Thursday, January 29, 2009
The war against pre-terrorism posted by Richard Seymour
Following his detailed exposition of the "Tarnac 9" case, Alberto Toscano has an excellent article in today's Guardian on the way in which European states are inclined to use 'anti-terror' laws to attack and undermine forms of dissent that, while illegal, clearly are not terroristic.
I note that a number of the commenters under the article don't actually understand this point: there is much ado about how the suspects should "spend a very long time in jail" if the charges are proven correct in court. But the fact that the normal legal safeguards have been bypassed surely undermines the validity of any verdict reached. Moreover, the crimes of which the Tarnac 9 are accused amount to vandalism, but their case is treated by the French state as a preemptive strike against direct action and non-parliamentary forms of dissent, which are - in a way that is ominously familiar to environmental or antiwar protesters in the UK - increasingly categorised as terrorism. The invocation of 'war on terror' rhetoric is arbitrary, but it helps to justify "bypassing customary legal safeguards, above all the presumption of innocence". If it is permitted in this case, it sets a precedent that will be hard to reverse.
There is another problem here, in that there is no universally accepted definition of terrorism, and anti-terror legislation is usually opaque and riddled with double standards on the topic. Have a read of Lord Carlile's review from 2007 if you need confirmation of that. It can include sabotage and vandalism, or even the threat of sabotage and vandalism. It can include murders prompted by no obvious political goal. It can include also include mass murder. In this way, current conceptions of terrorism can be used to bracket flyposters (destruction of property after all) and protesters (where it might be argued that there is a threat of property being destroyed), with airplane hijackers and hotel bombers. It does not require a leap of the imagination to see how strikes and sit-ins could also be absorbed into the category of terrorism. A discourse that is supposedly about protecting the public is also the means by which the public is to be intimidated and repressed, just as a new wave of protest and rebellion is sweeping Europe.