Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Draft French anti-terror laws highlight the UK's drift towards being a police state

Charles Clarke’s French counterpart Nicolas ‘Iznogoud’ Sarkozy has just unveiled his very own proposals for a raft of anti-terror legislation. Surfing the growing wave of fear amongst the French electorate (a phenomenon known as l’insécurité) has been an important part of Sarkozy’s rise to political prominence, and his current role as Interior Minister offers an ideal platform on which to continue to build his reputation as a fearsome opponent of muggers, terrorists, young men in hoodies, and now weirdly the Militant Pine Marten’s very own cousin, but more on that later.

On Monday evening, Sarkozy appeared on television to discuss his proposals, and the man has absolutely nothing to learn from our own Charles Clarke when it comes to tough talking and quite frankly straightforward posturing. In fact, he makes Clarke sound like a big pussycat, although his direct pilfering of the Home Secretary’s exact rhetoric is sloppy work. Consider the following withering response to the suggestion that his proposals represent a threat to civil liberties: "The first liberty is to be able to take the Metro and the bus without fearing for one’s life". You may recall the following statement from Charles Clarke, issued after an equivalent comment about civil liberties: "It is a fundamental civil liberty of people in Europe to be able to go to work on their transport system in the morning without being blown up." Nicolas, fais donc un effort, merde! That’s just really sloppy work. It’s a ridiculously glib thing to say in the first place, let alone to plagiarise it.

Apart from stealing Clarke’s weak arguments, Sarkozy had some typically robust ones of his own to air, further reinforcing his image as the dogged defender of France’s security. First of all, he started by making quite sure that everyone was in the proper paranoid state of mind to be prepared to listen to him, opining that the terrorist menace "exists in France, at a very high level" and that on a scale of one to five, it was "closer to four than to three". To fight this, Sarkozy explained that "We want to know who is going where, for how long, and when they’re coming back". Now you may think that it’s really none of the State’s business where people choose to go on holiday, in which case you may be swayed by the further explanation that "It is not normal that an individual living in one of our inner cities should suddenly leave for four months to Afghanistan, three months to Syria". You may be swayed by that, but I’d like to think that you’re not. Keeping track of people’s movements, keeping them under surveillance in case they decide to do something "not normal" is proper police state behaviour, not the behaviour of a country that makes a good claim to having invented liberty in the modern political sense. It shows a frightening contempt for individual liberty, for the fundamental values of the French Republic, more importantly in an increasingly varied society, for difference. Nicolas Sarkozy seems to be attempting to scare the electorate into supporting his presidential ambitions, a tactic with an extremely distasteful history.

However for all his unpleasant rhetoric, Sarkozy’s actual proposals fall far short of the levels of State surveillance of the individual proposed and indeed to a great extent implemented by Charles Clarke. Apart from the plan to scrutinise people’s movements, the rest of the legislative proposals in France will seem very mild to the British electorate. Broadly, they cover installing more CCTV cameras (British readers may forget that these little gadgets are nowhere near as popular in the rest of the world), the keeping of logs of people’s phone calls and internet use (but not of the content of the communications), increased sentences to terrorism-related offences, and increased access for the police services to files on citizens’ number plates, driving licences, passports, identity cards, visa applications, etc. However this remains far from the level and depth of information that Clarke wishes to include in British ID cards, or to the proposed availability of this information. The fact is that the British have allowed themselves to gradually be subjected to a degree of surveillance that would be anathema in the rest of Europe, certainly in France. Indeed, even Sarkozy hasn’t dared propose any legislation that far-reaching, knowing that it wouldn’t wash, that it would probably be unconstitutional (incidentally, I’ll take the opportunity to point out that the UK should really draw up a written constitution to protect citizens’ liberties).

Finally, why is my cousin a menace to the security of French citizens? Well my cousin is young, lives in an inner city, and has suddenly left to spend a few months in Syria. In addition, my cousin has all her life associated with blacks and people of North African descent, has a strong anti-establishment streak and is a bit lefty. All factors which, according to Sarkozy, perfectly fit the profile of typical French Jihadist.


Brother Waxwell said...

On principle alone I would find it hard to counter your argument. But its not principle alone that we use to make decisions in our day-to-day lives. Often our principles are forced to compromise with what’s practical. Occasionally, though rarely, reality gives us such a mugging as to force us to abandon principle all together. While I don’t believe that to be the case now. I do believe some sort of compromise is in order. After all, Principles and law are ultimately there as tools to help protect people and property. When standing on principle without question and/or blindly following the law results in the destruction of both people and property. It’s neither principled nor legal. It’s a suicide pact.


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