Workers Hammer No. 190
Down with the racist "war on terror"!
For a class-struggle fight for all our rights!
Full citizenship rights for all immigrants!
Within days of the passage of the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001, heavily armed police were beating down doors, rounding up and imprisoning "terror suspects". Since September 11, more than 600 foreign nationals have been taken in by the cops and the overwhelming majority released. While not even the flimsiest evidence could be found to fabricate any charges against them, the brand of a threat to "the life of the nation" has virtually destroyed most of their lives. Seventeen men were locked up in Belmarsh and Woodhill high-security prisons. A Guardian article (11 September 2004) titled "Guantánamo in our back yard" gave a chilling description of the brutal and truly Orwellian conditions faced by these detainees:
"The detainees occupy small cells, 3m by 1.8m, for 22 hours a day, rarely see daylight and are strip-searched each time they are visited (a particular humiliation for devout Muslim men)…. Not even their solicitors can establish why these men have been detained—the evidence, for reasons of national security, cannot be disclosed. The men are in a surreal legal no man's land specific to foreign nationals; they cannot be tried because there is not enough evidence against them; although labelled suspected terrorists, they are free to leave Britain; but they cannot be deported because they face persecution, torture or death in their countries of origin."
Last December, the Law Lords ruled that such conditions were "discriminatory" as only foreign nationals were considered a threat to "national security" and also irrational as the government's declared permanent "state of emergency" applied to no other country on the face of the planet (indeed one "terror suspect" was freed from jail and allowed to go to France where he is now at complete liberty). After initially considering deporting all the detainees, the New Labour government opted instead to expand the provisions of its anti-terror laws to include British citizens as well! To try to get around charges that they are violating the right to "liberty" by throwing people behind bars on no charges, the revised Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, passed in March, mandates that those detained instead be "gagged and tagged" under house arrest.
In addition to being electronically monitored and confined to their homes under specified curfew hours, if not around the clock, such "suspects" are barred from using mobile phones, the Internet, or being visited by anyone not authorised by the Home Office. The government has the right to enter and search their homes any time of the day or night. Family, friends and acquaintances are also considered to be fair game for searches of their home or person, and whatever other measures the government deems "necessary". Who will be subject to such "control orders" is entirely at the whim of the government—again no charges need to be laid, no jury convened or trial had. Presumption of innocence and burden of proof beyond a "reasonable doubt" don't exist. The very right to counsel is entirely gutted as any legal representation that one is able to procure is barred from hearing such evidence as there is. In a throwback to the pre-Civil War Star Chamber, the putative evidence that you are a "terror suspect" can only be heard in secret hearings with neither accused nor lawyer present.
Although no charges need to be brought for detaining anyone, a violation of these "control orders" is a criminal offence with a sentence of up to five years in prison. It is a measure of the Kafkaesque provisions for "house arrest" that one might view facing such actual criminal charges as a relief—at least you get to hear the evidence and face your accuser in court before a judge and jury. As Gareth Peirce, a lawyer for many of those detained, accurately declared:
"What the government asks for here is the ultimate demand of any totalitarian regime: the executive is the accuser; the moment of accusation is also the moment of the imposition of the penalty…. The accuser, the executive, invokes a judge for one reason alone, to give its procedure a spurious cover, to safeguard it against any future judgement of the law lords or the European court of human rights" (Guardian, 8 March).
The shameless cynicism of the government's claims to be defending the population against "terror attacks" was demonstrated when eight North Africans accused of the ludicrous 2003 "ricin terror plot" were aquitted. There was no ricin and no plot. One of ten other men who had been imprisoned as a threat to "national security", and then released to house arrest under the new legislation, walked into the office of the Guardian newspaper on his own. A Palestinian refugee who had been behind bars for three-and-a-half years, he told an interviewer: "I go everywhere now—on the underground, buses, the mosque. But I must be home by 7 pm. People think that I am dangerous, but I am not dangerous. The government is playing games. If I am a risk to security, why are they letting me out to be with people?" (Guardian, 24 March).
All of those previously detained were men from Arab countries. Several had successfully been granted asylum in this country on evidence of the persecution, torture and possible death they would face if returned to their countries of origin. Now "evidence" obtained under torture in other countries is entirely permissible as proof that someone is a "terrorist", provided no agent of "Her Majesty's" government was involved in the modern-day equivalent of turning the thumb screws. One need only look at the photos of Iraqi prisoners being beaten, sadistically tortured and humiliated to see the barbarism that British forces are capable of.
The government calculated that by initially targeting Muslims, an overwhelmingly poor and vulnerable layer of the population, they could get away with vastly augmenting their machinery of state repression and violence without meeting much protest. Such calculation was served by the cowardly misleaders of the unions—the organised battalions of the proletariat which have the social power to put some teeth into a real fight against the racist "war on terror" and for the defence of all immigrants and minorities, which is vital to the defence of the working class as a whole. Overwhelmingly loyal to "their" Labour government, the trade union leaders have uttered barely a word of protest against the wholesale evisceration of rights won through hard-fought class battles going back to the English Civil War. Now the government has retooled and reloaded its state arsenal of repression, and is openly coming after anyone perceived as an opponent of capitalist class rule. Everyone else is supposed to be intimidated, ideologically regimented automatons who will in Blair's words "play by the rules".
A leaflet by the organisation Stop Political Terror captured it: "You, yes YOU, could be locked up in your house without charge or trial simply on the impulses of the Home Secretary! You don't even need to be a Muslim as the law will apply to anybody the Home Secretary 'suspects of terror': Irish, Black, animal rights activists, civil liberties campaigners or anyone else the government dislikes!" But what the government fears and loathes above all is the multiethnic working class, for in its hands is the potential power for a real challenge to the class rule of the capitalist exploiters.
The legacy of the Thatcher years—decimation of the unions, wanton devastation of the "welfare state" and cruel attacks on minorities and immigrants—has been carried through and enforced under the rule of Blair's "New" Labour Party. Having secured a fabulous increase in their wealth and profits over more than two decades by viciously grinding the working class, poor and oppressed, the rulers of this country are quite aware that they are sitting on top of seething discontent among the masses at the bottom of this society. In this context, the so-called "war on terror" is nothing other than a convenient pretext to try to extinguish any protest or political dissent through state terror and repression.
An Amici Curiae brief filed by the Spartacist League/US and the Partisan Defense Committee on behalf of US citizen Jose Padilla—who was declared an "enemy combatant", stripped of all constitutional rights and locked up in a military prison on no charges or evidence for close to three years now—exposed this fraud:
"The entirety of the Executive's legal justification for the denial of constitutional protections attendant to a criminal prosecution of Padilla are the emergency, preventative, national security needs of a putative ongoing 'war against terrorism' being waged throughout the globe and on U.S. territory. It is a 'war' without a defined enemy, a war without end. There is no war by any military definition. There is no shooting war and no battle between state powers. The 'war against terrorism' is a fiction, a political construct, not a military reality. It is a political crusade conducted in the name of ridding society of a perceived evil. It is no more a 'war' in a military sense than 'war against cancer,' 'war against obesity' or a 'war against immorality.' Like the 'war against communism' and the 'war against drugs,' this 'war' is a pretext to increase the state's police powers and repressive apparatus, constricting the democratic rights of the population. The Executive's declaration that its 'war against terrorism' forfeits constitutional protections for designated individuals echoes the regimes of shahs and colonels and presidents 'for life' from the Near East to Africa to Latin America, to justify the mass imprisonment and unmarked graves of political dissidents. Like them, the Executive is proclaiming the right to disappear citizens of its choosing."
But just as the state's anti-terror laws have ominous implications for everyone, so too would social protest mobilised behind the organised power of the working class have tremendous portent in the fight for the rights of all of the working people, poor and oppressed.
Could you be a "terror suspect"?
Under the government's laws, it is enough to engage in "conduct which gives support or assistance to individuals who are known or believed to be involved in terrorist-related activity" to find yourself branded as a "terror suspect". So look out if you gave any tsunami relief money—that could be enough for you to be considered as supplying support to the Tamil Tigers, an organisation proscribed as terrorist by the British government, or with funding Islamic rebels in the Indonesian region of Aceh. Babar Ahmad, a British-born citizen, is currently facing extradition to the US as a "terror suspect" based on allegations that he raised funds for Islamic forces in Afghanistan and Chechnya.
Ahmad was first arrested in the early morning hours of 2 December 2003, amid sensational government warnings that Britain faced imminent terror attacks. As part of a series of police raids, cops broke down his door and dragged Ahmad from his bedroom, kicking and beating him while his wife screamed for mercy. Taken to a police station where he was further brutalised, sustaining 50 injuries, Ahmad was held for six days and then released, after which he filed a complaint against the police. Six months later, in August 2004, he was arrested again on an extradition warrant by the US government. Luridly describing Ahmad's arrest as an "al-Qaida raid", the London Evening Standard reported that he was accused of being in possession of battle plans to attack the US Navy. The absurdity was captured by a spokesman for Stop Police Terror who asked: "Are we to believe that the police massively cocked up in December and released al-Qaida's naval operations commander on to the streets of Tooting?"
Other allegations purport that he was laundering money for Islamic rebels in Chechnya and Afghanistan from 1998-2003. Why this would be reason for extradition to the US, no one can or will know. Under the conditions of the Extradition Act 2003 between the US and Britain, no prima facie evidence is required for Ahmad or any other "terror suspect" to be extradited, only that the US government provide documentation of the appearance of guilt.
When asked to define "terrorism" at a March extradition hearing for Ahmad, the prosecution replied "violence for political ends". Ahmad's defence lawyer aptly countered that "President Bush is continually engaging in violence for political ends". There is no question that the world's biggest terrorist is the American government which has at its fingertips the unchallenged military might for the elimination of any perceived enemies. Ahmad is accused of funding forces in Afghanistan which previously were on the receiving end of billions of dollars from the US and other imperialist powers to equip them for a jihad against Soviet Red Army troops and any measure of social progress, particularly for women. When the Kremlin treacherously withdrew its military—the opening act of the later capitalist counterrevolution that destroyed the former Soviet degenerated workers state—these Islamic reactionaries turned on their imperialist creators as the new "infidel". And for the US imperialists, following September 11, their former "holy warriors" became the all-purpose enemy around which to reinforce their rule at home and abroad.
But rule through terror and violence is hardly peculiar to the US imperialists. The capitalist state—at its core the police, army, courts and prisons—is by definition an instrument for maintaining the property and profits of the bourgeoisie through the suppression of the working class and oppressed, as well as for waging war in the interests of the capitalist rulers. The British imperialists are hardly a more humane or "democratic" alternative to the nuclear cowboys in the Bush White House. They are simply more decrepit, and have long been so. While it has neither the military nor economic might of the US, British imperialism certainly doesn't take a back seat to its senior partner in America when it comes to wielding its state power against perceived "enemies". Indeed the British imperialists wrote the book on it.
Britain's legacy of state terror and repression
Long before the criminal attacks on the World Trade Center which were seized on by the Bush administration for its "war on terror", the British rulers had their own battery of "anti-terror" laws. Taking first aim, literally, against Irish Catholics, these laws were the basis for building up the arsenal of capitalist state repression. Internment without charges and juryless "Diplock" courts were instituted against the oppressed Catholic minority in Northern Ireland more than three decades ago, in the early 1970s. In 1974 the Prevention of Terrorism Act was brought down for Britain as a whole. Almost immediately following its passage three young men from Belfast and a young English woman were framed up, on "confessions" extracted through torture by the cops, for IRA bombings of two pubs in Guildford. Two years later, the Maguire Seven, most of them relatives of one of the Guildford Four, Gerry Conlon, were thrown behind bars on charges of running "a bomb making factory". These included a 13-year-old boy; a family friend who was arrested at the Maguires' home when he dropped by to tell them that his pregnant wife had gone into labour; and the father of Gerry Conlon, Guiseppe, who was arrested after he travelled to England to speak to a solicitor on his son's behalf.
At the time he was imprisoned, Guiseppe Conlon had one lung, emphysema and had just undergone chemotherapy. He died in prison where he was denied any treatment other than cough syrup. On his death-bed in jail Guiseppe asked the prison guards "how does it feel to be murdering an innocent man?" Virtually on the eve of bringing in the government's renewed anti-terror laws this year, Blair issued a piously hypocritical apology saying: "I recognise the trauma that the conviction caused the Conlon and Maguire families and the stigma which wrong attaches to them to this day" (Guardian, 10 February). But as Gerry Conlon noted, the witch-hunting atmosphere today is "just like 1974 and 1975 when we were wrongly sent to prison. The only difference is that the colour and the religion has changed" (Observer, 13 February).
It was during the Blair government's first term in office that the "colour and the religion" of those targeted was vastly extended under the Terrorism Act 2000. The law banned 21 political organisations. The list of those proscribed is a virtual roll call of peoples who have ever been subjected to the tender mercies of British imperialism, from Irish Republican splinter groups to Sikh, Kashmiri, Kurdish, Palestinian and Tamil organisations, as well as Islamic groups. The continued augmentation of these laws over the past five years under Labour has even the former head of the "anti-terrorism" unit at Scotland Yard declaiming: "I have a horrible feeling that we are sinking into a police state, and that's not good for anybody" (Guardian, 28 January).
Labour's imperial "values"
The Blair government isn't about to tolerate any dissent from the former subjects of the British Empire at home or abroad. South African president, Thabo Mbeki's denunciation of the "terrible legacy" of the empire, and one of its favourite sons, Winston Churchill, drew an outraged response. On his cynical "fight poverty" tour of Africa in January, Gordon Brown declared that it was time to stop apologising for Britain's bloody and brutal colonial heritage and rather to take pride in the empire as "open, outward looking and international"! A column by Seumas Milne in the Guardian (27 January) asked how Brown:
"squares such grotesque claims with the latest research on large-scale, systematic atrocities carried out by British forces during the Mau Mau rebellion in colonial Kenya during the 1950s; the 320,000 Kikuyu held in concentration camps, the 1,090 hangings, the terrorisation of villages, electric shocks, beatings and mass rape documented in Caroline Elkins' new book, Britain's Gulag—and a death toll now thought to be over 100,000. This was a time when British soldiers were paid five shillings for each African they killed, when they nailed the limbs of Kikuyu guerrillas to crossroads posts and had themselves photographed with the heads of Malayan 'terrorists' in a war that cost 10,000 lives…. Britain's empire was built on vast ethnic cleansing, enslavement, enforced racial hierarchy, land theft and merciless exploitation".
Brown was saluted for his "patriotism" by former Labour home secretary David Blunkett. A man devoted to eviscerating the very right to have any rights in this society for "terror suspects", desperate asylum seekers and immigrants, Blunkett was drummed out of office amid revelations that he fast-tracked a residency application for the Filipina nanny of his well-heeled mistress. Obviously waiting in the wings for an arranged comeback, Blunkett contributed a lengthy piece to the Guardian (19 March) touting his contributions to promoting "British values", pointing to the citizenship tests he instituted as home secretary aimed at enforcing the assimilation of "foreigners" around God, Queen and country.
It is a sign of the times that the opposition to the Labour government's revised anti-terror laws, coming from liberals and others, not only plays the same chauvinist theme of "British values" but sanctions the government's "right" to spy on the population and hold "terror suspects" without charges, as long as they eventually get their day in court. A full page ad opposing detention without trial was taken out in the 3 March Independent by the civil rights organisation, Liberty. Calling for "respect for precious British values of freedom, justice and the presumption of innocence in any new anti-terror laws" the statement advises that: "Allowing intercepted telephone calls to be used in evidence will facilitate criminal trials of terror suspects. People can be detained for limited periods whilst charges are brought"! Among the hundreds of signatures to this promotion of a "democratic" war on terror is none other than prominent SWP leader and head of the Stop the War Coalition (StWC), Lindsey German.
While scandalous that a self-proclaimed "socialist" could sign such a statement, it wasn't a particularly big move for German from the politics that were promoted by the leadership of the StWC. Indeed, for them the whole purpose of mobilising millions of people on the streets was predicated on the lie that Parliament—the institution of capitalist rule in Britain—only needed to be pressured to serve the "will of the people". In this they found ready allies like the Labour Party's Alice Mahon who is among the most fervent supporters of the "war on terror". Walking the other side of the street, as a candidate for the SWP-dominated Respect coalition in the upcoming elections, German seeks to woo the votes of Muslims who have rightfully come to hate and fear Blair's New Labour Party. Here, under the cover of opposing racist Islamophobia, the SWP panders to Muslim leaders, denouncing even the proposal that Respect include "secularism" in its platform.
The Respect coalition is not even nominally part of the workers movement but rather a cross-class populist formation centred on the SWP and Islamic religious forces. On principle we would not consider calling for a vote to this electoral alliance in these or any other elections. The very basis for extending critical support in elections is that in some way, however partial or deformed, this tactic advances the understanding of the need to fight for the independence of the proletariat from all the parties and agencies of capitalist class rule. That is the most elementary precondition for any mobilisation of the working class in its own interests and in defence of the interests of all the oppressed.
Claiming to provide a "socialist" alternative in the elections is the Socialist Green Unity Coalition—an alliance of the Socialist Party, Alliance for Green Socialism, the Alliance for Workers Liberty and some disgruntled left-overs from the SWP's last electoral vehicle, Socialist Alliance. Its declaration of "joint policy" promises "an alternative to the right-wing policies of privatisation, war and environmental destruction offered by both the major parties and the Liberal Democrats too." Remarkably, amid an electoral contest defined by an orgy of racist reaction against immigrants, asylum seekers, and Travellers, this goes unmentioned. In the sea of demands that follow, the word racism appears all of twice and the "war on terror" gets less attention than demands devoted to fighting pollution, calls to "favour local food" and taking action to stop "large scale extinction of species".
The dominant demands of this electoral programme are little more than appeals for the defence and meagre extension of the highly eroded "welfare state" in Britain, combined with paeans to bourgeois democracy most grotesquely expressed in the demand for "local democratic accountability of the police". For the AWL such touching faith in the democratic credentials of the imperialist rulers extends to occupied Iraq. They refuse to call for the immediate withdrawal of the occupying armies of British and US imperialism, proclaiming that these provide a breathing space for the Iraqi working class to build its own organisations. This echoes the traitors of the Second International who refused to call for the liberation of the colonial masses from the imperialist overlords and who were rightly savaged as social chauvinists by Lenin. Since the Socialist Party calls for "troops out now", the question is obviously fudged in the election programme to simply say "troops out".
But the two organisations have much in common. Catering to the most backward level of consciousness among the working class, both the AWL and the Socialist Party consider raising the fight against racist reaction to be divisive to working-class "unity". They apply a similar consideration to Northern Ireland where they see the defence of the oppressed Catholic minority as an affront to the Protestant working class. The SP's idea of a voice of the working class in Northern Ireland was Loyalist murderer Billy Hutchinson, whom they hosted as a featured speaker. For its part, the AWL welcomed Ulster Loyalist MP Ken Maginnis to a "weekend of socialist debate" in 1995. In no way does the Socialist Green Unity Coalition merit even the most savagely critical support. On no question does it provide even a lever for breaking with the politics of Labourite parliamentary reformism and chauvinism that have for so long blinded the working class to its true interests, chaining them instead to the very institutions of their exploitation.
The fight against racism and chauvinism is vital to the unity, integrity and fighting capacity of the working class as a whole. More than a century ago, Marx noted that colonial enslavement of Ireland by Britain and the chauvinism inculcated by the British rulers was "the secret of the impotence of the English working class, despite its organisation". What was visited first on the Irish is being brought home with a vengeance today not only against Muslims, minorities and immigrants but against everyone the government perceives as an opponent.
Writing from his cell on death row in the US, former Black Panther Mumia Abu- Jamal, who knows all too well what it means to be lined up as an "outlaw" in the eyes of the state wrote: "As they scuttle the Constitution and create judges fit for a star chamber, they loosen the very ground on which they stand, quickening their demise…. It is a time not for confusion, but for opportunity, to transform what is into what must be." What must be is the revolutionary transformation of this society, the abolition of capitalism and the terror and barbarism that enforces its rule, the creation of a genuinely socialist society which will lay the material basis for the eradication of the exploitation of man by man by ripping the means of production out of the hands of the profit-driven capitalists. The key to unlocking the chains currently binding the working class is the forging of a multiethnic revolutionary workers party whose best fighters will be those steeled in the struggle against racism, chauvinism and every manifestation of state repression.