Friday, October 3, 2014

Who are the real extremists?


Theresa May's plan to curtail the freedom of speech of people who have committed no crime are an affront to democracy, an affront to the concept of open justice, and an affront to reason too.

Background


It's not like we haven't had sufficient warning that the Tories are intent on over-writing the foundations of our justice system with draconian and grotesquely illiberal legislation.

In 2013 I was one of many to speak out against the imposition of Kafkaesque Secret Courts, where a person can have their fate decided in secret, in a courtroom that they are not allowed to enter, on charges that they are not allowed to know, based on evidence that they are not allowed to see. This bill was so right-wing and authoritarian that even the Daily Mail took an editorial stance against it! "Secret Courts" became law in 2013 thanks to Liberal Democrat support. How they can continue call themselves "liberal" after supporting such a brazen attack on the concept of open democracy with their votes is beyond me.

Another example of this utter Tory contempt for the rule of law was Iain Duncan Smith's retroactive legislation designed to stick two fingers up at the judges who had dared rule his unpaid forced labour schemes for the unemployed to be unlawful. This legislation was rushed through parliament in a single day thanks to the complicity of the Labour party leadership, who ordered their MPs to abstain on all of the votes to in order to let it slide through with as little scrutiny as possible. A (short) list of the honorable Labour rebels who defied the party leadership to vote against this monstrosity can be seen here.

Yet another example of their utter contempt for the rule of law is a July 2014 piece of legislation called DRIP, which was also rushed through as "emergency legislation" once again with the complicity of the majority of Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party MPs. DRIP is designed to allow the overbearing and invasive surveillance state to continue mass trawling and intercepting the private communications data of countless millions of innocent people with complete impunity.

Thought Crime

Theresa May's draconian new project is to impose harsh restrictions on the freedoms of people who have committed no crime. Essentially it is a plan to legislate "thought crime" into British law.

Under Theresa May's proposed Extremism Orders, the Tories plan to award themselves the power to block people from speaking in public places or posting anything except government pre-approved content on the Internet. In order for them to curtail people's free speech so dramatically, they don't want to have to provide any evidence of wrongdoing whatever, they'd just have to claim a reasonable belief that the individual may disrupt democracy, incite racial or religious hatred, or cause public disorder at some future date.

The two key terms are the ones I've highlighted in bold, both of them remain extremely loosely defined.

What on earth could constitute a "reasonable belief" that an individual will commit a crime in the future, despite absolutely no evidence of criminal behaviour or wrongdoing of any kind in the present or the past? In my view, the pre-emptive assumption that a law abiding person is certain to commit some future crime should be defined as an entirely unreasonable belief.

The other loosely defined term is "disrupt democracy". Presumably anyone who dares stand up and take direct action against the government could be defined as a "democracy disruptor"? How about anyone who dares speak out against the government? Are they to be found guilty of "disrupting democracy" too?

The "disrupt democracy" caveat in this proposal brings to mind the accusation by the former environment secretary Owen Paterson that email a politician campaigns organised by protest groups like 38 Degrees are acts of "cyber-terrorism". Could signing a petition against the government be enough to get you banned from speaking in public and subjected to pre-moderation before you're allowed to post comments on the Internet?

These rules are so draconian and illiberal that it's not even fair to call them "thought crime" because the government wouldn't even have to prove that you were thinking about causing trouble, they would just have to claim that they have a reasonable suspicion that you may think about causing trouble at some unspecified future date.

Function Creep


Theresa May and the Tories have made a big hoo-ha out of linking these proposals with Islamist extremists, convenient bogeymen to allow them to propose the complete destruction of the ancient British right to a fair trial in which we are supposed to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

Tory Secret Courts legislation has already got rid of the fair trial bit, and Theresa May's latest proposals are designed to do away with the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof bits too.

Once these protections have been casually over-written with draconian new laws, you'd have to be completely ignorant of the phenomenon of function creep to blithely imagine that these new rules would only ever be used against the likes of radical Islamist bogeymen.

To make such a naive assumption, you'd also have to be spectacularly ignorant of how the UK surveillance state has gone completely out of control. You'd have to be ignorant of the fact that the police allowed operatives to form relationships with and impregnate law abiding environmental protesters, before doing a disappearing act, leaving the women holding the baby without a penny in child support and not a hope of tracking down the father because they had been hiding behind the stolen identities of dead children. You'd have to be ignorant of the fact that the GCHQ has rolled out countless data stealing programmes without the faintest hint of parliamentary scrutiny, including one that hacked into Yahoo chat and stole tens of thousands of screengrabs from the sexually explicit webchats of completely innocent people.

These things are not made up, click the green links if you don't believe me.

You'd have to be a hopelessly naive idiot to believe that legislation will be passed to revoke our long-standing right to
 a fair trial in which we are to be presumed innocent until proven guilty, but that these new rules will only ever be used against other people, namely Islamist bogeymen, not you or I. 

New Labour

As with so many other of the outrageous things this Tory led government has perpetrated against the British public, the roots of these horrible policies can be traced back to the previous Labour administration. 

Labour rid us of the right to a trial by jury, with Secret Courts the Tories have gone much further by stripping us of the right to be tried in an open court, and even the right to know the charges against us.

The decision to designate
 a geographic zone around parliament where free speech and public protest would not be tolerated is a clear precursor of these plans to try to designate the rest of the United Kingdom (and the whole of the Internet) as zones where the right to free speech and public protest can be curtailed by the UK government, without the slightest evidence of actual wrongdoing.

Labour are not to blame for the current appalling proposals, but the authoritarian streak that runs through the Labour party has certainly created the political environment where such blatantly totalitarian legislation could ever even have been proposed.

Human Rights

Theresa May's announcement of these draconian new powers coincided with a strong reaffirmation that they intend to scrap the European Human Rights Act. The people who support this attack on our human rights are the worst kind of tabloid indoctrinated imbeciles.

To celebrate the scrapping of your own human rights, you'd have to be the kind of person who thinks along the lines of "if criminals have human rights, then I don't bloody want any". To think that rights belong to other (nasty) people like murderous Islamist fanatics or paedophiles, and refuse to see human rights as an issue that affects your own life too, you'd have to be the kind of infinitely gullible buffoon who is a danger to themself, and a danger for the rest of us.

Every totalitarian regime in history has had a crowd of celebrating idiots behind them.

The real reasons that the Tories want to scrap as many of our rights as they can get away with, is that our human rights are a barrier to them creating the dystopian nightmare they're after designing.

Here are a few examples of how some of our 18 European Human Rights conflict with Tory party policy:

Article 3 - Torture: There is strong case to be made that Iain Duncan Smith's treatment of the mentally disabled is in breech of this convention prohibiting "inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment". The UK courts have ruled unlawful the practice of forcing the severely mentally disabled to collect evidence of their own disability under threat of financial destitution, yet Iain Duncan Smith has completely ignored these judgments and carried on with the practice regardless. The Tories are intent on scrapping this right to protection from inhuman or degrading treatment before this case ever reaches the European Court. 
Article 4 - Servitude: There is a case to be made that Iain Duncan Smith's unpaid labour extraction schemes, administered under the constant threat of absolute destitution, are in breech of the convention against forced labour. The Tories are intent on scrapping this right to protection from servitude before such a case is ever tested in Europe. 
Article 6 - Fair Trial: The introduction of Secret Courts seem to be a very clear violation of the right to a fair trial, which enshrines the right to a public hearing and the right to a presumption of innocence. The Tories can't have failed to notice that their rules enshrining Soviet style secret justice proceedings in UK courtrooms clash badly with our European Human Rights.
Article 7 - Retroactivity: Remember the retroactive law that was rushed through parliament in a single day in order to rob thousands of people of the compensation they should have been due, after being unlawfully subjected to Iain Duncan Smith's forced labour schemes? The Tories have no objection at all to the practice of retroactively changing the legal status of past events, and our European Human Rights are an obstacle to this practice that they intend to demolish. 
Article 8 - Privacy: The actions of the UK surveillance state (as outlined above) clearly conflict with our right to respect for one's private and family life, home and correspondence. 
Article 10 - Expression: Theresa May's draconian new powers to seriously curtail the right to speak freely, without the slightest burden of proof of any kind of wrongdoing, look like an Article 10 court case waiting to happen. The Tories intend to scrap this right to free expression so that such a case can never be brought.
Theresa May's draconian new censorship proposals clearly conflict with Article 10, but they also seem to conflict with article 8 (a government administered pre-moderation regime on Internet activity would mean employees picking through your Internet activity to deem what is and isn't admissible), and article 11 (because banning people from speaking in public places without any evidence of wrongdoing curtails their right to free association).

A selection of quotations
"Freedom of speech is a principal pillar of a free government; when this support is taken away, the constitution of a free society is dissolved, and tyranny is erected on its ruins." Benjamin Franklin, 1737
"Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Benjamin Franklin, 1755
"I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it" Evelyn Beatrice Hall, 1906
"Threats to freedom of speech, writing and action, though often trivial in isolation, are cumulative in their effect and, unless checked, lead to a general disrespect for the rights of the citizen." George Orwell, 1948
"Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear." Harry S. Truman, 1950
Widespread condemnation

The condemnation of Theresa May's proposal to introduce Orwellian new powers to curtail free speech and the right to assembly has come from every side of the political spectrum.

The political left has been unanimous in condemnation. I think I'm qualified to speak on behalf of left-wing people in order to say that totalitarian attacks on our freedoms such as these need to be condemned no matter who is imposing them. Once agents of the state believe that they have the right to silence people without evidence that they even intend to commit a crime, the public are in extreme danger.

Perhaps more surprising was the reaction from the extreme-right, who never tire of using the Islamist bogeyman for their own purposes. Perhaps it is because they are so used to using the Islamist bogeyman to hide their own political agendas that groups like UKIP and the unspeakably vile Britain First group have vociferously condemned Theresa May's plans too. 


Incredibly I actually agree with Britain First when they say that "If this new law goes through, it will effectively mean the end of democracy in this country" however I can't help marveling at the incredible brazenness of the Britain First spokesperson who said that "the establishment is very cleverly using the threat of Islamic extremism to introduce laws that curtail the freedom of expression for everyone", as if Britain First would never ever dream of hiding their own political agenda behind the threat of Islamist extremism.

As far as I'm concerned, even extremist groups like Britain First should be allowed to say what they want within the confines of the law. I strongly object to their views, and have tried to hold them to account for their spreading of ignorance and hatred and their shockingly dishonest fundraising tactics, but if silencing them comes at a cost of attacks on the rights to free speech and free assembly of the rest of us, then there is no doubt that they should be allowed to continue spitting their bile, as long as they do it within the confines of the law.

Perhaps the most eloquent critique of these new proposals came from David Davis (perhaps the closest you'll ever get to a decent principled Tory politician). Here's what he said:

"These are quite incredible powers to limit democratic rights, rights that people have had for 200 years in this country, and they are based on the Home Secretary having 'a reasonable belief' - that's the test, not an evidential test, 'a reasonable belief' - that an organisation will break certain criteria ... 
One of the criteria is a risk of harassment, alarm or distress. Well, one's tempted to say I do that to the Tory Party every day. This is really, really serious stuff ... 
We've got to be very careful that we don't end up like the people we're trying to defeat, forgetting what we're defending. We're defending a liberal democracy, one in which you can say all sorts of things."
The cheering idiots 

Every totalitarian regime in history has had a crowd of celebrating idiots behind them, and there were plenty of brown-nosed Tory party stooges on the payroll of the right-wing media prepared to sing Theresa May's praises for "bravely" attacking our long established rights, in order to "earn" their salaries.

Perhaps the most imbecilic Tory gloater of all was the dreadful Allison Pearson in the Daily Telegraph, who childishly redrew this authoritarian drive to over-write our centuries-long established rights as some kind of personal grudge match of "brave" and "tenacious" Theresa May versus "rude" and "very rude" Anjem Choudray.

In her excruciating article Person even took the time to inform us that May was "sharply dressed in black and white" as she announced her plan to curtail the rights of all of us because of the vile (but not actually unlawful) comments of a tiny, tiny minority. 

Perhaps the most idiotic part of Pearson's woeful article was the paragraph in which she blatantly generalises about Muslim immigrants, describing them as living in "ghettos", and indoctrinating their children and grandchildren in "an ideology that hates the host country". In not making it absolutely clear that she's referring to Islamist extremists, rather than the entire Muslim immigrant community, she's quite clearly falling foul of the inciting religious hatred element of the proposed new measures that she admits made her cheer out load when she heard Theresa May announce them!

The most sickening thing isn't that there are plenty of individuals revolting enough to have made a profession out of writing such crap (people will do all kinds of sick things for money), it's that there are so many cognitively lazy idiots out there who agree with her because they're so stupid that they're completely incapable of seeing past the Islamist bogeyman distraction plonked in from of them, or thinking about the wider picture, even just for the moment or two it would take to see Theresa May's plans as the totalitarian extremism that it so clearly is.

I'm not an extremist, am I?

I'm a political agitator and I'm proud of it. I'm proud that I've helped so many people re-engage with politics, that I've informed people of things the mainstream media has neglected to report properly, inspired people to become more politically active, and encouraged people to speak out against injustice.

If these new measures are passed into law it would be all to easy for the state to declare that they have reasonable belief that I may one day call for revolution, then subject everything I post on the Internet to pre-moderation and ban me from speaking in public or appearing on television.

I have worked hard to ensure that everything I write is lawful, yet these proposals would give the state the power to subject me to censorship without a shred of evidence that I have ever broken the law.

Do you believe that it is worth sacrificing my right to express political dissent in a perfectly lawful manner, on the pretext of silencing "nasty people" like Anjem Choudary or Paul Golding of Britain First? I certainly don't.


Who are the real extremists?

In my view the answer is obvious. The real extremists are not Islamist bogeymen who say vile things but avoid actually breaking any of the laws of the land. Neither are they the far-right hate groups like Britain First who have equally vile views of their own.

Neither of these groups are remotely capable of enforcing their warped ideas on wider society. Politicians like Theresa May on the other hand have the power to trash our long established rights to free speech and free association on the pretext of protecting us from so-called extremists, despite their failure to provide evidence of any criminality whatever.

The real extremists are not the nasty people who say that they would abolish our rights and confiscate our political freedoms should they ever obtain political power. The real extremists are the ones who actually wield political power and intend to actually 
abolish the rights and confiscate the political freedoms of all of us, on the pretext of protecting us from people who say nasty (but not criminally sanctionable) things.

Theresa May and the crowd of idiots who cheered her speech are the real extremists, and anyone who is not half-witted enough to be totally mesmerised by the spectre of Islamist bogeymen, should be very deeply concerned indeed about what Theresa May and her cheerleaders are trying to do.




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