The Terrorism Act is so vague that Jesus Christ Himself would class as a terrorist. Churchgoers, watch out!

Whenever people ask the question "What can direct action actually achieve?", there is an instant answer - "Seattle" - or there has been ever since a mixed group of teamsters, anarchists and people dressed as turtles shut down the World Trade Organisation. To bring the WTO's agenda to mass public attention, to prevent the most important trade-liberalising talks from reaching an agreement, to empower representatives from developing countries and activists alike - and all of this during a visit from the US president . . . it has to be seen as a result. Even more so for those dressed in flippers and seashells.

There are hundreds of other examples of ordinary people challenging and breaking the law and thereby bringing about change, from Gandhi to the poll tax; and new Labour would like to see most of them politely airbrushed from history. In new Labour and media circles, it is fashionable to forget that the likes of Emmeline Pankhurst not only broke the law but were arrested for their beliefs. Were Pankhurst alive today, the Sunday Times Insight team would have sent a journalist to one of her public meetings and then run a story under the headline: "Undercover reporter infiltrates secret feminist cell". The Daily Mail would be doing a classic "radical is middle class" type piece with "Pank's posh past", the Mirror would go with "Hanky Panky", the Sun with "Bitch", and new Labour would denounce her for daring to have a vagina and an independent mind.

Although new Labour is resolutely pro-big business and pro-globalisation, it likes to present the party as the only viable way of introducing progressive social change. It naturally hates the direct-action movement. Yet if campaigners, activists and working people had merely kept within the limits of the law, not only would we be without the vote, but it is more than likely that we'd still be eating gruel and sending our children up chimneys.

Labour's corporate agenda has led to the new Terrorism Act, which targets the direct-action movement by including "damage to property" as part of the legal definition of terrorism.

The act's definition of a "terrorist" is so vague that not only would most GM crop protesters now be classed as terrorists, but so would Jesus. Jesus physically threw the moneylenders out of the Temple and upset their tables. That action was clearly "violence against any person or property" which involved its "use or threat, for the purpose of advancing political, religious or ideological cause". And He did it knowing it would "create a serious risk to the health or safety of the public or a section of the public". All of which makes up the act's definition of a "terrorist".

Thus Jesus is a "terrorist" and his disciples accessories to crime. Only Judas would be clear of any legal challenge, as he reported Jesus to the authorities and therefore correctly disclosed information. Presumably, Interpol will be putting up WANTED posters with pictures of the Turin Shroud, Special Branch will be interviewing anyone with a crucifix, and Billy Bragg will be locked up for attempting to sing a rebel version of "Kumbaya". Indeed, anyone who attended church over Easter could be liable to investigation, especially if you helped with the collection, which would classify as "terrorist fundraising". Ironically, one of the groups that did not take part in this Easter Terrorist event was Osama bin Laden and his merry gang of Muslim extremists.

Although the act will affect such groups as Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth, the initial targets for the act - with May Day coming up - are likely to be groups like Reclaim the Streets. It was RTS that initiated the J18 Carnival against Capitalism two years ago, which cost the City of London £2m in damages. It wasn't the cost that hurt firms based in the City - after all, they probably spend £2m a month taking clients to lap-dancing clubs. They saw it as part of a rising tide of protest against corporate activity and, more alarmingly, as a protest movement that was becoming global.

New "anti-terrorist" legislation (comparable to the UK's) is being passed all over the world, and in many ways it reflects the success of the anti- globalisation movement from Seattle to Prague.

Britain's financial reasons for the Terrorism Act 2000 are nowhere more apparent than in the proscribing of overseas organisations such as the PKK (Kurdistan Workers' Party). Since it was made a banned organisation, membership of the PKK is illegal; it can't fundraise or organise meetings, not even to discuss why it shouldn't be banned. In fact, under Clauses 13-(1) (a) and (b), anyone wearing a T-shirt that carries images or symbols supporting the PKK is liable to six months in prison. (I agree that there should be some punishment for sporting certain fashion items, particularly Pringle sweaters, but surely, making the offender attend London Fashion Week would prove a far more suitable measure than incarceration.)

The PKK unilaterally declared a ceasefire more than a year ago, so how can it be a terrorist group? More importantly, how can the PKK be a terrorist organisation and the Turkish state not? Turkey's human rights record is appalling; the country has been found guilty of destroying villages, of extrajudicial killings, deaths in custody, torture and systematic rape. The real reason Britain has banned the PKK is to pander to Turkish bigotry, in the hope that we will win even more business with Turkey.

The new law is unlikely to curb real terrorist activity; if anything, it is more likely to spur otherwise innocent citizens to assassinate Jack Straw. To be fair, though, if that thought hasn't crossed your mind by this stage of the game, it probably never will.

Happy May Day!

This article first appeared in the 23 April 2001 issue of the New Statesman, Blessed are the pure in heart