Thursday 7 June 2007

Register of emotion

I see the Home Secretary John Reid wants to bring in a Terrorist Offenders Register, similar to the Sex Offenders Register (BBC News: Terror detention to be reviewed).

This isn't the only link between sex offences (notably paedophilia) and terrorism (notably terrorist bombings). Both are terrible crimes which horrify the vast majority of people, of all races and religions. At the same time, both are the subject of a moral panic, which in its wake has brought legislation and other measures which are rather more controversial.

Last week's Socialist Worker had on its front page, an article about an Asian muslim who was arrested in London for taking a photo which the Police thought was connected to terrorism ... a photo of Tower Bridge! (Socialist Worker: I took a picture of tower bridge and was arrested for terrorism). This has stark parallels with the moral panic over innocent photos of children (my views can be found on this web page).

As for the Offenders Register, the problems - as with the Sex Offenders Register - are not so much with the idea itself, as how it is likely to be implemented. Miscarriages of justice have occurred with the Sex Offenders Register, the Birmingham Sunday Mercury in 2004 reported the case of a 14 year old girl being forced to sign the Sex Offenders Register for a crime which she was later cleared of in court (Sunday Mercury: Little girl forced to sign sex offenders' register). In addition, a Liberty report from 2002 notes that "Only a fraction of the 18,500 names currently on it pose a real threat to children or the wider public. The Register should be cleared of (for example) people involved in consensual gay sex, so that the Register is properly focussed on people who pose a real danger, and so the authorities who use the Register and monitor those on it can concentrate on real dangers." (Sex Offences White Paper: Liberty Initial Response).

I have also heard about people being encouraged to accept Police cautions for offences such as child pornography, on rather flimsy evidence, and ending up on the Sex Offences Register, rather than see the alleged offence go to court. Not sure how true this is, but the worrying thing is, in these days when civil liberties are under constant attack, it sounds believable.

Would a Terrorist Offenders Register be much better? Well, we can really trust the same Police who killed the Brazilian electrician Jean Charles de Menzes on the London Underground, to never make a mistake in their identification of a terrorist, can't we?

Then again, some people really do deserve to be on the Terrorist Offences Register. Such as the British politician who took us into an illegal war in 2003 and masterminded the illegal bombing of Iraq. (Not that we need a register to know his whereabouts right now - his every movement and action, no matter how trivial, seems to be all over the media, >yawn<).

Also, why should it only be sex offenders and terrorists who are on a register? Just as the Sex Offenders Register and the Terrorist Offenders Register are to protect innocent people from sickos, I think there should also be a Hate Crime Offences Register. This would detail people convicted of hate offences such as racism, sexism, disablism and homophobia. In addition, people cautioned for crimes which would not necessarily reach court, such as verbal abuse or "making fun", would also be forced to sign the register so their activities would be monitored and they could be prevented from working where they may abuse members of minority groups. After all, it could be argued that racist language and name-calling leads in the end to racist murders.

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