INTERNMENT DOESN’T WORK. WE SHOULD KNOW.

 

 Brendan Harkin

It was early in the morning.

Far too early to be awake on a Monday morning but they were awakened none the less by the sound of a truck’s engine as it rushed down the street and pulled to a halt outside.

It was followed swiftly with the opening and shutting of doors and the sound of many boots hitting the surface of the road and the unmistakeable shouting of soldiers being issued commands.

Before anyone in the house could tell what was happening, a shattering crash announced the front door being kicked in and the house was soon filled with the sounds of armed men entering and clearing rooms. Footsteps thundered up the stairs and commands shouted down barrels of guns. The family could do nothing as their teenage son was forcibly dragged out of the house. Despite the outraged demands for an explanation and the desperate pleading of his family, he was unceremoniously loaded into the back of the truck. He was not alone for long as other young men from the local area joined him as their relatives looked on in shock and dismay. A desperate father tried to shove the soldiers out of the way to get to his son and is thrown to the ground for his efforts. Vague responses were issued from the commanding officer. Citing some particular piece of recent legislation but nothing else as he and his troops climbed back into the truck and drove off.

These men committed no crime. They were given no trial. They were taken in the morning, dragged from their beds and imprisoned without reason or evidence of wrongdoing. The only reason needed was their background and where they lived. The State had deemed them the enemy and ordained itself with the power to strip them of their freedom and their humanity because of who they were. The newspapers called them terrorists, mouthpieces argued it was a “necessary evil”. Those in power had decided they were not worthy of rights or decency. People had to make difficult decisions to protect the country and it didn’t matter who had to be hurt to do it. It was clear that when they spoke of “protecting our people” they of course did not consider these people to be their own.

As the men arrived in prison they were met by those of a similar background who had already served time for crimes. They pointed to the treatment of these newcomers and explained this is why they committed those crimes. That they were fighting back against their oppressors. Acting in self-defence. They took to these scared and confused men and said “we have to do something.” At home as rage and hurt gripped their families those that remained looked to each other, terrified of what raids may follow the next day or the day after that and said “we have to do something”.

A few streets across, someone from outside of the community facing these raids hears of the news. It’s just a few days since a bomber killed several people and wounded scores at a restaurant in town. The horror still fresh in their mind they look at their family and shrug, knowing their people will be safe from these actions. “We have to do something.”


These events are not a fantasy concocted for the purpose of analogy.

On Monday the 9th August 1971, Operation Demetrius began in Northern Ireland and would last until 1975. Thousands would be interned without trial and imprisoned. Most of them Catholic. The story you read was one that took place numerous times over the course of Operation Demetrius.

It was a simple solution to the terrorist problem.

The IRA came from Catholic areas where Republicanism was rife. They couldn’t allow terrorists to roam free and escape justice. So they did away with justice. They rounded Catholic people up on the basis of their name and background. They faced beatings, treatment akin to torture and many spent years in prison without ever being convicted of a crime. It was for the good of the country. We had to do something.

The result of this “simple” solution was disastrous. As hundreds of innocent people were imprisoned, sectarian tensions flared and word of the ill-treatment of these innocent captives spread widely. In the eight months before Operation Demetrius, 34 people were killed as part of the conflict. In half that time afterwards 140 people were killed. Internment was recognised as a huge propaganda tool for the PIRA and served to radicalise moderate nationalists. Songs were inspired by it. The pain it caused and hatred and distrust it inspired still survives to this day amongst the communities it was enacted upon. Ultimately it created more division and increased terrorist activity and recruitment.

And now in the wake of major terrorist attacks in Britain at the hands of radicalised young men, we have mouthpieces like Farage and Hopkins being humoured by journalists and radio broadcasters as they discuss “should we bring back internment? Will it help fight terrorism?”.

The answer is no.

In a standard debate involving this, proponents of internment will demand you provide them with an alternative counter-terrorist strategy. They want to paint those who oppose it as a “hug-a-jihadi” liberal. The idea being that if you can’t provide an alternative then the current solution is “good enough”. After all, we have to do something.

They fail to grasp that a good primary step for any counter-terrorist strategy is not to create more terrorists and furthermore not hand terrorists the biggest propaganda victory they could want.

Internment has been proven not to work. It marginalises, it discriminates and it oppresses. It makes an enemy of citizens who have committed no crimes.

It drags their sons from their beds at 4am and offers them no dignity or explanation save for the pointed barrel of a soldier’s rifle.

To decide that human rights no longer apply to Muslims by merit of them being Muslim is to declare them the enemy. It is to declare them a threat. It is to repeat all the same mistakes that were made during the Troubles which exacerbated the conflict and resulted in the loss of hundreds more lives.

A policy which seeks to raid Mosques, disrupt local communities and imprison people without trial is purely a window-dressing policy designed to cater to the most extreme reactionaries and make them feel like the state is doing something. They do not grasp that counter-terrorism is not a public performance for jingoistic fantasy to be fulfilled.

To advertise your strategy to the enemy is to effectively disarm yourself. To willingly alienate those who are willing to aid you in your fight against the enemy is ultimately inviting your own defeat.


Brendan Harkin is originally from Belfast and is currently based on Twitter.

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Photo Credit: Hibernia, August 9th 1974

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