Following the heinous attack on Muslim worshippers in Finsbury Park, London, I’m confused by the use of the words ‘terror’ and ‘terrorism’.
(If there are any lawyers out there who can critique this and rebut my arguments, please do so. I’m not entirely certain, of course, as I am no lawyer.)
I also want to look at the use of ‘terror’ and its derivatives in relation to the BBC’s reporting of violence in Israel and also at the recent Al Quds Day march in London at the weekend.
There is a legal definition of terrorism in the Terrorism Act 2000 and its provisions and subsequent amendments.
So let’s look at the relevant parts of the Act.
1 Terrorism: interpretation.
(1) In this Act “terrorism” means the use or threat of action where—
(a) the action falls within subsection (2),
(b) the use or threat is designed to influence the government [F1or an international governmental organisation] or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and
(c) the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious [F2, racial] or ideological cause.
(2) Action falls within this subsection if it—
(a) involves serious violence against a person,
(b) involves serious damage to property,
(c) endangers a person’s life, other than that of the person committing the action,
(d) creates a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public, or
(e) is designed seriously to interfere with or seriously to disrupt an electronic system.
(3) The use or threat of action falling within subsection (2) which involves the use of firearms or explosives is terrorism whether or not subsection (1)(b) is satisfied.
(4) In this section—
(a) “action” includes action outside the United Kingdom,
(b) a reference to any person or to property is a reference to any person, or to property, wherever situated,
(c) a reference to the public includes a reference to the public of a country other than the United Kingdom, and
(d) “the government” means the government of the United Kingdom, of a Part of the United Kingdom or of a country other than the United Kingdom.
(5) In this Act a reference to action taken for the purposes of terrorism includes a reference to action taken for the benefit of a proscribed organisation.
My reading of this is that the Finsbury Park attacker committed an act of terrorism ONLY if he intended to intimidate a section of the public – namely Muslims – otherwise this is a hate crime, not an act of terrorism, even though he used a method used by terrorists in the UK, France and Israel in recent times.
To be a terrorist, his action must fall under Section 2 – well, clearly it does. But look at Section 1. Although we await the outcome of police investigations and interrogations, I think it highly unlikely that there was any ’cause’ involved. Osborne was not intending to further a political or religious agenda or influence the government. Notice the word ‘and’ between 1(b) and 1(c). Just because the attacker intended to kill or used a method used by terrorists doesn’t mean it is terrorism (UNLESS he uses firearms or explosives which is terrorism regardless of motivation. Neither were used.)
Until the Act is amended to include the use of vehicular attacks, it’s probably not strictly terror. If someone decides to mow down a group of revellers with his van because he doesn’t like their rowdiness, that’s attempted murder; if they are all African-Caribbean then that might be a hate crime, but it’s not terror.
If someone daubs a synagogue with a swastika, that’s a hate crime because it does not involve anything in Section 2. If a man wearing a kippa is punched and abused that is not terrorism because there is no political or religious cause being advanced; it’s ‘just’ a hate crime.
If we look at Manchester and London Bridge, however, we know that the perpetrators did have a religio-political agenda. In the first case explosives were used, so that is terror by any interpretation. London Bridge was an indiscriminate attack motivated by a fanatical religious zeal where the perpetrators believe they are acting according to the will of their god, and it’s definitely designed to intimidate the public. In this case, there is also a pseudo-political aim because political Islam does have an agenda to pursue power to change Western culture and belief and to kill non-believers in pursuance of that goal. Such acts are required and worthy in their interpretation of their religion. It also sees as justified targets all citizens of countries that it believes to be at war with Islam.
A study of the act also reveals why the BBC’s failure to recognise attacks in Israel as terrorism is also degrading the term and ignoring its provisions.
For years now Israelis have been subject to knife and ramming attacks against civilians, yet the BBC is determined to characterise these attacks as militancy, not terror. The reason it does this is because it perceives these attacks as part of a political conflict where the use of the terms ‘terror’, ‘terrorist’ and ‘terrorism’ would reflect the interpretation and viewpoint of one particular side in that conflict – namely Israel.
However, the BBC is a UK organisation and it is, therefore, incumbent on that organisation to interpret these terms wherever the act may occur even if it’s outside the jurisdiction of the UK. The BBC is not required by law to do so, but as a publicly owned company, surely it is in the public interest to use accurate terminology. How often to people say ‘terror is terror is terror’ wherever it occurs and by WHOMEVER is it committed.
So let’s look at the Act and its provisions which will show us a striking similarity between some of those provisions and the actions and policies of the Palestinian Authority. In fact, my interpretation of the Act would mean that the PA is itself a terrorist organisation using the definitions in that Act.
With reference to the kind of act that is a described as terror, then, it is clear from the definition above that a Palestinian, by mowing down civilians with a car or stabbing someone indiscriminately on a train is doing so, by their own confession, as a result of the conflict. They are, therefore, politically and religiously motivated, seek to intimidate and, as they see it, further the cause of removing Israeli Jews from not just the West Bank/Judea Samaria, but the whole of Israel. If it is terror on London Bridge then it is terror at Damascus Gate.
An amendment to the Act in 2006 states:
5A) The cases in which an organisation promotes or encourages terrorism for the purposes of subsection (5)(c) include any case in which activities of the organisation—
(a)include the unlawful glorification of the commission or preparation (whether in the past, in the future or generally) of acts of terrorism; or
(b)are carried out in a manner that ensures that the organisation is associated with statements containing any such glorification.
(5B)The glorification of any conduct is unlawful for the purposes of subsection (5A) if there are persons who may become aware of it who could reasonably be expected to infer that what is being glorified, is being glorified as—
(a)conduct that should be emulated in existing circumstances, or
(b)conduct that is illustrative of a type of conduct that should be so emulated.
(5C)In this section—
“ glorification ” includes any form of praise or celebration, and cognate expressions are to be construed accordingly;
“ statement ” includes a communication without words consisting of sounds or images or both.
Anyone with the remotest knowledge of the activities of the PA will instantly recognise that this is exactly what it does continuously, unashamedly and with gusto with regard to acts of terrorism (taking the UK’s own definition and interpretation of the Act) in Israel and the Territories. If the acts they glorify are terror then the PA is a terror supporting organisation and proscribable.
Recently, attacks have been aimed at Israeli security forces whether they are soldiers or police. My belief is that this is a deliberate change in tactic brought about by the failure of the West’s interpretation and condemnation of terror; by attacking those in uniform the perpetrators and their supporters can claim that the attack is a legitimate act of self-defence in an ongoing military conflict and deflect any criticism coming from the new White House.
So, what would undoubtedly be described as ‘terror’ were it to take place in the UK is glossed over as a ‘reaction’ to ‘occupation’ and, therefore, seen as regrettable but ‘understandable’ even legitimate action and ‘resistance’ not just by the PA and its supporters but by the BBC and the UK government. Whereas, at the root of the conflict is a religious and cultural hatred of Jews that pre-dates any ‘occupation’ or, indeed, the creation of the State of Israel.
It seems that having a political wing – Fatah/PA, Sinn Féin/IRA, Hezbollah/Hezbollah – can get you a free pass. In the latter case, we recently witnessed, once again, the blatant flying of the Hezbollah flag in the so-called Al Quds Day march in London, so nobly opposed and disrupted by various Jewish and Zionist organisations. Petitions were signed, the Mayor pleaded with but the march went ahead and the flags were flown. Why can they get away with it? Because the UK is ambiguous on Hezbollah because, although its military wing is proscribed under the Act*, its political wing is not and, guess what, they both have the same flag. This means the police are, presumably, directed to ignore it. Of course, if Hezbollah were blowing up Brits the flag would be banned immediately – or would it? You never know these days.
Here’s the section of the Act about support for terror which should be interpreted to ban flags of proscribed organisations and prosecute those displaying them in public:
(1)A person commits an offence if—
(a)he invites support for a proscribed organisation, and
(b)the support is not, or is not restricted to, the provision of money or other property (within the meaning of section 15).
(2)A person commits an offence if he arranges, manages or assists in arranging or managing a meeting which he knows is—
(a)to support a proscribed organisation,
(b)to further the activities of a proscribed organisation, or
(c)to be addressed by a person who belongs or professes to belong to a proscribed organisation.
(3)A person commits an offence if he addresses a meeting and the purpose of his address is to encourage support for a proscribed organisation or to further its activities.
(4)Where a person is charged with an offence under subsection (2)(c) in respect of a private meeting it is a defence for him to prove that he had no reasonable cause to believe that the address mentioned in subsection (2)(c) would support a proscribed organisation or further its activities.
(5)In subsections (2) to (4)—
(a)“meeting” means a meeting of three or more persons, whether or not the public are admitted, and
(b)a meeting is private if the public are not admitted.
(6)A person guilty of an offence under this section shall be liable—
(a)on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding ten years, to a fine or to both, or
(b)on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding six months, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum or to both.
*The military wing of Hizballah, including the Jihad Council and all units reporting to it (including the Hizballah External Security Organisation.