For years now, Britain has been the canary in the mineshaft — or perhaps a patient etherized upon a table — when it comes to the daylight robbery of ancient liberties by a "Terror War" state. In many cases, the "New Labour" regime has been far in advance of the Bushists in the practice of this dark art. Not so much the backroom stuff, of course; as we've noted here often, Bush and his minions have long claimed — and exercised — the power to snatch people without warrant or charge and stuff them into hidey holes and torture them (or even kill them outright). But in terms of an upfront lockdown of ordinary citizens, and the introduction of Soviet-level draconia in daily life, the Brits have been leading the way, setting examples that the American militarists have eagerly aped. What has been especially instructive is the way that the British public has meekly accepted these vast encroachments, in the face of a threat that is immeasurably less dire and destructive than the Christian terrorism that the nation endured for years on end from the violent sectarians of Northern Ireland.
So the goings-on in Great Britain are not just mildly curious facts about a quaint little island across the sea: they are storm warnings of yet another tyrannical gale that will soon be sweeping over the United States. Last week, Prime Minister Gordon Brown unleashed a cannonade of "security" proposals designed to transform Blake's "green and pleasant land" into a bristling "Fortress Britain." Strangely enough — or rather, not so strangely to anyone remotely acquainted with the modus operandi of Terror War states — the measures seem to be aimed more at the British people than any would-be enemies lurking outside the gates.
Consider Brown's plan to cordon the island with an "e-border," described here by Simon Jenkins, writing in the conservative Sunday Times:
All comers and goers are to be electronically recorded and asked to supply addresses, phone numbers and computer details, up to 53 items of personal information. Officials are to be given powers to revoke visitor visas at immigration desks without appeal. It will make America’s draconian immigration control seem like open house.In the Observer, Henry Porter — one of Britain's loudest, and loneliest, voices for liberty — gives us more about the information Britons will be required to divulge in order to leave or re-enter their own country:
We now accept with apparent equanimity that the state has the right to demand to know, among other things, how your ticket has been paid for, the billing address of any card used, your travel itinerary and route, your email address, details of whether your travel arrangements are flexible, the history of changes to your travel plans plus any biographical information the state deems to be of interest or anything the ticket agent considers to be of interest...
Combined with the ID card information, which comes on stream in a few years' time, the new travel data means there will be very little the state won't be able to find out about you. The information will be sifted for patterns of travel and expenditure. Conclusions will be drawn from missed planes, visits extended, illness and all the accidents of life, and because this is a government database, there will be huge numbers of mistakes that will lead to suspicion and action being taken against innocent people.
Those failing to provide satisfactory answers will not be allowed to travel and then it will come to us with a leaden regret that we have in practice entered the era of the exit visa, a time when we must ask permission from a security bureaucrat who insists on further and better particulars in the biographical section of the form. Ten, 15 or more years on, we will be resigned to the idea that the state decides whether we travel or not.
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Just before Brown announced the proposals — almost certain to pass barring an almost unprecedented rebellion by Labour MPs — he sent out the head of Britain's security apparat, MI5 chief Jonathan Evans, to make a fearmongering address that even Dick Cheney might have blenched at. Indeed, there were distinct echoes of Joe McCarthy as Evans thundered his warning of "2,000 known terrorists" prowling Britain "even as I speak." What's more, Evans went straight for tabloid gold by proclaiming that these 2,000 well-known terrorists were "grooming" British teenagers and children to become suicide bombers for Allah. Headlines in the vein of "Terrorists in our Schools!" "Jihadis in the Playground!" duly followed, sowing even deeper seeds of suspicion and rancor in British society.
Yet as Jenkins (and several others) noted: if Evans knows who these terrorists are, why hasn't he arrested any of them under the already broad powers he has been given? The answer, of course, is that the intelligence chief was peddling bullshit. Yet the tabloid beast was fed, and a proper atmosphere of fear and trembling was laid on for the unveiling of Brown's "Fortress Britain" package.
Brown is very quickly proving himself to be Tony Blair's equal in using paranoia and the "power of nightmares" to amass ever-greater power for an increasingly militarized state. Yet Blair was always fairly candid in his repulsive belief that the "civil right" of "security" — i.e., unquestioned obedience to whatever stricture his government wanted to impose, such as, say, banning peace protests outside Parliament — "overrode" all other concerns. Brown, on the other hand, has long postured as an intellectual, a devoted scholar of liberty and all of its philosophical underpinnings. Shortly before unleashing his "Fortress" on the home folks, Brown gave a much-lauded speech: "On Liberty," the title consciously borrowed from the 19th century work by John Stuart Mill, whom Brown quoted often during the talk, along with Orwell, Locke, Milton, Voltaire and even that good ole Brit-kicker Patrick Henry, who, as we all know, preferred death to having his liberty curtailed.
Brown's theme was that liberty and tolerance were bedrock values of British society, and must be tended, nurtured and protected. Then a fortnight later he's running an electric fence around the entire island and demanding to be told why Joe Smith cancelled his train ticket from Paris and came home from his holiday via Brussels instead.
In terms of its breathtaking hypocrisy — the yawning chasm between lofty rhetoric and dirty reality — Brown's speech was a perfect precursor to the one given by George W. Bush this week, when he lectured the torture fans and tyranny buffs of the Federalist Society about his passionate dedication to the Constitution, and the vital need to preserve the balance between the three branches of government to prevent dictatorship from "taking root in America." (See Glenn Greenwald for an able takedown of this sinister malarkey.)
Both speeches give eloquent testimony to the fundamental fraudulency at the heart of the Anglo-American Terror State apparatus, and to the curdled cynicism of its leaders. They prate of their devotion to liberty while they act relentlessly and ruthlessly to take it away. They demean and despise the people they are ostensibly "protecting," treating us as cowards and fools who would sell our birthrights for a mess of pottage, as long as it's served to us behind a barbed wire fence, with an armed guard outside to keep the scary darkies away.
To resort to a more earthy vernacular, they piss down our backs and tell us it's raining. And they will keep on doing it for as long as we let them.
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