Crime, War and Radio 4

I heard Tony Blair on the Today Programme this morning, talking about the world after 9/11 and the War on Terror. His central argument seemed to be that Islamic terrorism stems from a flawed ideology and we cannot stop terrorism until we defeat that ideology. He said this could take a generation.

Contrast this with Liberty’s Shami Chakrabarti who argues that terrorism is a crime and should be treated as such. Reflecting on 10 years at the head of the organisation, she writes that the phrase ‘War on Terror’ simply encourages terrorists to consider themselves soldiers and allows governments to infringe civil liberties in the name of national security.

Whilst I broadly agree with her position, the compelling counter-argument is that the criminal law cannot provide effective mechanisms for stopping terrorism. This argument is stronger for international terrorism rather than the home grown kind. For example, it would have been impossible for the Americans to ask the Pakistani police to knock on Osama Bin Laden’s door and ask him a few searching questions about what he knew about 9/11.

However, if we do accept that the fight against terror is a war, it is not irresistible that we have to subscribe to Tony Blair’s argument that the enemy is a flawed ideology rather than a bunch of angry men. You can hate terror without telling those who might become terrorists that everything they believe in is a lie. My prediction is that we will be at war with the terrorists for as long as people like Tony Blair profess to understand the Koran and the concept of jihad better than they do.

A.Salsbury
Undergraduate Law Student, The Open University

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One thought on “Crime, War and Radio 4

  1. Phil Bates says:

    Great post. Wasn’t one of Tony Blair’s early catchphrases ‘Tough on Crime, Tough on the Causes of Crime’? I’m not sure how well that worked out, but maybe he’s thinking about terrorism the same way. Terrorism requires a tough response from both the criminal justice system, as well as the military and intelligence services. There needs to be international cooperation, and that means maintaining a consensus about what is and isn’t acceptable ‘toughness’.

    On the other hand, understanding the causes of terrorism, and knowing how to respond to them, is much more difficult. Can we be ‘tough’ on a flawed ideology, without fueling the persecution complex of its adherents? At the same time, can we address any legitimate complaints, without being seen to reward terrorism? Really interesting issues.

    Phil Bates, OU Lecturer in Law

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