In Home Secretary Charles Clarke’s incoherent universe there are “people who have declared war on us, actually, and the choice is whether we, er, respond to that, or not. Now, I think 9/11 was the.. the… moment of tremendous… significance, from that point of view. It wasn’t the only act of course, there have been many other act… er… as well, before and after, which have been terrible, from that point of view, but 9/11, had a particular significance. War has certainly been declared, on democratic society, by terrorist organisations, and I certainly think it’s our responsibility as a society, and certainly my responsibility as Home Secretary to do my best to defend us against that threat.” Charles Clarke on “Today” Programme, BBC Radio 4, December 17, 2004.

It is not terrorists who are undermining our democracy and writing new laws; unless we define New Labour as a terrorist organization. No one has declared war on us Clarke. The very opposite is true, we have invaded and killed tens of thousands of innocent people in Iraq and Afghanistan and attacked their freedoms. 911 was a tragic and flawed response to US foreign policy, the attack occured on US soil, not British. Why would a terrorist ever have to strike at this country to undermine our democracy when we have New Labour to curtail our freedoms?

Clarke has convinced no one but himself that a “public emergency [is] threatening the life of the nation.” In his view it is necessary to apply the most draconian measures to curtail civil liberties in order to “protect ourselves against those who would seek to destroy every element of our society, whether it is parliament, government, freedom of speech, the law, whatever it may be.” And yet, curiously, it is Charles Clarke who is the greatest danger to the freedoms enjoyed by British society. Brushing aside the law courts and detaining people without trial is a sign of totalitarianism. As Lord Hoffman says

Freedom from arbitrary arrest and detention is a quintessentially British liberty, enjoyed by the inhabitants of this country when most of the population of Europe could be thrown into prison at the whim of their rulers. It was incorporated into the European Convention in order to entrench the same liberty in countries which had recently been under Nazi occupation.

Are we to rely on the good faith of Clarke, without public evidence, that these rulings will be applied to only a handful of people, when we have been informed that they could be used against activists? Why is it necessary to rewrite the laws of the land which stretch right back to Magna Carter and have stood this country in good stead unless we are ready to deny individuals their right to habeas corpus and a trial by jury based on evidence only Clarke will be allowed to see? The debacle over WMD is still fresh in the minds of many, but surprisingly according to the latest polls 76% of the British population are ready to have “the most dangerous terrorists” detained in their sitting-rooms. Muslims are already warning that these new laws will be targetted at their community, but it will not stop there. In other regimes they have locked up dissidents, writers, editors, and it will not stop there. Facsism starts here as it did in Hitler’s Germany. No one will be safe from arrest. History has taught us this.

Might the threat Clarke imagines Britain faces now from terrorism have more to do with our blind support for US militarism in the Middle East? People of the Middle East actually view western freedoms in a favourable light but they disapprove of US policies toward Arab nations and particularly Palestinians. Distancing ourselves from US militarism and bringing UK troops home would be the most rational way of protecting British people.

How might Clarke’s proposals work in practice? House-arrest has often been used by the most authoritarian regimes to silence it’s dissenters. It has a long history going back to Galileo who was placed under house-arrest by the church for saying that earth revolved around the sun. The frail and elderly Palestinian President Yasser Arafat was held under house-arrest for years by Israel, it undoubtedly contributed to his demise.

The coffin of the late Palestinian President Yasser Arafat on November 12, 2004. Yasser Arafat was buried in chaotic scenes of grief and gunfire at the compound where he spent his final years encircled by the Israeli army and powerless to realize his dream of a Palestinian state.

While nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu was immediately placed under house-arrest after 18 years of incarceration in an Israeli prison. Burmese opposition leader and democracy advocate, Aung San Suu Kyi , has been under house-arrest since May 2003. The one thing all these individuals have in common is that they have become symbols of the very freedoms that they have been denied.

Clarke has been forced to water down his plans to detain without trial those he has branded the most “dangerous” terrorists. Initially, Clarke argued that it was necessary to lock these terrorists up otherwise they would simply leave the country and carry on their nefarious deeds elsewhere. Following the law lords ruling in December 2004 that it was unconstitutional because it discriminated against foreign nationals, cunning Clarke returned with the new and improved “Control Orders” which will now apply to British nationals too.

No longer is Clarke worried about our freedoms, no longer does he lose sleep over dangerous (Muslim) terrorists escaping to more favourable climes. Clarke now dreams of imposing Control Orders on anybody he chooses which range from banning someone from using the internet, telephone, tagging or restricting their movement. Like Kaa he asks us to trust him as though the travesty of justice already suffered by Muslims under the current anti-terrorism laws escaped our notice.

Round Up the Usual Suspects
Since the 11 September attacks, more than 700 suspected terrorists have been rounded up in Britain, but only 17 have been convicted of offences under the Terrorism Act. An astonishing 351 have been released.

Are we prepared to curtail people’s liberties on the say so of politicians like Clarke given the above? If Clarke has evidence then he should provide it and let the courts decide. What is he so afraid of?

Throughout history it has been leaders wielding dictatorial powers and using the state and the judiciary – Stalin, Hitler, Pol Pot – that have unleashed tyranny on humanity. Such powers should not be handed to Charles Clarke.