Losing the hearts, upsetting the minds: Brown’s 42-day detention


Today we are a less safe country than yesterday. Today, Britain has betrayed its own history, values and beliefs thanks to nine votes provided by a Northern Irish party, the DUP, no stranger to terrorist links. Today, the right to undermine even the basic principles behind our Magna Carta have been claimed by a childish Prime Minister performing a public ‘virility test’ in the House of Commons. The 42-day detention law has passed in the parliament. In a dramatic and unprecedented decision, the conservative Shadow Home Secretary David Davis has resigned from the House of Commons and has clearly pointed out the reasons for rejecting the overall vision of Brown’s Britain as Orwellian and now even Kafkanian society.

Of course, for the New Labour, David Davis’ decision has to be mocked. I am not surprised, since, for the New Labour it seems that the word ‘resignation’ sounds more terrifying than holy water for the devil. But Mr Davis has probably recognised the relevance of a public debate, the importance of provoking the people to speak and debate about this threat to our traditions and civil liberties.

This is in fact the limitation of Brown’s government, the fear of debate and criticism. The introduction of 42-day detention without charge is the last of a long series of mistakes by the New Labour administration, which has succeeded in alienating not only the increasingly dystopic British Muslim youth, but also the so-called first Muslim generation.

My fieldwork suggests that the level of frustration among Muslims in the UK with this government has reached a concerning level. The issue is not only unpopular decisions, such as terrorist legislations and operations which have achieved very little but have had a relevant impact on the lives of many Muslims of this country. It is also the fact that the New Labour government preaches about British values and then undermines the root of them, as in the case of the 42-day detention bill. How many of us can remember the ridiculous project of the Declaration of British Values? Does not the proposed 42-day detention legislation contradict them from the beginning?

How not to think of the level of paranoia that the police forces and the government has reached, when a Nottingham university researcher has been detained six days without any charge only because, as part of his research, he downloaded an alleged al-Qaida document which was publicly available on a CIA website? It is clear, that in case of a terrorist attack, the eventual innocent people rounded up and detained for 42-days without any real legal protection (hence kidnapped by the state) will be mainly young Muslims. Little help for them will be the ridiculous compensation of £3000 per day of wasted public money. This idea of a token compensation shows also that Gordon Brown is very aware that this new bill undermines human rights.

I find interesting, and intriguing, to notice that the less we face a real threat from ‘Islamic terrorism’, the more we are arguing for special legislations and conduct mistaken police operations. One of the reasons is that the security agencies, the police and the government are receiving less intelligence. They would not admit this openly, but the Muslim communities in this country have lost trust in this administration.

Only a change can revitalise the links, hopes and trust. Cameron, the Conservative leader, has delivered a strong speech against Brown’s extremely weak argument. He seems very aware of the consequences of alienating part of British society. The British Muslim communities are under pressure; there is, after some famous, and less famous, mistakes by the security forces, the fear that in the unfortunate case of a terrorist attack, police can decide to abuse the power.

I have another fear. The way in which these new powers to detain a suspect (which means just a person whom the police may whimsically suspect to be a suspect) for 42-days without charge, may be used as a powerful investigative tool: ‘Speak or we keep you for 42-days in the shithole’. There is no guarantee that this would not be the case. Of course, this would be a form of psychological torture. Nobody knows how the government came up with the number forty-two days, maybe a longer version of the ‘quarantine’? Yet the 42-days-without-charge detention is not a preventive solution; it will be implemented only after a terrorist attack or before an imminent one, or even at the request of the police.

Do we need this kind of liberticidal legislation? Try to be pragmatic and think of the everyday danger (other than terrorism) we face in this globalised world:

  • 500,000 people are killed every year by light weapons
  • 3.9 million annual deaths from diseases like influenza
  • 2.9 million annual deaths from HIV-AIDS
  • 2.1 million annual deaths because of diarrhoea
  • 1.7 million annual deaths for tuberculosis.
  • and if we want to mention the UK, the NHS of which Brown is so proud, kills an average of an astonishing 17,000 people per year.

The 42-day detention bill seems part of a vicious circle, as I have explained in my book Jihad beyond Islam, in which the over use of emotional appeals, megaphoned through the power of the mass media, has affected mainstream societies as well as host communities. The panic is created through the lack of meaning associated to symbols and stereotypes concerning a particular group seen as dangerous but also mysterious. Bhabha (1994) has described this process through the analysis of the 1857 Uprising in British India. Rumours started concerning the new Lee-Enfield Rifle used by the troops, which included both Muslims and Hindus.

The rumours suggested that the water-resistant paper used to load the rifle was greased in pig and cow fats. Since solders had to tear it with their teeth, this severely offended both Muslim and Brahmin soldiers in the Company army. Finally, after the British officers punished their Indian, Muslim and Hindu, soldiers for refusing to use the rifle, in May 10, 1857, the whole regiment mutinied and killed their British commanders. So, Bhabha has suggested that circles of panic are caused by ‘the indeterminate circulation of meaning as rumour or conspiracy, with its perverse, physical affects of panic’ (1994: 200).

It is my contention that the circle of panic is affecting both the Muslim communities and mainstream British society today.

This creates a dangerous misunderstanding of each other, which, however, politicians are exploiting for their own propaganda purposes, as in the case of the 42-day legislation. Since terrorist threats today are presumed to be Islamic, this new distressful piece of legislation will increase the fear of Muslims, increase injustice and discrimination against Muslims, produce alienation among the British Muslim communities, but I suppose will not save one single life from a recondite terrorist attack. The 42-days-without-charge detention increases the circle of panic and it is exactly what the knights of the political War on Terror and the jihadis of global terror without politics envisage.

It is clear how New Labour’s constitutional abberation, paid in case of mistaken arrests and detentions by the British taxpayer, is only useful to increase paranoia and fear and to maintain on artificial life support Brown’s premiership.

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5 thoughts on “Losing the hearts, upsetting the minds: Brown’s 42-day detention

  1. Excellent piece of writing Prof. Marranci. I simply can’t wait until you come here down under so you can become familiar with the Australian version of the “values debate” and the various methods of media and government pressure put on to the Muslim community here.

    I for one would be interested in research regarding the situation of the Muslim community here (living as I do in a major Muslim community here) – especially the youth – and how it has changed since the turn of the century.

    Keep up the good work! :)

  2. Doctor, can you explain why 42 days, with improved legal safeguards, is any more an offence against the Magna Carta than 28 days?

    Like much of the debate around this issue, I fear it suffers from a rather short historical memory. Forty-two days is hardly unparalelled in the UK. In 1971 hundreds of British citizens were arrested and detained INDEFINITELY during a period when the threat to national security was arguably less pronounced.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Demetrius

    As an Italian, I would welcome your views on the Italian legal position, which I believe is based on the Napoleonic Code under which, in common with much of Europe, suspects can be detained without the equivalent of a charge for years.

    Consequently, I would argue that it is your kind of influential yet under-informed arguments that help create a climate of anguish and hostility. It should be remembered, of course, that the fat that oiled the charges of the mutinous Indian soldiers did not consist of animal fat.

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