The lawyer Gareth Peirce, celebrated for her defence of miscarriage of justice victims, wrote recently: "Over the years of the conflict, every lawless action on the part of the British state provoked a similar reaction: internment, 'shoot to kill', the use of torture . . . brutally obtained false confessions and fabricated evidence. This was registered by the community most affected, but the British public, in whose name these actions were taken, remained ignorant." Referring to the conflict in Northern Ireland, she was drawing a comparison with "our new suspect community", people of Muslim faith, against whom a vicious, sectarian and mostly unreported war is well under way.
As Peirce points out, "internment, discredited and abandoned in Northern Ireland", now allows, not 42 days, but the "indefinite detention without trial of foreign nationals, the 'evidence' to be heard in secret with the detainee's lawyer not permitted to see the evidence against him". Those snatched from their homes in Britain following 11 September 2001 have all but vanished into an Anglo-American gulag, which in this country joins Belmarsh Prison, where people are consigned to oblivion, with Broadmoor psychiatric prison, where they are sent as they go mad, and with Kafkaesque versions of "home" where others are interred under "control orders". One such home prisoner, wrote Peirce, "a man without arms, was left alone and terrified, unable to leave the flat or to contact anyone without committing a criminal offence, subject to a curfew and allowed no visits unless approved in advance by the Home Office". Going into the garden, arran ging a plumber, speaking to a child's teacher, all require permission. The families go mad, too.
Preferring "a quick death . . . to a slow death here", one man who took a risk and returned to Algeria has been lost in the subcontracted gulag, where his new torturers have given the British government "assurances" and are themselves reassured by the fact that BP, the ethical oil company, has sunk £6bn into getting oil out of Algeria's southern Sahara. Jordan, another subcontractor, is held economically afloat by the US so George W Bush's "renditions" and torture can proceed there. No British court has found any of these people guilty of any crime, but as Tony Blair, a genuine prima facie criminal, put it so well, "the rules of the game have changed".
As in the Irish conflict, it is again the ignorance of us, the public, upon which the state relies. All propaganda is directed at honing this ignorance and fabricating a fear. This is primarily the task of journalists. True fear is in Muslim communities. Visit them and you will find people terrified by your knock on the door, and women who now never go out. In effect, control orders have been served on thousands of British citizens.
As Peirce reminds us, the Irish had allies in the Catholic Church and the 40 million Americans of Irish descent; Muslims are alone as they watch the British state, with its "obstinate incomprehension" of their faith, do to them as it would never do to those of other faiths. You can't imagine Jews treated this way; the profanity is too great. The silence of British Jews, who have the history, is also great.
As the suppressed facts of "terrorism" show, Muslims are by far the most numerous victims - up to a million Iraqis dead, including 500,000 infants, during "sanctions" against Iraq in the 1990s; perhaps another million dead when Blair and his mentor ignited the current inferno; countless killed and maimed in Afghanistan by weapons that include the British thermobaric bomb, designed to suck the air out of human beings. And there is Palestine, an entire nation under a permanent control order.
Reviewing this monstrous record, it is no less than amazing that the world's most violent governments - Britain is now the world's leading arms merchant - have sustained only two retaliations on their home soil. With every hypocritical act, they beckon another. Moreover, wrote Gareth Peirce, "If our government continues on [this destructive] path, we will ultimately have destroyed much of the moral and legal fabric of the society that we claim to be protecting. The choice and the responsibility are entirely ours."
"Was it like this for the Irish?"
by Gareth Peirce, London Review of Books.