|1.||War on Terrorism|
|2.||A Working Definition of Terrorism|
|3.||Euro Election 2004|
|5.||Perhaps Not Suicides?|
|7.||Faith and Politics|
You cannot fight terrorism with guns and bombs.
The only thing you will achieve by bombing Afganistan is to convince millions of people that the people of America, and the West in general, are evil and must be fought against.
The way to fight terrorism is with police work, informers and spies. You catch the people involved, and prosecute them in court. You don't act as judge, jury and executioner all rolled into one.
In deciding to bomb Afganistan, America and Britain are saying that terrorism is so bad that we will act as terrorists in order to fight it. To me, this is not a convincing argument.
(20 October 2001)
People are struggling to find a useful definition of terrorism. I would like to suggest the following.
"Anyone who seeks to achieve their goal through commiting or threatening acts of violence on uninvolved civilians is a terrorist."
This definition excludes a number of situations. If the people being threatened or harmed are personally involved in the dispute, I suggest it is not terrorism: it may, for example, be revenge. The point is that involved people know that they are under threat, and because they are involved they can do something about it.
It also excludes attacks on military people. If you are in the armed services, you are prepared to kill others on your commanding officer's instructions, and to risk being killed on behalf of your country. If someone wants to attack your country, you are by definition a valid target.
Please don't understand this to say I think killing people in the army is okay. I don't. But I don't think it constitutes terrorism - or, rather, if you allow attacks on military people to be included within your definition of terrorism, then it ceases to be useful. Terrorism must be distinguished from warfare.
This definition does not exclude governments. Bombing military targets or factories producing guns is a legitimate objective - as legitimate as any violence in wartime, anyway. But fire-bombing Dresden seems to me to have been an act of terrorism.
The difficult part of this definition is in deciding who is 'uninvolved'. Are the Jewish settlers involved in the conflict with Palestinians? I think the question hinges on whether they are acting within or outside Jewish law. If they are acting legally, then they are not personally involved. They are keeping the law, and the Palestinians' conflict is with those who made an unjust law, and attacks on the settlers is therefore terrorism. If they are breaking the law, then the Palestinians are in conflict with them personally, and any attacks would not count as terrorism.
(28 October 2001)
I'm generally cynical about politicians, so I am not surprised and rarely get upset when we discover they have lied, misrepresented or otherwise twisted the truth to get their own way. I don't think one party has a monopoly on truth, or self- serving.
However, I recently read the Conservative Party 'Election Communication' from the 'South West Conservative Team' and was astonished at what I read.
Let's start with some minor gripes. On the front page, the slogan is simple: "Let down by Labour? Vote Conservative" Why? If I want to get Labour out, my best option is to vote Lib Dem.
On the back, we read that Conservatives "will crack down on fraud, waste and bureaucracy in the EU" - really? Then what have the Conservative MEPs been doing up to now? Supporting fraud, or simply doing nothing about it?
There's lots more where this came from. Inside, we read - in a beautiful example of nimbyism - about opposition to wind power: "we don't all want to see our landscape dwarfed by towering and unsightly turbines that completely fail to blend into their surroundings." Perhaps Caroline Jackson, who apparently said this, would like to tell me who she is criticising here: who does want to see our landscape "dwarfed by towering and unsightly turbines that completely fail to blend into their surroundings"?
I could go on. But the real reason for writing this is on the front page, under the heading of "Government must get control of asylum policy". The final part of the last paragraph reads as follows.
"No one should be able to claim asylum from within our borders. Instead, their claims should be asssessed offshore. That way, we can make sure we know who is entering our country."
I really don't know where to start. I really don't believe the Tories are suggesting someone in (for example) Poland should be able to claim asylum in the UK. I don't believe this policy could be implemented under international law. Even if it were implemented, it certainly would not "make sure we know who is entering our country" - it would make no difference at all to criminals and terrorists, for example.
This kind of talk deeply worries and scares me. If a mainstream political party can adopt such a xenophobic position, something is dreadfully wrong.
(12 June 2004)
(12 December 2004)
One reason why the proposed law to ban incitement to religious hatred is such a bad idea is because it is impossible to distinguish between the things the Government wants to ban and perfectly legitimate dialogue.
For example, most religions have been guilty, at some time or other, of events that outsiders would regard as hateful. One prime example, in the case of the Roman Catholic Church, would be the Crusades.
It is perfectly legitimate for someone to say that the Crusades were a series of hateful acts undertaken in the name of Christ: the Christian Church has done many hateful things. I have heard people tell me that because the Church has done such evil acts, the Church is therefore evil. I think the reasoning is false, but I do not believe we should stop people from making such claims - otherwise we could never debate these subjects and discover a better understanding.
But how do you distinguish between claims that a religion or the institutions that support the religion are essentially evil and hateful, and incitement to religious hatred? Perhaps a lawyer can construct some careful test, but in real life the boundary is blurred.
The problem is that in seeking to outlaw incitement to religious hatred, the Government is seeking to prevent people from saying certain things on the basis of the intention or motivation behind the words, and it is almost impossible to prove a person's intention and motivation. We should stick with the existing laws, which do not require such arcane reasoning.
(21 July 2005)
For the past two weeks, the news has been full of discussion and speculation about the 'suicide bombers' who killed over 50 people in London on 7 July. But in all that I've heard, one obvious possibility seems to have been completely ignored.
The CCTV pictures of these people travelling to London does not look like a bunch of suicide bombers. Their friends and families are astonished to think they were suicide bombers. Three of the bombs were detonated at almost the same time, which is very unusual for suicide bombers. Perhaps they were not suicide bombers after all?
Another possibility is that they were lied to.
This is pure speculation, but a story like this would seem to fit the facts that have been published so far: someone they trust comes to them and says, "How would you like to help me make a political statement about the Iraq war? I have been able to get hold of some paint bombs, and I know where (some important person) will be in a few days' time. There will be no risk to you: they have timers fitted, so all you have to do is leave a bag where I tell you, and later in the day the target and his staff will be covered in red paint. The newspapers will love it! I will work out a safe route for you to get there, and all you have to remember is to set the timer going exactly one hour before it needs to go off. Nobody will get hurt, and it will be great publicity, I promise."
(22 January 2008)
There has been a great deal of news and comment recently about the need for more organ donations. This week's Moral Maze, amongst others, looked at the issue. From the BBC web site:
"Last week Gordon Brown expressed his support for a system of 'presumed consent' - whereby everyone's organs would be up for grabs unless there had been a specific opt-out.
"This would help the near seven thousand people wanting a transplant. It's estimated that this year, over nine hundred will either die before a donor can be found, or become too weak for surgery.
"But despite that, should the state take ownership of our bodies after we die?"
The debate in the programme, and on every other occasion I have heard it discussed, was between the ethics of our 'opt-in' system and the ethics of a possible new 'opt-out' system. But why do we need either? Why not simply require everyone to state their preference, and make the information public?
These days, you could do it on a web site. But I suspect it would be much cheaper, simpler and easier to capture the preference along with voter registration, and publish it on the voting register. That way there is no need to presume anything, and no opportunity for the relatives to get into a fight over whether Aunt Agatha wanted to donate her kidneys.
Children, of course, would not be catered for by this system, but that leaves the parents still making the choice on behalf of their children, which seems right.
(25 March 2008)
There have been two items of news in the last few days: Gordon Brown is being criticised for not applying his Christian faith to the issue of stem cell research, and the NUT at their annual conference have heard a speaker, who seems to have been well received, condemning the Government's support of faith schools, and suggesting that religious leaders are given a weekly slot to teach their religion in state schools instead.
It seems to me that both these ideas are seriously mistaken.