In an exclusive interview with the British Home Secretary, Charles Clarke, he admitted that the term "glorifying terrorism" stated in the new security measures against extremism, "is an ambiguous term." He told Asharq al-Awsat that there "is steady progress" in drawing up clear legislations on this issue and stressed the importance of his negotiations with North African and Muslim countries to conclude memorandums of understanding to deport extremists." He refused, however, to name these countries.
Clarke spoke to Asharq al-Awsat at the meeting of the European interior and justice ministers in Newcastle, northeast England. He said that he discussed this issue of memorandums of understanding with his European counterparts saying, "A number of participating ministers also expressed their desire to reach similar agreements with these Muslim countries." He pointed out that the "negotiations between the Muslim countries and ourselves have previously been very successful and we are optimistic about their results." He added that these talks "are a good example of the cooperation between Britain and these Muslim countries."
Asharq al-Awsat referred to evidence indicating that obtaining the guarantees for which Clarke calls that deportees would not be tortured in their home countries, would not be gained easily, especially as Egypt considered such a demand in 1999 as interference in its affairs. In addition, Britain”s negotiations with Jordan, the friendly country par excellence, took three years to reach the memorandum of understanding. However, the British home secretary commented on this by reiterating that the information available to him makes him optimistic about reaching these memorandums of understanding. Though he did not refer to the time span that the current negotiations might take, he said, "All the talks held with representatives of North African and Muslim countries make me confident that we will complete them successfully." He added, "One reason for my confidence in these results is that the concerned countries are seeking to strengthen their relations with Europe and Britain in particular, or in other cases to maintain solid ties."
Asharq al-Awsat asked him if he shares the view of his Labor colleague Deputy Sadiq Khan that the term "glorifying terrorism," which was referred to in the security measures announced by Prime Minister Tony Blair on 5 August, is to a certain degree unclear. Clarke answered, "Yes. It is ambiguous. At present, we are trying to ensure that the new legislations will be written with clarity to avoid any ambiguity." He did not however comment on the observation by Khan, London Mayor Ken Livingstone, the Muslim Council of Britain, and others about the need to differentiate between glorifying "terrorism" and glorifying "resistance," which in their view was absent from the text of the new security measures.
Concerning the period in which some of these measures would be applied, especially considering that Hizb ut-Tahrir held a major conference in London a few days ago despite new measures to ban the organization, the British home secretary said that these measures might take some time. "Some of them need new legislations and we are at present making the necessary consultations in preparation for submitting the draft of these laws to the House of Commons."
Asharq al-Awsat questioned the British home secretary about his rejection of the portrayal of London as "Londonistan," which is a reference to Britain”s laxity of hardliners. This idea is illustrated through the UN”s conviction of one who established "a relationship with international terrorist organizations" yet still lives in the capital without being questioned. Clarke answered, "All those who live in London live happily and without interrogation." He apologized for not commenting on the case of this specific person and stressed his opposition to this portrayal. He said, "I have always rejected this portrayal of London because it is in fact not like that at all." He pointed out that the British authorities are exerting their utmost efforts to protect the residents of the country from any possible danger but at the same time, always seek to respect the rights of individuals while carrying out this duty.
The discussion with Clarke continued concerning Britain”s alleged negligence of potentially threatening extremists and addressed Conservative Deputy Patrick Mercer”s complaint two weeks ago about a radio station run by an Arab refugee residing in London that was broadcasting Abu-Musab al-Zarqawi”s statements. The home secretary merely said, "I do not trust fully everything that Patrick Mercer says. He is an opposition deputy." He reiterated that the authorities are constantly alert and that they are exerting all their efforts to protect the country”s security and confront extremism that may lead to terrorism. Mercer is a former officer and has been the interior security minister in the Conservatives shadow cabinet.
On the other hand, Franco Frattini, the EU”s commissioner for justice and interior, said that it is unacceptable "not to take guarantees given by countries such as Algeria and Jordan seriously," especially as the EU is dealing with these countries and considers them its "partners." Italy”s former foreign minister defended the effectiveness of the guarantees that Britain and other European countries are seeking to obtain from North African and Muslim countries to ensure that they will respect the rights of their fundamentalist nationals who are likely to be deported to them.
Frattini”s comments were made at a joint press conference held with British Home Secretary Charles Clarke and Lord Charles Falconer, the secretary of state for constitutional affairs, to discuss the meeting of 65 European ministers, which focused on fighting terrorism. The meeting finished after two sessions that dealt with immigration.
Clarke opened the press conference by referring to the talks that focus on fighting terrorism as "important and vigorous". Clarke”s counterparts that represent the EU”s 25 member states attended the meeting. He said that during the first sessions he called on Elizabeth Manningham, the director general of internal intelligence (MI5), and John Scarlett, the director general of external intelligence (MI6), to present a report to the European ministers on the terrorist threat and effective ways of confronting it. He added that another main item on the morning sessions” agenda was Britain”s proposal two months ago to take unified European measures to permit retaining "the details of telephone and electronic communications" for over a year.
After pointing out that the meetings "will not result in an announcement of specific steps but rather continue the discussions", he explained that the aim from the current meetings "has never been to reach a certain formula on the necessary measures." He added that some participants, especially the "Portuguese and French, raised points concerning the protection of civil liberties and the cost of such measures." He stressed however, that the discussions were held in an amiable atmosphere and expressed his confidence that an agreement on these measures might possibly be reached by next month.
The British home secretary admitted that, "concern about the balance between the respect for freedom and the protection of citizens" is ever present in the discussions in which he has participated over the past two months for the purpose of dealing with the new reality in the wake of the 7/7 terrorist attacks. He noted that this concern manifested itself more prominently in the issue of deporting fundamentalists.