Monday, July 25, 2005

Going Underground

After the Omagh atrocity in 1998 many Irish people, myself included, were willing to accept draconian anti-terror laws and increased police powers on the basis that terrorism simply couldn’t be combated by the ordinary rule of law. Well those increased powers have bitten us in the ass. The only conviction ever secured has since been quashed due to police abuses of their power and the leaders of the terror gang responsible have been locked up on dubious convictions that may yet not survive a Supreme Court challenge.

Since September 11 2001 the US authorities have wilfully and arbitrarily ignored peoples’ human rights both at home and abroad and most Americans don’t bat an eyelid. People are being interned indefinitely without charge (and tortured in captivity) to reveal information they may (or may not) have. Furthermore, in deciding that September 11th was an Act of War rather than a crime, the US response to being attacked has left many thousands more of innocent people, and nearly 2,000 US soldiers, dead – paying for the actions of unconnected others with their lives.

This really should bother the American people but, like a punch-drunk with a sore head, they still insist that it’s all acceptable if it’s preventing a repeat of September 11th. Americans barely pay lip-service to foreigners suffering due to their War on Terror – particularly those in captivity even though many of these appear to have committed no crime at all. Indeed, if you were to ask the old question “Is it OK for one innocent man to be imprisoned to prevent ten guilty men being free?” they would answer “Yes”. If you were to ask “What if that innocent man was you?” they would say “It would not be me – I would not put myself in a position where a question mark over my innocence could arise.”

So the death of an entirely innocent young Brazilian in London brings all of this into a microcosm for me. No connection to anything whatsoever, yet executed by a policeman put in the position of being judge, jury and executioner. I feel sorry for the policeman because in some ways the logic at work, where the police need to take instant action to deal with a suicide bomber, makes sense. But this dead man is now the personification of all the innocent lives that have been lost because of an acceptance that it is necessary to step outside the norms to combat the new enemy. Is it a price worth paying? Is it OK that a man can lose his life like this to prevent an even bigger number of innocents losing their lives to terrorist atrocities?

My head and my heart say no. We can’t round up and intern hundreds of people who have not demonstrably done anything wrong simply because they are hostile to us, we can’t go obliterating entire communities even if people who would do us harm are hiding within them and we can’t execute people for wearing jackets, listening to iPods and running away from policemen. We can’t because we are civilised even if the enemy is not. But it looks like we will anyway. This might seem flippant, but what’s going to happen when the winter comes and young Muslim students wearing coats and carrying rucksacks will be all over the Transport System?...
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