In the Media

Lawyers sap our will to combat terrorism

PUBLISHED July 27, 2007

Many jihadis seek to create a global caliphate, ruled by Sharia. At best, Christians, Hindus, and Jews would live in a state of submission tantamount to second-class citizenship. If they got above themselves, they would suffer the persecutions Islamists visited on the Coptic Christians of Egypt. The rule of Islamists has resulted in murderous chaos ? 150,000 died in Algeria during the 1990s when madmen decided that most of the Muslim population were apostates. The Taleban anti-state so ruined Afghanistan that Americans joked that they had to bomb it forwards to the Stone Age. There are significant numbers of people living in Britain who wish to visit such chaos on us.

This is the backdrop to the debate about anti-terrorism legislation. As usual lawyers talk to lawyers, including those overrepresented in our political class. Overlooking that our greatest right is to life, civil libertarians are exercised about proposals to extend detention of suspects from 28 to 56 days.

Shami Chakrabarti, the barrister whom the BBC assiduously promotes as the voice of a presumed liberal consensus, will widen her Diana-like eyes in outrage, while Amnesty will mutter darkly about internment. Then we?ll hear from Gareth Peirce ? the Provos? and now the jihadis? lawyer of choice ? or her business rival Mudassur Arani, whose website advises Muslims how to deny cooperation with M15. Ms Arani was recently exercised by an attack on Dhiren Barot, the British al-Qaeda terrorist, by a fellow prison inmate. She wants jihadi prisoners all kept together, doubtless so that within ten minutes of such consolidation, she would be whining about a British Guantanamo, from where, say, Clive Stafford Smith, would soon relay lurid terrorist tales of torture to Channel 4 News.

Since activist lawyers routinely usurp a moral high ground vacated by a lazy liberalism, it seems almost vulgar to point out that at least one terrorist group ? the Baader-Meinhof gang ? was co-founded by a lawyer, Horst Mahler (nowadays a neo-Nazi), while Lynne Stewart, defence counsel to blind Sheikh Omar Abdul Rahman, is serving a prison sentence for helping him to communicate from his prison cell with his Egyptian followers.

Now that Gordon Brown has rejected the proposal of Lord Carlile of Berriew, QC, to give judges the powers to extend periods of detention, on the understandable ground that senior judges sabotaged the system of control orders after freeing the Belmarsh detainees, perhaps his lordship could get the Law Society to focus on its own nest?

Some of Mr Brown?s proposals announced this week in the Commons make sense, although they are hopelessly overdue. The Tories have long argued for a dedicated border police, staffed with officers on serious salaries. Instead of which we are going to get an agency mainly staffed by low-grade Customs officers. Electronic passenger screening is being introduced after the US warned us that it may introduce visa requirements for Anglo-Pakistanis on the ground that you don?t stop Jaguars when a Toyota has been stolen. Belated steps are being taken to secure strategic sites, sports grounds and shopping malls, as well as, tardily again, to hook up our immigration computers with Europol?s databank of seven million lost or stolen passports.

Another proposal briefly floated was to turn a few circuit judges into European-style investigative magistrates. One can?t quite imagine these claret-faced old buffers in the role of Jean-Louis Brugi?re, a French judge whose pursuit of Islamists led to his being dubbed ?the sheriff?, and not only because of the Magnum revolver he had under his jacket.

One of the puzzles of our time is why Britain scrupulously adheres to the Human Rights Act, when our allies and partners systematically flout the European Convention on Human Rights. Talk of human rights abuses invariably focuses on the US, with sneering TV documentaries about Guantanamo or CIA ?extraordinary rendition?. But on much of the Continent they don?t allow civil liberty lawyers to turn terrorism into a risk-free activity.

When the Socialist Interior Minister of Spain organised a campaign of assassinating Eta terrorists across the border in France during the 1990s, he was following in the footsteps of French governments that had routinely killed FLN and OAS arms traders in the 1960s. Getting Spain?s message, France began deporting Eta suspects to places such as Papua New Guinea, and has since been repatriating radical Islamist clerics. The Germans, likewise, did not hesitate to deport a Turkish imam on grounds of national security, even though he had lived in Germany for 30 years. The former German Interior Minister, Otto Schily, once a lawyer for Baader-Meinhof defendants, cryptically remarked of the jihadis: ?Those who love death can have it.?

While we agonise about 28 or 56 days custody, it is not uncommon for terrorist suspects in France to be held in preventive detention for four or five years before their case goes to court. The use of intelligence intercept evidence in courts is being debated here, but the Italian security services have long made transcripts of this material available, so revealing the lying cynicism with which, for example, Milan-based Arab jihadis regard European asylum laws. And then there is the internet, one of the key means of radicalising Muslims. Wolfgang Sch?uble, the German Interior Minister, wheelchair-bound since a 1990 assassination attempt, has argued recently in favour of hacking into the computers of Islamist radicals. We can?t even manage to shut down jihadi websites or to prohibit subversive organisations, such as Hizb ut-Tahir, from operating on university campuses where the dons think they are dealing with the usual middle-class radicals.

If Mr Brown?s anti-terrorism measures seem ignorant of what our fellow Europeans practise routinely, they also reflect an outmoded habit of separating domestic and foreign policy. Why is foreign aid not contingent upon warning recipient states that they will forfeit it if clerics they subsidise preach hatred of the West? Why aren?t we helping Afghanistan or Pakistan to build secular alternatives to the Saudi-financed madrassas where children are brainwashed with cartoon Jew killers? If this is a neo-Cold War, why are we failing to help the four fifths of Muslims who are not from the Middle East to assert themselves against that demented region?

The predictable racket between rival lawyers does not even begin to address the serious questions involved if we don?t wish to live in that grim caliphate or to be murdered by hysterical fanatics.

Michael Burleigh?s most recent book is Sacred Causes: Religion and Politics from the European Dictators to al-Qaeda