Tuesday, April 05, 2005

Question 1. Define "terrorism". (10 marks)

This is a strange one. In February 2003, Hazil Rahaman-Alan concealed a grenade in his luggage upon flying to Gatwick, with the intent of blowing everyone up. "The grenade would be his microphone to the world." Furthermore, "during the flight, he had drawn attention to himself by moving around the aircraft and appearing to be nervous". Stopped at random at Gatwick, he was charged under the Terrorism Act, but this has now been changed to the Explosives Act and the Aviation Act. Why? Because he's not a terrorist...

Back in 2003, the Guardian article notes, the Met police commissioner warned alongside the original arrest that al-Qaida terrorists had a "substantial presence" in Britain. Yet this al-Qaida hitman is now apparently completely otherwise. No real reason for this reversal is given, although the BBC article notes that "his motives were obscure."

Why is this important? Because it's about boundaries, and where lines are drawn. One man, with an intent to kill a plane load of people in the name of getting people with power to listen, is an evil terrorist, while the other is a slightly disturbed loon, perhaps. The difference? In this case, perhaps the mental state of the accused, or perhaps the plight he was trying to bring attention to ("starving children in Africa", possibly), or maybe even the fact that his plan would never have succeeded.

The focus, here, is on how we use language. What is a "terrorist" anyway, and how are they different to a "suicide bomber" or a "political activist"? More importantly, what are we trying to achieve when we paint someone with any of these terms, even before they've had a fair trial? And what, maybe as in this case, are we capable of totally ignoring while we carry out our modern-day witch-hunts?

Meanwhile, Stephen Wilkinson has defected from Labour to the Lib Dems, due to Labour's authoritarian angles. As the Beeb puts it, "he also criticised the use of the threat of terror to push for house arrest and compulsory ID cards and to justify the war in Iraq."


Watching Them, Watching Us said...

The inflexible overreaction of the security authorities at Gatwick to the discovery of this hand grenade is worth noting.

They evacuated the whole of Gatwick North Terminal, disrupting the flights of thousands of passengers for the best part of a day.

Surely , even if they had to call in a robot bomb disposal team (which they did not need to since it was a stable hand grenade which had already been on an aeroplane), they should only have evacuated a small area of the Customs hall ?

Even if the hand grenade had exploded it could not have endangered half an airport.

The security bureacracy seem to be helping the aims of the terrorists by their "War on Tourism".

Scribe said...

The saying "Better safe than sorry" springs to mind. Maybe it should be updated. "Better paranoid than questioned."