The time has come to label rioters as terrorists

Author (Person)
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Series Details Vol.7, No.35, 27.9.01, p6
Publication Date 27/09/2001
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Date: 27/09/01

By Gareth Harding

FOR once, last Friday's extraordinary European Council meeting really was extraordinary. To begin with, the whole thing was organised in four days flat, which is no mean feat for a body which normally moves with all the speed and agility of an ocean liner trying to avoid an iceberg.

In fact, the summit was arranged so quickly that the Belgian presidency didn't even have time to do a spell-check on the podium backdrop, which read: "Informal Extraordinary Meeting Of De European Council".

Looking informal and extraordinary is a difficult task, but somehow French President Jacques Chirac and his Prime Minister Lionel Jospin pulled it off. The country's two most famous cohabiters usually look as though they've just signed their divorce papers, but this time they fluttered their eyelids like newly-weds.

However, the most eerie part of the 21 September meeting was the complete absence of protesters. Remember, this was the first time European heads of state had met since rioters turned the centres of Göteborg and Genoa into war zones and ever since the media has been full of speculation about the fate that awaits Ghent next month and Laeken in December.

With the western world on the verge of launching its biggest military operation since the Gulf War you would have thought that the usual rent-a-mob crowd of demonstrators would have been out in force. Instead, the streets around the Council's Justus Lipsius building were silent on Friday night, save for the drunken whoops of young Eurocrats. It would be tempting to think that the anti-EU/anti-globalisation/anti-everything protesters stayed away out of respect for the victims of the terrorist attacks.

But these are people who, by and large, despise everything the US stands for and have shown little respect for the sanctity of human life before.

Anyone who doubts this should have been in Göteborg on 15 June and witnessed the way in which certain black-clad hooligans set about police officers with sticks and stones.

At their mini-summit, EU leaders agreed to draw up a common definition of terrorism and to streamline extradition procedures by introducing a European arrest warrant. Both of these measures are essential tools in the fight against the slaughterers who carried out the atrocities in New York and Washington.

But they could also prove useful in the struggle against violent punks who have caused blood to flow on Europe's streets once again. When trying to define fuzzy words, EU leaders could do a lot worse than reach for their dictionaries.

Mine describes terror as "revolutionary violence" and a terrorist as "anyone who attempts to further his views by a system of coercive intimidation".

The adoption of such a catch-all definition could spell trouble for riot ringleaders whose idea of protesting involves burning down shops, setting alight vehicles and beating police unconscious.

It would also send a powerful message to trouble-makers that in seeking to silence democratically elected politicians through coercion they risk being black-listed as 'terrorists' rather than receiving a slap on the wrist for promising to behave better in future.

Many of the protesters in Göteborg and Genoa believe that the EU is an oppressive club of capitalist states which bleeds the Third World dry and rapes the planet in the process. Maybe another reason why no-one showed up last Friday is that they realised how ridiculous these claims would sound in the middle of a war against fanatics who are prepared to slaughter thousands of innocent civilians.

And when the government suspected of harbouring these criminals is prepared to starve its people, behead its opponents and treat its women like slaves, any cries of heavy-handedness tend to ring a little hollow.

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