On the 8th April, twelve men were arrested in areas of Liverpool, Manchester and Clitheroe. Of the group, eleven were Pakistani nationals, ten of whom visiting this country on student visas. The reason for these raids? Suspicion of plotting terrorist attacks. Gordon Brown was quick to assert in a statement that:
“We are dealing with a very big terrorist plot…there were a number of people who are suspected of [terrorism] who have been arrested. That police operation was successful.”
The raids themselves were suspected by many observers to have been hastened due to an(other) information leak whereby Bob Quick, the Assistant Commissioner Metropolitan Police arrived at Downing Street inadvertently displaying ‘top secret’ documents about the Operation Pathway to the national press’ cameras. Needless to say, this blunder warranted successful calls for his resignation. The media went on to speculate that a horrific atrocity was timed for that most revered (!) of occasions – Easter Bank Holiday weekend.
Thirteen days later, ALL of the suspects were released without charge, on the basis of there being insufficient evidence. Whilst ransacking their homes and belongings, officers found ‘suspicious’ items, such as photographs of ‘popular locations’ within Manchester. It takes no great leap of the imagination to consider that perhaps there is many a computer hard drive across the country with pictures of both local and distant landmarks on it. My own can attest to that. And that is the nature of being a ‘popular’ location, surely? Or perhaps what warranted suspicion was a Pakistani owning photos of a nightclub?
Nine of the Pakistani nationals, despite being released without charge, were passed into the custody of the UK Borders Agency, for deportation under ‘national security’. Here we go again. The catch-all justification for more or less anything (or anyone) considered recalcitrant. The Home Office said:
“…we were seeking to remove these individuals on grounds of national security. The Government’s highest priority was to protect public safety and where a foreign national poses a threat to this country we would seek to exclude or deport them where this was appropriate.”
Since the events of September 2001 we have been repeatedly informed that we face a new and unprecedented terrorist threat. With respect to Islamist terrorism in particular, there are aspects which distinguish it from the other forms that terrorism has taken in the past, namely its religious, often absolutist nature, as well as its disparate structure. On some level this justifies differentiated counter-terrorism tactics, but continual obfuscation, and refusal to concede properly when errors have been made doesn’t aid arguably the most potential aspect of this ‘new terrorism’, the threat of radicalisation.
Instead of attempting to atone for the humiliating experience of having their names and lives dragged through the mud, the Government has instead sought to deport them under the semblance of ‘national security’. If these men do pose a threat, then the logical and rightful practice would be to charge with a specific crime, and process them through the court judicial system.
Interestingly this general application of ‘threat’ to vindicate the deportation of foreign nationals echoes that of Geert Wilders’ in February. The leader of the Dutch ‘Party for Freedom’ was invited to the UK by two members of the House of Lords. The occasion was a screening of the supposedly offensive film ‘Fitna‘, which suggested inherent links between the Koran and terrorism. The reason he was declared a persona non grata by Home Secretary Jacqui Smith was because of his propensity to”pose a genuine, present and sufficiently serious threat to one of the fundamental interests of society”, despite being an elected representative of another EU country.
In hindsight it emerged that the debacle of Wilders’ deportation granted both him and his controversial film far more air time than would have otherwise been afforded. Clearly in the weighty debate between freedom of speech and freedom from hatred, the government has to make tough policy- and case-based decisions. At the very least, one can argue that they are somewhat consistent in adminstering penalties on both sides for perceived threat to social and literal security, without any criminal offence required. However, it is dangerous to suggest that as we are not officially criminalising Thoughtcrime, that we are not advancing toward an analogous state of affairs. This is demonstrable in the recent local arrests of the Sneinton 114.
A cynic would point out that the timing of these terror raids was impeccable. Just as media momentum was picking up in even the most right-wing of papers, criticising police behaviour at the G20 protests culminating in the death of one of the few people not actually involved, police strike lucky in a daring raid on our old foe, ‘the terrorists’. Phew we are all allowed to feel safe again.
The events worryingly manage to neatly conflate two distinct issues into one big fear-mongering muddle: terrorists…and immigrants…they’re all the same right? It is remniscient of the (erroneous) realist international relations orthodoxy that the foremost threat to national security always emerges from the anarchical state ‘out there’.
Anyone with sufficient logic will tell you that enough institutional discrimination against minorities within this country will only serve to fuel a sense of alienation. This will culminate in a very real threat from ‘within’. It’s no coincidence that the first to experience the curtailing of ‘liberties’ are those largely without a voice in the political process anyway. Incidents such as these where the government makes mistakes but prefers to cover them up rather than demonstrate ‘democratic’ accountability, will only serve to further estrange certain communities, and those who sympathise with them.