26 October 2007

Free Abdul Patel

BBC

Sentencing Patel, Judge Rook said that the jury had cleared the teenager on the more serious charge - but that he had "no reasonable excuse" for possessing documents that were "obviously likely to be useful to a terrorist".
If being 17 isn't a reasonable excuse for possessing explosives manuals, then the terrorists have won.

The earlier report which notoriously included "The Anarchist's Cookbook" as the "material likely to be of use to a terrorist", said there were two teenagers remanded to appear today. Perhaps more ordered facts will emerge if this second trial is concluded.

This being 2007, Patel or the mysterious friend of his father probably obtained the Anarchist's Cookbook from this sinister internet thing I keep hearing about. Back when I was a teenager, I had to actually buy it with money from Waterstones (or Dillons, I can't remember) in Charing Cross Road. Among the instructions for getting high on bananas and the photographs of 50-year-old rifles are indeed bomb-making instructions, badly drawn and widely reputed to be suicidally inaccurate.

Now of course the inaccuracy isn't really the point. There is an obvious flaw in the idea of banning only high-quality terrorist literature. However, recipes for explosives first appeared in this country 750 years ago. High explosives have been manufactured since the 1860s. Anarchists all over Europe were successfully constructing bombs around 1900. This genie isn't going back in the bottle.

One might object, that if the necessary knowledge is so widely available that there is not point restricting it, how is it that actual terrorists are so incapable of actually making working explosives?

Firstly, I think there is a strong correlation between wanting to advance the cause of radical Islam in the UK by violence, and being mind-bogglingly stupid. This is not a global phenomenon. In some parts of the world, Islamism is a serious political movement, capable of attracting intelligent and practical activists. Here, it is an exclusive club of morons that makes Fathers 4 Justice look like a serious political force.

Secondly in terror alarmism, the question of quantity or scale tends to be ignored. To shoot a lot of people, you need a lot of bullets, that weigh a lot, and take a lot of carting around. To blow up a lot of people, you need a lot of explosive, which requires a lot of raw materials, which are not easy to gather. To use chemical weapons effectively, you need tons of the stuff, which is beyond the capability of any conceivable home-grown terrorist organisation.

There are many obstacles to the would-be terrorist. The idea that all they need is "the secret" is Hollywood thinking. There is no secret, there's just a lot of hard work and risk.

But back to young Abdul. I don't directly think it is a particularly bad thing that he is in prison. But I would happily let him go in exchange for getting rid of the horrific 1980s law under which he was convicted. "Information likely to be of use to terrorists?". How about a road atlas? It's carte blanche for the state to lock up anyone they think is up to no good. In this case they may be right, but if that's a justification then we should just let them lock up whoever they want. I prefer the rule of law, and law should draw a line between the guilty and the innocent, and this law plainly fails to do anything of the sort.

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