You couldn't make it up

Queer threat

Tiumen, Siberia, 2008: the head of Rainbow House, an organization campaigning for LGBT rights, is put through the wringer under the Law to Combat Extremism. The organization had been repeatedly denied registration (which means they couldn’t even open a bank account). Why? Because the authorities felt that reducing the population of the Russian Federation was one of its aims and this was a threat to national security.

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False notes

When 9 children (aged between 12 and 17) of the Diyarbakir Yenişehir Municipality Children’s Choir sang their hearts out at the San Francisco World Music Festival in 2007, little did they know that they were transgressing Article 7/2 of Turkey’s Anti-Terrorism Law. How? They had performed a Kurdish anthem. No matter that they had sung in nine different languages and included a Turkish patriotic song in their performance. The charges were dropped at their trials, but an arrest warrant remained active for the choir leader Duygu Özge Bayar, who stayed behind in the US to study English.

A word in Straw’s ear

Scene: the British (‘New’) Labour Party’s 2005 conference. Then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw is pronouncing pieties about how the British are in Iraq to help the Iraqi Government build a stable democracy. It all gets a bit too much for party member and peace activist Walter Wolfgang, who shouts out: ‘Nonsense!’ With television cameras rolling, conference stewards step in to eject forcibly the 82-year-old from the hall. Later that day, when he tried to return to the conference, Wolfgang was held by the police under Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000, which gives the police the power to stop and search people even if they don’t have ‘reasonable suspicion’.

Looking like the back end of a bus

It was no April Fool’s prank this year when two members of the London Police exercised their anti-terrorist powers and forced Austrian tourist Klaus Matzka and his 15-year-old son Loris to delete all images of London buses and the ultra-modern Vauxhall bus station from their cameras. The two were informed that photographing anything to do with transport was ‘strictly forbidden’ and had to give their passport details and hotel addresses. Klaus Matzka complained that he’d never experienced anything like it, ‘not even in Communist countries’. More to the point, such images are freely available in print and on the web.

More bang for your buck

Welcome to the world of terror tourism. An enterprising operation called Caliber 3 Company near the West Bank Jewish settlement of Efrat normally specializes in counterterrorism training for private security firms and the Israeli Defence Forces. But now their product line also includes a two-hour course for tourists, and these visitors from the US are all ears.

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The transparent man

Hasan Elahi got the scare of his life when FBI agents stopped him at Detroit airport in 2002 and questioned him about his whereabouts around 11 September 2001. He had mistakenly landed on their terrorist watch list. After extensive questioning and nine lie detector tests he was let go, but didn’t get FBI clearance. After this he began to report his whereabouts to the FBI with a vengeance and decided to do their surveillance for them by making his location at any given moment constantly available to the world via a website. The website, which has over 20,000 images, also lists all his financial transactions over a period of years and snaps of every toilet he has used; it is an artwork which has brought him considerable fame. He is one of the few people to have been taken off the ‘no fly’ list: a secret US Government list of people forbidden to fly into or out of the States, which currently boasts over a million names.

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Catch ’em young

In these financially beleagured times there’s a ray of hope – security is still a growth industry. Since 11 September 2001, over 300 US colleges and universities have started awarding certificates and degrees in security-related areas of study. Now high schools are catching up, with two in Maryland already offering homeland security courses. Meade High School is fortunately located, just outside Fort George G Meade, which employs 35,000 people and houses the National Security Agency (which listens in on global communications). Those choosing the course can expect some unexpected connections. As Bill Sheppard, who co-ordinates it, told The Baltimore Sun: ‘There’s a lot of homeland security issues in Romeo and Juliet. Like, how do you deal with infiltration in your own family?’

New Internationalist issue 427 magazine cover This article is from the November 2009 issue of New Internationalist.
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