In the wake of the terrorist attacks in Westminster, Manchester, and London Bridge, and with only a few days before voting day, May launched a new set of plans to give more powers to the security services. “Enough is enough”, the Prime Minister asserted, promising to clamp down on terrorism.
The Tories plans will increase the controls on suspected terrorists where it is thought they present a threat, but where there is not enough evidence to prosecute them. Proposals include: deportation of foreign terror suspects; further curfews; restrictions on association with other known extremists; controls on where they can travel; and limits on access to communication devices. In addition, the new measures could increase the period for which terror suspects can be held without trial, currently 14 days, along with heavier aggravated sentences for minor offences that are terrorist-related.
Ripping up human rights
In order to implement her proposals, the Prime Minister has promised to “take back control”. In her own words: “if human rights laws stop us from doing it, we will change those laws so we can do it.”
However, nothing in the 1998 Human Rights Act or in the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which the 1998 Act implements in the UK, hinders the government in dealing with terrorism.
Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit minister and former human rights lawyer, who served as Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and the Head of the Crown Prosecution Service for many yars, said that, “in my five years as DPP I saw many cases involving serious terrorist plots. Rights compliance helps effective outcomes, it does not hinder them.”
Moreover, almost every ECHR right is “qualified” in the sense that the state can interfere with the right when it is in the public interest to do so - the only exceptions are the rights to life and against torture.
Put simply, Theresa May’s strident rhetoric against human rights laws is a disingenuous fig leaf designed to hide the real draconian nature of her proposals - measures intended to cut away at civil liberties and protections, and put more power in the hands of the capitalist state; powers that can (and will) not only be used against fundamentalist terrorists, but against the working class and the labour movement also.
The “Snoopers’ Charter”
These new proposals by the Tories come as a knee-jerk response to the horrific terrorist attacks that occurred during the election campaign, intended to give Theresa May the aura of being a “strong and stable” leader.
Back in November, however, further legislation was already passed (with barely any opposition), giving the security services sweeping new powers: to track the digital life of any named suspect; to hack phones, computers and even use a suspect’s device’s camera or microphone; to monitor the content of emails, texts, phone calls and real-time conversations; requirements for phone companies to retain records of everyone’s web browsing histories, phone calls and texts for two years, amongst others.
The act gives the state unmatched powers compared to any other country in Western Europe or even the US. Jim Killock, the executive director of Open Rights Group, said: “The UK now has a surveillance law that is more suited to a dictatorship than a democracy.” US whistleblower Edward Snowden, meanwhile, tweeted: “The UK has just legalised the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy. It goes further than many autocracies.”
Repression and alienation
Over the past four months, Britain has experienced a wave of barbaric terrorist attacks. However, you do not stop the fire by pouring petrol onto it. As we have discussed before, and as Jeremy Corbyn has talked about also, one of the key factors in the rise Islamist terrorism are the imperialist adventures by Britain, France and the US, which have destabilised the Middle East and created misery and poverty for millions of people. ISIS and other fundamentalist groups thrive in these conditions of desperation, where ordinary Muslims cannot see a way out.
The powers that the Tories are proposing to give to the security services, in turn, are precisely the sort of response that jihadist leaders are hoping to provoke. Alongside political measures such as Prevent and the general racist, Islamophobic tone of the right-wing press, such proposals will intensify the already existing racial divisions and feeling of alienation within Muslim communities in Britain, exacerbating the reactionary, xenophobic, and divisive idea of a “clash of civilisations”.
Similarly, we have already seen how the ruling class and their mouthpieces in the media use the word “terrorism” in a conscious way, depending on who the perpetrator is and why there has been an act of terrorism. For example, Thomas Mair, the fascist who killed Joe Cox, was reported less as a terrorist and more as simply an individual with mental health problems. The same is true of this week’s racist “lone wolf” Finsbury Park mosque attacker.
It is this alienation and Islamophobia, at the same time, that creates the fertile ground in which Islamic fundamentalists grow, enabling them to radicalise Muslim youth who feel like they have no future within capitalist society.
In this way, the repressive, capitalist state and Islamic terrorists symbiotically rely upon one another: imperialist interventions abroad, oppressive conditions against Muslim communities at home, and racist rhetoric from right-wing politicians and the press - all these help ISIS and co. to recruit alienated youth to their extremist cause. Meanwhile, terrorist attacks by these same radicalised Islamists provide capitalist governments and the right-wing media with a justification to ramp up such actions and language, creating a reactionary vicious cycle of repression and racial division.
The situation in France - following years of intervention in Libya and Mali, the “Burkini ban”, and barbaric terrorist attacks - is one clear example, as is the recent deplorable far-right Islamophobic attack against Muslims leaving the Finsbury Park mosque earlier this week.
Class struggle intensifies
Both the latest proposals by May and the “Snoopers’ Charter” are also preparation by the ruling class for repression against the working class in the coming intensification of the class struggle. History has showed countless times how increased powers in the hands of the capitalist state will be used against workers as the struggle intensifies in order to safeguard the private property and profits of the rich.
The general election is a clear indication of seismic changes in UK politics; Corbyn has galvanised the youth, workers and many layers that had previously drifted away. The results show an increasing polarisation along class lines, a situation that is not unique in Britain.
The ruling class can see the explosive situation that is developing and are preparing. Already we have seen the anger against the criminal Grenfell disaster spill out onto the streets. Hence why May aims to get rid of human rights laws and civil liberty protections now; even though these laws are largely formalistic, they still pose a relative hindrance to the ruling class and their ability to rule over and repress the working class.
The utter hypocrisy of the ruling class and their political puppets, the Tories, is plain for everyone to see. While denouncing the barbaric acts of Islamist terrorists and increasing state repression, for example, May and the Tories are happy to be the ambassadors for big business in Saudi Arabia.
The problem of growing fundamentalist radicalisation in alienated Muslim communities cannot be solved under capitalism; big business and the bankers will continue plundering the Middle East for spheres of influence and profits, thus continuing the creation and nurturing of fundamentalist groups. In order to solve the problems we are facing today, we have to break with this rotten system and fight for a new society - a socialist society.