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More Orwellian powers are not the answer to terrorism

The latest threats to our liberty in the name of fighting Islamist extremism will fail. A new foreign policy is essential, says PAUL DONOVAN

Recent history teaches that taking away basic liberties will not prevent terrorism.

The government seems once again to be conjuring up the fear of terrorism in order to justify further cuts to the most basic liberties of the population.

On Friday, Home Secretary Theresa May announced in true Orwellian tones that the terror threat level was being raised from “substantial”  to “severe” with a terror attack “highly likely” but not “imminent.”

Then the rush to bring in more anti-terror measures, like stopping people who had been involved in foreign conflicts coming home.

The Labour Party, which gave up on civil liberties long ago, appeared to move further to the right of the government calling for the re-imposition of control orders. 

Control orders were first introduced by the Blair government when the courts ruled that they could not just lock people up on the basis of untried and untested intelligence information. They amounted though to a form of house arrest that enabled people to still be effectively detained outside of proper judicial oversight.

Control orders were replaced in 2011 by terrorism prevention and investigation measures, which are effectively watered-down control orders with a few more qualifications in place like time limits.

The first question really must be why the sudden panic, other than that the government wants to be seen doing something rather than simply drifting with international events. 

The populist mantra appears to go that British citizens have gone to fight in Syria and Iraq, as part of the Islamic State. They have been radicalised, so will come back and seek to commit terror acts in Britain. 

The logic here is difficult to fathom. These individuals went to fight President Assad in Syria. The same Assad whom Britain together with other Western governments have been actively opposing over recent years. Indeed, a year ago, it was being suggested that the rebels should be armed and Assad bombed by the West. 

In Iraq the conflict has involved the Islamic State and Iraqi government and Kurdish forces. There may of course be some friction here given the recent past in Iraq.

But the basis for thinking that having fought in this Middle East cauldron, individuals will come back here to start trouble seems dubious.

If this assertion is believed then anti-terror laws that take away the liberties of citizens on the basis of security are not the answer. The history of recent anti-terror measures from the conflict in Northern Ireland to the most recent “war on terror” show that denying liberties has done nothing to prevent terrorism.

In the case of the Irish conflict, successive Prevention of Terrorism Acts simply resulted in more innocent people going to prison and the creation of a suspect community out of the whole Irish population of Britain. This in turn probably gave real cover to terrorists.

Lessons were not learned though, with even more draconian anti-terror measures being created in the gap between the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and the September 11 attacks. Post September 11, more liberties were taken away and the Muslim population replaced the Irish as the suspect community. There were similar results.

Anti-terror legislation does not stop terrorism — it simply results in the reduction of the liberties of all and in many cases the incarceration of innocent people. It also increases the powers of the security state over citizens’ lives.

Police, security services and politicians of most political persuasions have increasingly rushed to call for these measures on the basis that they can keep people safe from terrorism. 

It is not true. Indeed it is worth recalling here the words of the late chief constable of Devon and Cornwall John Alderson that the call to give up your liberties in return for security has been the call of dictators down the ages.

The only way to stop terrorism at home is to stop interfering abroad. Britain was involved in both US military ventures in Afghanistan and Iraq. Both have become fulcrums of instability. 

Britain sits with the US arming the Israelis and standing by while they slaughter thousands of Palestinians in Gaza. 

This is not a way to ensure that people across the world love us.

It is noticeable that over the past decade or so countries like Norway, Italy and Sweden that have not become embroiled in these conflicts have endured no Islamist terrorist threat at home. We suffer terrorist threats because of our international actions usually as a result of playing the role of lapdog to the US.

Instead of seeking to deny liberties to British citizens on the basis of wholly counter-productive anti-terror measures, the government should look at its international role. It should stop interfering in countries in the Middle East, and most importantly stop pouring arms into conflict regions. It must stop arming Israel.

It should stop posturing in a way that is about 200 years out of date — Britain no longer has an empire and needs to adjust to its role as a minor player in world affairs. 

It will be these types of moves addressing the causes of conflict that will prevent terrorism on our streets, not taking away every citizen’s most basic liberties.


Read more articles by Paul Donovan at


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