.
‘Terrorism’ as defined under the 2000 Terrorism Act is the use of threat that is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, or ideological cause. However, this Bill does not even require a threat of terrorism to be suspected of radicalisation; merely an attack on ‘British values’. But who defines ‘British values’? How is it ‘extreme’ to highlight the hypocrisy of a country that engages in wars in the name of democracy? How can we kill or torture innocent people and hide behind the cries of ‘rogue elements’? One just has to look at the abuse of prisoners in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay and realise that these inherently boosted the recruitment of Al-Qaeda.
3. Preventing travel abroad. This will extend the current time police are able detain and question suspects. They will be given new powers to seize passports and tickets of British citizens at the border for up to 30 days. There is already power under the royal prerogative to cancel or withdraw British passports (a power used against Moazzam Begg, a British resident detained in Guantanamo Bay but later was cleared and released in October 2014). The British government who had paid out £1.25 million of taxpayer’s money to pay for his detainment have still not learnt from their mistakes.
You may refute my argument and ask what the alternative is. Let’s face it. The threat of terrorism can never be eliminated. Nothing can neutralise an organised terror threat which does not respect international borders. Instead, we need to abandon our discriminatory judgement and appraise people for what they are. The Muslim person in your class is not going to wake up one day and decide to commit acts of terrorism. The moment a terrorist act is committed by a Muslim, the media and politicians have cynically exploited the event to widen the powers of the security services and erode our fundamental freedoms. What we need is a more targeted approach to countering terrorism rather than an ad hoc blank style surveillance.
This will have further implications for the international system. The level of foreign fighters who have joined extremist groups abroad, most recently in Iraq and Syria has soared in recent years. In 2015, it was stated that France has 18 foreign fighters out of one million muslims, with Britain having 12 foreign fighters out of one million muslims. That France has a greater number of fighters abroad is definitively linked to causality, as it can be argued that France has alienated their home Muslim population through various reforms.
People may also claim that I am being overly-sensitive, that I have taken on this ‘persecution complex’ where I constantly feel victimised. But I’m sorry. Unless you have been glared at and told to take ‘that thing’ off your head, or stopped at the airport for hours on end when all you want is a holiday with your family, or vilified by the media for supposedly belonging to a ‘violent religion’ then please do not accuse me harbouring overly-sensitive feelings.
This Bill illustrates yet another knee jerk reaction by the British government which in the near future will be deeply regretted once they realise that they had played a pivotal role in further radicalising young people by suppressing their freedom of speech.
We need to question: why are we surrendering to terrorists by eroding the fundamental civil liberties and human rights that our country is founded upon?