The threat of good deeds: why did the police arrest aid convoy men?

The state broadcaster bans a charitable appeal on behalf of charities raising funds to help Gaza residents rebuild after Israel’s attack – for fear of being associated with criticism of the “good terrorism” carried out by the UK’s ally.

Now those travelling to Gaza to deliver aid to people who have been bombed are targeted by police as though they were about to bomb people! (If only there was the same readiness to seize weapons destined for Israel!)

All of the men arrested have been released without charge. The action taken by police looks suspiciously like an Islamophobic media stunt designed to smear the Viva Palestina convoy and feed into the hysteria about Muslims that the corporate media are drumming up.

Preston’s socialist councillor Michael Lavalette wants answers:

The three Burnley men arrested on Friday night under anti-terror legislation were today (Thursday) released without charge. The men had been held for six days in a secure detention centre in Manchester. The men were arrested on Friday as they drove to join the ‘Viva Palestina’ convoy taking humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Also arrested, as part of the same operation, were six men from Blackburn. They were kept isolated in police vans for 7 hours before being released without charge. Some of those from Blackburn were religious scholars.

The arrests and the treatment of the men in question raise serious questions about policing in Lancashire and about the ‘targeting’ of both the Gaza Convoy and Muslim men in the region. There are serious questions that now need to be answered from Lancashire constabulary. Questions like:

1. Who ordered the stop and arrest of the 9 men?

2. What evidence of ‘wrong-doing’ did the police have?

3. Why (given the fact that the convoy organisers submitted all the names, passport and visa details of those on the convoy) did the police not act sooner if they had ‘real’ or ’significant’ concerns?

4. Who provided the police with the (now obviously flawed) ‘evidence’ that suggested the men were involved in wrong-doing?

5. This was clearly a national police operation. Who led the operation? Did it have Government clearance?

The suspicion is that this was a politically motivated operation to disrupt the convoy. Where are the Labour Ministers on television or in the press defending their operation and explaining the actions that were taken?

The Gaza Convoy is a humanitarian mission and the men travelling from Lancashire had vehicles that were laden with gifts from children in our area for the children of Gaza. The disruption of this trip is nothing short of a disgrace.

George Galloway condemned the timing of the arrests, the arrests themselves and the deliberate efforts of the police to create a story in the press the purposes of which appears to have been to discredit the aid convoy to Gaza. Viva Palestina reports that there was a drop of 80% in donations following the broadcast of the arrests and the police allegations on the BBC on Saturday afternoon.

“Nine innocent people were prevented by the police from joining our convoy with vital aid to meet the humanitarian crisis in Gaza,” said George Galloway this afternoon.

“The follow up action by the police, which has apparently included the strip-searching of an Imam and his wife in their own home in Blackburn, has gravely damaged their relations with the community whose trust they need to win.

“Anyone with any sense can see that it is in everyone’s interest to encourage Britain’s Muslim community to engage themselves in democratic politics. That is precisely what this convoy – and the huge political, and humanitarian effort throughout Britain’s often alienated Muslim communities which lies behind it – is about.

“To arrest innocent men in such a provocative and hyped operation will achieve precisely the opposite of that engagement. The timing of the operation is seen locally as an attempt to smear and intimidate the
Muslim community and I must say they seem to be right.

“The arrests were clearly deliberately timed for the eve of the departure of the convoy. Photographs of the high-profile snatch on the M65 were immediately fed to the press to maximise the newsworthiness
of the smear that was being perpetrated on the convoy” said Galloway.

“I am writing to the Chief Constable of Lancashire to demand an explanation and will consult Viva Palestina’s lawyers with a view to seeking compensation for the real financial and public relations damage we have suffered as a result. I will also be writing to the Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith, to demand action against those who seem to have abused their power and authority as a police officers to produce this really damaging outcome.”

But the events of the last week also raises another significant issue. For the last two years the Government has attempted to divide the Muslim community in this country by launching a programme called Preventing Violent Extremism (PVE). PVE has come with substantial sums of money that can be directed towards projects aimed at stopping ‘extremism’. The funded projects have been varied (and its certainly the case that there is a need for ‘good projects’ in our city and amongst the poorest communities). But PVE isn’t about providing services. Its about obtaining surveillance and criminalising sections of the Muslim community.

For example, how is an potential extremist defined? People who fall under suspicion include those who have an interest in global politics (so opposition to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan or opposition to the murderous regime in Israel could lead to someone being identified as a potential ’extremist’.) Of course that could include someone like me – but I’m not subject to PVE surveillance because I’m not Muslim, and this is the crux – its the combination of the political interest with the religious beliefs and style of dress of the individual that marks them out as ’suspicious’; and its one reason why converts to Islam are particularly targetted. Here is the Government’s own document PVE – A Strategy for Delivery (May 2008), which states that:

“The most severe terrorist threat currently comes from individuals and groups who distort Islam. … It is
not the role of Government to seek to change a religion. However, where theology is being distorted to justify violent extremist rhetoric or activity and threaten both Muslims and non-Muslims, Government should reinforce faith understanding and thereby build resilience.”

PVE is actually an extension of the ‘war on terror’. Its intention is to isolate the ‘enemy within’. In this form it is no different to other historic strategies of ‘divide and rule’ that the British state has used to isolate and intimidate minorities such as the Irish community in the 1970s or Communist Party members at the hieght of the Cold War.

PVE was piloted in a number of places across Britain – including Preston and Reading. Both these areas were included because police sources argued they were ‘hotbeds’ of extremism – though there is no evidence of this being the case in Preston at all (there have been no high profile ‘terror’ arrests in Preston and there is no network of ‘political islamists’ in the city.)

In Preston one of the major PVE interventions is called the Channel Project. Here is what the police have to say about it:

“The Channel Project is all about supporting vulnerable individuals. It is a local and community-based initiative between the police, local authority and the local community. The project takes referrals from a number of sources on individuals that may be vulnerable to becoming involved in violent extremism. A joint risk assessment of each individual case is then made by project members and any issues of concern are identified. A programme of intervention tailored to the needs of the individual is then developed and implemented. Involvement of community partners is key. They will have expertise and insight into the process of assessment, referral and intervention. This process will make the vulnerable person confident
in their rejection and condemnation of violence. If you would like to know more about this initiative.”

The language used makes it seem almost ’social workesque’! The ‘needs’ of ‘vulnerable individuals’; a ‘programme of intervention’ etc. You have to stop for a minute to realise that all of this is being done without the knowledge, input or consent of the ‘vulnerable individual’! (Their ‘vulnerability’ remember is opposition or hostility to the imperial policies of the British state combined with the fact that they are Muslim!)

But of greater concern is their claim that they take ‘referrals from a range of people’ (people with a grudge? spies in the community? the security services? who?) and that ‘involved community partners’ are key.

There is an old saying that ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch’. The ‘involvement of the key community players’ essentially means those that have taken funding for their projects – certainly that was the indication of what was happening in Derby and Reading (two PVE areas featured on Panorama on Monday evening): once the projects get their funding the police and security services come calling asking ’surveillance’ questions.

The PVE agenda brings a ‘dirty money’ reward to a few ‘community leaders’, but in the process it turns them into an outreach of the security services. The events of last week-end and the harassment faced by 9 innocent Muslim men in Lancashire should bring to an end this form of ‘engagement’.

Police state in the UK?

A former securocrat issues a warning:

Dame Stella Rimington, the former head of MI5, has warned that the fear of terrorism is being exploited by the Government to erode civil liberties and risks creating a police state.

Dame Stella accused ministers of interfering with people’s privacy and playing straight into the hands of terrorists.

“Since I have retired I feel more at liberty to be against certain decisions of the Government, especially the attempt to pass laws which interfere with people’s privacy,” Dame Stella said in an interview with a Spanish newspaper.

“It would be better that the Government recognised that there are risks, rather than frightening people in order to be able to pass laws which restrict civil liberties, precisely one of the objects of terrorism: that we live in fear and under a police state,” she said.

But wait – there’s more! International criticism now:

In a further blow to ministers, an international study by lawyers and judges accused countries such as Britain and America of “actively undermining” the law through the measures they have introduced to counter terrorism.

The report, by the International Commission of Jurists, said: “The failure of states to comply with their legal duties is creating a dangerous situation wherein terrorism, and the fear of terrorism, are undermining basic principles of international human rights law.”

The report claimed many measures introduced were illegal and counter-productive and that legal systems put in place after the Second World War were well equipped to handle current threats. Arthur Chaskelson, the chairman of the report panel, said: “In the course of this inquiry, we have been shocked by the damage done over the past seven years by excessive or abusive counter-terrorism measures in a wide range of countries around the world.

“Many governments, ignoring the lessons of history, have allowed themselves to be rushed into hasty responses to terrorism that have undermined cherished values and violated human rights.’’

These warnings aren’t being heeded. In fact the nebulous category of “extremist” is to be broadened:

The government is considering plans that would lead to thousands more British Muslims being branded as extremists, the Guardian has learned. The proposals are in a counterterrorism strategy which ministers and security officials are drawing up that is due to be unveiled next month.

Some say the plans would see views held by most Muslims in Britain being classed by the government as extreme.

According to a draft of the strategy, Contest 2 as it is known in Whitehall, people would be considered as extremists if:

• They advocate a caliphate, a pan-Islamic state encompassing many countries.

• They promote Sharia law.

• They believe in jihad, or armed resistance, anywhere in the world. This would include armed resistance by Palestinians against the Israeli military.

• They argue that Islam bans homosexuality and that it is a sin against Allah.

• They fail to condemn the killing of British soldiers in Iraq or Afghanistan.

Contest 2 would widen the definition of extremists to those who hold views that clash with what the government defines as shared British values. Those who advocate the wider definition say hardline Islamist interpretation of the Qur’an leads to views that are the root cause of the terrorism threat Britain faces. But opponents say the strategy would brand the vast majority of British Muslims as extremists and alienate them even further.

This counter-terrorism “mission creep” into the realm of politics is worrying. Not least because it will be counter-productive.

If the government truly wanted to tackle violent extremism it would pull our armed forces out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

This would also be a hugely popular move – most especially for military families who are seeing their loved ones killed and injured in conflicts that can only make us less safe.

What have the Palestinians got to complain about?

In contrast to Israel’s 2006 aggression against Lebanon, the British Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary are competing to see who can most stridently condemn the Gaza attacks.

Calling for a ceasefire is no problem this time round. After all, Brown used the conflict in Lebanon as a way of ousting Blair.

Now David MiniBliar is trying the same trick. He’s even talking about that article he published. You know, the one that talked about Labour’s woes without mentioning Brown? Not that wee David would have linked the two, of course…

Now, it’s rare that comedy is linked with the plight of the Palestinians, both in beseiged Gaza and the occupied West Bank, but Mark Steel manages to get a few laughs out of the hypocrisy surrounding the insistance upon moral equivalence between the mass produced WMDs of the IDF and the home-made rockets of Hamas.

Mark Steel: So what have the Palestinians got to complain about?

To portray this as a conflict between equals requires some imagination

Wednesday, 31 December 2008

When you read the statements from Israeli and US politicians, and try to match them with the pictures of devastation, there seems to be only one explanation. They must have one of those conditions, called something like “Visual-Carnage-Responsibility-Back-To-Front-Upside-Down-Massacre-Disorder”.

For example, Condoleezza Rice, having observed that more than 300 Gazans were dead, said: “We are deeply concerned about the escalating violence. We strongly condemn the attacks on Israel and hold Hamas responsible.”

Someone should ask her to comment on teenage knife-crime, to see if she’d say: “I strongly condemn the people who’ve been stabbed, and until they abandon their practice of wandering around clutching their sides and bleeding, there is no hope for peace.”

The Israeli government suffers terribly from this confusion. They probably have adverts on Israeli television in which a man falls off a ladder and screams, “Eeeeugh”, then a voice says, “Have you caused an accident at work in the last 12 months?” and the bloke who pushed him gets £3,000.

The gap between the might of Israel’s F-16 bombers and Apache helicopters, and the Palestinians’ catapulty thing is so ridiculous that to try and portray the situation as between two equal sides requires the imagination of a children’s story writer.

The reporter on News at Ten said the rockets “may be ineffective, but they ARE symbolic.” So they might not have weapons but they have got symbolism, the canny brutes.

It’s no wonder the Israeli Air Force had to demolish a few housing estates, otherwise Hamas might have tried to mock Israel through a performance of expressive dance.

The rockets may be unable to to kill on the scale of the Israeli Air Force, said one spokesman, but they are “intended to kill”.

Maybe he went on: “And we have evidence that Hamas supporters have dreams, and that in these dreams bad things happen to Israeli citizens, they burst, or turn into cactus, or run through Woolworths naked, so it’s not important whether it can happen, what matters is that they WANT it to happen, so we blew up their university.”

Or there’s the outrage that Hamas has been supported by Iran. Well that’s just breaking the rules. Because say what you will about the Israelis, they get no arms supplies or funding or political support from a country that’s more powerful than them, they just go their own way and make all their weapons in an arts and crafts workshop in Jerusalem.

But mostly the Israelis justify themselves with a disappointing lack of imagination, such as the line that they had to destroy an ambulance because Hamas cynically put their weapons inside ambulances.

They should be more creative, and say Hamas were planning to aim the flashing blue light at Israeli epileptics in an attempt to make them go into a fit, get dizzy and wander off into Syria where they would be captured.

But they prefer a direct approach, such as the statement from Ofer Schmerling, an Israeli Civil Defence official who said on al-Jazeera, “I shall play music and celebrate what the Israeli Air Force is doing.”

Maybe they could turn it into a huge nationalfestival, with decorations and mince pies and shops playing “I Wish We Could Bomb Gaza Every Day”.

In a similar tone Dov Weisglas, Ariel Sharon’s chief of staff, referred to the siege of Gaza that preceded this bombing, a siege in which the Israelis prevented the population from receiving essential supplies of food, medicine, electricity and water, by saying, “We put them on a diet.”

It’s the arrogance of the East End gangster, so it wouldn’t be out of character if the Israeli Prime Minister’s press conference began: “Oh dear or dear. It looks like those Palestinians have had a little, er, accident. All their buildings have been knocked down – they want to be more careful, hee hee.”

And almost certainly one of the reasons this is happening now is because the government wants to appear hard as it wants to win an election. Maybe with typical Israeli frankness they’ll show a party political broadcast in which Ehud Olmert says, “This is why I think you should vote for me”, then shows film of Gaza and yells: “Wa-hey, that bloke in the corner is on FIRE.”

And Condoleezza Rice and her colleagues, and the specially appointed Middle East Peace Envoy, could then all shake their heads and say: “Disgraceful. The way he’s flapping around like that could cause someone to have a nasty accident.”

America’s war in Pakistan threatens our security

UK PM Gordon Brown has said he is “permanently on guard” against the threat of terrorism. (If only the security services had been in 2005 when Saudi intelligence warned of a terrorist attack which killed 52 people.)

Today’s Guardian reveals that Bush is planning a war in Pakistan, something which is sure to increase the chances of another 7/7 occurring here. Secret orders have been signed by the president allowing special forces to operate within Pakistan – even though they do not have permission from Pakistan’s government.

Brown will be compounding the terror threat, which is to a large extent caused by the UK’s involvement in occupying Iraq and Afghanistan, by backing this terror campaign in Pakistan and perhaps sending UK forces across the border from Afghanistan to assist. UK forces in Afghanistan are likely to come under increase attacks as the conflict esculates – leading to more fatalities and injuries amongst service personnel and Afghan civilians.

On Tuesday a US drone killed 23 people in North Waziristan and injured 20 others. Ironically, this was an attack on a school set up by Jalaluddin Haqqani, one of the mujahideen fighters the US backed in the 80s – you know, the foreign fighters who used the porous border to enter Afghanistan…

Pakistan’s armed forces aren’t pleased about US plans to enter the country and wage war on the population – already attacks carried out by drones have prompted the army to cut off Nato supplies. And it is unlikely that Nato forces will be used in these operations – something which is sure to increase the tensions between Nato member states.

UK govt terrorising free speech and civil liberties, says UN

Given that the government has just revealed that the DNA of forty thousand innocent children is stored on a national database, this is a timely report.

From The Morning Star:

PEACE campaigners called for the repeal of anti-terror laws on Friday after a damning United Nations report warned that Britain’s terror laws were having a “chilling effect” on free speech and civil liberties.

The UN committee on human rights warned that provisions under the Terrorism Act 2006 covering encouragement of terrorism are too “broad and vague” and should be amended to prevent “a disproportionate interference with freedom of expression.”

People convicted of encouragement of terrorism face up to seven years in jail.

The report, which is part of the UN committee’s analysis into human rights in Britain, condemned the extension of detention without charge from 14 to 28 days and said that it was “even more disturbed” at plans to extend this to 42 days.

Despite a major rebellion by Labour MPs, the government narrowly won the 42-day Commons vote in June with the help of the Democratic Unionists.

But the Lords are expected to defeat it when they vote on the anti-terror Bill this autumn.

Britain already has the longest period of pre-charge detention in the Western world.

Labour MP Jeremy Corbyn branded the plans “absurd and excessive,” warning: “Instead of building links with communities, these laws serve to isolate and frighten people. Parliament should be defending civil liberties, not take them away.”

Stop the War Coalition co-founder John Rees welcomed the UN report as “conclusive and authoritative” evidence that civil liberties have been victims of war.

“This government has no right to lecture other countries, whether be it in the Caucasus or the Middle East, about their civil liberties or human rights records,” he stormed.

Mr Rees called for a “wide-ranging review of the government’s civil liberties record and the effect of the anti-terror laws and reverse its policy on 42-day detention.”

The UN report also criticised ministers’ treatment of the Chagos islanders, who have been fighting for their right to return home since 1967, when Harold Wilson’s government turfed them out and handed the island in the Indian Ocean to the US to use as its military base.

Mr Corbyn, who has been campaigning on their behalf in Parliament, said: “The government has used mediaeval orders to block their right to return and the islanders are still fighting their case in the House of Lords.

“It is time to end this travesty of justice and human rights.”

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