February 27, 2005
By Raffique Shah
IT is an abominable, insidious, and wholly unnecessary piece of legislation that ought never to have been conceived, far less passed by both Houses of Parliament and put into the statute books of this country. The Anti-Terrorism Bill (2004) has already been passed in the House of Representatives by simple majority. I hope that when it reaches "the other place" it will be so vigorously opposed by senators of every party-ilk and the independents, that it will be withdrawn. Because if it isn't, generations yet unborn will condemn us for not having the cojones to stand up for basic human rights when it counted most.
I am not like the opposition party, or many anti-PNMites, who will tell you that if the Bill becomes law, you will be locked up for spitting in the direction of Marli Street. In fact, even if it's passed into law, I don't know that anyone will ever be arrested or successfully prosecuted, seeing that no government has ever enforced such draconian laws. But we are too civilised a country to even consider having such laws in our books. Leave that to the USA, to the Philippines, to Middle East countries, where many people are barely literate and barely human (and I am not here branding entire populations). Really, if a supposedly developed country could elect George Bush for a second term, one has to question their level of intelligence. And in places like the Middle East where they still bow to potentates and mullahs, or in other countries where blind faith in unreasonable religious values create havoc and bloodshed, maybe they need laws like this one.
But we peaceful Trinis? No way, Mr Manning. Oh, I know the Government will argue that "terrorism" is global in reach and we have to cater for any eventuality. I heard Fitzgerald Hinds argue that "it's not meant to harass trade union activities", as if that matters. Trade unionists have always been harassed and persecuted and prosecuted, so whatever laws are added now will not change their vulnerability to the heavy hand of the stupid policemen on a strike scene or a belligerent government in Whitehall. So it's not trade unionists who should be worried about this Bill, it's the entire population.
I do not have the space here to elaborate on its more obnoxious elements. And maybe like me, most people failed to even take notice of it. Indeed, when the opposition UNC cried foul, when they raised a ruckus, no one paid attention. And that's because, like the boy who often cried wolf, they are so negative about everything, people have stopped listening to the tripe they regurgitate at every sitting of Parliament.
Really, who listens to Robin Montano except if you can't afford a ticket to a Donna Hadad show? The UNC has killed its credibility because of its "tabanca" for office and its penchant for mischief.
But the Bill does have some scary "claws". In fact, it has 41 "claws", all of which are deadly if put in the wrong hands. Let's forget "Claws I", which makes the penalty for commission of a "terrorist act" 25 years to follow (not run concurrently) sentences one may receive for related offences (like maiming people, murder, etc.). But say you contribute to a fund run by an organisation that involves Timothy McVeigh's (remember him? The Oklahoma bomber?) that purports to help needy kids. Let's say the website operators say they are looking for ways to atone for Mc Veigh's sins, and you give generously. Do you know what punishment you can face? Twenty years in "yuh pouffen"!
Or a nice, jacket-and-tie Middle-East gentleman asks to rent your US$3,000-a-month penthouse apartment, and thereafter he proceeds (long after he will have vacated your place) to blow up some Americans. Your possible fate? Twenty years in the slammer! A woman asks a real estate agent to secure her a house and later turns up as a suicide bomber in Baghdad. Possible penalty for the agent and or owner? Yeah, twenty years! And so it goes on and on, getting "worser and worser", as Alice would say.
Why do we need this bull? I am certain we already have laws that will cater for any terrorist activities here or abroad. Maybe they need touching up to meet the realistic needs of a world that has become increasingly susceptible to senseless, murderous, mindless people like McVeigh (yes, America admit you have the worst "terrorists" among your own!) and Bin Laden. But do we really need to follow the dictates of the USA, meet their every demand? Never forget that the UNC government rushed and passed into law the Shiprider Agreement that gives American vessels free rein in our territorial water. Where's our autonomy, our independence?
They are fomenting strife and creating enemies all over the world, so let them "brakes" for their backsides. I trust the in the Senate we will see cojones-aplenty, even in the ranks of the PNM, and that the ruling party's general council will reject this Bill with the same force it did the Public Order Bill back in 1970.