The Terrorism Suppression Act, Purpose, with reference to Plato's Theory of Forms; Episode 1, Part 1, a, ii)

The Terrorism Suppression Act, Purpose, with reference to Plato's Theory of Forms; Episode 1, Part 1, a, ii)

I strongly recommend Graeme Edgeler's run down of the purpose and contents of the Terrorism Suppression Act, available for your reading pleasure at Public Address (for the purposes of this analysis, I'll go with Edgeler's "Te Qaeda" to refer to the group at the center of the 2007 "anti-terror raids" in Ruatoki and around the country). Here's a quick summary:

Mostly, it's about terrorist financing: creating consequences for people who fund terrorism, and allowing the freezing and seizing of terrorists' assets. For this purpose, it sets up a regime to designate groups and people as terrorists – so that we know whom we can't finance.

It also incorporates other obligations we have under various international conventions[, ...]creates offences relating to terrorist bombing[, ...]sees the creation of offences relating to the handling of unmarked plastic explosives, and the misuse or nuclear material[, ...]creates offences around recruiting and participating in terrorist entities (those designated as such, or which designate themselves as such by carrying out terrorist acts).

So, tonight's TV coverage. TV3 said, quite rightly, that the Terrorism Suppression Act wasn't intended for prosecution of domestic terrorism, but rather to stop funding and support of international terrorist groups.

But, then they go on to say the act has 'failed miserably', with regard to Te Qaeda, and that's why it should be rewritten.

As you can see from Edgeler's second post, it's not completely straightforward that the act doesn't apply in this (domestic) case. There is a argument for the prosecution, and for the defense; that's fairly obvious, given that the raids were given some go ahead by prosecutors before they occured. Whether the act applies involves all sorts of things, like the definition of a terrorist act, the definition of a terrorist entity, etc.

But, really, all of that is completely irrelevant for talking about the success of the act. Why? Well, first, lets assume there's some 'correct' objective standard of what terrorism is. Lets call that standard Terrorism-capital-T. This standard is, obviously, independent of the law.

Now, one of two alternatives is true: the actions of Te Qaeda constitute Terrorism, or they don't. But, regardless of whether Terrorism has occured, and regardless of whether the law will succeed in punishing said hypothetical Terrorism, the act has still met its purpose: to prevent the funding and support of international terrorist groups. That is, if the purpose of an act is to help fight international Terrorism, it doesn't matter if domestic Terrorism has occured or not; the act still meets its purpose successfully.

So, why talk about the act being a miserable failure? Well, I think there's a very good reason you might want to: lazyness. If you say the act has failed to prevent Terrorism at large, something it wasn't designed to do, then you can neatly ignore a whole bunch of other questions:

  • Is there such an objective standard Terrorism-capital-T? Of course, lack of a definition doesn't mean one doesn't exist - just ask someone to define 'blue' - but it's still a valid question, and a curly one that.
  • In other words, can we capture Terrorism in some concept of terrorism?
  • Should we be punishing terrorism seperately/in addition to our existing laws, that already make terrorist acts illegal?
  • Is planning a terrorist act a terrorist act? If so, what sort of planning? Where does idle chat become conspiracy?
  • &c., &c.

And the great thing about those questions is that I have no easy answers for any of them. I just wish reporters would find the time in their two minute spot to admit they don't either.



To clarify (because I left a dangling 'assume' that I didn't return to reduce):

My position is that you either:
- Consider the act a failure, and admit terrorism can never be properly defined (there is no Terrorism-capital-T).
- Consider the act a success.

And I think the TV3 reported (wish I'd noted the name) tried to have the first part of the first position without the second (the act is a failure, we need to rewrite it to better prevent Terrorism).