Tony Benn, one of the UK’s foremost radical leftist politicians, president of Stop the War Coalition, long-time supporter of Kurdish rights, sadly passed on today. Here we recall his words on the Terrorism Act 2001, which criminalises the entire Kurdish community and many others as ‘terrorist’, when it was first introduced:
One of the last things I did before I left Parliament to devote more time to politics was to vote against the Terrorism Bill. It was introduced, after 24 hours, without any real discussion … I might add this was just after the Americans had bombed Sudan allegedly in an anti-terrorist act described as a humanitarian mission by the United States … What you have to recognise is that imperialism always dresses itself up in the language of humanitarianism, always. Any one who remembers as I do what Britain was like when the Empire was there, it was our mission to the world, the sun never set on the British Empire, it was the white man civilising the world.
What we are up against now, let’s be absolutely clear about it, is an agreement among the governments of the world that no government is to be challenged from inside with support from outside. That is what it is about, nothing to do with human rights, and very little to do with ‘terrorism’. The fact is that in a global economy Britain wants to trade with repressive regimes and if they find that these regimes are complaining that there are people in London campaigning for Kurdish rights, for Tamil rights or for Kashmiri rights then the British government is expected to respond.
I say this because anyone who really believes that this Act and the orders made under it which ban all these organisations has got any basis in common sense or law or decency ought to be disabused of that idea. The law is so repressive that I’m not sure that I’m not guilty and you’re not guilty of speaking at a meeting with members of the PKK. I haven’t got a T-shirt on though if I had known I would have worn one. The reality is not only that, but if you know that there is someone from the PKK here and you fail to report it to a policeman then you are also guilty. So this is a piece of legislation which strikes at the heart of our right to debate the future of our world with people who have come from other countries …
The second thing that needs to be said is that it is an absolutely and totally hypocritical case of double standards. If you were to apply a real rule about terrorism then not a single Israeli diplomat would be allowed to be in London today in view of what has happened. The reality is, and I think that most people who follow politics know, that states are the greatest terrorists of all. I remember being told by the late Robin Day of a plot by Eden to assassinate Nasser, the Americans tried to assassinate Gaddafi, the CIA shot Patrice Lumumba, the Cubans have been attacked in an attempt to murder Castro. Anyone who really believes that governments are for law and order and peace ought to bring that to public attention…
We must recognise that the reason that the governments of the world are getting like this is because they are beginning to get afraid of popular uprisings against the policies they are pursuing … the reality is that more and more people feel they are not being represented, they are being managed and if they organise against it they are described as terrorists. That is the situation.
If you look back, all progressive movements have been described as violent. The Tolpuddle Martyrs, organised agricultural workers, sent to Dorchester Crown Court and then to Australia. For what? … The suffragettes were put into prison. Mandela was described as a “terrorist” by Mrs Thatcher. All progressive movements are denounced as violent because it is the only way they know to deal with it because they can’t deal with the arguments that are being put forward.
I’m really pleased so many people have come tonight. This is an issue which affects everybody. Until we can get the Act defeated we are all going to live under its shadow.
Excerpt from original speech at meeting against the Terrorism Act 2000 organised by CAMPACC (Campaign Against Criminalising Communities) on 31 July 2001 at Camden Town Hall