Hammaad Munshi, a schoolboy in Great Britain, has been convicted under Britain’s new anti-terrorism laws. Now 18, he was just 15 when first arrested, making him the youngest terrorist ever convicted in that nation.
He was charged with "making records of information likely to be useful for terrorism". What information exactly? Munshi downloaded "How-To" guides from the Internet on making napalm and other explosives, information on the use of poisons, and details about world airports.
Munshi will be sentenced next month. His attorney has been told prison time is "unavoidable".
For the record, I've long been critical of the United Kingdom's coddling of its radical Islamic minority. Munshi and the rest of his jihadist cell are clearly a threat to peaceful society. I'm not concerned that action was taken, but rather the justification for that action. He wasn't charged, nor even accused of actual intent to commit a terrorist act. Rather, he was found guilty of possessing information -- of knowing too much for his own good.
In a modern society that runs on information, illegalizing the possession of certain kinds of knowledge is a very slippery slope. As a college student in the 1980s, I myself downloaded much of the same information Munshi did -- though it came from online BBSes rather than the then-nonexistent Internet. I certainly had no plans to kill anyone. If Munshi had such plans, he should have been charged with them, rather than what he was.
When arrested, Munshi was found to be carrying two packets of ball-bearings; the shrapnel of choice for home-grown bomb builders. A bomb-making charge could have been chosen. There was also evidence that he was guilty of incitement to violence. None of these charges were chosen though; the possession of information statute was selected as the one most likely to succeed.
Your average murder mystery novel contains a number of ideas on how to kill someone without leaving evidence. Many action novels have a wealth of information on knives, guns, and explosives. By these new anti-terror laws, reading the wrong book can now be judged illegal. Britain -- the historical home of the humanist movement -- is revealed as a nation fast-retreating from individual liberties. The thought police are back.
Germany and France have long had their own versions of censorship. Whistle a tune loved by the Nazis, or try to claim the Holocaust death count is overstated, and you can wind up facing prison time. But Britain has gone beyond this, in criminalizing knowledge, rather than specific actions.
Asia, Africa, and South America have never been especially known for their respect of human rights. If the Western world gives up on individual liberties, it seems unlikely that anyone else will carry the torch.