Simon Jenkins writes: What is Britain’s national security? At a time when the country once again ponders war, the arguments used should be precise and the language clear. This is seldom the case. The division of the world into good guys and bad guys, democrats and dictators, terrorists and counter-terrorists, not only insults peaceful diplomacy and promotes war. It pollutes the domestic rule of law and civil rights.
The controversial detention of David Miranda at Heathrow earlier this month was explained by the home secretary, Theresa May, and the Commons security committee chief, Sir Malcolm Rifkind, on the grounds that Miranda was carrying material that “could aid terrorism”. This mere possibility would, they said, constitute a “threat to national security”.
Time and again in the course of the Iraq and Afghan wars, the threat of terrorism was used to justify draconian anti-terrorist powers in Britain. Tony Blair said the powers were needed to “defend western values”. Gordon Brown told British troops in Helmand that their role was domestic, “to make Britain’s streets safe from terror“. Should Britain start bombing Syria, some murky agency will use this as justification to step up terrorist attacks on Britain, with a consequent twist in the ratchet of surveillance and detention by the British authorities.
Terrorism and national security are wholly distinct concepts. Terrorism involves a violent incident, a crime with usually facile political intent. It merely kills people and wrecks buildings. It acquires power only by generating an exaggerated response, and is countered by good policing and not overreacting. When the Brighton hotel was bombed in 1984, the police told Margaret Thatcher to cancel her conference and return to London. She rightly replied: “What, and let the terrorists win!”
Not even IRA terror, more systematic than anything spawned by al-Qaida, threatened national security – that is, the integrity of the British state or its institutions. To confuse terrorism with such security is to play the terrorist’s game. Those who do so lack faith in the robustness of the British constitution. They are what Lenin would have called terror’s “useful idiots“. [Continue reading…]