Thursday, July 21, 2005

Would Peter Hain have been deported by Charles Clarke?

It would be a daft politician who was seen to be doing nothing in response to the London bombings. But I'm not so sure that Charles Clarke's proposed new powers are what is required.

Personally, I'm not all that hostile to restrictions on freedom of speech in return for greater security in society (assuming there's a link). Germany's ban on various comments about the holocaust seem quite right to me. Likewise, religious extremists who foment violence should have their speech restricted.

But I have two problems with this initiative. First, will the home secretary's powers be too vague, given that we won't quite know where terrorism ends and hot-headedness begins? Would Clarke have been within his powers if he had responded to Sikhs protesting (with threats of violence) against the Brirmingham play at the start of the year? What about people who supported the Fatwa against Salman Rushdie (unsavoury characters that they were, can we really criminalise people who say that someone else's death threat is justified?).

Which leads to a second question: will the home secretary be selective in his power to boot people out? Either way, there will be problems. If Clarke is going to be selective, he'll be open to (justified) accusations that he's biased. If he is utterly sweeping, he is going to have to boot out every political activist that recommends armed resistance against despotic regimes, say the Burmese authorities, the Russian state in Chechnya, etc. Indeed, as the post's title suggests: if this power had been in place twenty odd years ago, I presume Peter Hain would have been deported to Apartheid South Africa where his liberty and perhaps life would have been in danger.

Anyway, perhaps we'll get answers to these questions at some other time. One thing we should remember, however, is that people born in Britain can't be deported anywhere. They're British.

Update: As I'm writing this post, the BBC site is flashing that there has been an incident on the Tube. I hope it's not something catastrophic, although initial reports from the Guardian newsblog (and from the BBC and RTÉ) look quite worrying.

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