One massively important development back home in Airstrip One, that I somehow missed, as I am here in Brazil, was the announcement of (now officially the worst ever) Home Secretary, Jacqui Smith’s only personal Stasi – sorry, it was just terrorism preparedness training for thousands of workers. It’s easy to get confused especially as this all comes as part of a package of measures designed to counter Islamic radicalism through state propaganda. It’s all part of CONTEST 2, the sequel to the CONTEST strategy that we criticised in our recent book on urban resilience as threatening to turn all British citizens into paranoid spies – for more ridiculous rhetoric along these lines, see the Metropolitan Police poster campaigns. It’s also part of long tradition of volunteerism in British civil defence that goes back to WW2 and even before, and encompasses all that ridiculous advice on hiding behind your sofa in the event of a nuclear attack.
Backing the plan are odd individuals like Maajid Nawaz, who is a former member of Hizb ut-Tahrir, an extremist Islamic group, who seems to have swapped one extremism for another in his support of the British government’s authoritarian stance, in his leadership of the Quilliam Foundation. However, the Conservative Party despite their liberal words on ID cards, actually want to go further than Labour. They claim that we are ‘soft targets’ and that ‘whole community needs to be involved in tackling the danger’. They argue that this would be learning the lessons of Mumbai, but it is quite clear that Mumbai was an attack planned in one country against another, not a homegrown assault, so it seems that they are simply trying to scare us into thinking that we need more McCarthyite tactics.
My first thought about the new terrorism preaparedness training was ‘so where do I sign up? Perhaps the best thing for all critical and progressive people to do would be to sign up and do exactly the opposite of what they want… not that I would ever suggest such a subversive strategy.
Maybe what Jacqui Smith needs is a dose of ‘Chinese democracy’ to go with her Chinese-style attitude to security and surveillance…
In the last fortnight there have been interesting developments that have reminded us, as if we needed reminding, that those who want to infringe on the liberty of others need to be absolutely squeaky-clean themselves or risk severe censure, and that those who introduce systems which encourage suspicion and spying should not be surprised if people no longer trust them and start to investigate their activities.
The first of course was the saga of Jacqui Smith’s apartment. The basic facts are that the UK Home Secretary has been claiming £24,000 (around $35,000 US) per year in allowances for an apartment that she does not actually live in. The particular irony (and we love a bit of irony in Britain!) was that she has been reported by a neighbour – in other words she was a victim of the kind of suspicious, back-stabbing, trust-no-one society that she has been encouraging. Of course she should resign if she had any intelligence or integrity, but we already know to the cost of our civil liberties that she does not.
Funnily enough, it is to China we go to another example and one with, it seems, a rather more accountable outcome. This is almost the second time in a row that I have unfavourably compared a western country to China – this is getting rather disturbing particularly as I am no friend of the Chinese state, being a long-term Free Tibet supporter. However, Variety (of all places) is reporting that Yu Bing, who is director of the internet monitoring department of Beijing’s Public Security Bureau, and therefore a major figure in the infamous Golden Shield, and surveillance of journalists, bloggers and net democracy activists (as well as those just trying to access unapproved content), has been arrested for taking bribes from a contractor.
Admittedly it is a lot more than the sums in the Jacqui Smith case (40M Yuan, or about $5.8M US), and corruption is endemic within the Chinese state at all levels, but it does show a rather different attitude to the establishment towards top officials who fail to live up to the standards we expect of them. Maybe what Jacqui Smith needs is a dose of ‘Chinese democracy’ to go with her Chinese-style attitude to security and surveillance?