Terror talk ‘exploiting politics of fear’

Tony Blair’s rhetoric on the ‘war on terror’ leaves him open to the charge that he is “exploiting a politics of fear”, a new report has warned.

A study for the Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust says ministers must stop using “misleading and disproportionate” language on terrorism, which “allows terrorists to assume the dignity of being soldiers or combatants instead of the criminals that they are”.

It says the only way of successfully tackling terrorism is to win the trust and cooperation of Muslim communities in the UK, in particular those young people who provide the tacit support and empathy that allows terrorism to survive.

But it warns that counter-terrorism legislation and rhetoric are eroding civil liberties and damaging community relations, in particular by their “disproportionate effect” on Muslims. This in turn is making it more difficult to get intelligence, it says.

“The combination of tough laws and tough talk ministers have adopted is divisive and directed too much at the majority population. There is a strong suspicion that some pronouncements are inspired by electoral considerations,” the report says.

It adds: “In responding to the terrorist threat, it is essential to keep a sense of proportion, for other dangers for a democracy like Britain lurk in the shadow of terrorism.

“But the rhetoric of war has encouraged an over-reaction in which human rights and the rule of law are among the more obvious casualties.”

The publication of the study follows Gordon Brown’s support this weekend for an extension of the 28-day limit on the time terror suspects can be held without charge.

Ministers failed to increase the limit to 90 days last year, but on Saturday the head of the Metropolitan police, Ian Blair, said such powers would be welcomed. The chancellor, who is expected to be the next prime minister, said he “completely” agreed.

And today a Home Office spokesman stressed: “As the head of MI5 made clear only a few days ago, the threat we face is very serious indeed.

“Ministers make no apology for bringing in tough new laws and putting the fight against terrorism at the heart of the work of the Home Office.”

John Reid was singled out in the report for his tough talk on terrorism, but the spokesman said: “Over recent months the home secretary has been engaged in a series of events both public and private within Muslim communities in the UK.

“This is an engagement he intends to continue precisely because he recognises that it is only by working with our communities that we can defeat terrorism.”

However, Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman Nick Clegg said the report proved ministers’ tough talk was “self-defeating”.

“Rather than scoring political points they should be reaching out to create a cross-party approach striking the right balance between effective security measures and the need to win the long-term battle for hearts and minds,” he said.