Mayor of London, Boris Johnson in his column for the Daily Telegraph on Monday contributed to the reactionary bout of counter-terrorism policy proposals that have been circulating in the aftermath of the beheading of James Foley by a young man suspected to be a British Muslim.
The Independent Reviewers of Terrorism Legislation, past and present, Lord Carlile of Berriew QC and David Anderson QC, have both called for changes to the T-pims regime to bring it closer to the Control Order system it replaced when the Coalition came to power. But as The Guardian notes in an editorial, the control order system was far from perfect with individuals noted to abscond while under Control Orders.
Conservative MP David Davis in the Mail on Sunday argues young Britons found to have travelled to Iraq or Syria should be stripped of their citizenship despite international treaty obligations and legal rulings that deny countries the option to render subjects stateless.
The Mail on Sunday editorial reiterates the same stating “Home Secretary Theresa May’s efforts to strip jihadists of their passports could prove much more effective.”
The paper does acknowledge the legal quagmire this represents but is indifferent to the “obligations under UN and European human rights conventions not to create ‘stateless persons’” arguing that the measure deserves ‘very serious consideration’.
The London Mayor, however, goes further arguing “The law needs a swift and minor change so that there is a “rebuttable presumption” that all those visiting war areas without notifying the authorities have done so for a terrorist purpose.”
The ‘rebuttable presumption’ translates as ‘guilty until proven innocent’. A complete reversal of the legal principle on presuming innocence until guilt is proven. But then Mayor Johnson has in the past advocated taking Muslim children into care to protect them from ‘child abuse’ inflicted by ‘radicalised parents’ who ‘teach them crazy stuff’.
The views advanced by Davis and Johnson were strongly rebutted by former Attorney General, Dominic Grieve, who in an interview with the Daily Telegraph and BBC World at One dismissed the suggestions as ‘draconian’. Grieve pointed to the violation of common law principles on which the presumption of innocence rests and, on the question of citizenship stripping, said “If we are about to rip up a UN convention, we need to think through the consequences.”
The kneejerk reactions and calls for legislative changes were also criticised by Richard Barrett, the former global counter-terrorism director of MI6, who in an interview with The Guardian newspaper said in relation to Boris Johnson’s ‘rebuttable presumption’, “This fundamental tenet of British justice should not be changed even in a minor way for this unproven threat – and it is an unproven threat at the moment.”
The Independent wades in too with an editorial in yesterday’s paper denouncing the ‘rhetoric without substance’ of Government and Opposition alike. Criticising the rush to play cavalier with liberty, the editorial today states:
“As for calls to prosecute people who have gone to war zones, irrespective of their motives for going there, or their actions while there, this is grandstanding of the worst kind – grotesque in principle, unworkable in practice.
“Religious extremists are a menace to a democratic society. But combating their ideology will take time and require much patient, hard work. We should not jettison hard-won liberties, or adopt a mirror image of their own totalitarian mindset in the process.”
Several other newspapers ponder the policy dilemmas with The Observer calling for ‘clarity and logic’ from the PM David Cameron as well as candour from the British state on its role in contributing to the forces that are now shaping the region. In an editorial, it stated:
“What is missing is a narrative from Britain’s political leader that is strong on clarity and firm on logic. He is in a position where he could contribute to – and even lead – a meaningful, nuanced and robust discussion about what current events in Iraq tell us about the delicate tribal, economic and religious issues at play and what part Britain played in that narrative over the last 10 years.”
Mary Dejevsky reflects on Theresa May’s short term memory reminding the Home Secretary of the position the UK government took on Syria about a year ago. Dejevsky also ventures to discuss factors that have contributed to the presence of young British Muslims in Iraq and Syria. She writes:
“And if even a minority of British-born Muslims are seduced by the idea of the caliphate, we need to ask how much might that be our fault, and the fault of successive governments: for privileging multiculturalism over integration; for giving unconditional refuge to radical preachers; for pussyfooting around such issues as gender segregation, face veils, rigged elections and school curriculums, before suddenly deciding – with the Trojan Horse investigation – that tolerance has gone too far.”
Dejevsky’s claim that ‘privileging multiculturalism over integration’ has in some way contributed to the alienation experienced by young Muslims flies in the face of empirical evidence which demonstrates the affinity Muslims have to Britishness and British institutions.
The idea that ‘tolerance has gone too far’ and that officials have been ‘pussyfooting around such issues as gender segregation, face veils, rigged elections and school curriculums’ are alarming when one considers the rhetoric of the far right which often argues the same.
Gender segregation and face veils are matters of liberty and agency; where women choose single-sex forums or to veil their faces, are they really contributing variables to radicalisation? And are all women who veil their faces, or men and women who opt for segregated seating, ‘at risk’?
As for the point about ‘rigged elections’, it overlooks the Electoral Commission’s admission that “evidence from police data and prosecutions shows that people accused of electoral fraud and people convicted of fraud come from a range of backgrounds including white British, South Asian and other European backgrounds. It would be a mistake to suggest that electoral fraud only takes place within specific South Asian communities.”
By conflating the issues of multiculturalism, veiling, gender segregation, electoral fraud and the Trojan Horse affair, Dejevsky plays to the stereotype of British Muslims as ‘resisting integration’ even as she thoughtfully concludes her column with a plea against the ill-advised punitive talk of David Davis, Boris Johnson and Theresa May. She writes: “Most British Muslims do not constitute any threat. They, and we, need to hear ministers give that assurance at least as loudly as they sound their alarms.”