Oz Blog News Commentary


January 24, 2020 - 21:04 -- Admin

Anyone seeking to defend life on Earth is now labelled an
extremist. Yet the real extremists are those in power.

By George Monbiot, published in the Guardian 22nd
January 2020

It’s not an “error” or an “accident”, as the police now claim. It’s a pattern. First, the Guardian revealed that counterterrorism police in south-east England have listed Extinction Rebellion (XR) and the youth climate strikes as forms of “ideological extremism”. Then teachers and officials around the country reported that they had been told, in briefings by the anti-radicalisation Prevent programme, to look out for people expressing support for XR and Greenpeace.

Then the Guardian found a
guide by Counter Terrorism Policing
to the signs and symbols used by
various groups. Alongside terrorists and violent extremist organisations, the
guide listed Greenpeace, XR, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, CND,
the Socialist Party, Stop the War and other peaceful green and left
organisations. Then the
newspaper discovered
that City of London Police had listed XR as a “key
threat” in its counterterrorism assessment.

There’s a long history in the UK of attempts to associate
peaceful protest with extremism or terrorism. In 2008, for example, the
Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) produced
a list
of “domestic extremists”. Among them was Dr Peter Harbour, a retired
physicist and university lecturer, who had committed the cardinal sin of
marching and petitioning against an attempt by the energy company RWE npower to
drain a beautiful local lake and fill it with pulverised fly ash. ACPO sought
to smear peace campaigners, Greenpeace and Climate Camp with the same charge.

The police have always protected established power against
those who challenge it, regardless of the nature of that challenge. And they
have long sought to criminalise peaceful dissent. Part of the reason is
ideological: illiberal and undemocratic attitudes infest policing in this
country. Part of it is empire building: if police units can convince the
government and the media of imminent threats that only they can contain, they
can argue for more funding.

But there’s another reason, which is arguably even more
dangerous: the nexus of state and corporate power. All over the world,
corporate lobbyists seek to brand opponents of their industries as extremists
and terrorists, and some governments and police forces are prepared to listen.
A recent
article in The Intercept
sought to discover why the US Justice Department
and the FBI had put much more effort into chasing mythical “ecoterrorists” than
pursuing real, far-right terrorism. A former official explained, “you don’t
have a bunch of companies coming forward saying ‘I wish you’d do something
about these right-wing extremists’.” By contrast, there is constant corporate
pressure to “do something” about environmental campaigners and animal rights

We feel this pressure in the UK. In July last year, the
lobby group Policy Exchange published
a report
 claiming that XR is led by
dangerous extremists. Policy Exchange is an opaque organisation that refuses to
disclose its donors. But an
investigation by Vice magazine
revealed it has received funding from the
power company Drax, the trade association Energy UK and the gas companies E.On
and Cadent.

One of the two authors of the Policy Exchange report,
Richard Walton, is a former police commander. A report
by the Independent Police Complaints Commission
said he would have had a
misconduct case to answer, had he not retired. The case concerned allegations
about his role in the spying by undercover police on the family of the murdered
black teenager Stephen Lawrence. The purpose of the spying operation, according
to one of the police officers
involved, was to seek “disinformation” and
“dirt” on the family, and stop their campaign for justice “in its tracks.”

The Home Secretary, Priti Patel, has defended
the inclusion
of XR on the police list of extremist ideologies. But it
seems to me that people like Patel and Richard Walton pose much greater threats
to the nation, the state and our welfare than any green campaigners. Before she
became an MP, she worked for the company Weber Shandwick, as a lobbyist for British
American Tobacco
. Among her tasks was to campaign against the European
tobacco control directive, whose purpose was to protect public health. A BAT
memo complained that the Weber Shandwick team as a whole “does not actually
feel comfortable or happy working for BAT.” But it was pleased
to note
that two of its members “seem quite relaxed working with us”. One
of them was Priti Patel.

In her previous government role, as secretary of state for
international development, Patel held unauthorised
and undisclosed meetings
with Israeli officials, after which she broached
the possibility of her department channelling British aid money through the
Israeli army, in the occupied Golan Heights. After she was less than candid
with the prime minister, Theresa May, about further undisclosed meetings, she
was forced to resign. But she was reinstated, in a far more powerful role, by
Boris Johnson.

Our government is helping propel us towards a catastrophe on
a scale humankind has never encountered before: the collapse of our life
support systems. It does so in support of certain ideologies – consumerism,
neoliberalism, capitalism – and on behalf of powerful industries. This,
apparently, meets the definition of moderation. Seeking to prevent this
catastrophe is extremism. If you care about other people, you go on the list.
If you couldn’t give a damn about humankind and the rest of life on Earth, the
police and the government will leave you alone. You might even get appointed to
high office.

It is hard to think of any successful campaign for
democracy, justice, or human rights that would not now be classed by police
forces and the government as an extremist ideology. Without extremists such as
Emmeline Pankhurst, who
maintained that
“the argument of the broken window pane is the most
valuable argument in modern politics”, Priti Patel would not be an MP. Only men
with a certain amount of property would be permitted to vote. There would be no
access to justice, no rights for workers, no defence against hunger and
destitution, no weekends.

In his Letter
from Birmingham Jail
, Martin Luther King, subjected to smears very
similar to those now directed against XR and other environmental groups, noted
“the question is not whether we will be extremists, but what kind of extremists
we will be. Will we be extremists for hate or for love? Will we be extremists
for the preservation of injustice or for the extension of justice?”

Good citizens cannot meekly accept the death of the living
planet, as corporations rip it apart for profit. The moderation demanded of us
is, in reality, extremism: acceptance of an economic and political model
driving us towards unprecedented disaster. If seeking to defend life on Earth
defines us as extremists, we have no choice but to own the label. We are extremists
for the extension of justice and the perpetuation of life.