It's brown trousers time! (Again.)
Coincidences happen. That's a fact. Not every single coincidence is inextricably linked to something more sinister, even in politics and the world of terrorism. You don't need to calculate the tiny chance of happening to bump into an old friend you haven't seen for years while you're on holiday to know that. Also, the coincidence is the biggest friend of the conspiracy theorist. Connect A to B, and you'll get C, or in most cases, X.
Today though, you may as well throw all that out the window and start wondering just how much dear old John Reid knew about the supposed threat which for a while shut down all the airports in the country. Yesterday Reid gave what can only be described as a rant to the thinktank Demos, about of all things, the terrorist threat to Britain. This wasn't just to outline where he thought there needed to be changes in thinking, or where laws need to be tightened. This was an attack, an arrogant and one-sided bullying speech, designed only to please the likes of the Sun and Melanie Philips. As the Guardian reports, the talk firmly placed the blame not on the "fascist individuals" who threaten our safety, but on those opposed to the government's attacks on civil liberties:
· Politicians who opposed the anti-terror measures the police and security services said were necessary to combat the threat.
· European judges who passed the "Chahal judgment" that prohibited the home secretary from weighing the security of millions of British people if a suspected terrorist remained in the UK against the risk he faced if deported back to his own country.
· The media commentators who "apparently give more prominence to the views of Islamist terrorists rather than democratically elected Muslim politicians like premier Maliki of Iraq or President Karzai of Afghanstan".
This isn't just bollocks, it is dangerous, reactionary, highly politically motivated attacks on those who challenge the government's policy on the war on terror and in foreign affairs. Reid almost entirely adopts the viewpoint of the Sun, which in the aftermath of the defeat of legislation which would have seen terrorist suspects held for up to 90 days without charge, called those who voted against "traitors". In Reid's view, the government, the police and the security services have to be trusted, and we have to bow down to their every whim when it comes to fighting terrorism. This ignores the spectacular failures that have happened over the last couple of years, such as the ricin plot that never was and the Forest Gate fiasco. Those with longer memories will remember the tanks sent to Heathrow just before the huge demonstration against the Iraq war, which was threatened at one stage because ministers were worried that the demonstration might damage the grass in the park. We never learned anything else about the supposed threat that led to their deployment.
Reid justifies what he thinks might be needed to fight terror by saying that Britain today faces "probably the most sustained period of severe threat since the end of the second world war." Really? Did everyone just suddenly forget about that lumbering giant, the Soviet Union? Didn't they have, uh, big shiny nuclear missiles pointing right at our cities, ready to be launched at a moment's notice? Weren't we warned to be ready with bin bags to pick up what was left of our friends and relatives after the nuclear holocaust? We can but surmise, but maybe Reid's forgetfulness might have something to do with him once being a member of the Communist party. It also could be related to the fact he was an alcoholic, like Alastair Campbell, now reformed and cruising for a fight that makes up for the lack of the sweet amber nectar. And who could possibly forget his charming pal, Radovan Karidizic?
In a rare part of eloquence in the speech, Reid makes a somewhat decent argument, but not one that can't be picked apart:
Sometimes we may have to modify some of our own freedoms in the short term in order to prevent their misuse and abuse by those who oppose our fundamental values and would destroy all of our freedoms in the modern world,
The problem with "modifying" freedoms in the short term is that once you've given something up, it's increasingly difficult to get them back. As well as this, we've seen law after law passed in this country which has been abused and used against those which it wasn't designed for. The Protection from Harassment Act, designed to target stalkers, has been used against protestors. Section 44 of the Terrorism Act of 2000 is notorious for numerous reasons. Reid's arguments also ignores the possibility that freedoms given up today could be exploited by a government even less scrupulous than New Labour. Finally, and perhaps most powerfully, giving up our freedoms to fight terrorism is doing exactly what "they", whoever they are, wants: They want to make us afraid. They want to scare us to death. They want to make you fear the unknown. Another problem with this is that governments both here and abroad have continually used the terror threat for their own purposes. Many suspect the random changing of threat levels to be politically motivated, and cynical.
Well, that's certainly not something Dr John Reid can be accused of. For, oh, a whole day after he made his vomit-inducing masturbatory pre-emptive strike on the pinkos who believe in civil liberties rather than living on their knees, the whole country is alerted that terrorists are once again in our midst. Terrorists, which George Bush has already described as "Islamic fascists", apparently planned to blow-up 10 transatlantic flights with "liquid explosives", possibly hidden in baby milk or drinks cans. Heathrow shuts down. Travel chaos takes over. The government's patented doom-o-meter, introduced only last week, goes up to "critical", meaning an attack is expected "imminently". This is despite the attack apparently being foiled, as it's possible there could be a back-up plan. The Americans, who jump at any chance to put the threat level up, react by putting their own risk of death calculator to its highest level.
The plan itself, as much as we've been told so far, is highly reminiscent of a plot
masterminded by Ramzi Yousef, called "Project Bojinka". The plan, or at least the first part, was to blow up 11 jets as they were over the Pacific, as Yousef and his partner in crime, Khalid Shaikh Mohammed, were in the Philippines at the time. The bombs were going to use liquid nitroglycerin, with Casio watches as timers. Being the sort who wanted to make sure that these things actually worked, and there's nothing to suggest that this plan involved suicide, Yousef planted one on a flight from Manila to Tokyo on December the 11th, 1994. It exploded, killing the man sitting in the seat which Yousef had vacated on a stop-over, but the pilots managed to guide the plane down safely. Yousef was now left to try to make the explosive more potent. The second part of "Project Bojinka" was to involve martyrdom operations, with, you've guessed it, terrorists piloting jets into large buildings. The first part of "Project Bojinka" was disrupted when the apartment they were staying in caught fire.
Whether today's terrorists were influenced directly by this plot or came up with something of their volition which is remarkably similar doesn't really matter. What matters is that it was disrupted. The question that remains unanswered is how much John Reid knew about this before making his speech yesterday. The Guardian reports:
"This wasn't supposed to happen today," a US official who asked not to be named, told the Washington Post. "It was supposed to happen several days from now. We hear the British lost track of one or two guys. They had to move."
In other words, he must have known. Would a politician really exploit the public by making a speech about the terrorist threat, knowing full well that one such plot was about to be foiled? You bet a man of the stature of John Reid would. You also to have to wonder if the raid was brought forward by a couple of days because of the political difficulties the government has found itself in. 150 MPs were calling for parliament to be recalled over the Lebanon conflict. A PPS yesterday resigned in protest at the government's appalling handling of the crisis. As Craig Murray notes in an excellent post, there'll be no dead Lebanese children on the news today, or if there are, they'll be after the 20 minutes or so of coverage of people stuck in airports, demanding that we feel sorry for them.
The reporting of the arrests and apparent plot have been suitably breathless. Lenin on the comments at the Tomb described them as "orgasmic", and I couldn't have put it better myself. There's something about a terrorist plot that means even the best journalists that hate sensationalism start spouting the most ridiculous things, or believing the most ridiculous things. The Forest Gate raid was evidence of that. As yet, there seems to have been no explosives found. That might well change. We should reserve our judgment, and wait. It's just that this government has cried wolf so many times, has demanded that we obey their thinking that only they can protect us from the evil mongrel Islamic hordes that want to slit our throats and boil our children, and remember, this involves locking up suspects for 90 days and deporting others to countries where torture is endemic, rejecting calls for them to be tried here, or for wiretap evidence to be introduced.
Once everything dies down, and it will, although the Sun and its followers will no doubt inform us tomorrow that this justifies everything Blair and Reid have ever said, and that terrorists dressed as clowns are waiting on the street corner to hit us with custard pies flavoured with anthrax, those of us who honestly care about civil liberties need to decide how best to oppose the government's plans, which now will likely be accelerated. We can either say no more anti-terror laws full stop, or demand that if they really are telling the truth and that we need to suspend some freedoms, that we get some carrots in return. Wiretap evidence must be made admissible. The security services must have a watchdog. The attacks on the Human Rights Act must cease. The government should accept that trial here is better than deporting someone to where they face torture. It's only then we should perhaps listen to their plans. Until that happens, no more new anti-terror laws.