the foundations of oppression can't be plucked up without the anger of a multitude

One Person’s Terrorist: thoughts on the definition of terrorism

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Today, after some deliberation, the Counter-Terrorism Policing South East (CTPSE) declared that in throwing 3 firebombs at Western Jet Foil immigration processing centre in Dover, Andrew Leak had committed an act of terrorism. It makes one wonder what else it could have been. Was it in fact a Dadaist art piece? Unless you have been living under a rock for the last 20 years, even before you heard anything about Leak’s views and politics, it would be hard not to understand the political message of such an act. Yet, it took the CTPSE a week to figure it out.

It is often rightly observed in incidents such as these, that if the perpetrator had been Muslim, it would not have taken the police so long to declare him a terrorist. This, unfortunately, is not news. In fact, in cases such as Jean Charles de Menezes, they can decide a person is a terrorist (and condemn them to death) before they have even done anything, simply on the basis of looking like a Muslim. However, it is interesting to hear how the police determine what constitutes terrorism. Tim Jacques, Senior National Coordinator for Counter-Terrorism Policing, revealed their ‘thinking’ in the matter:

“I am satisfied that the suspect’s actions were primarily driven by an extremist ideology. This meets the threshold for a terrorist incident.”

Tim Jacques: ‘expert’

Thus, terrorism is no longer defined by the act, but by the motivation behind the act. Why does this matter? As an act, terrorism seems to me to be the use of violence to spread terror for political, religious or ideological ends. Admittedly, if it is to be something different from assassination or murder, then on some level we have to identify the ‘ends’. But if the crux of the definition is whether those ends were “extremist”, then we are in dangerous territory.

Leak’s motivation was to terrorise. His aim, judging by the social media post he shared from international far-right propaganda group, Turning Point, was “to make Britain Great Again” (Hope Not Hate). A year ago, he announced that he had written “to the British Government” to the effect that “I will end illegal immigration into this country within one year from the French boat side” (Guardian). Obviously the British Government did not get the memo because Leak was not put on a watch list. He seemed obsessed with defending women and children – but only certain women and children: “your children will feel the pain we now obliterate them Muslim children are now our target. And there disgusting women will be targeted mothers and sisters Is burn alive [sic].” (Hope Not Hate)

These posts tell us what we had already assumed: he had a political agenda in attacking migrants. Fortunately, he did not manage to kill anyone, but 3 people were injured and no doubt he terrified people who were inside the facility. As is usual in such cases (of white, right-wing terrorists), the police were tempted to put his actions down to “mental health”, eventually deciding that his politics were extreme enough that his act “meets the threshold for a terrorist incident.” Whether or not he was mentally unwell seems to me to be a moot point. Anyone who thinks you defend women and children by attacking women and children is not right in the head. Indeed, men who feel they need ‘to defend’ women and children at all and who put ‘women and children’ in the same defenceless category, need some deep psychological work. Yet, however unwell Leek was, he is unlikely to have thought that even if he had managed to kill everyone inside the processing centre he would have ended “illegal immigration … from the French boat side”. The object was to spread terror so that he would deter more people from trying to cross the channel.

And here, we can understand the police’s difficulty. His approach was so similar to that of the British government, it must have been hard to tell them apart. Suella Braverman’s speech in parliament the day after his attack clarifies the problem. She claimed to be speaking for “what is really going on here” at a time when “the system is broken”, “illegal migration is out of control and too many people are … covering up the truth”. Her aim was “stopping the invasion of our Southern Coast”. And she told us what she was going to do about it: “I am utterly serious about ending the scourge of illegal migration and I am determined to do whatever it takes to break the criminal gangs and fix our hopelessly lax asylum system”. This she tells us, “is why I am in government”.

Braverman is the Home Secretary of His Majesty’s Government, and is thus presumably not an extremist, but an elected

representative of a majority viewpoint. Yet, apart from a better grasp of written English, there is little to separate her views as stated and Leak’s. They both consider there to be a conspiracy “covering up the truth”; that the asylum system is “hopelessly lax”; and are committed to “do whatever it takes” to end “the scourge of illegal migration” and the “invasion of our Southern Coast”. No wonder it took the police a week to solve this conundrum.

The outrageous insensitivity of this speech coming a day after a terrorist attack cannot be overemphasised, however. Imagine if, after the Manchester Arena bombing, a government minister had stood in parliament and made a speech in direct sympathy with the terrorist’s aims. Imagine if, speaking for “what is really going one here”, they had railed against the scourge of pop music, corrupting young people, turning them away from God and the true word of the Koran. Imagine if they had said they were in government in order to end such obscenities. They would have been arrested immediately. Yet, although in my circles, we all tut and condemn Braverman, there are enough people in this country (and the police) who agree with her that such views pass as mainstream.

One person’s terrorist is another person’s freedom fighter. Every part of the political spectrum uses violence to further their aims and we all sympathise most with those ‘terrorists’ whose views most resemble our own. Tony Blair, the ‘centrist’ par excellence, in pursuing a radical Huntingdonian ‘Clash of Civilisations’ ‘war on terror’ spread all manner of terror in Afghanistan and Iraq, endorsed the terrorising of people deemed enemies of the state in Guantanamo Bay, Belmarsh, Abu Ghraib etc. and went a long way to creating an asylum system, which by mentally torturing applicants in long drawn out ways, tried (unsuccessfully) to use terror as a deterrent for (non-white) people coming to Britain. If you think his aims were good ones, you may well endorse his methods, just as supporters of Malcolm X, the Suffragettes, the Red Brigade, the IRA etc feel their heroes were justified in using violence to terrify political establishments into accepting their left-wing / anti-colonial aims.

Smug political (non-)thinkers talk of ‘horseshoe theory’ as if they have discovered a magic key to unlocking all political conundrums. Talk of ‘populist’ leaders tries to distance ‘respectable’ politics from its ‘extremes’. The distinction is nonsense. We need more concrete definitions. A so-called ‘far-left’ wing position on immigration – that all humans are of equal value, that we should all have the right to live and work where we want to, that we should all be entitled to live with dignity – is labelled as ‘extreme’ by those who are unwilling to face the ugly reality of their own ideologies: namely that if you are non-white, non-Western, Third World, you should be treated as lesser human beings, with less right to life than white people. The rhetoric of our media and politicians will inevitably encourage more people like Leak to commit acts of terror, radicalised as they are by the media and the government. And the more his ideas are ‘mainstream’, the more ‘normal’ we present these acts of seriously ill minds, the less ‘extreme’ they will seem. By defining terrorism as only belonging to ‘extreme’ ideologies, we miss the acts of terror that are happening every day. The asylum system itself, which does not allow people to work or claim benefits, that prolongs applications seemingly indefinitely, that houses people in accommodation branded even by state appointed inspectors as “‘unfit for habitation”, is an act of terrorism carried out on the often already traumatised people who have to go through it. It is a grinding mental torture, justified by the need to ‘protect our borders’ and to ‘deter’ further arrivals. The lack of difference in ideology between our Home Secretary and a Nazi-sympathising, suicide bomber is the real concern.

Written by angrysampoetry

November 7, 2022 at 8:13 pm

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