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Friday, February 09, 2007 

Policing the media police state.

One of the reasons I didn't comment on the release of the two men without charge from those picked up in the Birmingham anti-terror raids was because I wanted to see if any of the others were to be prosecuted, in line with the lurid details leaked out to the press about what those arrested had allegedly plotted to do.

Now that 6 others have been charged, one with intending to kidnap and murder a soldier, it puts the events of the last week into context. The briefings provided were still outrageous, revealing far too much and making accusations that cannot be proved (al-Qaida links, etc) before those arrested had even been in custody for 24 hours. We still don't know who was behind them, as the West Midlands police have repeated their annoyance at the leaks, and the Home Office has tried its hardest to ignore accusations thrown at it. The two men who were released without charge, apparently only being questioned for at the most, four hours, and without any mention of a plot similar to the one in the papers being given to them, deserve an explanation for their arrest and week long detention. Anyone else in their circumstances would be similarly angry, and that it was under suspicion of a such despicable crime only enhances the fury at being treated in such a way. The consequences of being accused, even if you're released quickly and your character has only been stained by the wider publicity of what occurred, are still palpable.

We should also still remember that those charged are innocent until proven guilty. The ricin case was an example of how terrorism charges don't always stick. You can also understand the fury of Abu Bakr, discovering only after he'd been held for a week that he was arrested under suspicion of plotting to behead a serving Muslim soldier and being some kind of al-Qaida sleeper member, in making his spurious claim that Britain is now a police state for Muslims. As others have pointed out, however glibly, Saudi Arabia is a police state for Muslims.

It was interesting to see how Abu Izzadeen, aka Trevor Brooks, was arrested yesterday, and not at home, as the Guardian reports, but near a tube station. It seems to have been another happy coincidence that he was arrested the morning after Bakr had given his widely reported interview. I'm not sure whether it's my own cynicism which is being too conspiratorial, or if anything is above a Home Office which under John Reid seems obsessed with news management. He's since been released on bail, and his case could yet prove to be groundbreaking, considering the limits of free speech.

For the Sun though, rather than pointing out calmly that Abu Bakr is mistaken, and that his treatment was at the least less than subtle, it's instead a great opportunity to attack the BBC for daring to air Bakr's views:

IT sometimes seems the BBC would prefer terrorists to succeed than for an innocent man to be briefly held without charge.

I don't call the best part of a week briefly. Being held briefly happens when you're the Sun editor and you've smacked your husband, and the police come to the conclusion that both had just had too much to drink. Being held under the Terrorism Act, then not being questioned about anything to do with terrorism, warrants an explanation.

In their politically correct bubble, intelligence is always flawed and anti-terror action is inevitably heavy-handed.

Well, Bakr's innocence certainly proves otherwise, doesn't it?

So the release of two suspects held over the alleged plot to behead a British Muslim soldier was a gift from heaven.

For 24 hours, BBC bulletins repeated the ludicrous claim by one of them that, for Muslims, Britain is a police state.

Yes, it was ludicrous. But his interviews were entirely legitimate journalism, and provided the place for a man angry about his treatment to voice his concerns. This is what we call free speech. The Sun doesn't seem to like it when it's something other than their world view being voiced on the TV screen.

The truth is that these suspects were swept up in a legitimate raid by police who had reasonable grounds for suspicion — and freed after questioning.

Quite true. But not without the men being held for far longer than they would have been if they had been arrested for any other reason, and also not without a judge seeing the evidence against them was so slim that he refused to extend their detention any longer.

That is not the action of a police state. Far from being too harsh, our police may have been too soft.

They should have cracked down sooner on the increasingly assertive minority who pay lip service to liberty but preach murder in the mosque.

Action should have been taken to prevent forced marriages and honour killings which, unforgivably, take place on British soil.

And this from a newspaper which claims to preach tolerance. More does need to be done to tackle extremism, such as ensuring that foreign preachers and others aren't ranting about their grievances in mosques, but the police certainly aren't the people to do that. The mosque itself is also all too frequently viewed as the place where radicalisation takes place; most of the evidence suggests that it's more to down personal research and meeting the like-minded than imams brainwashing worshippers through their foaming at the mouth.

Why the Sun has brought in forced marriages etc, only the leader writer knows. Forced marriages and honour killings have nothing whatsoever to do with what's happened in the past week, and linking them into a leader about the wider implications of a terrorism raid only helps further the wrongly held belief that a whole community, or even a religion, is under scrutiny.

And marches over Danish cartoons by rabble-rousers calling for death to British soldiers should have been broken up on the spot.

Maybe so. We don't however know how the protesters would have reacted, and the most egregious of those who took part are now being prosecuted anyway. The police probably took the right decision at the time in the circumstances. A similar demonstration now would likely result in a different response.

It is time the BBC woke up to a dangerous truth.

Britain is at war with radicalised young Muslims who are willing to commit atrocities against a country which has offered them a home.

The BBC should stop sneering.

And give the police all the support they need to stop them.

No, we're not at war, unless we're also at war with criminals. We're not killing those who are willing to commit atrocities, as the Sun puts it, we're arresting them and treating them like anyone else who plots murder or preaches racial hatred. Ken Macdonald had it exactly right, and suggesting that this is a war only dignifies those who claim to be soldiers.

As for the BBC, they have in the past given too much air-time to the likes of Anjem Choudrary. It gives the impression that such people in some way reflect the wider Muslim community, when it should be obvious they do nothing of the sort. On this occasion the Sun has as usual took its wider contempt for public service broadcasting and the emphasis on impartiality, not to mention making clear that those not even yet charged are innocent until proven guilty, and used it to bash reporting it doesn't like. The difference between the two is that the BBC is accountable, while those who provided the Sun with such lurid headlines (as well as those who wrote them) last week certainly aren't.

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