Recent events have dramatically heightened the atmosphere of insecurity and tension in Britain, and particularly London.
While the attempted second wave of bomb attacks on 21 July thankfully failed, it has nonetheless succeeded in considerably increasing the fear of future attacks. In addition we have seen the horrific bombings in Egypt, resulting in the death of over 60 people. And we have also had the killing by the police of an innocent man, Jean Charles de Menezes.
The government and the police have brazenly tried to justify the ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy that was used against this electrician, from a poor region of Brazil. Sir Ian Blair, London Metropolitan Police Chief, has declared that the ‘shoot-to-kill’ policy will remain and that more innocent people could be shot.
The socialist demands a genuine public inquiry, under the democratic control of trade union and community organisations, into the events that led to the killing of Jean Charles de Menezes. The press reports to date raise a whole number of questions that need to be answered. If the police believed Jean Charles was a suicide bomber why did they allow him to travel on a bus to the tube? Did they ask him to halt? Why was the armed unit who were ordered to intercept him in the tube in plain clothes and, as they were, was Jean Charles even aware that the armed men chasing him were police officers? Hair-raisingly the driver of a tube train in Stockwell station was held at gunpoint – why?
Of course most people, because they understand the difficulties the police could face dealing with suicide bombers, might accept the necessity, in extreme circumstances, of ‘shooting-to-kill’. However, socialists oppose the introduction of ‘shoot-to-kill’ as a policy. It will inevitably lead to the death of innocent men and women, as it did when it was used by the police in Northern Ireland.
For every Muslim in Britain, and every person who could conceivably be seen by the police as Muslim, the fear of being shot on sight by the police has now been added to the fear of future bombings we all suffer, plus the already existing fear of increased racism. Millions will have heard the news of Jean Charles’ killing in horror, and like one shocked witness to the events in Stockwell station thought, “there but for the grace of God go I” (Daily Mirror 25 July).
This will inevitably lead to further anger and alienation amongst young Muslims who will have little trust that only those actually involved in the suicide bombings will be targeted. No wonder – according to Home Office statistics only 1% of those arrested under the Prevention of Terrorism Act (the draconian anti-terrorist legislation that was supposed to thwart the IRA) were convicted of any crime.
The legislation introduced in the wake of 9/11 has been no different – of the 700 arrested only 17 have been convicted of any offence, and only three have been convicted of offences relating to terrorism. This is despite the post-9/11 legislation lessening the prosecution’s ‘burden of proof’.
JUST AS 9/11 was the reason given for the Patriot Act in the US, introducing a new raft of repressive measures, the 7 July bombings in London are being used to justify a whole raft of draconian legislation and measures, including ‘shoot-to-kill’. Other measures include tapping phones and mobile phones, and keeping records of phone calls, along with storing all suspects’ internet correspondence.
The Asylum and Immigration Bill has also been amended, to include legislation which allows the deportation of so-called ‘international terror suspects’. These suspects have no right to a trial, or to see the evidence against them, and only have a “trusted special advocate” (i.e. a government-appointed lawyer) as a form of legal defence. A panel of three judges will decide if a suspect is guilty or not. Some of the accused will be deported to countries where they could face torture and death by repressive regimes.
These measures will not prevent terrorism, anymore than draconian legislation in the past defeated the IRA. On the contrary, they will increase the alienation of young Muslims, and make it easier for reactionary organisations like al-Qa’ida to recruit a tiny minority of Muslims to their ideas. If the government is serious about minimising the risk of future attacks, why is it unwilling to support the railway workers’ union (RMT)’s demands for increased number of station staff and the reintroduction of conductors?
The socialist fully supports these demands. However, implementing these measures would mean a turn away from the privatisation of transport and the drive to run it at a profit, and is therefore repugnant to New Labour.
Instead, the government is strengthening repression. It is not just Muslims who will be affected. Democratic rights, like the right to organise and demonstrate, are being eroded. The Terrorism Act of 2000 has already been used against anti-war campaigners, including in relation to protests at military bases at Fairford and Welford. Blair also threatened to use it to put protesters at the Gleneagles G8 summit under house arrest.
The trade union movement must campaign against repressive legislation that has already been introduced, and the new raft that will follow 7/7. Trade union activists should fight for this to happen. Repressive laws will ultimately be used against the trade unionists and workers’ struggles. Blair has already demonstrated his willingness to equate socialists with terrorism with the outrageous comments he made “likening Islamic extremism to the Trotskyist Militant Tendency”. (the Guardian 18 July).
Of course, the Militant Tendency, now the Socialist Party, has always condemned terrorism; both the terrorism of individuals and groups, whether in Britain, Ireland or internationally, and the state terrorism of the US and British governments that is estimated to have resulted in the death of 100,000 civilians in Iraq.
Only a united working class movement, with socialist policies, can end injustice, discrimination, and imperialist occupation and terrorism. This includes opposing repressive, anti-working class legislation. The socialist is campaigning for the calling of national and local demonstrations, bringing together workers from all sections of society, with a clear programme of opposition to terror, to war, to racism and to increased state repression.