TV & Radio
Europe juggles freedom and security
Radicalism grows, and with it, fears for loss of rights
By Tom Hundley
Chicago Tribune foreign correspondent
July 27, 2005
LONDON -- Earlier this year, Britain's Appeal Court upheld one of the nation's core values--freedom of religion--by ruling that a 16-year-old Muslim girl named Shabina Begum had the right to wear a head-to-toe jilbab to her high school in Luton.
Acting in defense of that same freedom, the French National Assembly did exactly the opposite: It passed a law banning head scarves and all displays of religious affiliation from public school classrooms.
The Netherlands, one of the first countries to embrace gay marriage, is justly famous for its tolerance. But after the murder of filmmaker Theo van Gogh by a Dutch-born Muslim extremist of Moroccan heritage, lawmakers are considering ways to limit Muslim immigration. One idea is aimed at preventing Moroccan and Turkish immigrants from taking brides from back home.
As militant mosques and homegrown jihadists proliferate across Europe, political leaders are confronted with a dilemma: How to defend an open society against internal enemies who hide behind that openness.
In the wake of the attacks on the London transport system that left 56 dead, plus the killing of an innocent man by police who mistook him for a suicide bomber, Prime Minister Tony Blair met Tuesday with opposition leaders to discuss a package of anti-terrorism laws that some critics believe mainly is designed to calm a jittery public.
Laws across Europe
Italy and France also have announced a host of new anti-terrorism measures. Italy passed laws that allow authorities to collect saliva samples from suspects for DNA testing and to quickly expel undesirables. France, with some of the most intrusive anti-terrorism laws in Europe, plans to reinforce its information-gathering procedures.
The main provisions of Britain's proposed legislation would toughen existing laws by making it illegal for British residents to attend a terrorist training camp or participate in "acts preparatory to terrorism."
While there appears to be broad political support for those ideas, legal experts are less certain about another proposal that would criminalize "indirect incitement" of terrorism. The government says it wants to crack down on people who praise suicide bombers as "martyrs" or otherwise justify acts of terrorism. Home Secretary Charles Clarke promised to be more specific when the legislation is presented to Parliament in September, but legal experts and civil liberties activists worry about the vagueness of the concept.
"Anything that takes us away from actual activity and locates criminal guilt in the thought processes of suspects should give us pause," said Conor Gearty, a professor of human-rights law at the London School of Economics.
Doug Jewell, spokesman for Liberty, Britain's leading civil liberties organization, said that under the proposed legislation, Cherie Blair, wife of the prime minister and a civil rights lawyer, could have been charged with a criminal offense three years ago when she spoke sympathetically of Palestinian suicide bombers.
If the new statute is too broadly drawn, said Jewell, "it would catch people who made stupid statements."
In the wake of the Sept. 11 attacks and the subsequent invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, governments across Europe have been scrambling to come to grips with the growing isolation and alienation of their Muslim communities.
All sorts of laws have been passed. The Dutch government recently decreed that residents of the Netherlands could marry foreigners only if their new spouses were over 21 and could pass a Dutch language test.
Although the law applied to all citizens, it was aimed squarely at the large population of male Moroccan and Turkish immigrants who seek teenage brides from their villages back home. The girls rarely learn to speak Dutch, and thus perpetuate "the alienation from Dutch society from generation to generation," according to Maarten Huygen, the editorial page editor of NRC Handelsblad, an influential Dutch newspaper.
He noted that the law was probably a violation of the European human-rights convention.
While the French approach to integration has been to emphasize the "Frenchness" of all citizens by keeping religious distinctions out of the public square, Britain espouses multiculturalism and diversity.
Begum's "multifaith" school in Luton had a dress code that encouraged religious diversity, but it tried to draw a line at the more reactionary Islamic interpretations of female modesty.
Begum, an articulate teenager, argued that this was a form of religious discrimination, which she blamed on "an atmosphere that has been created in Western societies post-9/11, an atmosphere in which Islam has been made the target for vilification in the name of the `war on terror.'"
After the London bombings, Blair launched a high-profile campaign to include Britain's Muslim establishment in the fight against homegrown terrorists. He also has spoken repeatedly of the need to make sure the wider Muslim community was not tarred by the murderous deeds of a few.
Feeling singled out
But the problem, spelled out in a detailed parliamentary report on existing anti-terrorism laws, is that such laws inevitably make the Muslim community feel it is being singled out.
"There is no doubt that the authorities face a real challenge in acting against terrorist suspects from within particular communities, without being seen as targeting-or stigmatizing-that community," the report said. "We do not believe the government has yet found an answer to this question."
Last week, British police chiefs asked for new powers that would allow them to hold terror suspects for up to 90 days without charge, while Conservative Party leader Michael Howard called on the government to reconsider the current ban on phone tap evidence.
Two other controversial proposals are national identity cards and so-called control orders that would allow police to restrict the activities of individuals suspected of having sympathies for outlawed groups or violent ideologies.
The limits of Britain's anti-terrorism laws were established in December when the Law Lords, in an 8-1 verdict, ruled that the indefinite detention of terror suspects at London's Belmarsh prison was unlawful--in effect rejecting the idea of Guantanamo-style detentions.
"The culture here precludes it," said Gearty, of the London School of Economics. "Guantanamo is thought disgraceful here by almost everybody, including the political and legal classes."
Polls after the London terror attacks suggest a nervous public supports tough anti-terror laws, but Jewell, the Liberty spokesman, cautioned that passing more laws offers little protection against the small number of people intent on terrorism.
"There is no legislative cure for terrorism," he said. "Our belief is that the way to deal with this is more targeted policing and putting more resources into intelligence."