I was appalled to hear Boris Johnsons suggestion that anyone travelling to Iraq or Syria would have to provide "a good reason" or be presumed guilty of being a terrorist. I am truly amazed that a so called libertarian Tory could tear up a thousand years of legal precedence of "Innocent untiln proven guilty" in the British legal system, purely because a few spotty, adolescent young men choose to decamp abroad to join up with a rag tag bunch of fundamentalist nutcases.
The concept of going abroad to fight other peoples wars is not new. George Orwell wrote a book about his experiences in the Spanish civil war with the Left fighting Franco in Homage to Catalonia. In fact one of the largest contingents to decamp to Spain were anarchists, who were at the time seem as a grave threat to the UK. These arguments are in no way new. What is even more ridiculous is Boris Johnsons idea that he could easily identify those who have signed up with ISIS. Does Boris really think that those who are planning terrorist outrages would broadcast the fact. During the 1980's I travelled extensively around the USSR without paperwork and documentation. It is easy enough to bypass border controls if you know a few people who are familiar with the system. Anyone planning on joining ISIS will have a whole network of contacts who could set up all manner of routes via Turkey, Jordan etc, perhaps via two or three other stops. It is not even particularly difficult to get bogus ID's or "spare passports" especially from other countries where a UK citizen has dual nationality. My father was a commercial pilot working in the Middle East in the 1940's and 1950's and he specifically had two passports due to issues with certain countries objecting to certain other countries border stamps. One was British and one was Austrailian, which afforded him the luxury of getting less hassle in countries where Great Britain was none too popular at the time.
So what would happen in practise is that the terrorists would do what terrorists always do. They will hide in the shadows, and evade the autorities. Who will be inconvenienced and treated as criminals? Well I guess everyone with family and friends in Iraq and Syria, wishing to pay a visit. Everyone who wants to volunteer to do humanitarian work in countries suffering all manner of terrible sufferings.
But lets put aside the practical stupidty of what Boris is suggesting. Lets look at the theory. How many countries do not have some sort of terrorist nutcase group operating within them? I've just returned from Egypt, which has had its own problems. What about closer to home? In Spain there are still active Basque separatist terrorists. In Northern Ireland, part of the UK we have the Real IRA, who I suppose are more likely to actually kill British people. Should anyone travalling to these countries "without good reason" have to be presumed guilty until they can explain themselves? You may say "What a ridiculous proposition", but once the principle is established, experience shows that no one can predict how it will develop. Let me give an example. Speed cameras were originally sold to us as a way of preventing accidents at hotspots. Within no time at all they became nothing more than a cash cow for tax greedy councils. Millions of motorists driving perfectly safely have been fined, often because cameras have been strategically placed at points where they are most likely to catch you ( a good example is the A1 approaching Apex corner from Sterling Corner, where the camera is immediately after the sign where the speed limit changes from 70 to 50 mph, so if you decellerate slightly too slowly you get caught).
What is interesting is that I've been doing some reading up on the so called terrorists who beheaded the US journalist. It seems that the main reason for taking hostages is to extract huge ransoms for them. These are paid by governments and companies. There is even a view that the beheading has made the trade more lucrative. In short, I suspect that they are more of a criminal gang than driven religious fundamentalists. As far as I understand, the execution of a journalist in retaliation for the US government bombings is something that is totally unjustifiable from any readings of the Koran. It seems to me rather sad that Boris doesn't have the wit to assemble a bunch of leading Islamic scholars to make the point. I suspect that Boris could actually make a difference if he used his power and his office to try and get the point over to these thugs that killing innocent people does not give you entry to heaven and 70 virgins, but a ticket to Hades and enternal torment. Boris has a huge intellect, but he is using it solely for the purposes of moving on "Project Boris for PM" rather than solving any problems or making the world a safe place.
Now I don't for one second think Boris is an idiot or any less travelled or versed in the ways of the world than I am. I don't for one second think Boris actually beleives that his rewriting of the principles of English law will stop a single terrorist. So why is he saying it? There are two possible believable reasons. The first is that Boris wants to appeal to the hard right core of his support, who don't really have a clue about anything beyond the bottom of their garden and who have never bothered to actually educate themselves. This lot never think things through and simply seem to rely on the likes of Boris to come up with bonkers schemes which have no practical purpose. The second is that he wants to set the scene so that if and when he becomes Prime Minister, he has all of the essential tools to run a banana republic, where we are even more controlled than we are at present. To me his 'guilty until proven innocent' stance has all manner of obnoxious outcomes. If I decide to go for a 3am walk to clear my head, will I have to prove I'm not a burglar? If I write a blog saying that I disagree with Boris on repressive laws, will I be a dangerous subversive?
The truth is that when I hear Boris talking as he has done, it scares me to death. Prior to the end of communism, when I travelled around the USSR, on several occasions I had conversations with friends who confided in me the true political situation in the USSR. They were so scared that they would only say this when no one else was around, as they weren't completely sure their mates wouldn't dob them in. I travelled from Minsk to Vilnius on a train (without accreditation) and the friend who took me insisted that if anyone else entered our compartment that I was under no circumstances to speak English. As a result on the return journey, I spent 2 hours simply drinking beer and looking out of the window as my friend chatted to a rather attactive young lady, who it transpired was a local state security co-ordinator. Amusingly she was disgusted by my behaviour and dismissed me a 'Belorussian Peasant' much to the amusement of our friends. You may wonder why I took such a risk? The answer is simple. I was curious to see what was actually going on in the USSR. according to the law of Boris, I suppose that makes me a terrorist. I wouldn't do it today, but if I was my teenage self, I would be quite interested to go to Iraq and Syria and see for myself what is actually going on. At the time I was obsessed with music and I was actually more interested in the Soviet music scene. I assumed that there would be a strong underground punk scene and all manner of exciting subcultures. In truth (bearing in mind no internet then) the whole thing was hugely disappointing in that my Russian friends were more interested in the Beatles. I can say for certain that if I was younger, I'd have flown back to find out about the "Pussy Riot" scene when that story broke. To me that was exciting and perhaps they are the first real punk band for 30 years.
But then we hear nothing from Boris about them and the way they are being repressed, do we? In fact, we even had blogs on the Boris Johnson fan club house mag (AKA The Spectator) that Pussy Riot were wrong http://blogs.spectator.co.uk/coffeehouse/2012/08/why-pussy-riot-were-wrong/ - how a so called libertarian can oppose freedom of expression, I don't know, but there we have it.
In the last century, the UK has seen two world wars, a cold war, Northern Ireland, and a whole swathe of regional conflicts. Each has thrown up threats to the UK. Have any of these resulted in changes to the law requiring us to "prove we are innocent", even when the nation was threatened with destruction? Was I asked to justify my trip to the USSR, which had a hundreds of nuclear warheads pointed at London as I flew out? No of course I wasn't. But then, Boris wasn't in charge then, was he?