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Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill: Britain Must Not Give Terrorists This Victory

09/02/2015 12:39 GMT | Updated 10/04/2015 10:59 BST

Britain,

After 9/11, we passed the Anti-Terrorism, Crime and Security Act 2001. Section 23 allowed us to detain any foreigner, without trial, if we suspected them of terrorism and they could not be deported. We justified this derogation by claiming "terrorism is a threat to the life of the nation."

In 2004, a case on behalf of nine foreigners who were held at Belmarsh prison for nearly three years was brought before the House of Lords. English Judge, Lord Hoffman, chastised our Home Office.

He said: "Such a power in any form is not compatible with our constitution. The real threat to the life of the nation... comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these. This is the true measure of what terrorism may achieve. It is for Parliament to decide whether to give the terrorists such a victory."

Detaining foreigners without trial was thus held to be incompatible with fundamental human rights. As a result, section 23 was later repealed.

11 years on, we once more face a threat to the life of our nation. The current government's proposed Counter-Terrorism & Security Bill provides for an array of draconian measures. For example, in its original form, the Bill would create a legal obligation on universities, schools, GPs, prisons, and even nurseries to "monitor for extremism."

Terms like "terrorism" and "extremism" are of course redefined to encompass an arbitraryideological and political landscape rather than any association with violence.

There are many problems with this obligation. Most importantly: It is counterproductive, if not dangerous, to deliberately engender an atmosphere of racial profiling, animosity, and mistrust in environments which traditionally thrive on social cohesion.

The Education Act 1986 ensures freedom of expression in universities and colleges. Our children should admire their teachers, not view them as spies. We spend millions on rehabilitation programmes; it only follows that prisoners should be able to speak freely for any prospect of improvement. And doctors- our doctors- should prioritise every patient's health, rather than be distracted by issues of ideology.

Other parts of the Bill have been described as unnecessary, disregarding of civil liberties, and infringing on the right to privacy.

Perhaps the most common way we justify legislation of this kind to ourselves, is through the notion that "unknown radicals are living among us, planning an imminent terror attack".

Such fear mongering feeds into the polarisation of anyone different and propagates a necessity for extreme measures against "them". This polarisation is translated into a hostility which gnaws at the edge of fundamental human rights.

However, if we were to take a simple glance at most "high profile" terrorist attacks within the past decade, a theme in conflict with this notion of "unknown" and "imminent" is easily discernible.

The Charlie Hebdo Paris gunmen had been on a terror watch list "for years". The Sydney gunman had many previous criminal convictions. Michael Adebolajo, one of Lee Rigby's killers, had been known and tracked by intelligence agencies since 2006. The Boston Marathon bomber was put on the main US terrorism watch list for more than a year before his crime. Even as far back as 9/11, all those allegedly involved were known to authorities beforehand.

This unveils two realities.

First, your Muslim neighbour will not wake up one morning and decide he is a terrorist. Every single perpetrator of these crimes was a known-to-be threat. Crimes have no race nor religion. They are simply crimes, committed by criminals, motivated by a criminal mind-set.

Secondly and therefore, this legislative proposal is pointless. It creates thought crimes, where real crimes have been the glaring indicators. The security powers already at hand are evidently more than enough to identify dangerous individuals.

And so it is only fair to deal with those individuals accordingly, rather than shifting towards brutal authoritarianism where the liberty of innocents means as much as the guilt of criminals.

Instead of exporting freedom and democracy to Middle Eastern countries, it seems we are importing totalitarianism and repression from them.

Lord Hoffman truly put it best. We, Britain, must not give terrorists this victory.

At time of writing, the Bill is in the Commons for consideration of amendments made by the Lords.

To resolve an injustice, we must not commit a greater injustice. Especially against ourselves.