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Terrorism bill becomes law.
by Jeremy Hardy newsunlimited.com Saturday July 15, 2000
Governments feel more at ease when their subjects are cowed. Perhaps that was the reason for the terrorism bill.
The terrorism bill became law this week. It appears that the government received information (I cannot expand because of the lives of agents in the field) that there has been disquiet in one of the colonies.
Apparently, matters came to a head in 1916, when a badly organised revolution failed to achieve independence. In what woolly liberals described as an overreaction, the rebel leaders were executed. Failing to understand the checks and safeguards underpinning the shootings (for example, the wounded James Connolly was firmly tied to a chair to prevent him from falling while he was being shot), Irish people swung behind the revolutionary movement as it stepped up its efforts to defeat Britain.
There followed partition and an on-off struggle for full independence. By the late 60s, the national question had receded, but civil rights issues (mainly demands for an end to discrimination in housing and suffrage) led to the crown's representatives in uniform battering marchers. That brutality helped to bring the IRA back into being.
Britain responded with internment, Bloody Sunday, the Emergency Provisions Act and, when the war came to England, the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Support for the war increased with every piece of repression.
I'm boring you, so let's fast-forward. In the 90s, the IRA abandoned its paramilitary strategy and Britain set about replacing emergency legislation. But the government would never wish to lose its alluring mystique. It would never let our relationship with it become boring by doing something predictable. So it has added spice by bringing in a law that is more repressive than the old ones.
Actually, we should have expected as much. After all, the end of the cold war led to the expansion of Nato and the intelligence services. This might just be seen as a kind of inappropriate response disorder, of a piece with government policy in general. For example, a school needs help, so it is penalised; a school doesn't need help, so it is rewarded. But the matter of danger to the public involves a subtly different set of imperatives.
Governments feel more comfortable when their subjects walk in fear. If there were nothing left to fear, the government would launch an initiative to tackle cannibalism, goblins or laudanum parties, to create the impression that something requiring legislation is going on. If all else fails, there is always the Rogue Madman Who Will Stop At Nothing threat. I am sure that, when republican splinter groups throw in the towel, the British government will announce that the new threat comes from the Continuity Bond Villain Army, or a previously unknown Islamic group holed up in the Mourne mountains.
"Emergency legislation" is exciting - all sirens and bells. It wasn't that the government had left a legal loophole before 1974, whereby you could put a bomb in a pub and they couldn't touch you for it. In fact they'd do you whether you put a bomb in a pub or not.
But this new law does not appear to be intended simply to wind the public up. The government is entirely genuine about wanting to curtail freedom. It is genuinely rattled by direct action. Terrorism has now been redefined to include "serious damage to property" and action "designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system". The latter clause was introduced in the Lords by Lord Bach in response to the Love Bug. Whether he meant the over-hyped computer virus or Herbie the anarchist Volkswagen, I don't know. But it means that if you jam the government's fax machines or mess around with its website (or Coca-Cola's), you are a terrorist.
You are also a terrorist if you damage a Hawk jet on its way to Indonesia. If you get drunk on your stag night and nick one, you will be dealt with by the laws covering high jinks; but if you are motivated by support for the people of East Timor, you can face life imprisonment - as you can if you damage anything during any form of political or environmental activism. Under the act, things that might otherwise constitute criminal damage become terrorism when done to advance a cause and when designed to intimidate the public or "influence the government".
Moreover, under the act, "the public" and "the govern ment" both cover the entire world. And if you urge Iraqi Kurds to rebel, you will be "inciting terrorism overseas", unless you are in the government, as John Major obviously was when he did it. The attorney general will decide whether such prosecutions go ahead, so that we don't embarrass our friends.
It is also an offence to have a hand in organising a meeting of three or more people, in public or private, which is to be addressed by someone belonging to or professing to belong to a proscribed organisation, whatever that person is speaking about. Perhaps you won't get the full 10 years if the discussion is about a possible ceasefire.
In any event, many more of you are terrorists as of Tuesday. Think of yourselves as freedom fighters, but say you are just mindless vandals if you want to get away with a fine.
by Jeremy Hardy newsunlimited.com
More: Jack Boot terror
Terrorism bill becomes law.
An activist's guide to the Terrorism Bill
A30: New Prevention of Terrorism Act Imminent
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