Blair’s ‘trans­parency’ legacy

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - Neil Berry

P RIOR to be­com­ing UK prime min­is­ter in 1997, Tony Blair promised a new era of trans­parency in the con­duct of Bri­tish pub­lic life. In the event, Blair be­came a by­word for un-trans­parency. Many are cur­rently as mys­ti­fied as they are out­raged about the decision of the char­ity Save the Chil­dren to be­stow on him a “global legacy award” when he is so widely as­so­ci­ated with death and de­struc­tion. Mean­while, the Chilcot In­quiry re­port into the Iraq war, due four years ago, has still not been pub­lished — ev­i­dently be­cause it casts too much light on Blair’s ob­fus­ca­tory pre­sen­ta­tion of the “weapons of mass de­struc­tion” Sad­dam Hus­sein was sup­pos­edly point­ing at the UK.

Yet it is thanks to Blair per­haps that Bri­tish gov­ern­ment re­ports — when they do ap­pear — at least pay con­spic­u­ous lip ser­vice to trans­parency. Con­sider the new UK par­lia­ment’s In­tel­li­gence and Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee re­port into the killing of the Bri­tish sol­dier, Lee Rigby, by two Bri­tish Mus­lim con­verts, Michael Ade­bo­lajo and Michael Ade­bowale. This 200-page doc­u­ment lays bare the re­mark­able ex­tent to which the Bri­tish se­cu­rity ser­vices were alert to the dan­gers posed by the two men in the pe­riod be­fore they hacked Rigby in Wool­wich, south east London, in May 2013. Yet its con­clu­sion is not that the Se­cu­rity Ser­vices might have pre­vented Lee Rigby’s death. It is that Face­book, which posted a com­mu­ni­ca­tion in which Ade­bowale pro­posed the mur­der of a sol­dier, might have pre­empted the Wool­wich at­tack.

De­fend­ers of civil lib­er­ties sus­pect that the In­tel­li­gence and Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee is col­lud­ing with a US-led ef­fort to or­ches­trate a dra­co­nian crack­down on the so­cial me­dia. Cer­tainly the at­tempt of the Bri­tish re­port to shift blame could hardly be more bla­tant: In that sense in­deed it is noth­ing if not trans­par­ent. Even a for­mer se­nior Bri­tish In­tel­li­gence of­fi­cer, Richard Bar­rett, has said that it would be im­pos­si­ble for Face­book to mon­i­tor its mil­lions of UK users. Yet it would surely not have been hard for the Se­cu­rity Ser­vices to have per­formed bet­ter than they did. Per­haps the most jaw-drop­ping rev­e­la­tion of the In­tel­li­gence and Se­cu­rity Com­mit­tee’s re­port is that they discontinued their surveil­lance of Ade­bo­lajo weeks be­fore the Wool­wich at­tack.

The re­port ap­pears at a mo­ment when Bri­tain is ex­pand­ing its al­ready for­mi­da­ble bat­tery of anti-ter­ror­ist leg­is­la­tion, with Home Sec­re­tary Theresa May is­su­ing a fresh stark warn­ing that Bri­tain faces a ter­ror threat of un­prece­dented grav­ity — not least be­cause of Bri­tish Mus­lims com­ing back to the UK from Syria with pos­si­ble ter­ror­ist in­tent. Among other things, the leg­is­la­tion gives po­lice new pow­ers to con­fis­cate pass­ports of sus­pected mil­i­tants who travel to Syria and en­ables the gov­ern­ment to com­pel univer­si­ties to ban speak­ers of al­leged ex­trem­ist views.

The veteran colum­nist, Si­mon Jenk­ins, him­self a pil­lar of the Bri­tish es­tab­lish­ment, has long main­tained that the threat to the UK — in­deed to the West — of ter­ror­ism has been fan­tas­ti­cally in­flated. And it is plainly mere common sense that the UK is not men­aced by ter­ror­ism in re­motely the way it once was by Nazi Ger­many. The truth is that the “war on ter­ror” is hugely ad­van­ta­geous to politi­cians in a pe­riod when per­haps only bankers are held in greater con­tempt. Re­pres­sive leg­is­la­tion tar­geted at Mus­lims is cer­tain to se­cure pub­lic ap­pro­ba­tion, chim­ing as it does with en­demic anx­i­eties about im­mi­gra­tion, the wide­spread para­noia that out­siders are un­der­min­ing the Bri­tish way of life.

None of this is means that the UK is not fac­ing threats that are both real and long-term, though it is a cliché to say that a democ­racy that re­sponds to ter­ror­ist threats with mea­sures that mock its sta­tus as a free so­ci­ety is ced­ing vic­tory to its en­e­mies. Vis­it­ing the United States in the doom-laden run-up to the World War II, the revered Bri­tish economist and thinker, John May­nard Keynes, was asked by an Amer­i­can re­porter if, with his great knowl­edge of his­tory, he could call to mind a com­pa­ra­ble ter­ri­ble time. “I be­lieve I can,” replied Keynes in the clipped tones of an up­per-class English gen­tle­man. “It was called the Dark Ages. And it lasted for 500 years.” In the doom-laden cli­mate of 2014, Keynes’ gal­lows hu­mor seems only too top­i­cal. — Cour­tesy: Arab News

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