Thursday, October 18, 2007

What's a molotov cocktail between friends?

The recent reports that a band of disaffected 'activists' have been playing commandos in the Uraweras should not, on the face of it, have middle New Zealand shaking in its shoes. After all boys will be boys and I'm sure they all came home feeling very excited and invigorated.

And certainly the liberal press has been yapping around the ankles of Police Commissioner Hoard Broad demanding to know where the terrorism charges are, and whether or not the Police have cocked up here and there, acting like stormtroopers.

For the Police have been casting their net, in their search for the "guerillas in the mist" (as the Dompost so brilliantly described the largely Tuhoe gathering) very widely. No doubt some have enjoyed a bit of good old fashioned stormtrooping to give their otherwise often depressing and annoying occupation a bit of a lift.

But in my view it comes down to this. You can be real pissed off about the failure of the Clark government to progress treaty claims. You can hold demonstrations. You can denounce the Government publically and even shoot the flag if you like. But when you make a molotov cocktail, fertiliser bomb or acquire an automatic weapon illegally you have crossed the line. You are a terrorist by definition.

The only reason for having automatic weapons, bombs and molotov cocktails is to kill or threaten people. That is about spreading terror. I don't care if criminal gangs have armed themselves with such weapons in the past, because as far as I'm concerned they are terrorists as well. The difference between a terrorist and other forms of political violence is discrimination. Terrorists are indiscrimminate. They don't care how many innocents are killed in the process of political action. Terrorists are into maximising 'collateral damage'. And I have no pity for terrorists. In my view they are combatants.

Fighting terrorism is never an exact science. Intelligence can be very fuzzy. The rule of thumb must always be to under-play the situation but be ready to escalate it very very quickly. In my view the Police have got it wrong. They have over-played the situation from the outset. They have upset people by doing the stormtrooper thing.

In my view the Police should go into these people's houses quietly but firmly and carry out their searches with the minimum of drama and the maximum of cooperation. They should be told, politely, if there is any resistance or the slightest sign of a threat the anti-terror squad will arrive in ten seconds. Military helicopters should defintely play a role.

Some might imagine that as the beginnings of a Police State. Under the current constitutional role of the Defence Force at present that might be a fair accusation. It will certainly be one reason the Defence Force will not be involved. But in my view however there is no reason why the military should not be involved in supporting anti-terrorism operations. Terrorism goes beyond policing because it is an attack on the ability of the state to enforce the law. It is contesting the sovereignty of the state and the state has a valid recourse to military force where its sovereignty is challenged.

This does require a degree of constitutional and organisational change however. The military must have a direct responsibility to the upholding of democracy. Every soldier must be trained in the law and in their role in the maintance of democracy. Only those who choose to arm themselves as soldiers should ever need to fear being treated like enemy soldiers. There is no room for armed political gangs running around New Zealand as they did in the Weimar Republic. The army must be the sole repository of political violence kept on the heavy chain of the law. Would be ursurpers must be discouraged, not indulged.

Counter-terrorism is a bit like peacekeeping. Firmness, politeness and the threat of immediate and massive retaliation are the only way to deal with people playing on the edges of terrorism. That way they see the fire they are playing with before its too late and have no grounds for nursing a grudge. For a grudge can be nursed into a very dangerous monster it is not nipped in the bud. Hopefully the Police have not started one growing through their recent heavy-handedness.