I would like to ask your advice. Should I go up to Yorkshire and campaign about liberty with David Davis?
As regular readers will know, the subject of terrorism and the causes of terrorism and how we protect ourselves from its effects is one close to my heart. Equally close to my heart is the subject of liberty and democracy; things that those who would like a Sharia State are not at all keen on. By the chance accident of being on a train three years ago, and then writing about it on a message board when I got out of hospital and got home, and then being asked to keep a diary by the BBC, which became this blog, I ended up being part of a big news story, and the political, for me, became the personal, and vice versa, in a rather unusual way.
This blog is where I express my personal opinions, like millions of other bloggers do on their blogs. I like writing and debating, and after a while, my writing jumped from blogging into mainstream media. There are lots of journalists and commenters expressing their opinions about politics and terrorism, and I joined them, and the debate, in a small way. If Melanie Phillips, say, or Matthew Norman can express an opinion on the anti-terror laws, civil liberties or security measures, then why shouldn't I?
Even though I keep trying to say that my views are just my views, except when I am specifically campaigning or acting as a spokesman for a group view ( such as the campaign for an independent inquiry into the 7 July bombings which is supported by a group of survivors and families), there is a worrying tendency to try to make me the voice of all victims. I am not. How can I be, how can anyone be? That is just lazy journalism. Three trains and a bus were bombed, and if you were to go onto any three trains and bus this morning you would find a wide range of people with a wide range of views. We who were unfortunate enough to be caught up in 7/7 were just ordinary everyday people of all ages, races, religions and political persuasions. That was the whole point of indiscriminate bombings targeting the general public.
There are families and survivors who support 42 days and all sorts of increased powers and I entirely respect their viewpoint. I was not seriously wounded or bereaved on 7/7, although I do understand what it is like to be on the receiving end of hateful violence. And I understand grief and anger, even more now since my mother died suddenly last summer. I too feel the urgent desire to do everything possible to stop a repeat of the London bombings, or worse. That is why I campaign for an inquiry into 7/7, that's why gave evidence to the London Assembly as part of their drive to improve communication and response on the aftermath of a disaster, that's why I stayed engaged in the debate and continue to be, three years on. Because I don't want it to happen again, and I care about the issues raised. Passionately.
But I also don't want to live a life of fearfulness, in a climate of suspicion and anxiety about being blown up at any moment. I want an accurate
picture of the terrorist threat. I don't think the threat should be exaggerated to win votes or play politics or sell papers. I also think it should not be underestimated. So I follow the news, watch the court cases, talk to people - everyone from police and security personnel, experts and academics, politicians and journalists to ordinary people who have been affected by terrorism and the terrorism policies of this country. I try to learn as much as possible about what is going on. I'm still listening, still learning.
And the position I came to is this: the bomb exploding is only part of the terrorist's strategy. What they really use is the fear of the bombing and the effect this fear has on all of us, which is far more people than they could ever hit with an explosive device. They want us to be afraid and to imagine our worst nightmares. They want us to become angry and to start looking at all Muslims with suspicion and preferably, hatred. Then they can move in and say to young Muslims: see, you are victims of an oppressive system that wants to make war on Islam and hates all Muslims. Rise up and fight back!
They would like this very much: the British people to be permanently afraid of them. It makes them important, it dignifies their 'cause'. They would never get enough people to vote for them, so they rely on propaganda and the threat of violence to get us to notice them, and to recruit to their cause.
I do not want to do their hateful work for them. We have withstood far greater threats than this, most recently, waves of terrorist bombing campaigns from the IRA, to the mighty German war-machine hammering us with ariel bombardments, night after night, the WMD of their time. Children evacuated, gas-masks supplied to the population, streets flattened and people maimed and killed by the thousand. Every night, every week.
And whilst this was going on, and whilst men and women went off to fight and die in other lands, we still held on to our fundamental freedoms. Soldiers served to protect and defend us and to keep us a free country. Even 18b, legislation introduced by Churchill's government during the war to intern up to a thousand suspected fascists without charge or trial was abandoned before the war had even ended, Churchill having said that to detain a man'“without the judgment of his peers is in the highest degree odious and the foundation of all totalitarian government, whether Nazi or communist”. After the war, ID cards were dropped, and life went back to normal.
Now, we're told, the new complexity of terrorist plots means the police might need longer than 28 days in the future to actually charge someone they have arrested for questioning. But for the last ten years M16 and the police have been investigating complex plots in co-operation with other nations' security services -such as international weapons or drug trafficking cartels -and they have had to deal with evidence cached on hundreds of computers, witnesses speaking foreign languages, complex networks who are resourced with their own protection muscle, their own lawyers and often the assistance of corrupt officials - and they have not said that they need six weeks to question suspects and investigate before charging them.
There have been no terrorism cases where longer than 28 days has been needed, police have gone to the wire on three cases only and even that may be, we're told, not true
. (Who has not gone to the wire on a deadline? I know I have). But to lock someone up for six weeks in a windowless cell - yes, even a person suspected
of terrorism - and then to go on a fishing expedition and look for proof to charge them - running all the while the risk that they may be innocent - and 50% of people who are detained under the terrorism laws so far as I understand it - have
been found to be innocent - how is that right?
These laws can be used on anyone.
Anti-terrorism legislation, despite reassurances at the time of passing it that it was only to be used in the most serious cases, has been used against a pensioner shouting 'nonsense!' at a conference
, numerous protesters
, people gathering petition signatures
.. and they could be used against you or me.
And the anger the laws foment when applied heavy-handedly or in way that suggests that Muslims are being criminalised is actively used against us, to damage one of our best sources of intelligence, information from local communities. It was local Muslims in Bristol who tipped off the police about a Muslim convert who was arrested and allegedly found to be assembling explosives, making some kind of vest. He was not on the security services radar.
These laws do not make us safer. We do not become more free and safe by giving up freedoms.
So, this is important, and I have said it all before.
Now, should I stand and say it again, at Mr Davis' side?Reasons against
1. In some ways it is quite frustrating being a 'survivor' of a terrorist attack
. No matter how much research and work I do, no matter how well I put my case, people are not listening to me because I am reasonably well informed and have done the leg work. No, it is because I am a 'victim'. Well, that should actually be irrelevant. Debates about liberty and security should not be won or lost because of sympathy for the person on the stump. The fact that I happened to be on a train with a suicidal terrorist is not the point. The fact that afterwards I tried to find out as much as possible about both sides of the debate before coming to a decision is of more relevance. You should not be able to win a debate by simply shoving someone onto the floor who has suffered as a trump card; that is cheap and exploitative and wrong.
2. This debate should be above party politics
. It should not be about point-scoring against the opposing political party to your own. The people affected by the London bombings should not be used as a political football, or to make emotive arguments. The bombings were an attack on all of us, indiscriminately, and the debate about how far we go and how much we change in the aftermath equally affects all of us and should be participated in by as many people as possible. That's how democracy works.
3. I'm not a Conservative
. If I go and campaign with DD, I am campaigning for a Conservative candidate who has in the past said things I strongly disagree with, such as supporting Clause 28 and the death penalty. My own 7/7 experience, and 7/7 itself, could be used to support a Tory campaign. Because people will look at me and go '7/7 victim' and want '7/7 experiences', not reasoned arguments and research. Or perhaps I am just being cynical. But I can see me saying my stuff , and then the opposition bringing on someone in a wheelchair or someone who has lost a loved one, who disagrees and then it will become all about 'who has the right to speak more because who has had the worst time of it' and it will be shameful.
4. I am not a politician
or a professional campaigner backed by an organisation. I am a civilian. I do not have the support of lawyers, advisers, staff to protect me against spin and attacks and abuse and hate-mail and intimidation. I am not particularly thick-skinned, I have not had a great time over the last six years and I have taken the brunt of some very nasty stuff already for speaking out, which has included a criminal harassment campaign, abuse, heckling, intimidation, threats to 'pop round', the attempted publishing of my home address and family details, people contacting my family, unsolicited nasty communications, vicious lies and abuse published on the internet and on two occasions, death threats. Quite honestly, there have been times when I and my family have been very scared and upset. Am I really up to walking into a bear pit, unprotected? With the Sun
against me and the government's spin machine grinding away?Reasons for
1. I have said and I still say, that Mr Davis is making an important and principled stand
on a matter which is extremely important to us as a nation. I have said that if you do not act on your principles, then they are just opinions. It's all very well blogging about it, and going to demos, and lobbying, and being in a documentary about liberties, and writing articles and giving speeches but should I do more, if asked? And I keep being asked.
2. This debate should be above politics
, and not just left for the Conservatives to have internally about how far they might go if elected to repeal or pass terror laws. Already two Labour MPs have stepped forward to support the campaign, as have Nick Clegg, Shami Chakrabrti, Helena Kennedy, Henry Porter, NO2ID and others who support the cause of civil liberties. It affects me as much as anyone else, it has been a passion of mine for some years, I am deeply involved in it, so why should I not speak up?
3. If I do not stand and speak out, then how can I decry people
for not standing and not speaking out, not getting involved? How can I stand back and let the Sun
make out that standing up for liberties is somehow letting down all the victims of terrorism? How can I let 'victimhood' be used as a stick to browbeat people with? It is simply false to equate 'supporting civil liberties' with 'being soft on terrorism'.
I bloody well hate
terrorism, I have seen the horrific things bombs do to people, I have lain awake shaking as the memories crowded back in. I want to stop terrorists killing and maiming people. I am also certain that the laws being put forward are being put forward for political reasons, and run the risk of being counter-productive.
4. I'm damned if I do and damned if I don't really, aren't I? Like I said to the Home Affairs Committee, please don't take my opinion any more seriously than the opinion of anyone else. I am just an ordinary person.
I do not have any special wisdom. I'm scared of terrorists, sometimes, I'm scared of being attacked and abused. But I don't want to be. I want to stand up for what I believe in, I want to live my life freely, I want what everyone else wants. The freedom to speak and the freedom to keep silent. To be fairly heard and fairly treated, to work and live in a way that is meaningful to me. I didn't choose what happened to me, but I can choose how I act afterwards
So, should I stand and speak?
I apologise for the length of this public-soul-searching post. Just typing it up has helped me think it through, though. Now it is over to you. If you were me, what would you do?
And what do you intend to do in this debate about freedom and fear?
And what do you think Mr Davis, the other candidates and the political parties and the government should be doing?
Thank you in advance.
Labels: 42 days, civil liberties, david davis, making a stand