Tuesday, May 09, 2006

"Terror Grannies" - how to make a law ridiculous in one easy lesson

From time to time I've proposed humour and ridicule as effective ways of hamstringing politicians who wrap themselves in the flag to further their own aims or whose zeal exceed their intellect and judgment. The UK now has a great example of this process at work.

Following 911 the British Government rushed through some new anti-terror laws to keep us all safe at night.

Fortunately, the British Parliament isn't as easy to stampede as Congress so we didn't end up with a Patriot Act (which still sounds like a Vaudeville show to me), instead we got the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 (as you will see, the meaning of the word "serious" is being stretched a little in the application of this Act). This sat alongside the 2000 Terrorism Act (which sounds like a new and improved toilet cleaner: "We bring you Terrorism 2000, a new solution for a new millennium").

Most of the original proposals for the new Act were kicked out but the Act still strengthens the power of the police to stop and search and takes the dangerous step of pre-defining what constitutes a terrorist act (this is very un-British - such things are normally defined after the fact).

Unfortunately, when you give the British Police a new law they sometimes feel obliged to use it and, if you didn't know better, you'd swear that the set out to do so in a way that causes the maximum embarrassment to the British Government (the Police made a formal input to the proposed Terrorism 2000 Act saying that they already had all the powers they needed.

So now we the joy of seeing the 2000 Terrorism Act and the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 being used to keep the Blair government safe from those citizens who threaten... well, disagreement, actually.

And we all know that disagreement is the thin end of the wedge used by evil doers everywhere to exploit the freedoms granted by a true democracy in order to weaken us and make us vulnerable - no , wait, scrub that, I think I was channeling the Republican Party for a moment.

So far the Acts have been used against:

  • a man wearing an anti-Blair T shirt
  • a man who heckled the Foreign Secretary by accusing him of lying
  • about Iraq
  • a woman who protested British casualties in Iraq by reading out their
  • names at the Cenotaph
  • a man who held an anti-war vigil outside parliament

But the biggest gift to Britain's press was the arrest of two women that they have christened: "Terror Grannies", veterans of Greenham Common, who set out to challenge the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 by walking across an American sentry line (good grief – must be a terrorist if they don't follow the instructions of the American military on British soil - whoops that would be American soil in Britain - my mistake).

For details of these incidents go to this blog The Reid Report: Think at your own risk

I'm sure the press won't let this go and I'm sure that the civil liberties folks in the UK will continue to find ways to push the government into making itself ridiculous.

If Voltaire had been British, I'm sure he would have said: "The price of Freedom is constant sarcasm".