The government is currently trying to push through the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill (CTS), which after 13 years of the war on terror serves as one of the most damaging pieces of legislation to affect the British Muslim community.
Once the CTS Bill passes, which it most definitely will, public sector workers will be forced to become state spies. Doctors, dentists, university staff, school and nursery teachers will be legally obliged to report their colleagues, patients, students and nursery kids as young as three to the authorities. Indeed, the CTS Bill will create such an environment of suspicion where people out of genuine ignorance of each other's beliefs, will end up reporting individuals with a sense of contentment that they've done their part for 'Queen and country' in preventing terrorism.
However, the underlying problem with the CTS Bill is that like every piece of legislation that the government has implemented post 9/11 and 7/7, nothing is defined. Ambiguous terms such as 'extremism' and 'British values' will be misapplied by the authorities to isolate the entire Muslim community. No doubt we will witness a spike in unsubstantiated reporting based on paranoia and fear, an increase of unlawful detention, and the criminalisation of Muslims who follow normative and orthodox Islam.
With the general election round the corner, parliamentarians are battling it out over the economy, education, the NHS, housing, Europe - everything but the CTS Bill. Unsurprisingly, all three political parties seem to be backing the CTS with majority of MPs 'whipped' behind the bill - at best, there may be some room for minor amendments. After speaking to heads of numerous Muslim organisations, there appears to be a consensus on the dire implications that the bill will have on British Muslims.
Social policy think-tank, MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development) are one of many groups that have analysed and reviewed the CTS Bill, and have issued a detailed briefing paper with an action alert to the public to stop the bill being passed as law in its current form. Along with the Joint Committee on Human Rights, MEND has also put forward amendments which they hope to lobby MPs over.
Similarly, advocacy group CAGE have also been active in raising awareness about the consequences of the CTS Bill. In a comprehensive report entitled, 'Challenging the Counter-Terrorism and Security Bill', CAGE have compiled a number of case studies that illustrate the problems with the draconian implementation of anti-terror policies in different departments, from local government, criminal justice, education, childcare, health and social care.
MEND and CAGE are amongst a plethora of Muslim organisations in the UK that seem to have put aside their methodological differences to unite against the CTS Bill - such is the seriousness of this proposed legislation.
An overview of the CTS Bill
For those who have missed the details of the proposals stated in the CTS Bill due to the lightning speed in which it's moved from the House of Commons to the House Lords, here is a brief recap of the policies that are included within it:
1. Seizure of passports from persons suspected of involvement in terrorism - The Bill proposes granting powers to the police and the border officials to seize a person's passport for up to 14 days. The seizure applies to those coming into the UK as well as those leaving, and affects UK citizens as well as non-UK nationals, and is based on 'suspicion'; the officer need not have any grounds or evidence for his suspicion.
2. Temporary Exclusion Orders (TEOs) - The Bill will empower the Home Secretary to issue a Temporary Exclusion Order, which will ban a UK citizen who is abroad from returning for up to 2 years, where she/he believes there is a "reasonable suspicion of involvement in terrorist activity abroad".
3. Buffed up Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures - TPIMs replaced Control Orders, which were used to restrict the activity of suspected terrorists who had not been convicted. When TPIMs were introduced in 2011 they decided they would scrap the powers to move people across the country. The Home Secretary now proposes bringing back the power to send suspects to new towns, introducing internal exile.
4. Creating an obligation to monitor and report extremism - Colleges, schools, prisons, GPs and councils will now have a legal duty to prevent people being drawn into terrorism. Schools, nurseries even GPs will be required to monitor those they provide services to and report anyone they believe is at risk of, or has in fact been drawn in to terrorism. Universities will have to draw up policies on extremist campus speakers, and prisons will be required to have policies for dealing with radicals. The Home Office will be able to get court orders obliging bodies to comply with their obligations.
5. "De-Radicalisation" Panels - The Bill creates a legal duty that will require local authorities to establish a panel to refer people identified as being at risk of 'being drawn into terrorism'. The composition of that panel is set out in the Bill, and its purpose is to draw up a "de-radicalisation" plan for the person identified as being at risk. The Bill makes no provision for the person identified to have legal or other representation, or in the case of a child, to have a parent present.
6. Obligations on airlines - Airlines will now be required to disclose personal information about their passengers in advance. Airlines that refuse or fail to provide advance passenger lists will be banned from landing in Britain and may face a penalty.
National security or police state?
Another concerning aspect of the CTS Bill is the unprecedented authority that home secretary, Theresa May will end up possessing. The bill places most, if not all the above powers in May's portfolio, which means she alone decides who will be subjected to TEOs and TPIMs. 27 Britons have already been stripped of their UK nationality since May came to office as home secretary in 2010. Many of these cases took place in the defendants' absentia via secret courts - this number will inevitably increase when the CTS Bill becomes law. Additionally, the government's counter-terrorism Prevent programme will also fall under the home secretary's jurisdiction.
It is clear that the CTS Bill will have a major impact on the British Muslim community, as well as the wider society. Within a space of a few months, the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Syria have been exploited by the government to curtail basic civil liberties for the sake of national security - in effect turning Britain into an Orwellian police state overnight. When Theresa May announced that the terrorist threat level went from "substantial" to "severe" due to the ISIS threat, statements from ministers also confirmed that the CTS Bill was about banning non-violent Islamic ideas by imposing certain values and concepts on the Muslim community. As mentioned earlier in the article, the proposed bill will effectively criminalise a Muslim's ability to express their thoughts and beliefs. In essence, the CTS Bill's covert emphasis on silencing political dissent has stark similarities to the McCarthyist policies implemented by Western states during the Cold War to thwart communism from taking root.
The irony behind the CTS Bill is that it goes against every liberal democratic value that Britain prides itself upon. When the bill becomes legislation, any remnant of tolerance that Britain has ever possessed or known will be single handily destroyed.
You can get involved in the campaign to stop the CTS Bill by visiting: www.stopthebill.co.uk