In the interests of separating the spin for the reality of yesterday’s proceedings in the House of Commons on the Terrorism Bill, this is what yesterday left us with in terms of ‘glorification’:
There is NO offence ‘glorifying terrorism’ in the Bill.
What Parliament reinstated were amendments which include glorification of terrorism in the new offence of ‘Encouragement of Terrorism’ – basically if you ‘glorify’ terrorism you encourage people to do it themselves in the opinion of our legislators.
The wording of this clause – give or take any minor tweaks to the wording by the Lords which were accepted – is as follows:
Encouragement of Terrorism
(1) A person commits an offence if—
(a) he publishes a statement or causes another to publish a statement on his behalf; and
(b) at the time he does so—
(i) he knows or believes, or
(ii) he has reasonable grounds for believing, that members of the public to whom the statement is or is to be published are likely to understand it as a direct or indirect encouragement or other inducement to the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism or Convention offences.
(2) For the purposes of this section the statements that are likely to be understood by members of the public as indirectly encouraging the commission or preparation of acts of terrorism or Convention offences include every statement which—
(a) glorifies the commission or preparation (whether in the past, in the future or generally) of such acts or offences; and
(b) is a statement from which those members of the public could reasonably be expected to infer that what is being glorified is being glorified as conduct that should be emulated in existing circumstances.
(3) For the purposes of this section the questions what it would be reasonable to believe about how members of the public will understand a statement and what they could reasonably be expected to infer from a statement must be determined having regard both—
(a) to the contents of the statement as a whole; and
(b) to the circumstances and manner in which it is or is to be published.
(4) It is irrelevant for the purposes of subsections (1) and (2)—
(a) whether the statement relates to the commission, preparation or instigation of one or more particular acts of terrorism or Convention offences, of acts of terrorism or Convention offences of a particular description or of acts of terrorism or Convention offences generally; and
(b) whether any person is in fact encouraged or induced by the statement to commit, prepare or instigate any such act or offence.
The Bill allows for two possible lines of defence against such charges:
1. I didn’t say that, someone else did and I didn’t know about it.
In essence, this protects bloggers, forum operaters and webhosts from being prosecuted for unsoliticted comments by third parties, but as we’ll go on to see, that doesn’t mean ‘we’re out of the wood’ yet.
2. I don’t agree with it, but this is what’s being said…
You can still publish statements which ‘glorify terrorism’ if you make it absolutely clear you disagree with them.
The provisions which appeared in the first draft of the Bill, when glorification was a separate offence, which limit its applicability to terrorist attacks in the last twenty years plus anything before that put explicitly on a designated list by the Home Secretary is no longer part of the Bill – taken to the letter of the law, glorification covers any terrorist or terrorist act at any time in history or just terrorism in general.
Hypotheticially, therefore, the list of terrorists and terrorist organisations and events that one could be prosecuted for ‘glorifying’ under this law includes; amongst others:
Hereward the Wake
Wat Tyler and the Peasant’s Revolt
Charles Stuart (Bonnie Prince Charlie) and the Jacobite Rebellion
Michael Collins and, indeed, any prominant figure in the Irish Republican movement who advocated, supported or engaged in the ‘armed struggle’. The 90th Anniversary celebrations of the 1916 Easter Uprising are now, strictly speaking, unlawful in the UK.
Nelson Mandela and the African Nation Congress
Menachem Begin and the Irgun Tsvai Leuni
Washington, Jefferson, Franklin and any of the ‘Founding Fathers’ of the United States of America.
And, indeed, just about any armed resistance movement in history.
The lask of clarity here is breathtaking. Where, for example, do we stand on – legally speaking – on the English Civil War? Should we be arresting members of the Sealed Knot and if so which ones – Cavaliers or Roundheads?
Do we expunge the Boston Tea Party from the history books? Do we ban the playing of revolutionary anthems like the Marsellaise? Are the works of Mikhail Bakunin now banned? Are aging punks now required by law to throw away their old Brigate Rosse T-Shirts? Is Che now officially unpersoned – in which case if you scroll down to the bottom of the blog you’ll see that that’s me fucked for starters.
You see the problem here is not just the idea of ‘glorification’ but that of terrorism itself – what exactly is it?
There is a simple answer to this question yet one which politicians refuse to voice because it reveals an unpalatable truth – terrorism is simply the use of violence for political ends that the ruling elite of a particular society disagree with. The sole difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter genuinely is a matter of perspective – if you happen to agree with the political aims of the ‘terrorist’ then that legitimises, to some extent, their actions.
None of this negates the moral arguments that are inherent in considering the nature of terrorism – one can still quite legitimately take the view that the use of violence against unarmed, non-combatant civilians is morally wring in any circumstances but if one takes such a view as matter of conscience then one has to question the legitimacy of any such actions irrespective of who the perpetrators are or the cause they espouse.
This is ‘Orwellian’ legislation not in simplistic sense that it enacts curbs on free speech but in the more subtle sense that it embodies the principle of the shifting plains of Orwell’s perpertual war – today’s ‘legitimate’ resistance movement may well become tomorrow’s totalitarian regime or, more pertinantly, proscribed terrorist organisation.
And if that doesn’t convince you that this is badly drafted legislation, then take a look at the actual definition of ‘glorification’ in the Bill’s section on interpretation: