Should ‘extremists’ be banned from entering the UK?
Whether or not it can be morally justified to deny ‘extremists’ entry from the UK must initially be addressed by defining such a term. Given the terror attacks of recent years it seems perfectly reasonable for the UK to exclude individuals who condone such acts; yet an animal rights activist could also find himself banned for inciting hatred against his opponents. It comes as little surprise that such a measure has been proposed as David Blunkett began his exclusions in 2002, but is such an approach any better than the US's War on Terrorism? A fine balance must be made between the protection of public safety and human rights.
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In the interests of public safety
As residents in the UK, we would not think much of a government who exposed us to danger, perhaps with fatal consequences. In July 2005 when four bombs hit London’s transport system, 52 were killed and over 700 injured. While the perpetrators died and three men were arrested, many victims and their relatives were left with severe psychological trauma, which could not be alleviated after the event. In nearly all cases, forward planning proves essential; had these men been suspected and excluded from the UK, the event may never have occurred.
Of course, it can be argued that exclusions are ineffective, particularly with high-technology communication available today which could enable instructions to be passed from outside the UK. Carefully extracting those posing dangers to society, though, will gradually eliminate the potential for such harm and should make activities easier to track. The government has a duty to defend public safety and in producing a list of “individuals who foster extremism or hate”, this appears to be what Jacqui Smith is doing.
Public safety calls for the protection of the general population from harm. Admittedly such an objective failed to be achieved in the July bombings, but the government, supposedly, were unaware. In an emergency, while a duty to maintain public safety still exists, it is highly unlikely that every endangered life will be successfully saved.
Moreover, just because the government have a list of potential 'extremists' does not escape the fact that others remain in the UK equally capable of committing such crimes. The event of 9/11 would not have been prevented any more than it could have been had such a list been published - by flying their aircrafts into the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the responsible members of al-Qaeda entered the country of their own accord. No system of exclusion can prevent such a tragedy.
Why shouldn’t each country makes its own rules?
Virtually every country has the jurisdiction to govern itself by statute. The Home Secretary’s power of exclusion is derived from the prerogative which therefore only justifies it further. Just this summer it was seen that the UK isn’t alone in vetting entry – Gary Glitter was turned away from Thailand and Hong Kong being said to “pose a threat to domestic morality”. Nobody wants a paedophile in their country, for the same reasons that supporters of terrorism and violence are unwelcome.
Removing threatening figures could have a positive impact on society. Indeed, a huge advantage of the exclusion process is that numbers of those engaging in hatred or violence will be somewhat reduced purely on the basis that there will be less opportunity for residents to succumb to such influences. Since 2005, 230 people have been banned from the UK on the basis that their presence is “not conducive to the public good”. Exclusions may also have the effect of reducing crime as Keith Vaz said: “If they are convicted of inciting violence or related offences, they must be removed”.
If each country begins excluding entry to named individuals, some may find themselves with nowhere to go. While some may argue their crimes or characteristics have left them deserving of such a dilemma, it could end up, as in the case of Gary Glitter, that such people are only welcome in prisons. Such a consequence would promote further problems for governments, particularly that of the UK which has been fighting an ongoing battle for years against the rising numbers occupying our prisons. Sanctions such as community service are often suggested as alternatives, but it seems that the UK has firmly established people who fall into the category of 'extremists' are incapable of doing any good in our communities.
Furthermore, the implementation of such rash measures may act as persuasive authority for rules in all areas; having your name on a list excluding you entry to the UK could be the least of your problems. It seems likely that many countries will either follow in our footsteps or consider their own entitlement to set out the rules.
A practical response to ‘extremism’
In retaliation after the 9/11 incident, the US embarked on a war against Afghanistan, intended to destroy the Taliban. This move provoked much criticism and caused innocent deaths, just as the members of Al-Qaeda themselves had done. In comparison, the exclusion process is presented as an administrative procedure with the motive of protecting those living within the UK, rather than harming those outside of it. The only harm that is done is inconvenience, which when evaluated with violence, hatred and murder, amounts to nothing.
Snoop Dogg was excluded from the UK the day before he was due to fly over to warn youths of the hazards of gun crime. At first instance this appears favourable, but his string of crimes includes fighting and possession of firearms, so his removal was not a huge loss. It appears that the government are banning entry appropriately and effectively. Furthermore, if radical individuals are excluded, their opportunities to create havoc in the UK are limited; inevitability, it will become apparent that the UK does not want to listen.
Is a list which names and shames those not permitted entry in the UK any better than declaring war? Previously names were kept anonymous but Jacqui Smith’s justification for the change is that the information can be passed between the EU countries. Such a measure has the potential to become consolidatory; the surrounding countries may eventually collaborate their lists, resulting in a person’s exclusion from the entire EU; arguably this is disproportionate.
Additionally, we may fall into the trap of assuming that just because another country banned an individual, we should do so too. However, the wide definition of the word ‘extremist’ suggests that each country will have a range of varying reasons for excluding someone. It could mean that by following in another country’s footsteps, we are supporting a policy which usually, we would choose not to.
Labelling of ‘extremists’ could open floodgates
What constitutes an ‘extremist’? The Oxford Dictionary defines it as ‘a person who holds extreme political or religious views’, though this seems a more timid label than that given by Jacqui Smith: “Individuals who abuse our standards and values to undermine our way of life”. In February 2008 Mr al-Qaradawi’s request for a visa was rejected on the basis that the Home Office would not permit those who supported acts of terrorist violence. This seems justified, but boundaries should be imposed – this could become the government’s solution to everything.
Prostitution is an act generally condemned, but to exclude all those who upheld it would be taking things a step too far. The exclusion process is a slippery slope as precedents and loopholes will soon arise, overtaking the purpose of the system. If all those who have been involved in violence or are guilty of a criminal offence were excluded, football hooligans and shoplifters may find themselves being deported. Strict guidance should be drawn up and the merits of each individual case must be analysed to prevent decisions being made with vested interest or based on limited grounds.
While the word 'extremist' covers a wide degree of people, it seems highly unlikely that football fans will be swept up in this category. In composing such a list, the Home Office will clearly think carefully before adding certain individuals. Furthermore, it has taken the government long enough to introduce the measure; evidently they have been considering this for some time as exclusions began in 2002. Therefore, we can probably assume the government will also take time in calculating the criteria for exclusions.
Rather than becoming the government's method of dealing with the problems of hostility and violence in recent years, it is clear the measure has been imposed purely for public safety. That said, is it even of any relevance that the government might choose to extend the ban to other less deserving individuals? If public safety is at stake, the government should be upheld in doing all they can to protect it.
A need for meticulous and accurate vetting
While the concept of excluding dangerous individuals appears to be a wise, preventative measure, the danger also exists that harmless people will be wrongfully banned. We are faced with an issue similar to the main argument against capital punishment, though with less drastic consequences. The authorities in the vetting process may falsely suspect someone of a characteristic of which they are not guilty, but will be punished for and perhaps even cut off from their family.
Separating those eligible for UK entry from those who are banned requires justification of some sort. It would be vastly time-consuming to conduct lengthy interviews with each suspected ‘extremist’, yet it seems wholly disproportionate to exclude somebody merely in the context of an offensive remark. Furthermore, while the government have the power to exclude those they know to be a threat, the process will not make it any easier to detect those who do threaten public safety; if anything, it will encourage such individuals to keep a low profile.
Indeed, the accuracy of vetting those to whom exlcusions apply must be flawless. The chances of getting it wrong though are somewhat limited, as the government will have an appropriate source for their suspicions. Those excluded will be those deemed 'not conducive to the public good', which arguably tells the government all they need to know.
In addition, if such mistakes do arise, the only sanction the individual is faced with is the inconvenience of not being able to enter the UK. Exclusions are also made subject to judicial review so there is the option to have the case reconsidered and any errors identified and perhaps corrected. However, the principle of utilitarianism could be used to justify any miscarriages of justice that do occur; if one person is excluded on the basis that they pose a threat to the nation, hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved. If the decision is inaccurate, only one life is affected.
Potential violation of human rights could congest courts
As stated by Keith Vaz, a clear process must be formulated in which those excluded could challenge that decision. The Home Secretary may exercise such powers subject to judicial review; yet if half the people named on the list fought their case the government would simply create more work for the courts, putting obstacles in the way of those with valid claims. Admittedly it seems unlikely many human rights claims would succeed, as Article 15(1) of the European Convention on Human Rights permits the state to derogate from its obligations in the case of war or public emergency, but if anyone is given the option to litigate in such circumstances, it is probable that they will do so.
A process needs to be thought up whereby much time will not be wasted and money spent. It would be unjust to prohibit those deemed undeserving of UK entry the chance to contend otherwise, but resources could be saved if judicial review in this area was abolished. The problem here is not solved as this could uphold miscarriages of justice; the exclusion process is a danger in itself.
In considering applications for judicial review, the court may simply refuse to hear the case. If it becomes clear that the individual concerned has no relevant grounds to fall back on, this could be explained and would not create the hassle and expense of litigation. The function of Article 15(1) could be effectively communicated in order to keep the courts clear. Clogging the courts up is a minor issue in relation to picking up the pieces after mass murder.
What do you think?