Saturday, May 24, 2008

The terrorist attack that never was

Convictions for terrorist offences in the UK are on the up, apparently showing that the increased resourcing for anti-terrorist police and the heightened security measures at airports are working. In reality, however, each and every one of the alleged terrorists convicted in a UK court has been someone who might have contemplated or dreamt about doing something, possessed intellectual material (usually freely available on the internet) of use to somebody contemplating a terrorist attack, or would have been capable of doing some damage if only they had the means. The latest conviction of a "Muslim terrorist" threatening to "blow up Bluewater shopping centre in Exeter" is a prime example of this madness.

This is the case of a prisoner who, whilst in prison and therefore unable to move freely, never mind to organise a major crime (to state otherwise would imply that UK prisons are unsafe hotbeds of criminality), made a threat in anger to blow up a shopping centre with three limousines packed full of explosives. When a prison officer told him that the shopping centre he was talking about was actually not in Exeter but in Kent, he retorted he hadn't finalised his plans yet. There is nothing new about prisoners getting frustrated and angry, nor about them making wild threats in order to attract attention. To take such nonsense serious, however, exposes the immature emotionality and hysteria by which the current anti-terrorism effort is characterised.

Of course, stupid threats like that, which in the past would have earned a "watch your mouth or you'll go down the block (prison segregation unit)" from a prison officer, is welcome nourishment for politicians and media keen to cash in on the ever-present Orwellian terror threat lurking at every corner. "Is Exeter now a hotbed of Islamic terrorism?" was one of the headlines in the UK media, since another man with a history of mental illness injured only himself by trying to set off some incendiary devices in Exeter. When a former BNP political candidate and his friend in Lancashire were charged under the "Explosive Substances Act 1883" (not the Terrorism Act 2000!) for having amassed the largest chemical explosive haul ever found in a private house in the country, together with rocket launchers and a chemical protection suit, the national media had to be pushed to even mention the story (after it was first reported on The two right-wing extremists had serious plans of causing major damage, they weren't just dreaming about it or writing poetry (like the "lyrical terrorist" Muslim lady recently convicted under UK terrorism legislation), but to their credit, they were white and could not be described as having Islamic tendencies.

Consequently, the public remains uninformed about any real danger whilst willingly giving up privacy and freedom in the face of a hyped up alleged Muslim terror threat so serious that travellers have to endure long queues at airports and surrender tweezers and knitting needles (you can pick up metal cutlery after check-out at the restaurants in the departure lounge!), put their toiletries into clear plastic bags and discard any bottled water or other drinks they might have brought along. None of these measures are going to make anybody even an iota safer than they were before, but they provide a lucrative income to security contractors and support to governments wanting to control their citizens, monitor their movements, lock up opponents indefinitely without charge and without having to deal with defence lawyers, and stifle any meaningful political discussion. Welcome to the free world! On the other hand, in the much maligned third world, allegedly run by dictators restricting any kind of freedom, I can take my tweezers and bottled water onto the plane. I can then fly to a major European airport and from their transit to another European airport without being subjected to the harassment passengers boarding at that very same airport have to endure. It all makes perfect sense, doesn't it?

Friday, May 02, 2008

Minority government

The results of local council elections in England and Wales proved a great disappointment for the ruling Labour party, in fact they were their worst results for over 40 years, pushing the party into third place behind the Conservatives and Liberals. Labour's policies have been unpopular for a long time, and as they have been in power for over a decade the blame cannot be laid at anybody else's doorstep. Effectively, Britain now has a minority government, a government that does not represent the will of the people, which is supported by very few people amongst the electorate, but which is nonetheless able to drive through unpopular policies due to an overwhelming majority in parliament.
Political commentators have mainly focused on whether Labour's election losses mean that the Conservatives stand a chance of winning the next general election. Nobody seems to bother that these elections are proof positive that parliamentary democracy is not working as a means of expressing the will of the people. The people of Britain have had a minority government for a long time, not only did the government take power on the basis of substantially less than half the votes cast, but considering that only just over a third of the eligible population actually went to the ballot box, only one fifth to one quarter of the country ever supported the government they got. The reason so few people exercise their vote is not that they couldn't care less who governs them, but that they understand only too well that there is no real alternative on offer. Whoever gets elected will carry through the same unpopular policies dictated by the banks and large corporations. If people were permitted to place a vote of no confidence in a serving politician or to decide on policy issues, the turnout would increase immensely. This is why governments stay clear of referendums, knowing all too well that their policies are out of tune with the electorate.
What is needed is a wholesale review of the role of government. Government used to be the servant of the people, but its function now has become to manage the people on behalf of vested interests. The "Nanny state", as it was labelled when Labour first came to power, interferes in every minute detail of its citizens' lives to the degree that many have begun comparing modern Britain to the former East European states. New Labour never abandoned "socialism", they simply got rid of its caring and social pretensions.
It would not be far-fetched to claim that increasing security legislation, whilst purporting to combat an alleged ever-present terror threat, is actually designed to put in place means to control an increasingly dissatisfied population who are finding it more and more difficult to cope under the high-tax, low-yield economic climate threatening to destroy their livelihoods. As the 19th century history Lord Acton put it: "The issue which has swept down the centuries and which will have to be fought sooner or later is the people versus the banks". Today's governments are brought to and kept in power in order to prevent, or at least, delay this battle from being fought. The will of the people has been reduced to "one man one vote" but without a say in the affairs of state - or even his own affairs most of the time. The latest election results clearly show "democracy at work".