Counter terrorism policy

Lord Soley

We had a statement on counter terrorism policy yesterday. It makes sober reading. I intervened with a question (or my own statement!) pointing out that some vulnerable people and young people were targeted by terror groups using the argument that because bad things happen in a democracy we are therefore no better than some of the authoritarian states that we criticise.

I take the view that what distinguishes a democratic society with the rule of law from an authoritarian society is that when things go wrong there are ways of putting it right. Whether by holding a government to account at elections or in Parliament or through the courts or the press and so on. An authoritarian society doesn’t give you that option.

Read on:

5 comments for “Counter terrorism policy

  1. ladytizzy
    27/03/2009 at 12:02 am

    Agreed that I can chat about such stuff here though I don’t see how that equates to democracy. I want to know whether anybody is listening.

    No matter what I think about Sections of the Counter Terrorism Act, or whatever, it is important that this blog, and Lord Renton, are asking for our views.

    If we can’t be bothered to reply, or vote, when asked, we have ourselves to blame for what happens next.

  2. B
    27/03/2009 at 2:06 pm

    I think the distinction you make between an authoritarian society and a democratic one is too weak to be taken seriously.

    At its core democracy is an attempt to let the people’s answer to questions like “what is best?” and “what is to be done about x?” have a dominant role in shaping policy. Indeed the very world ‘democracy’, implies that it is the demos which the government answers to. This is the distinctive mark of a democracy and no amount of vehicles for ‘putting things right’ will result in a democracy unless this essential condition is met.

    One needs only to reflect for a moment at the marvelous array of uncontroversially authoritarian countries to recognize that a great many of them have a court system that functions to some degree, or a host of opposition newspapers and, even, some mechanism for responding to public outrage or of backtracking in the face of opposition. But though Pakistan, Venezuela, the Dominican Republic and others have such features it is a real stretch to refer to them as democratic.

    Moreover, if we really examine the lack of a articulated bill of rights in this country, the infrequent elections, the ‘anointing’ of Gordon Brown with no substantive public input, the deference that the UK’s courts give to the state in dispute resolution, and the recent decision to ignore the EU’s high court on human rights ruling with respect to DNA retention, a thinking person would have to classify the UK as on the wrong side of the authoritarian/democratic distinction you agitate for.

    So what then is missing? I would argue that what is missing is a real respect for individuality. Part of this respect is trusting individuals to make good decisions without oversight or, better still, allowing the individual oversight over what is properly within his domain of interests. Ubiquitous surveillance, intrusion into a person’s private communications, being required to submit a DNA sample to any police officer with no knowledge of what will be done with it; these practices and others show that the individual is under constant scrutiny, does not enjoy the trust of the government and must demonstrate his innocence in the face of scrutiny rather than being presumed innocent. Taken together they amount to contempt for the people and such contempt is absolutely incompatible with any definition of democracy worth taking seriously.

  3. Bedd Gelert
    27/03/2009 at 6:41 pm

    Make hay while the sun is still shining…

    Still, I see your point that this will count for nought while most other countries are sitting on their hands.

    But whilst this might seem a token gesture, we are going nowhere until we start practising what we preach…

    Thoughts ??

  4. Francisco
    27/03/2009 at 10:32 pm

    I have to agree with B on this one. I’ve been worried about the state of democracy in Britain for years. There have been so many minor cuts into democracy, many in the name of fighting terrorism, that I am wondering whether quite a few politicians (and to be fair to them, not only the politicians) are attacking basic freedoms.

    It would be a bit of a rant but, if you wish, I could list my list of worrying laws, proposals, etc.

  5. 30/03/2009 at 6:36 pm

    Who are these “Some People” you refer to, Lord Soley? Did any of them recently accompany a young lady from Kansas to the Emerald City?

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