Today we find ourselves in an extremely disturbing situation where our Prime Minister has declared that she will “rip apart human rights” in order to impose new restrictions on terror suspects. Most terrifying, perhaps, is the fact that a lot of the British public seem to be nodding in agreement, seemingly at a loss to understand the many, many other options available that can tackle extremism. How such a statement can be accepted even slightly is beyond me, yet it seems to be actively supported. I am already horrified that over the last week I seem to have found myself surrounded with openly racist remarks that are supported, understood or just ignored. People claim that this is the terrorists’ doing but it seems quite clear to me that it is the government and the press who are in control here. Today it emerges that there seems to be a huge public misunderstanding of what human rights actually are and so I would like to talk about what a change to human rights could actually mean.
‘And if our human rights laws get in the way of doing it, we will change the law so we can do it.’
Theresa May, Prime Minister, 6 June 2017
Firstly, it is extremely important to understand that there isn’t a ‘us and them’ when it comes to human rights because they are rights, not privileges, and we are humans. Thus, human rights are not something that some people deserve and some do not. By having a system of laws and a government to establish justice, we put trust in our elected government to adhere to these rights – when a government decides they need to change human rights in order to make something work for them this is a huge failure and that should be recognised.
Unfortunately, most members of the public who are cheering for a reform in human rights don’t seem to understand the above. Instead, they seem to be more focused on the segregation of those they have decided do not ‘deserve’ human rights and those that they feel do. It deeply saddens me that in order to get through to most people about the way human beings are treated then we have to ask ‘but what if it were you?’, yet here we are. Our human rights give us a right to express our opinions and a right to not be mistreated or wrongly punished by the state. When we decide that certain people are no longer entitled to these rights then how long do you think it will take until you are personally affected by this? If we agree as a society to scrap human rights, why should we have such sincere trust that a government that is owned by 1% of the country will only take away the rights of those who you have decided ‘deserve’ to have them taken? And why do you think that you have the right to determine who deserves rights and who doesn’t?
How many times have you been accused of doing or saying something that you are not responsible for? Is it not possible that some actions are perhaps misunderstood? Or that some things happen due to outside forces, such as abusive influences or mental illness? Isn’t the whole point of our justice system to decide who is guilty and to then punish accordingly? If a family member does something morally wrong then are we suspects by association? What is suggested is punishing those who are suspected of crimes – this could be anyone, and anyone could be innocent. They could be guilty, too, but that is to be dealt with by the justice system, not by the abolition of human rights.
In 2015 Staffordshire University masters student Mohammed Umar Farooq was reading a textbook about terrorism in the University library – his masters being in terrorism, crime and social security – when he was approached and questioned by a university official that he believed to be a fellow student. Asked about homosexuality, ISIS and Al-Qaeda, Mohammed answered academically but also expressed his personal opposition to extremism. However the university official decided that his answers had raised ‘red flags’ and reported him to security. If we rip apart human rights then would this be enough to warrant Mohammed Umar Farooq a suspect of terrorism? Under scrapped human rights could he have been imprisoned indefinitely, had the right to representation withheld, could he have been tortured for information? All for reading a textbook about terrorism.
‘The implications if I did not challenge this could be serious for me… This could happen to any young Muslim lad. I had to fight back.’
Mohammed Umar Farooq
Three months later, as it were, the university apologised to Mohammed. Unfortunately, the experience resulted in Mohammed feeling as though he needed to constantly look over his shoulder, and he sadly did not return to the university to finish his masters. Is this not the beginning of total censorship?
There was also the case of Ahmed Mohammed, a 14-year-old student from Texas. When he took a reassembled digital clock into school his English teacher thought it resembled a bomb, and the local law enforcement was called. He was questioned for 1.5 hours and then handcuffed and taken into custody, without seeing his parents. He was transported to a juvenile detention facility where he was fingerprinted and his photograph was taken. He had built the clock from scraps around the house and his father had encouraged him to show off his technological ability at school. Would you decide that he was a terror suspect, as the local law enforcement did? Do you advocate this behaviour? What if this were your child?
The prime minister is suggesting that we increase controls on extremists where they are thought to present a threat but there is not enough evidence to prosecute. There is something extremely gross about having to say ‘what if it were you?’ because it being anybody is horrifying. But again, what if you decided you wanted to read a book on terrorism to educate yourself on the subject, perhaps in an attempt to stop making racist and hate filled assumptions? What are the consequences of a suspect being able to be punished without evidence?
There are not enough questions being asked about what the prime minister is implying and instead we are witnessing a blind acceptance. To believe that we should be punishing anyone acting in a way that we do not deem appropriate rather than trying to strike the root cause of criminal actions is extremely ignorant, uneducated and cowardly. We are being told not to attempt to understand what drives extremists, not to question who funds them, not to demand that our own government take responsibility for their failings, and to instead take what might appear, to a certain type of person, to be the easy way out – just changing the rules so that we don’t actually have to make an effort to do a thing. But this is a deep, dark and dangerous approach. We are being told that the opposition of the current government is responsible for extremism when they haven’t even been in power for seven years. For us to stand by all of this says something about us as a nation.
Theresa May was responsible for the The Investigatory Powers act (aka the snoopers chart), which she controversially brought in in 2016. Then she slipped into this manifesto that they will make huge changes to ‘the way the internet works’, which suggest that May will allow the government to decide what is and isn’t published online. They push and push and we continuously allow them to get away with it, without educating ourselves on these matters and what their changes might mean. And now they’ve come right out and said it – they will rip apart human rights. Can we really stand by and allow this to happen? Will you actually vote for it?
‘Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.’