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History of anti-terrorist laws in dictatorships · 10 November 2005

The term “terrorism” derives from the French Revolution’s “reign of terror” in 1793-4. While the term now has wider meaning, it remains the case that, given the opportunity, those in power will resort to oppression and even “reigns of terror” – and do so with the excuse of cracking down on “terrorism”.

In February 1933, Hermann Goering, in charge of police and looking to consolidate the Nazi’s power, said: “I know two sorts of men: those who are with us and those who are against us”. Referring to “Communist terrorism” – communists were “against” because they were “hostile to the State”—he indicated that “police officers who fire their revolvers in the execution of their duty will be protected by me”. Days later, after the burning of the Reichstag, President Hindenburg signed the decree, “For the Protection of People and State: to guard against Communist acts of violence endangering the state”. Seeing the measure as temporary, Hitler’s non-Nazi colleagues in the parliamentary coalition that had delivered him the position of Chancellor, raised no objections. When asked by a journalist from the London Daily Express, whether the suspension of personal freedom was to be permanent, Hitler replied: “No! When the Communist danger is eliminated things will get back to normal.” Of course, they didn’t!

In 1925, the Turkish “Maintenance of Order Law” was passed and Independence Tribunals set up. Ataturk said that the Law had “given to all government officials the task of preventing an incident before it happens” and was necessary to repress “those who create confusion in the innocent mind of the nation”.

The Tribunals, which did not require proof, but passed sentences on the basis of “considered opinion”, executed people who opposed Ataturk’s dictatorship. Others executed had opposed the “Hat Law” which made it a criminal offence to wear the traditional Fez. Ataturk later commented that the existence of the Maintenance of Order Law “prevented the large-scale poisoning of the nation by certain reactionaries” opposed to the Hat Law.

One of Ataturk’s political critics, Cavit was executed, even though one of Ataturk’s admirers later admitted that “Cavit was not a revolutionary terrorist…. He was patriotic and honest. His only defect was arrogance”.

Following the attempt on his life in 1800, Napoleon said that the actions of the “terrorists …gives us an opportunity for the action we propose to take. It is our duty to profit from the present feeling of indignation”. The French Council of State then offered no objection to a decree deporting without trial over one hundred men accused of no specific crime, but condemned for their past behavior and future threats. The Senate also supported the decree because “the presence of such men of blood in the Republic is a continual cause of alarm and of hidden terror for peaceful citizens”.

Stalin consolidated his power in the 1930’s with many people being accused under article 58 of the criminal code concerning “terrorist acts aimed at representatives of the Soviet regime” and/or under the so-called Kirov law on “terrorist organizations and terrorist acts”. For example, former Politburo members Bukarin and Rykov were accused of being involved with “criminal terrorist” and “right terrorist” groups – and eventually executed. Ordinary workers were executed, without any evidence, for “intention to commit terrorist sabotage”.

A feature of laws against “terrorism” is that they are often introduced in haste, and under the cover of an event – which may be “terrorist” – but which is then hyped-up and distorted to create popular fear of the “terrorists”. Thus, much of the German, Soviet, French and Turkish populations supported the laws against “terrorists” in the belief that only evil-doers would be affected and that those accused must be guilty.

As a famous Soviet miner (who was used as a propaganda tool) wrote: “When the (“terrorist”) trials took place ………we immediately demanded that they be shot. Even the women in our settlement, who had never been interested in politics, clenched their fists when they heard what the papers said. The old folk and the young all demanded that the bandits be destroyed.”

It is not only the general populations which supported extreme “anti-terrorist” laws. Carl Schmitt, Germany’s leading professor of public law was vocal in supporting the “justice of the Fuhrer” and, echoing Goering’s “with us” or “against us”, argued that the government should decide who was “friend” or “foe”—with the latter being excluded from society.

The lesson of history is that governments often use the excuse of fighting “terrorism” to accumulate more power, but that power is in turn often used to terrorise much of the population – or, at least, parts of it. But, by then it’s too late for regrets.

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