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Europe: Germany, Great Britain, France Explore New Antiterror Measures

Reports say the German government is considering unveiling proposals today aimed at curbing the threat of terrorist attacks. Although Germany has not been the target of terror in recent years, there is a large cross-party consensus in the country that action needs to be taken against alleged religious extremists. The measures come on the heels of new steps announced by the British government to crack down on those who instigate terrorist violence. France suggested similar action last month. All these initiatives reflect a growing urgency in the West to move beyond just police work as the way to deter potential attacks.

Washington, 8 August 2005 (RFE/RL) -- The German government’s expected move follows calls from both the opposition and Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democratic Party that police should be able to make extrajudicial detentions, or expel foreign suspects that now cannot legally be deported.

The opposition has said that, should it win the September general elections, it would implement the new measures.

Authorities in the southern state of Bavaria have already started to move against suspected militants. Last week they ordered the deportation of six Iraqis believed to have links with the Iraqi Kurd Ansar Al-Islam Islamist guerilla group and cut off funding to a Munich-based Islamic school suspected of being close to the Muslim Brotherhood.

In neighboring France, Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy on 25 July said that people advocating hatred or violence would face immediate deportation.

Finally, British Prime Minister Tony Blair on 5 August unveiled a whole array of proposed legal amendments aimed at curbing the threat of terrorist attacks similar to those that hit London’s transport system on 7 July, leaving over 50 people dead. A further bombing attempt on 21 July failed when the explosives did not ignite.

The new proposed British legislation, like the discussed new measures elsewhere in Europe, reflect a growing urgency in the West to move beyond just police work as the way to deter potential attacks.

So far, the British initiative appears the most wide-reaching. It calls for the deportation of any immigrant who preaches hatred or violence, would make it easier to strip British citizenship from any naturalized citizen who makes such calls, and would deny asylum to anyone linked to terrorism. It also would allow the government to close mosques where violence is espoused.

The advocacy group Human Rights Watch (HRW), which is studying Blair’s proposals, believes that it is too early to say just how far-reaching they are. But HRW legal adviser James Ross told RFE/RL from the group’s office in New York that he fears that they could have implications far beyond Britain.

"I'd hate to draw broader conclusions from one statement of one official, but obviously the United Kingdom, as an important bastion of freedom and democracy in the world -- were they to take measures that were to clearly violate individual rights -- would certainly have [a] major impact on other countries," Ross said.

Britain is a signatory to the European Convention on Human Rights, and therefore can't deport an immigrant to his native country if he faces torture or death there. But Blair said he's working on extracting promises from certain countries that they would not mistreat any deportees.

The prime minister said he's received such assurances from Jordan, and is now working with Algeria, Egypt, and Tunisia to win similar pledges. But Ross said experience has taught HRW that such promises are "not useful."

Further, Ross wonders about the point of the deportation language in the new proposals. "The measures appear to focus on non-U.K. citizens. The recent attacks in London actually appear to have been committed by U.K. citizens," he said. "Clearly there's some kind of disconnect."

John Samples, the director of the Center for Responsive Government at the Cato Institute, a private policy-research center in Washington, D.C., says Britain and other Western countries have the right to seek a proper balance between civil liberties and their security. He told RFE/RL that the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, for example, may guarantee freedom of speech. But it doesn't allow inflammatory speech that could undermine society.

"There's an old saying in the United States in First Amendment jurisprudence, which is: 'The Constitution is not a suicide pact.' And that's true in England. There is no society on Earth, at this point [since the London bombings] that would tolerate people justifying suicide bombing. There is none. Most societies at most times would have taken far more extreme actions than Britain has done," Samples said.

Still, Samples stresses that there is now no way to know whether Blair envisions further restrictions, and whether the British people as a whole will restrain their anger. "There is a great danger that [the British government] they will also go too far, clamp down not on just people who are closely associated with appeals to violence," he said. "And it can be beyond the government itself. Police in London have catalogued a large number of what are described as anti-Muslim events -- not violence against Muslims, but harassment and so on."

At the same time, Samples quoted James Madison, a U.S. president who helped frame the U.S. Constitution, as saying the first priority of a society is to control those governed, and the second priority is to control those who govern. He said that for now, at least, he believes the Blair government is successfully controlling itself.