New French anti-terror actions could be a window into our own governments trajectory on the issue.
The French interior minister on Monday ordered that five websites be blocked completely under the justification of “promoting terrorism.” Sounding almost exactly like laws passed here late last year under the Counter Terrorism Legislation Amendment (Foreign Fighters) Bill, the laws seek to restrict freedom of speech on issues the government deems to be associated with terrorism.
It is worth noting that the definition of terrorism is generally excessively vague under these types of laws, allowing for a vast array of behaviours to be construed in a roundabout way as being “advocacy” for terrorist acts. The indefinite nature of the language used to frame these acts is at least a little disturbing.
Glenn Greenwald, in an article on The Intercept, points out that there is a close parallel between the laws we’re discussing and the kind of censorship of the internet we’ve been taught to despise in countries like China and Iran. Are we supposed to believe that these laws exist in service of human rights and freedom of speech simply because we’re not Chinese or Iranian?
Under the laws passed late last year, Australians can now be charged with “advocating terrorism”, which under the legalese of the CTLA Bill is defined as any behaviour counselling, promoting, encouraging or urging the doing of a terrorist act or the commission of a terrorist offence. The definition of terrorism under this law: any act that causes death or physical harm, serious property damage, endangers life, creates a serious health or public safety risk, or seriously interferes with, disrupts or destroys an electronic system.
There are two provisos that seem to serve little purpose other than to exclude the actions of multinational corporations from being defined as terrorism, those are, that the behaviour must be done to “advance a cause”, and that it must be conducted with “the intention of intimidating a section of the public or a government.”
If we look closely, aren’t the actions of fracking companies and large coal mining operations technically terrorist acts under these definitions? They “cause death [and] physical harm”, “endanger life”, and “create a serious health or public safety risk”, and are doing so to “advance a cause”, namely their own profiteering.
You could argue that any member of the public not intimidated by Gina Rinehart’s economic and political ideology has their head firmly in the sand.
So how long before the “counter-narrative” discussed in and around this type of legislation becomes doublespeak for “corporate propaganda”? Will we see a “need” for a counter narrative to legitimate concerns about the detrimental effects of fracking on the environment, or the severe environmental consequences of mining operations like the one in Gladstone, Queensland?
It seems to me that a counter-narrative is appropriate when the information being disseminated to the public is a) misleading or false, and b) dangerous to human beings and/or the ecosystem. An example of an appropriate counter narrative in my mind would be a targeted campaign to dispel the myths of anti-semitism or homophobia, or to increase awareness of the positives of vaccination and herd immunity in the wake of extremist anti-scientific claims by anti-vaccers.
Creating a counter narrative to a terrorist organization that can only spread its message to the majority of Australians with the complicity of the Australian media and in turn, the government, seems to me to be patently absurd. The best counter narrative would be to simply stop giving them the attention they desperately need to increase recruitment figures.
Whether the new laws do in fact curb terrorist activity is unknown. What we can anticipate however, is a situation like the one portrayed by the Canadian Center for Policy Alternatives in response to a similarly extreme “anti-terror” bill:
“Even if the government exercises restraint in laying charges and arresting people, the result is an inevitable chill on speech. Students will think twice before posting an article on Facebook questioning military action against insurgents overseas. Journalists will be wary of questioning government decisions to add groups to Canada’s list of terrorist entities.”
That kind of self-censorship is contrary to the functioning of a democratic society, indeed, to the very processes that make it democratic.
Now don’t think, having read the above, that your dear leaders haven’t given you your due process under the law. From the ABC:
“There is a broad “good faith” defence, which gets you off if you are in good faith just pointing out the government’s mistakes, urging a change to the law or pointing out something that is tending to produce feelings of ill-will between different groups. But the burden of this defence is on you.”
Of course you’re more than able to challenge your conviction, should it occur, in the courts, however the presumption of “innocent until proven guilty” no longer applies to you, and it is up to you to demonstrate, by the criteria outlined above, that you were not in fact advocating terrorism in any capacity. Talk about undermining legal rights.
If we don’t fight for our basic rights, we cannot expect to keep them. There is a concerted effort from big business and government to reduce the ability of the populace to actively assert their democratic rights under the law, and without targeted, unified and non-violent action by the citizenry, this effort is highly likely to succeed.
I wrote an open letter to the politicians of Australia yesterday, asking them to seriously review the information on the new metadata retention laws. If you’re looking for a place to start, may I recommend sending that letter to your members of parliament.
This article was originally published on the author’s blog, which you can find here.