Words are crimes

March 10, 2008 at 8:56 pm | Posted in Big Brother Britain, Terrorism | Leave a comment
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Intrepid policework: In May of last year, police raided addresses in Birmingham and Leeds. Hasina Patel, the widow of Mohammad Sidique Khan, her brother Arshad Patel, Imran Motala and Khalid Khaliq were all arrested and questioned on suspicion of terrorism. A week later, only Khaliq was charged with any wrongdoing; accused of possessing an Al-Qaeda training manual for which he has today pleaded guilty.

Now, it may be that Mr Khaliq is a dangerous little hate-mongering runt who wastes what little brain power he has daydreaming about bringing mass death to our nation’s streets. If so, a long and miserable prison sentence is richly-deserved. But…

Am I the only one who feels slightly queasy about arresting someone for what they may have read? There are many documents on the internet claiming to be Al Qaeda training manuals; I even downloaded one this evening (warning: they’re atrociously-written and there’s a bizarre line about how the Rotary Club is evil). Does that mean I should be considered a terror suspect?

The other apparently damning piece of evidence released to the media was that Khaliq was pictured light-water rafting with two of the 7/7 London bombers. So on top of being guilty of possessing words, you’d have to make him guilty of free association, too. What country was this trial held in again?

Let’s be clear: the CPS has provided no evidence that Mr Khaliq was masterminding a terror plot or even volunteering for one, nor has it been suggested that he was a member of a terror cell or had been pimping bilious bigotry on the street. At the end of high-profile raids that saw three other suspects released without charge, all they managed to charge him with was possessing something that’s easy to obtain over the internet.

Yes, cases like these are often more complicated than the media coverage suggests; there are often details that can’t be revealed and if this belch of self-righteous bluster is later revealed as wince-inducing naivety, I hope I’ll have the decency to admit it.

I just wish he’d done something more dastardly to deserve his sentence, that’s all.

Update: There’s another book that’s been adopted as a chilling training manual. A superb bit of snark by Gavin Whenman:

Seemingly unknown to the rest of us, it is now an offence to own and read certain words, arranged in a certain way. The Government and Parliament are worried that public exposure to “extremist” or “terrorist” literature will turn us into jihad-declaring murderers, regardless of our previous moral or political beliefs, and so have decreed that we may now read from only an authorised list of documents, be they books, essays, articles, blog posts or some other form of written communication.

Naturally enough, during this time of heightened security, we are not to be told what documents are out of bounds to our easily manipulated minds, instead, after these documents have fallen into our hands, we shall be judged as to whether they are “likely to be useful to a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism”. The sheer lunacy of this situation should be apparent to anyone. Convicting a person merely for possession of a document is one step removed from a thought crime – the offence of holding certain beliefs which the State finds abhorrent – and in a liberal Western democracy such an offence should simply not exist.

Alas, this is further proof, it would unfortunately seem, that the Government do not treat Nineteen Eighty Four as a work of fiction, but as a government training manual.

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