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A Bad Case of “Terrorism” Hysteria

This is the lead article in the December issue of Peace Researcher, which is out today (hard copy).

Anti-Bases Campaign

Box 2258, Christchurch, New Zealand




A Bad Case of “Terrorism” Hysteria

Murray Horton

I have a confession to make (so pay attention, spies, and have those black ninjas on full alert). I’ve spent a week in the Ureweras with gun toting Maori. From memory they also sported bullet belts, camouflage gear and cowboy hats. It was in 1981 (if ever there was a year when activists were tempted to become “terrorists” that was it) but it was a tourist – not terrorist – trip run by the country’s first Maori-run tour company. The only shots fired were by one of the guides at a deer (I was his spotter and, I’m pleased to say, he missed). But God knows what weird and wonderful distortions would be made of it in today’s climate of hysteria and paranoia. After all my then partner and I were both leading “Leftwing radicals”, with impressive criminal records to prove it. Case closed, we must have been up to no good.

Like the rest of the country I’ve been watching agog as recent events have unfolded. Indeed I’ve been feeling rather left out, I’m obviously no longer on the cops’ A list. Two journalists rang me on October 15 to ask if I was included in that day’s “anti-terrorist” raids – I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about. Nor can the Anti-Bases Campaign (ABC) claim any inside knowledge about what has or, more to the point, what hasn’t, been going on. On a November Monday morning I was reading the Police’s leaked “evidence” against the “terrorists” who never were when the Marlborough Express rang to ask for comment on the “fact” that surveillance intercepts had revealed suspects talking about bombing the Waihopai spybase. The reporter asked if I knew who might be likely to do that? Funnily enough, I don’t. He then asked if I thought that Waihopai is a “vulnerable target”? How’s that for a leading question over breakfast? I suggested he ask those tasked with defending the place and was duly quoted as saying that I thought the biggest physical threat to the spybase is the grapevine monoculture relentlessly taking over the whole Waihopai Valley.

Bloody Funny Sort Of “Terrorists”

As for the arrested “terrorists” (who are now facing only Firearms Act charges, which could still have serious consequences for them) I know a couple of them. I’ve known Tame Iti for more than 35 years, starting from when he lived in Christchurch in the early 1970s (he had nothing to do with my Urewera trip, I’ve only met him in various cities). I don’t know him at all personally but from my dealings with him I find the very notion of him being described as a “terrorist” to be laughable. To be sure, a provocateur, a showman (he’d probably prefer to be called a performance artist), a bloody nuisance to a lot of people, with highly questionable views on subjects like Fijian coups, but terrorist, no way. He’s always depicted in the media as this scary tattooed Maori radical (a godsend to scaremongers who face the problem of a dearth of scary bearded Muslim radicals in NZ) but what sort of “terrorist” has such an extremely high public profile, let alone attract attention for the various “offensive” public stunts of the sort that Tame has regularly pulled? I don’t recall Osama bin Laden venturing within shooting distance of his enemies and giving them a brown eye. Speaking as a South Island pakeha activist of the sort possibly expected to be given a hard time by “Maori radicals”, I can honestly say, using very old fashioned language, that in all the decades I’ve known him Tame has always been the perfect gentleman.

As for the pakeha anarchists and other activists picked up in the October 2007 national dragnet, we in ABC know Valerie Morse from Wellington. The only terrorising she’s done (and she’s done it plenty of times) is getting naked in public, to make a political point, in settings ranging from outside Parliament to lying down on the boiling hot asphalt outside the gate of the Waihopai spybase. So, Valerie’s definitely an exhibitionist, a political nudist and very much a bloody nuisance to lots of people as well to but, once again, I am incredulous at the description of her as a “terrorist” (who tend to make themselves as inconspicuous as possible. None of the faceless guys who flew the planes into the Twin Towers had any previous form, let alone a propensity for spectacular public nudity). And, of course, the dragnet extended as far as the Christchurch activists of the environmentalist Save Happy Valley Campaign. The cops tried to get into the home of Campaign spokesperson Frances Mountier and she had the nous to tell them to bugger off as they didn’t have a search warrant. Now this one does affect ABC directly as Francie is a valued member of our committee. She is a very determined and successful non-violent direct action specialist, with the criminal record to prove it, and a very articulate and effective campaigner. But not a bloody “terrorist” by any stretch of the imagination!

I can’t comment on what Tame and Valerie et al are alleged to have been up to in the Ureweras because I know no more about it than any other member of the public. And, if I did, I would try not to lower myself to the gutter tactics of the Police who, having had their “domestic terrorism conspiracy” so comprehensively rubbished by the Solicitor-General, resorted to selective leaks of “evidence” (it’s no such thing until it’s been proven in court) to a salivating media. The “radicals” found themselves in the ironic situation of defending the “conservative” position on the sub judice rule and the defendants’ right to a fair trial – in a court and not in the media. This is not the first time that the State has played dirty when it couldn’t make sensational politically motivated charges stick – after the Security Intelligence Service failed to have the late Bill Sutch convicted as a Soviet spy in his 1974 Official Secrets Act trial, it stage managed a whole series of defamatory leaks about Sutch to the media, in the hope of provoking him to sue and thus have the case re-heard in a civil court where a lower standard of proof is required. Failing that, to permanently smear him in the process. He didn’t take the bait but died just a few months later, which may well have been the aim of the whole grubby exercise. In those Cold War days, of course, Communists and Russian spies were the bogeymen.

Deliberate State Intimidation

But seeing that the case is now (very selectively) in the public domain I feel free to comment on the Police’s tactics in these raids. The leaked “evidence” claims that they had had this “domestic terrorism conspiracy” under surveillance for more than a year and that one of these Urewera “terrorist camps” took place just the weekend before the Monday raids. So why didn’t they bust it and catch everyone redhanded? What a field day the media would have had with that. But, no, they had to put on the show of Monday dawn raids throughout the country, with a complete lockdown of Ruatoki in Tuhoe country, traumatising innocent people and kids in the process. Why? Because the anti-terror laws say that they can. This was an exercise in muscle flexing and mass intimidation by State forces, a forceful demonstration of “we’re the boss and don’t you forget it”, a further illustration of the militarisation of the Police (who are not called the Police Force for nothing) which behave in such situations like an occupying army. They dressed, looked and acted like their military counterparts in Iraq, Afghanistan or Palestine, or their Police counterparts in the US where heavily armed cops routinely behave like an occupying army towards their own people. They were supposedly looking for terrorists – as many commentators have pointed out, the Police were the only ones looking and acting like terrorists that day. Because that’s what they were – State terrorists.

In continuing the finest traditions of colonisation, the worst manifestations of this behaviour were directed at Maori and specifically in Ruatoki. This was just the latest example of occupation, dispossession and powerlessness that Tuhoe have had to suffer in the 160+ plus years since the British Crown and pakeha settlers came to New Zealand. The tribe has never signed the Treaty of Waitangi and was never defeated militarily by the British but it paid a heavy price, to this day, in terms of massive land confiscation. It continues to resist and has accordingly attracted official heavyhandedness.

This spectacular attack by the State was intended to lay the first ever charges under the 2002 Terrorism Suppression Act (much as the 1974 unsuccessful prosecution of the late Bill Sutch was intended to be the showpiece use of the Official Secrets Act). Instead it came an inglorious gutser and never made it to court when the Solicitor General declared it “incoherent” and basically unworkable in relation to alleged domestic terrorism. ABC is happy to join the chorus of those (such as unflappable Green MP, Keith Locke) who could say “we told you so”. Back in 2001, ABC was among those who made submissions opposing this law, which was rushed through in the American-led global panic after the terrorist atrocities of September 11 that year. A central point we made was that the Act would suppress dissent, not terrorism. You can read our full submission online at http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/abcterr.htm. So, what was the Government’s reaction to this stinging rebuff by its own top legal official? Did it have a rethink? No, within hours of the Solicitor General’s decision, it rammed through Parliament, with the backing of all parties except the Greens, Maori Party and Act, the Terrorism Suppression Amendment Act which simply makes a bad law worse (in 2007 ABC made a submission opposing that one as well. See Peace Researcher 34, July 2007, “Another bloody Terror Submission”, by Bob Leonard, which can be read online at http://www.converge.org.nz/abc/pr34-149.html). If the medicine doesn’t work, then double the dose. It’s just a pity if the patient dies in the process.

Putting It Into Global Context

These laws don’t exist in isolation, they are simply part of a plethora of security and intelligence laws dating back to the mid 1990s, when the Security Intelligence Service (SIS) was given an extended mandate to target people who “damage New Zealand’s economic interests”. Within a fortnight of that law coming into effect, SIS agents were caught trying to break into the Christchurch home of anti-globalisation activist, Aziz Choudry (who has now lived in Canada for several years). The resulting successful court cases brought by him and David Small (who caught the bungling spies and suffered Police harassment and dirty tactics as a result) were extensively reported in Peace Researcher over the several years they took to reach their conclusion. This established that domestic dissenters were targeted by the State and were also smeared with the “terrorist” tag (the homes of both Aziz and David were raided by cops looking for non-existent bombs, after a highly suspicious “mock bomb” was planted in central Christchurch by persons unknown). Post-September 11 the securocrats in every Western country, including New Zealand, were given a major boost and saw it as a godsend to push through a whole range of ever more repressive laws. The Terrorism Suppression Amendment Act is just the latest manifestation of this hysteria (indeed this issue includes Jeremy Agar’s review of a whole book on the subject). Up until these raids, the main New Zealand victim of this has been Ahmed Zaoui (see my article elsewhere in this issue on the happy ending to his case). That was another total malicious cockup by the State.

Globally, terrorists have replaced Communists as the bogeymen. The powers that be have taken to labelling everyone who opposes them as “terrorists”, ranging from the thousands arrested without charge in Pakistan’s martial law regime to seaborne environmentalists challenging Japanese whaling ships in the Southern Ocean, to give just two of the most recent, 2007, examples. It has become a catchall label to easily smear opponents. For example, in the Philippines, the Government was able to get the Communist Party and its New People’s Army and Party founder, Joma Sison, put on lists of international terrorists. This is patently absurd as, throughout the nearly 40 years of armed struggle waged by the Party and its Army, it has always been exclusively a civil war, with no foreign content to it at all. Even in the days when the US had huge military bases in the Philippines, the Communists did not target them. This terrorist listing has had real personal consequences for Sison, who has lived in Dutch exile for 20 years. He has been denied the ability to work, earn an income or live in State housing, having to rely on friends and supporters for the wherewithal to live. Things got worse in 2007 when Dutch police arrested him on completely trumped up charges of conspiracy to murder (the actual murders having taken place in the Philippines). After nearly three weeks in solitary confinement, the charges were thrown out for lack of any evidence and he was freed. Another ignominious defeat for “the security State”. The irony is that the Philippine State really is a terrorist regime, with its forces committing hundreds of political murders, disappearances, torture and false imprisonments with complete impunity. It routinely terrorises its own people and has done for many decades, only now that repression is justified as being part of the “War on Terror”.

And the “War on Terror” is the global context for these unprecedented raids in NZ. All around the world governments have seized the opportunity to ram through repressive laws and to act outside any law by actions such as torture, abductions, “renditions” of “terrorists who then disappear into extra-judicial black holes such as Guantanamo (see Bob Leonard’s review of Stephen Grey’s “Ghost Plane” elsewhere in this issue). “Anti-terror” raids and lengthy or even indefinite imprisonment without charge or trial are the norm in many so-called First World countries. Australia harassed and detained a perfectly innocent Indian Muslim doctor for weeks in 2007 after claiming he was involved in the abortive “doctors’ plot” to bomb civilian targets in Britain. At its worst, the “War on Terror” authorises the State to murder the innocent, which was the fate of the unfortunate Brazilian man shot repeatedly in the head at point blank range by British cops as he sat on a London Underground train in 2005. Those State terrorists and murderers are still free, untouched by the law and unidentified. So that very culture of State impunity which is the norm in countries such as the Philippines is fast becoming the norm in the “civilised” countries of the West as well. In this case the treatment is much worse than the disease.

Bringing Home The “War On Terror”

New Zealand is internationally involved, of course, in the “War on Terror”. From the outset, in 2001, this country has had troops in Afghanistan, either directly involved in combat, in the case of the Special Air Service (one of whose members was awarded NZ’s first post-World War 2 Victoria Cross as a result, and hasn’t that been milked for its maximum propaganda value), or in reconstruction, “winning hearts and minds” work. The war in that benighted country is rapidly becoming a quagmire, just like the bigger swamp in Iraq, with this latest bunch of foreign invaders destined to go the same way as all the other foreign invaders who have come to grief in Afghanistan over the centuries (the British and Russians being only the most recent before this lot). The occupying armies are definitely not helping their hearts and minds mission by inconvenient facts such as that more Afghan civilians were killed by their “liberators” in 2007 than by the resurgent Taliban forces.

New Zealand’s main contribution to the “War on Terror” (and any other US-led war) is the Waihopai spybase. Peace Researcher readers don’t need me to spell out what it does and how it is involved in waging war and killing innocent people thousands of kilometres from the tranquil setting of its Marlborough valley. In October 2007, for the first time, I took to Waihopai a member of one of the “target groups” of the international network of spybases of which Waihopai is part. Amirah Ali Lidasan is a leader of the Moro (Muslim) people of the southern Philippines, a people who have waging a struggle on many levels, including a decades-long civil war, for autonomy and/or independence. The US never paid it any attention until after September 11, 2001 whereupon President Bush and his Philippine counterpart, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, declared the Philippines to be the “Second Front in the ‘War on Terror’”, and the Philippine Muslim struggle suddenly became important to the US (and its regional allies, particularly Australia which has signed a Status of Forces Agreement with the Philippines, already has intelligence agents operating in the Muslim South and will be stationing troops there as of 2008). By taking Amirah to the intimidating gate of that top secret spybase, and having her visit there well covered by the mainstream media, we (the Philippines Solidarity Network of Aotearoa, another one of my hats) made the very clear connection between aggressor and victims. New Zealand has blood on its hands by dint of that spybase and will continue to have as long as it functions in this country as a vital outpost of US electronic intelligence gathering.

So, the October 2007 “anti-terror raids” are the logical conclusion of New Zealand’s involvement in the “War on Terror”. This was the bringing home of that war, in all its’manifestations (short of actually killing people) – the repressive laws; the ninja attire of the heavily armed and militarised stormtroopers cum police; the treatment of a small rural Maori community as an occupied territory; the deliberate whipping up of a terrorism hysteria in the media and among the public; the dragnet approach to a wide and disparate group of activists, Maori and Pakeha and the attempt to brand them as “terrorists”; the criminalising of dissent and the demonising of dissenters as “terrorists”. Having failed to find any foreign terrorists despite several years of valiant effort (Ahmed Zaoui being the best they could do and that became a public relations disaster for the security State), the powers that be decided to create a “domestic terrorism conspiracy”. It failed because it was an elaborately staged show and when you go to the theatre it requires what is technically called “the willing suspension of disbelief”. Once that disbelief was no longer willingly suspended, the whole “terrorism” thing was revealed as bullshit. Now those arrested still face serious charges under the Firearms Act, which could send them to prison for years, but they are no longer in custody facing the prospect of extremely serious consequences under the now discredited terrorism laws.

Fight Back

This whole saga proves that the security State can and will attack any political activists, individually or collectively, Maori and pakeha, if it thinks that it can get away with it. The progressive movement in this country, backed by a lot of public opinion, put aside any disagreements and differences, recognising that an attack on one is an attack on all, and threw itself into an ongoing campaign against the terrorism hysteria. The lesson out of all this is that we need to redouble our efforts against the “War on Terror”, globally and at home. Of course there are real terrorists, who have committed appalling mass murders, and they must be caught and dealt with as the murderers that they are. But the greater crime is that the securocrats, aided and abetted by compliant politicians, have seized this opportunity to launch a massive assault on the peoples of the world, all in the name of “anti-terrorist security” and to plant the boot of “anti-terrorism” firmly on the neck of their own peoples. As I’ve already said, the treatment has proven to be worse than the disease. And, in this country, if we don’t fight back hard now against this manufactured hysteria, then who will be next? I’d better not take any chances – I’ll be wearing pyjamas to bed from now on, just in case.


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