Friday, September 16, 2005

Defending our basic freedoms

The main justification for the so-called 'war on terror' is that our Government is acting to defend our traditions, culture and values. Blair and Bush talk of 'defending democracy'.

On of the traditional freedoms that we have enjoyed for a few centuries in this country is freedom of expression. Freedom of expression - the right to put forward your views on an issue regardless - is one of the fundamental liberties that has set the UK, the US and most western democracies apart from communist, dictatorial and other tyrannical regimes.

Yet now, in the name of fighting terrorism, the Home Secretary is proposing that people should not be allowed to 'glorify' terrorism. This is a significantly broader restriction than not being allowed to 'incite' terrorism, which means actually encouraging people to go and commit terrorist acts. It would effectively prevent anyone from putting forward any argument that might be considered to justify terrorism.

On the face of it this might not seem to bad, surely, you might argue, it is wrong for anyone to argue in support of terrorism?

But there are two key reason why this approach is wrong.

Firstly, it is simply wrong for the state to restrict people's freedom to put forward an argument. However wrong you or I might think an argument to be, someone has the right to put it forward. To remove that right is to remove one of the very traditions that make democracy worth defending.

Secondly it is wrong on practical grounds. How do you define 'terrorism' and 'glorify' in a watertight way that only restricts the really nasty advocates of outright terror, rather than catching all sorts of completely harmless theorising? Who does the defining? How can we ensure that they are in some way objective rather than subjective?

To give one example: during the second world war was it wrong for people to publically support terrorist cells active in France? (Otherwise known as the French Resistance)

Under the legal definition of 'terrorism' such public comment would surely be against this proposed law.

Every time there is a major act of terrorism Blair and co. tell us that the terrorists will not be allowed to change our way of life. Yet by the look of these proposals they are allowing probably the most control crazy Government we have ever had to restrict our liberty more than has ever been the case in peacetime.

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