The Rush toward Police State in Britain

Revolution #012, August 21, 2005, posted at

"Let no one be in any doubt. The rules of the game are changing."

British Prime Minister Tony Blair, August 5

On August 5, Tony Blair demanded broad new government power to silence, detain, and deport people, and justified it as a necessary response to the June 7 bombings in London.

In the most immediate sense, his proposed measures target Islamic political forces and place Britain's Muslim and immigrant communities in the crosshairs of suspicion and threat.

And, at the same time, this whole package of government police powers is so sweeping and open- ended that it would impose deep changes in what people generally are allowed to say and do, in the ways political speech and activity can be criminalized and even in who is treated as truly British. Blair is demanding that all this be "fast tracked" through Parliament -- in a climate of fear and a hyped sense of emergency.

We are seeing the British government take advantage of June 7. And we have already seen this before, when President Bush carried out two invasion, pushed through the USA PATRIOT Act and made many other sweeping changes -- all justified in the name of 9/11 and the safety of the people.

Now Blair is exploiting June 7 to demand basic changes in Britain's political and social life.

And there is a lesson here about how these governments (including quite possibly the Bush regime) can be expected to exploit future incidents to make even further police state leaps in an already harsh and repressive climate.

Far-Ranging Package of Police-State Moves

Blair is essentially demanding that, from now on, the British government should have the power to criminalize and punish people based on their political speech and associations.

Mosques are being closed, clerics are being deported, and two political associations are being banned--supposedly because they are associated somehow with "terrorism," "extremism," or "threats to British security."

And since all of those labels are quite vague and have been applied to many different anti- government movements around the world--these new police powers could potentially enable the British government to suppress many kinds of progressive and internationalist political activity in Britain.

For example, Blair announced that his government will now start deporting people for "advocating violence to further a person's beliefs or justifying or validating such violence." (And we have to ask: Isn't this precisely what both Blair and Bush did as they launched their "shock and awe" invasion of Iraq? And haven't they been justifying unjust violence, day after day, through this long and bloody occupation?)

This threat of deportation is particularly severe because many political exiles face torture and the death penalty if returned to their home countries. And, to underscore his ruthlessness, Blair is specifically proposing rewriting existing British law so they can deport immigrants straight into the hands of even the most brutal governments, and even in cases where the deportees can expect execution.

Blair proposes new power to shut down websites that the government considers "extremist." Blair said that any foreigners in Britain in "active engagement" with such websites will be considered for deportation. And it is proposed that the government have the power to strip citizenship from "naturalized citizens engaged in extremism."

In other words, the Blair government is proposing that foreign-born British citizens are no longer consider citizens like everyone else, but should live in a permanent status of political probation, subject to de-naturalization and deportation if they step out of line.

In all of this, the label "extremism" has remained undefined, and can potentially be used to attack progressive and genuinely revolutionary activities. (And in fact, the use of this codeword "extremism" has consciously become a way of expanding the target of the "war on terrorism" -- as, for example, U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and others have started to officially talk about waging a "struggle against global extremism.")

And while preparing expulsions, Blair also announced the creation of a list of people around the world who will not be allowed into Britain -- based on their supposedly "unacceptable" political writings and Internet postings.

These plans build upon repressive plans Blair had already made before August 5, including a proposal to make it a crime to glorify, prepare for or incite acts of terrorism. In this Blair specifically said that he included acts carried out outside Britain. To understand what this could mean, it is important to remember that in the 1980s, the British government of Margaret Thatcher labeled the major South African resistance movements as "terrorist"-- and if Blair's laws had then been in place, many anti-apartheid groups in Britain could have been charged with "glorifying" or "inciting" acts of armed resistance within South Africa.

Lord Falconer, head of the ministry of legal affairs, explained that "indirect incitement of terrorist acts" included anything "attacking Western values." (Taken to its logical conclusion, you can imagine people being jailed, deported and executed for opposing the "Western values" of capitalism, exploitation, unprovoked invasion, turning political speech into crimes, and sending immigrants off to be tortured!

Blair's government is pressing for new police powers to hold a "suspected terrorist" up to three months without charges, instead of the current limit of 14 days. He proposed making it a crime to refuse to give police full access to encrypted computer files.

Imitation and Deception

Plans are being laid to call British Parliament back from vacation in order to rush these plans into law--exactly the way the USA PATRIOT Act was rushed into law after 9/11. The makings of a modern police state are presented as an emergency plan for keeping the people safe.

One of the ominous developments of this whole war on terrorism has been the way allied powers like the U.S., Britain and Israel have been increasingly sharing intelligence information and swapping vicious techniques of assassination and interrogation. And now we see an additional leap, where these powers are actually copying each other's methods of mass political deception--all in the name of a common "war on terrorism."

Blair is exploiting June 7 to demand basic changes in Britain's political and social life.

These governments can be expected to exploit future incidents to make even further police-state leaps.