I wish to start with a disclaimer. I am not a terrorist, I would hope that was pretty apparent. I enjoy living in the western world and the multitude of comforts and freedoms it allows me. I can practise whichever religion I wish, I can pretty much love whoever I wish to love and I can wake up in the morning and be fairly certain that I will not be attacked either physically or verbally by the end of the day. I also know that in the elections that are coming up next week in the UK, I can vote for any of the candidates I see fit. I could even stand outside the voting hall and tell people to vote for none of them if I want. I could probably do it in a pink tutu and cowboy boots.
I am very lucky and I would guess that the majority of the people that read this blog are in the same position.
Now, let’s pretend for a moment, play acting if you like. You’re still you, but let’s say that you’re friends with someone who has recently had their benefits cut. The two of you decide to go on an organised protest march against said cuts. You turn up and peacefully spend the day marching with a banner. You don’t notice throughout the day, but there are police present with video cameras recording the demonstration. Your face is captured by the police with the cameras. As night settles in, certain elements of the march turn violent. You have nothing to do with it, but the police roll out heavy measures to control the event. You find yourself cordoned off in a “kettling” area not allowed to leave, even though your friend in the wheelchair desperately needs the bathroom.
You stay calm at first, but after a while you’re getting hungry and your friend is on the verge of wetting themselves. You start raising your voice at the police officers nearest you. Not angrily, just enough to get yourself heard above the noise. The officer has had a hard day and doesn’t take kindly to being spoken to like that. He pushes you back in to the kettle and makes a note of your face for later. Another hour or so passes and they decide to let the group you’re with go. But they take your names and addresses. The police officer from earlier, unbeknownst to you, makes a note next to your name as a trouble maker and ensures that he gets a full face shot of you on his body worn camera. When he files his report later that day, he enters your face, name and address in to a database. An algorithm searches all the media captured throughout the protest and finds all the pictures of you, adding them to your database entry.
Congratulations, you now have an entry in the UK government’s watch list. A minor one most certainly, but you, doing something perfectly legal have now taken your first step to being labelled an extremist. This is not hyperbole, the police have these lists, and not just for benefits, but for fracking, education, more education, people that say stupid things on twitter, anything.
Luckily this list won’t get you killed. It might make it hard to go to some future events without hassle, but it won’t get a guided missile dropped on your head.
Let’s keep acting for a bit, you’re still you, but let’s say your parents are from Turkey. You were born and raised int he UK your whole life. You’re a good Muslim, you go to Mosque on Friday. One week a new man turns up, you are a friendly soul and like a good son of Islam you talk to this new person outside after prayers. You realise, very quickly, that he is perhaps a bit more radical than you would like, so you make your excuses and leave, vowing to steer clear of him in the future. You don’t know this, but the man has been under surveillance for some time, your photo has been taken and a note made to find out more about you. The next week when you drive away from the Mosque, you are pulled over on a “routine” vehicle safety check. Your details are collected, added to the picture in the database and shared with other members of the UK security services. Congratulations, you are now on the government watch list, although this time it may genuinely cause you some issues when you want to take that trip to Disneyland with your kids. Again, this is not hyperbole, this is happening.
Still got some acting in you? OK you’re still you, but this time you were born and raised in Iraq. It is 2009, you’re going about your usual daily activities. Well as much as you can after what has happened to your country. You’re on your way to meet a friend in a cafe. On the way you come across a foreign soldier shouting at an Iraqi man in the street. You don’t understand what is going on, and at first you can’t see who the Iraqi man is, but as you get nearer you see it is your friend. He looks very scared, the soldier is pointing his gun at him and shouting in a language you don’t understand. You can feel the anger rising inside of you, what do you do? Help your friend or walk away and leave your friend to his fate? Take a look at this website. Now what do you do? Become a target or walk away?
Last scenario. It is a few years in to the future, we’re back in the UK. The austerity measures have now become crippling to your disabled friends family. You go on another march, a bigger march, people are angry. This time rather than a small group of protestors being violent, there are several thousand. Central London is at a standstill, news helicopters are overhead, police are in place in riot gear. In the years leading up to this, legislation against international terrorism and the ability of the security services to act within the UK has grown. Vast powers have been given to the police, plus MI5 and SIS. The government is scared of what the march in London may do, fearing widespread civil unrest. They instigate plans put in place to work against terrorist activities. Your legal right to protest is gone. You are now a terrorist.
Once again, this is not hyperbole, this has been happening for quite some time.