There is no ‘War on Terror’

There is no war on terror, says Britain’s Director of Public Prosecutions, Ken Macdonald. What we have instead is a crime prevention exercise, albeit one in thwarting the actions of psychopathic killers, and bringing them to justice:

“London is not a battlefield. Those innocents who were murdered on July 7 2005 were not victims of war. And the men who killed them were not, as in their vanity they claimed on their ludicrous videos, ‘soldiers’. They were deluded, narcissistic inadequates. They were criminals. They were fantasists. We need to be very clear about this. On the streets of London, there is no such thing as a ‘war on terror’, just as there can be no such thing as a ‘war on drugs’.”

The newspaper article linked to above was published in yesterday’s Guardian, and when I read it, I expected an immediate reaction in the form of multiple mainstream media reports and blogs. But the reaction has, I have to say, been relatively muted. Today’s Guardian newspaper carries a short editorial in praise of Sir Ken, and a few of the broadsheets carried the story yesterday in response to the DPP’s statement. But apart from that, the media have been fairly quiet.

What Sir Ken had to say was highly significant, and cut straight to the core of how we can and should respond to religiously-motivated terrorism. What he did was defend the rule of law in our liberal democratic society, which is no more than one would expect, given his job title. But Sir Ken did so by putting himself at odds with his employers – the UK government – warning of a fear-driven and inappropriate response to the terrorist threat he acknowledged we face today.

New Labour have grounded their response to Islamist terror in terms that are guaranteed to cause alarm and distress to the public. In doing so, they have managed to further their authoritarian grip on the state and civil society in Britain, and secure enough public support to get away with this.

The threat we face today has “all the disturbing elements of a death cult psychology,”, says Sir Ken, but he goes further:

“It is critical that we understand that this new form of terrorism carries another more subtle, perhaps equally pernicious risk. Because it might encourage a fear-driven and inappropriate response. By that I mean it can tempt us to abandon our values. I think it important to understand that this is one of its primary purposes.”

Of course, Sir Ken is not the first person to say such things, but coming from such a senior official in the British state, this is potentially damaging to the government.

There is some precedent for senior civil servants sniping at their masters in public. Only recently we saw the head of the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6), John Scarlett, object to the way in which the government foreclosed the completion of the fraud investigation into the sale of Eurofighter aircraft to Saudi Arabia: a theocratic dictatorship and our supposed ally in the ‘War on Terror’. It didn’t take long for Scarlett to back down, and one has to ask under what kind of pressure was he put to do so.

Will Sir Ken now face the Scarlett treatment? I wouldn’t be surprised.

I’ll sum up with a final quote from Sir Ken:

“We wouldn’t get far in promoting a civilising culture of respect for rights amongst and between citizens if we set about undermining fair trials in the simple pursuit of greater numbers of inevitably less safe convictions. On the contrary, it is obvious that the process of winning convictions ought to be in keeping with a consensual rule of law and not detached from it. Otherwise we sacrifice fundamental values critical to the maintenance of the rule of law – upon which everything else depends.”