Rule of law best guarantor against terrorism

Source: Statement from the Muslim Parliament

Dr Ghayasuddin Siddiqui, leader of the Muslim Parliament, told a conference on 'Together Against Terror' organised by the Metropolitan Police Authority on 12 December 2005 that adherence to the rule of law and due process, observed by all is the best guarantor against terrorism. Text of his speech follows:

The suicide attacks in London on July 7 came both as a surprise and shock to me. Surprise because with the most draconian anti-terror laws in place, giving widest powers to the police the terrorists escaped police surveillance network.

As events unfolded, the police failed again to receive any cooperation from the Muslim community in Leeds, where the terrorists came from. It became apparent that the police had no contacts, good-will or trust that might have enabled them to penetrate a terrorist network.

During the many police raids since 9/11 families were harassed, intimidated, house-doors broken, suspects beaten up and humiliated. The case of Babar Ahmad is well documented. After beating him severely, he was forced to sit in the Muslim prayer position of prostration and mockingly asked: 'Where is your God, now? You are in prayer.'

Publicity given to these raids created a drama. Families found it difficult to continue living in the area and face their neighbours. The police tendered no apology nor offered compensation to the victims for their wrongful arrest and detention. I doubt that the police ever thought of investigating these cases to reassure the community either. Families still live in trauma, with their lives completely devastated. Consequently, the community simply lost any residual faith they had in the police.

From 11 September 2001 to 30 September 2005 a total of 895 people were arrested under the Terrorism Act 2000, but only 23 have been convicted of terrorist offences. The fact that out of these 23 only a handful were Islamists has counterproductively given them the fame and notoriety they crave. The authorities would seem to have learnt nothing from the example of Northern Ireland.

The raids, more like fishing expeditious rather than any intelligence-led operation, not only alienated the Muslim community but conveyed a false impression to the wider public, that Muslims are the enemy within and a fifth column. I am convinced that these laws and their uninhibited application by the police divided British society on the bases of race and religion even further.

After 7/7 the Home Secretary and the police sought more legislation without asking whether such legislation be necessary, much less effective.

The only way terrorism can be combated is through obtaining reliable, responsible and specific intelligence. This would entail a serious attempt at building bridges with the community, bridges which the police seem eager to demolish by acting outside the law.

Michael Meacher, MP, a former Labour Minister for the Environment, writing in the Guardian last September, called the July bombings a blowback. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan in the 1980s the CIA and British intelligence promoted Jihadi ideology, a branch of Islam known as Salafism, in pursuit of their own foreign-policy objectives. Salafism was globalised and militarised in Afghanistan. Leaders promoting Jihad were feted in Britain. They collected funds and recruited young people. A journalist friend, based in Delhi, who interviewed someone who had participated in the Afghan Jihad, told him that they were trained to make explosives from house-hold items. A frightening prospect but it sound familiar, doesn't it?

Our intelligence services maintained and promoted their ‘special relationship’ with these groups so long as their aims coincided with British foreign-policy objectives. Once this understanding was broken for whatever reason, our leaders claimed: 'The rules of the game have changed' - as if the human mind were a machine to be switched on and off at will.

We do not seem to realise that we have unleashed a Frankensteinian monster on an innocent and unsuspecting public who had no share in the responsibility for its creation. Now it can only be countered by attending to the grievances of a marginalized minority.

From the perspective of police-community relationships it was beggared belief to see an Assistant Commissioner from the Met make a case to Members of Parliament for 90-day pre-charge detention, using as an example, the ricin case, alleged to have been found in Wood Green. No ricin was ever found in Wood Green. This is known to everybody, except perhaps to the police. But that did not prevent innocent people continuing to suffer in prison. I can only think that their purpose in so doing must be to spread a climate of fear amongst the community.

The role of the police is to arrest those who are alleged to have broken the law, not harass or intimidate the innocent or the vulnerable. Their function is not to engage in political debate or pursue the political agenda of the ruling party. The politicisation of police forces is characteristic of dictatorship. Opposing the case to increase pre-charge detention to 90-day, Gareth Peirce, a leading lawyer who has represented numerous detainees under the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act, 2001, described the conditions under which suspects are kept as traumatic not only for the victims but even for lawyers. Regrettably, the police seemed indifferent to the seriousness of these charges.

No democratic society can endorse the use of violence to achieve political objectives. The police, if they wish to secure intelligence about people resorting to violence for political ends, need to prove that they are acting in the interests of security as a whole and not only the government of the day. This cannot be achieved by beating up people, stigmatising communities or by seeking ever-harsher legislation.

If the Met police want a harmonious community which supports them there has to be a set of rules applicable to and observed by everybody; these are adherence to the rule of law and due process as understood by all civilised societies.

Let me conclude by telling a success story of how 'terrorism' may be combated. It took place in South Africa in the 1990’s. PAGAD (People against gangsterism and drugs), a group led by high profile Muslim clerics, bombed Jewish and gay targets as well as assassinated several policemen and magistrates.

The country did not declare a state of emergency, nor brought in anti-terror laws, despite the fact that Muslims were agitating as suspects were arrested one by one. It was a major crisis for Nelson Mandela as Muslims were his closes allies in his struggle against apartheid. The Muslim community turned round when they saw that it was not a war against Islam or Muslim but a war against criminals.

The terrorists were pursued through the normal courts using the normal criminal laws with full backing of the community. So, terrorism can be combated without the drama, if we want to.