Tipping the balance between security and freedoms
Whilst it is to be welcomed that the Home Secretary Teresa May has accepted that acts of terrorism are committed against Muslims, her new measures introduced to combat terrorism leave the way open for innocent people to be harassed and others to be guilty by association.
The Home Secretary announced that police are to get more powers than they have ever had before to deal with the terror threat which faces the UK. Having placed the country on a heightened state of terror alert it appears that May would like the whole nation working for the security services. Not that there is anything wrong with vigilance but as well as being told about the impending terrorist plot, more information on a regular basis should be released about the disproportionate rise in the number of hate crimes and attacks against mosques and British Muslim citizens.
The death of 82 year Muhammed Saleem fatally stabbed in the early hours of the morning while walking home in Small Heath in Birmingham is according to organisations like Mend systematic of the alarming increase in crimes against Muslims. They have quoted increases of over 700% in some parts of the country before and after the death of Lee Rigby. It is important that the government extends that transparency to all crimes against or attempted crimes against all British citizens.
In addition, May’s decision to distanced the failing Prevent strategy from community integration work reflects what has been going on for sometime. Prevent has done little to reverse the tide of radicalization and communities are being denied important funds to address deep-rooted problems.
However, in trying to pander to the growing disquiet about the threat that external groups such as ISIS might posed to the safety of this country, the home secretary talked about ‘…radicalization taking place behind closed doors in mosques, home and community centres, but also in schools, universities and prisons.” Broadening the impending scope of radicalization sends a worrying signal that ordinary pious conservative Muslims who frequent all the places that the Home Secretary has outlined are by association ‘up to something.’
Furthermore, the decision by the Home Office to change Prevent’s objectives is an admission that the strategy has not worked but the move to include non-violent extremism under the same umbrella begs the question will anyone who calls for a change to the British system of governance liable to be regarded as someone who has broken the law. Surely, the Russell Brands of this world who openly advised citizens not to vote and calls for a non-violent ‘Revolution’ – the title of his new book – also fall under this new category!
The main difficulty with Teresa May’s new policy is defined by the word – transparency – how does citizens of this country know that other citizens are receiving their full rights. The suggestion that the British passport holder nationality can be revoked on the basis that there is another country they can go do without due recourse to the British court system appears to fly in the face of International law
Likewise, making it a statutory duty on name organisation such as schools and colleges, police, probation, prisons and local government to help prevent people from being drawn into terrorism is a vague task and an imprecise science. Its begs another question can a child distinguish the sign of terrorism, can teachers or any other organisation produce a blue print for the typical terrorist. Admissions that the British security services knew of both the killers of Lee Rigby and even tried to recruit one of them suggest if M16 cannot work out who the criminal is, then its stands to reason that most other institutions would have similar if not greater levels of difficulty.
Finally, allowing the so-called terrorists back on the government terms is well and good if those terms are reasonable and does not curtail basic freedoms. It can be argued that the returning citizen is not one that poses a threat but one who has become disenchanted and needs help to readjust to the British society. Counseling rather that TPIM tags might do more to rebuild a sense of belonging. However, preventing citizens from returning home is as pointed out by the director of Liberty, Shami Chakrabti who has expressed concern about the growing erosion of human rights.
Teresa May’s speech not only give more powers to the already powerful to deal with terrorism but it also opens the way for a lack of transparency to prevails about most of the policies. It is all very well declaring that 40 terrorist plots have been thwarted many of which have not resulted in forms of prosecution but it is perhaps more difficult to strike that balance between rights, liberties, freedoms and national security. There is a danger these latest powers may have tipped that balance.