Are the Green Party Really the Terrorist's Friend?

To paraphrase Natalie in her interview - We don't protect freedom by legislating against it. However much we might think we can empower the thought police, you can't put handcuffs on an idea.

As the old saying goes, you should be careful what you wish for, because you may just get it.

The Green Party has long been yearning for more TV airtime, and it finally arrived in the form of Andrew Neil's interview of leader Natalie Bennett on the BBC's Sunday Politics.

Andrew, in his characteristic style, got straight down to business working his way through a prepared list of some of the more controversial Green Party policies.

Goodness knows how long it took a researcher to tease out the most devilishly tricky bits to throw at her, but whomever it was did a good job. They certainly came thick and fast and I wouldn't have liked to have been in poor Natalie's shoes.

It's been described by some as a car crash interview, but in my opinion it was more of a burst tyre. Not necessarily your fault, but something to remind you to be prepared for the unexpected and to keep both hands on the wheel at all times.

Equally predictably, the right wing media has descended on the interview like a pack of ravening hamsters, extracting from it any vaguely inflammatory comment, adding a liberal dose of insinuation, before pouring the whole incendiary mix over a good old fashioned straw man.

And the policy statement that seems to be exercising the pointy fingers of a vituperative middle England at the moment is the claim that the Green Party would be supportive of terrorist groups in the UK.

Of course this is not what Natalie Bennett said in her interview, neither is it Green Party policy. But the torches are lit, the pitchforks have been sharpened, and the lynch mob have a had a good rub down with both the Telegraph and the Daily Mail.

What these august tomes have focussed their righteous opprobrium on is the final paragraph of a policy element stating that those accused of terrorism should be subject to the same criminal laws and have the same rights as the rest of us.

The point being that attaching the word 'terrorism' to any action has of late been seen as a blank cheque to some law enforcement authorities to do whatever they want to anyone thus accused. And that's given rise to some pretty unconscionable undermining of one of the defining principles of modern justice - That you are innocent until proven guilty.

But the paragraph being touted as some sort of terrorist charter merely says :

"It should not be a crime simply to belong to an organisation or have sympathy with its aims, though it should be a crime to aid and abet criminal acts or deliberately fund such acts"

Would it still be a crime to fund terrorism? - Yes

Would it still be a crime to support terrorists? - Yes

Would it still be a crime to incite acts of terrorism? - Yes

Does the Green Party say that these crimes should not be prosecuted? - No. In fact much of the rest of that policy section says the exact opposite.

Don't take my word for it, pop off and read it for yourself.

Proscribing such organisations, as we do at the moment, doesn't stop people believing in their aims. It doesn't prevent people tacitly supporting them in thought, if not in deed. In short, it's pointless tokenism to ban them, and the Green Party has the sense to see that and say so.

Making it illegal simply to belong to an organisation is more of a posture than a preventative action. It's just a government saying we think these organisations are pretty nasty, which I think most of us could work out for ourselves.

Those characterising the Green Party's stance on this as 'supporting terrorism' seem to have very short memories. Wasn't it only a couple of weeks ago that so many people stood in solidarity with some French cartoonists who's numbers were so savagely diminished by a group who felt that believing in something was tantamount to a death sentence?

Freedom of thought isn't something you can support only it fits in with your own ideology. Even if we find such thoughts distasteful, as long as they don't turn into actions, they shouldn't be illegal. If you use legislation to restrict belonging to one group, then why not for others? Maybe eventually one that you might support. And imposing statutory restrictions is a tried and tested way to ramp up the feelings of disenfranchisement that leads others to support similar aims.

I think it's about time we stepped outside of such simplistic gesture politics and faced reality. If anything, proscription makes it harder to monitor the activities of these groups. Personally I'd feel safer if those that wish to bolster such views within my society did so openly, where they can be passively watched by all of us as well as by our security services.

Making it a crime simply to believe in something doesn't deal with the problem. It just pushes that belief underground. This has been the case throughout history, from the restrictions placed on religious worship in 16th century England, right up to the ludicrous radio and TV silence imposed on Sinn Féin by Thatcher in her infamous "oxygen of publicity" stance.

In the case of the IRA in particular, it's clear that banning them didn't stop the violence, but talking to them eventually did. So how much better would it be for these people and their views to be out in the open, where the rest of us could challenge them in free debate on any one of the multifarious platforms open to us now?

I believe that reasoned argument in a free society, confident in it's own morality, is ultimately a more powerful weapon against anti-social views than forcing people to hide them away on pain of prosecution.

To paraphrase Natalie in her interview - We don't protect freedom by legislating against it. However much we might think we can empower the thought police, you can't put handcuffs on an idea.


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