Cognition, Vol. 9, No. 1

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Denial still flows over Londonistan |

But there is not yet a consensus on what the police role ought to be in the fight against Islamist terrorism. Are they there to take the fight to the malefactors, assuming they can find them, through hard-edged tactics ranging from surveillance to raids? Or are they there to keep the peace and listen, particularly in minority neighborhoods, minimizing the discontent, insecurity and alienation on which terrorism feeds?

Blair is undertaking big reforms in the police, even as adversaries inside and outside the force call on Tony Blair to fire him — over the recent Forest Gate raid and the mistaken-identity killing in Stockwell last summer. By the end of this year, he hopes to have set up hundreds of Safer Neighborhoods teams, like the one Luswa and Asania serve on, which mix traditional bobby work with a bit of cultural translation.

Commissioner Blair aspires to kill two birds with one stone — enhancing police familiarity with the most intimate corners of dangerous neighborhoods while winning the trust of communities that often feel left out of the main current of British life. But, as in the London of Hogarth and Mayhew, the borderline between cultural variety and dangerous criminality can be a fuzzy one.

The British government has dropped broad hints that it is stepping up surveillance and infiltration. The percentage of intelligence resources devoted to terrorism has more than doubled in the last five years. Mosques are not off limits. According to the Home Office, extremists are using mosques less and less — and private homes more and more — to carry out their activities. But the inability of the police to spot what was happening in Leeds on the eve of the July 7 bombings has given rise to doubts over whether there is much surveillance at all — or, if there is, whether it works.

Beeston had a Muslim youth club, which Mohammad Sidique Khan helped manage; an Islamist bookstore; and a place known, even before July 7, as Al Qaeda gym, where Khan and two of his collaborators worked out. Nearly a year after the attacks, the Home Office admits that no one has yet given a clear account of what went on inside those places. Aggressive information-gathering is also meeting steady community opposition. Section 44 of the Terrorism Act lets the police designate areas where anyone can be stopped and searched without cause. Muslims say that Section 44 is being used to target them.

It tends to be the first thing heads of Muslim organizations complain about if you bring up the war on terror.

Robert Leiken

Liberty, the British equivalent of the American Civil Liberties Union, has accused the London Police of making virtually the entire city a Section 44 area. And other governmental organizations have put police antiterrorist operations under close scrutiny. After the raid in Forest Gate earlier this month, the Independent Police Complaints Commission arrived on the scene to respond to complaints that had been filed before the wider public even knew the purpose of the raid.

How you go about gathering information on a community depends on whether you think the best intelligence is dug out by agents or volunteered by concerned citizens. This is a question on which police officers of the very highest rank are divided. Sir Ian's predecessor, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, champions traditional police skills. This is not just hearts and minds.


You can never put all your eggs in that basket. Sir Ian, speaking on a drizzly May afternoon in the Westminster police headquarters building called New Scotland Yard, puts himself in the camp of those who think that most useful information is volunteered. And that is no less true when dealing with Muslims than with any other religious group.

We start from a different place than we did with the Irish Republican Army , which had declared war against the British state. This is a far more difficult arena. We mustn't be seen to be attempting to infiltrate the entire Muslim community, It takes no great leap of imagination to see how sensitive policing could prevent terrorism. The garbage man who serviced 18 Alexandra Grove in Leeds, where Khan and his friends made the bombs for the July 7 attacks, said that in the days before the explosions he collected something he had never seen before on the job: rubber cartons of peroxide in large quantities.

That peroxide, used to make bombs, bleached the hair of the young men, to the consternation of their Pakistani parents, and killed the flowers in the boxes outside the window. But community policing carries a big risk: in reaching out to people on the streets, the police may become overly dependent on them.

At a local level, it can mean police collusion with whichever interest group makes the most credible threat of disruption. A year and a half ago, Sikhs in Birmingham rioted over the play "Behzti" "Dishonor" , which many found offensive. Representatives of the theater and the community sat down with the police.


The theater subsequently issued a statement saying that the safety of its patrons could not be guaranteed. As John Lloyd, a director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at Oxford, recalls, "The police decided they were more interested in not having a riot than in freedom of expression. When the representative organizations in question are not Sikh groups but Muslim ones, which are more numerous and more visible, the likelihood of conflict increases a lot.

What the police are doing on the street in East London is being replicated in other walks of life. The legislative packet Tony Blair outlined last August tries to balance two things: the harder line demanded by the public after July 7 and an unwillingness — whether out of common decency, constitutional propriety or political correctness — to single out Muslims. Proposals that didn't manage both things — closing radical mosques, for instance, which clearly made targets of Muslims — have been sidelined. But ensuring that all new laws were both tough and unbiased hasn't got Blair out of the woods.

On the contrary, it has produced strange, new ad hoc coalitions against him. On one side are many Tories who have shed their traditional law-and-order views and now object to seeing law-abiding Middle Englanders scrutinized as if they were potential terrorists.

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On the other side are the left of his own party and the even more left-leaning Liberal Democrats. In controversy after controversy, it has been New Labor versus everyone else. First, the government continued its fight — started before July 7 — to establish a new national identity card. The rationale has always been clear: to identify people who are in the country illegally, as a tool against both terrorism and welfare fraud. But the database established along with the card was wide-ranging enough to frighten civil libertarians.

If not, then why the hell is it there? The government also sought laws that would permit it to detain terrorist suspects for 90 days without charge. There was strong resistance, particularly from "ancient rights" Tories, who pointed out that habeas corpus has been enshrined in British law for years. The government and the police replied that the evidentiary puzzles that arise when international terrorist networks, computers and tight deadlines meet were something entirely new.

One case they like to mention involved inquiries abroad concerning 10 men with false identities, using 2, different mobile-phone SIM cards and encrypted computers on which much of the data was in a Farsi dialect. The government did not get its 90 days, but it did get 28, a victory under the circumstances. In a further initiative, the government sought to establish an offense of "glorifying terrorism.

The home secretary at the time, Charles Clarke, suggested that saying "Terrorists go straight to paradise when they die" might be captured by the law. But what else might be captured? Some asked if an Irishman who celebrated the Easter Rising of would fall afoul of the statute. Not to mention Blair's own wife, the human rights lawyer Cherie Booth, who once said, with reference to the Palestinians, "As long as young people feel that they have got no hope but to blow themselves up, you are never going to make progress.

The law has probably been too undermined by ridicule to serve for much. The government also brought to a final vote a "law against incitement to religious hatred" that it had been discussing for five years. It is here that the intellectual underpinnings of the Blair approach were clearest.

The law, which had been sought only by Muslims, was first demanded by the U. But to the legislation's detractors, these were just post-facto rationalizations, for the law was unprecedented in its sweep. As drafted, it would have made it difficult to criticize anything that advanced itself in the name of religious belief or practice, since the law permitted prosecution of anybody who was "reckless as to whether religious hatred would be stirred up" by things he said or wrote.

It was a sort of horse trading with the principles of free speech, and it drove much of the country into a fury. The Daily Mail columnist Melanie Phillips later told me: "The term 'politically correct' does not do justice to this sinister totalitarian project.