How to create and convict a terrorist
Tony Blair and various ministers in his government - like John Reid or Ruth Kelly recently - have repeatedly warned against the radicalisation of Muslims. They have good cause to worry: radical Muslims ask uncomfortable questions, want to hold the government accountable, cannot be taken for granted as Labour supporters and might even take part in direct action, like the boarding of a US transport plane in Perth by the "people's weapons inspectors". It is for this reason that the government must portray any Muslim not towing the party line as a potential or actual terrorist. To be credible in the manufacture of this terrorist threat there has to be, of course, the occasional proven case of imminent danger followed by arrests, charges and, hopefully, convictions.
The explosive baby milk scare at Heathrow was such an event. People were either scared or inconvenienced to drive home the message, Muslims were rounded up at the middle of the night and arrested, and some were charged with terrorist-related charges. Convictions, unfortunately for the government are a little less easy to come by. The police may be a willing political tool these days, but the judiciary by and large is not yet. Scathing remarks by John Reid and others about judges and the human rights act have not helped either to make this relationship any better.
In this context it must be remembered that out of the over 700 Muslims arrested under anti-terrorism legislation less than a handful have been convicted of offences under those laws. Most of the other very few convictions obtained at all were for unrelated matters which came to light in the course of the investigation, like visa violations, for example. Nobody has yet been convicted with any hard first-hand evidence about a successful or foiled terrorist plot. The only way to convict anybody under terrorist laws is by circumstantial evidence: maps, books, videos and the like which are said to be useful to a potential terrorist.
I can predict already that nobody will be charged with possession of any of the ingredients to produce liquid explosives, just like the Ricin of past scares was never found nor the alleged bomb making factories consuming large amounts of fertiliser (by the way, what happened to bird flu, that other threat to keep us worried and run to the government for protection?). To produce liquid explosive requires sophistication, hours of patience and ambient temperatures well below freezing. No judge will believe the argument that anybody was about to board a plane with a couple of innocent liquids in order to turn them into explosives during the first six hours of a transatlantic flight whilst blocking the loo for everybody else. The security personnel at the airports weren't afraid of suddenly igniting liquids either; else they would not have had everybody poor their drinks, aftershave, sun lotion etc. into one and the same container before boarding.
Already we are hearing a lot about martyrdom videos instead. Those people were watching X-rated material and were so inspired that they could hardly wait to blow themselves and everybody else to pieces. On that basis it is easy to convict anybody, and I hope judges and juries won't buy the nonsense. The people protesting against US planes with weapons for the Israeli onslaught against Lebanon refuelling on UK soil would have had maps of the airport perimeter fences to help them gain access. Thus they could be made out to be potential terrorists, rather than anti-war protesters. I remember not long ago a spam email entitled "how to create a dirty bomb" or similar, which I bounced back through my spam blocking software, just in case. Others, however, might just have downloaded the file to their inbox or even opened it before deleting it as spam, in which case their computer will show after analysis by special branch that they once had a bomb making manual on their hard drives.
Incidentally, a lot of spam originates from Israel, much of it sent with the hijacked addresses of Muslim organisations in the "from" field, maybe in order to discredit them. As for martyrdom videos, I received a DVD entitled "Martyrdom encounters" in the post, so I am pretty sure most other people linked to Muslim organisations would have got one too. It contained daft al-Qaeda propaganda and was so boring that I threw it away. However, it was lying around in my pile of junk mail to be sorted for many months before I took a first glance at it. The likelihood is that if one of those was found in the house of a Muslim when searched by Special Branch, the owner would not have viewed it yet, or he would also have thrown it straight on the garbage heap. But it is enough to make the connection.
Whilst generating, and then riding the waves of, hysteria the job of implicating people through circumstantial evidence has become a great deal easier. There is no need anymore, to plant real guns in people's houses. A spam mail and an unsolicited DVD in the post will do the trick. And if this does not suffice in the end to charge and convict them under terrorist legislation, then most people can be caught on something else, like unlicensed software running on their computer or a pirate copy of a DVD. This serves to prove that they were criminals after all and therefore dangerous and the night-time raids of their premises justified.
Meanwhile, Muslim organisations and leaders are being asked to do more to prevent members of their community from being radicalised, in other words to tow the official line unquestioningly. Yet if they do, they will only be increasingly out of touch with their own following, who are becoming more outspoken. It will take quite a while still before the cover is lifted on the unsavoury fear-mongering perpetrated by our government. Ryanair's threat to sue for compensation indicates that ordinary people are becoming fed up, too. When the full picture of manipulation eventually emerges, the witch hunts of the Dark Ages will look amateurish in comparison.