September 2014        

Guests of the nation

Being a theoretical journal with an unambiguous world view, Socialist Voice places less emphasis on the type of investigative journalism that features prominently in more commercially inclined publications. Nevertheless there is a role for this method of news-gathering and especially when an intriguing rumour is begging for authentication.
     Unconfirmed reports are circulating that senior members of the Government will be among the first to be questioned under the soon-to-be-enacted Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) (Amendment) Bill (2014). A story is going around in well-informed circles that members of the Oireachtas Friends of Israel group, sometimes known as the stern-faced gang, are due to spend time in the Bridewell interview suite as guests of the nation. The minister for justice, Frances Fitzgerald, has refused to comment on the speculation, but her silence is adding to the anticipation.
     This writer has been briefed by a usually reliable source that what lies behind this odd turn of events is the Government’s determination to follow obediently each and every EU directive. Fitzgerald recently stated that her new legislation would lay the groundwork for Ireland’s ratification of the Council of Europe Convention on the Prevention of Terrorism. “We stand with our European colleagues in doing everything in our power to ensure that there are no gaps in our law that can be exploited by those who would inflict terror and mayhem on innocent people at home or abroad,” she has said.
     The proposed legislation does not, however, confine itself to dealing with actual physical support for terrorism. In a remarkably vague generalisation it declares it to be an offence if a person distributes or otherwise makes available, by whatever means of communication, a message to the public with the intention of encouraging, directly or indirectly, the commission of terrorist activity. How anybody might “indirectly” encourage terrorism is worryingly open to a variety of interpretations.
     EU functionaries, though, are uncommonly clear about what in their opinion constitutes terrorist activity. Under article 1 of the EU’s Framework Decision a terrorist offence has the aim of “seriously intimidating a population, unduly compelling a government or international organisation to perform or abstain from performing any act, or seriously destabilising or destroying the fundamental . . . structures of a country or an international organisation.”
     Specifically mentioned are acts interfering with or disrupting the supply of water, power, or any other fundamental natural resource whose effect is to endanger human life.
     Israel’s latest bloody assault on the population and government of Gaza clearly meets all the criteria required to have its actions deemed continuing and sustained acts of terrorism.
     One incident among many illustrates the accuracy of this view, when the Israeli army unleashed what it refers to as its Hannibal Protocol.* On the 1st of August, Rafah—one of the world’s most densely populated areas—was struck forty times by Israeli warplanes, while heavy artillery simultaneously fired more than a thousand shells into the area. Tanks then invaded, firing wildly, as heavy bulldozers flattened houses while the inhabitants were still inside.
     The blitz lasted three hours, killing more than 150 people, while hundreds of others were injured, with many civilians being buried under the rubble.
     Through a literal interpretation of the new law the Oireachtas Friends of Israel, who include the minister for foreign affairs, Charlie Flanagan, would come within the remit of the Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) legislation. Support for Israel’s military offensive surely constitutes “encouraging indirectly the commission of terrorist activity.”
     To substantiate the charge it may be pointed out that the minister recently oversaw the Republic’s abstention on a UN resolution seeking to investigate Israel’s activities in Gaza. Moreover, Flanagan has the strange distinction of frequently criticising the humanitarian organisation Trócaire for its disapproval of Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians.
     Government supporters may argue that the Oireachtas Friends of Israel group (which incidentally includes a number of prominent Labour Party TDs) is viscerally opposed to all forms of terrorism. Nevertheless the proposed law is sufficiently vague to make it virtually impossible to determine what exactly constitutes “indirectly encouraging terrorism.” In effect, this raises the question as to how even these well-placed deputies could defend themselves against such an ill-defined charge.
     Some cynics are now saying that the new legislation may be designed with this very purpose in mind. The Spanish state, for example, has long had a piece of legislation on its statute book that allows it to imprison opponents and critics if they are deemed to have acted in any way that can be interpreted as apologising for terrorism. This is a very broad brush and has been used not only against the armed group ETA but to outlaw political parties, to close newspapers, and most recently to arrest twenty-one Twitter users on the charge of glorifying terrorism on social networks. How wide the Spanish net can be cast is illustrated by the fact that one of the detained Twitterers had posted a map of the Basque Country with “Independence” written on it.
     There is no evidence that the Irish state is planning to emulate its EU partner in Madrid, as the predicted arrest of Government supporters would be sure to cause tension within the already shaky coalition. To avoid future humiliations resulting from the actions of groups such as the stern-faced gang, it is being suggested that the Dublin government may lobby for a new definition of what constitutes terrorism.
     It is widely recognised that the US government is deeply embarrassed by many of its erstwhile allies and would welcome a change. Al-Qa‘ida, for example, which we were once told was fighting valiantly to promote western values when engaging the Soviet Union, has dropped rapidly from favour. More recently the same fall from grace has overtaken another one-time US ally, the Islamic State. Nor do these examples exhaust the list.
     A more convenient definition of terrorism could be seen as helpful. Something along the lines of “any action displeasing Washington” would suffice, and should gain solid support from all within the US orbit of influence. The Dublin government could immediately ratify any such US protocol and thus restore normal judicial practices.
     Supporters of Israel in the Dáil, and of other questionable regimes, would thereafter be safe from ridicule or arrest. This would release the forces of the state to focus its new Criminal Justice (Terrorist Offences) (Amendment) Bill on those among us deemed more suited to the spartan comforts afforded to guests of the nation.

*See Ahron Bregman, “You might not have heard of the ‘Hannibal Protocol,’ but it’s behind one of Israel’s worst atrocities yet,” Independent (London), 20 August 2014.

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