Blair’s ‘transparency’ legacy
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