Navigation: Identity card folly

It is more constructive to identify and deal with the causes of terrorism than it is to identify the terrorists.

Identity cards and ideological violence

ID cards do not prevent or hinder terrorism.  It is often claimed that identity cards will prevent, or reduce the likelihood of, ideologically inspired acts of violence such as those perpetuated on 11th September 2001 using aircraft in America, or the discotheque explosions on 12th October 2002 in Bali, or the commuter train bombs on 11th March 2004 in Madrid.  These claims are not supported by either reason or the evidence.  If anything, enforced ID will make such events more likely.

The following links all refer to sections within this page, thus you can simply scroll through the page to read all the sections.

Section 1:  Introduction.
Section 2:  ID cards will not reduce the threat of terrorism or ideologically inspired violence.
Section 3:  ID cards will increase the risk of violence.
Section 4:  How can the threat of ideologically inspired violence be countered?



The issue of identity cards was raised prominently by Mr David Blunkett (in his role has Home Secretary of Britain) shortly after the 11th September 2001 when he declared that having identity cards would have prevented the hijacking of the four aircraft and their subsequent role in the destruction of the New York World Trade Centre and the damaging of the Pentagon building in America. 

It is possible that Mr Blunkett was in a state of shock when he made that very stupid declaration because, in fact, ID cards are no protection at all against events such as those witnessed on the 11th September 2001 and, if anything, the enforced use of identity cards is more likely to increase the risk of similar destructive actions in the future.  If we want to reduce the likelihood of such events it is necessary to first understand them.

The events of 11th September were quickly labelled as acts of terrorism and as acts of war and yet neither of those descriptions is particularly useful in gaining understanding.  Certainly the hijacking of four aircraft was not an act of war since war, by definition, is something that only a state can wage and the small group of people who commandeered the aircraft and flew them to their destruction did not represent any state.  Describing those events as acts of terrorism is a little more accurate but not much more helpful.  Yes, it was surely terrifying for those involved, those affected and for many more people who remained alive and able to think about what might happen in the future, but the term “terrorism” is too ill-defined and too wide ranging in scope to be useful in gaining useful understanding.

The term that I prefer to use is “ideologically inspired violence”.  This is a much more precise and useful description of the events of 11th September 2001 and of many other events that have happened before and since.  People do not generally engage in actions without having reasons for doing so.  Our actions are determined in part by the knowledge we hold and by the understanding we have and by the philosophies or ideologies that we subscribe to.  The persons who commandeered the aircraft that were used to damage the Pentagon building and destroy the New York World Trade Centre and attempt a further attack on, possibly, the American presidential residence had a set of thoughts and beliefs that led them to conclude that their interests (as they perceived them) would be well served by those actions.

When we understand that there was a rational, albeit misguided, process of thought that concluded with those actions then it is also possible to see that it is possible to intervene or intercept that process of thought at some stage before the violence happens.  Merely describing the perpetrators of the 11th September attacks as “fanatics” or “extremists” might make for good political speeches and newspaper headlines but neither term is particularly accurate and certainly they are not useful for understanding how to avoid similar attacks in the future.

What ideology leads to destructive acts such as these?  Why does it lead to these particular acts and not different ones?  When the actions are understood to be ideologically inspired or motivated then these are useful questions to ask.

Issuing citizens of a country with identity cards will most likely increase the risk of ideologically inspired violence and certainly will not reduce the risk.  The first section of this article explains why identity cards do not offer any protection against ideologically inspired violence and the second part of the article explains why the issuing of identity cards will lead to more ideologically inspired violence.  The third part of the article introduces the methods by which the risk of ideologically inspired violence can be reduced.


ID cards will not reduce the threat of terrorism or ideologically inspired violence:

Consider the following couple of scenarios:

Scenario 1:  A group of people from some “other” country decide, for whatever reason, to commit some act of ideologically inspired destruction within the United Kingdom.  They obtain student visas or tourist visas or whatever other travel documents they are required to have and enter the United Kingdom showing genuine and valid documents.  Once inside the United Kingdom they proceed to purchase the items needed to create an explosive device and after a few weeks of preparation they make their way to a shopping centre, railway station, cinema or other popular venue.  During these weeks they will, whenever requested, produce whatever ID the British government has given them on entry to the United Kingdom.  When they arrive at their chosen venue they detonate their freshly manufactured explosive device with the usual predictable results.  If these persons were on a suicide mission then they, and their identity cards, have just been reduced to tiny particles and if they were not suicide bombers but had found some way to create the explosion from a safe distance then, even as the Home Secretary is denouncing the barbarity and announcing yet more futile and counter-prodctive legislation, the perpetrators will be showing their passports & visas, or other approved identification in order to board an aircraft for some other destination — perhaps back to their homeland, or perhaps to some other country for another similar “holiday” or “educational” trip.

Identity cards cannot and will not prevent people from other countries coming to the United Kingdom to kill British people and destroy buildings.


Scenario 2:  One or more persons already having British residency decide to use violent and destructive acts for the purposes of revenge against some perceived injustice or as a means of bringing attention to some perceived problem (whether the injustice or problem is real or only imagined isn't relevant).  Such a person or persons will have an identity card because they are already a British resident.    They are at liberty to create death, destruction and mayhem and their identity card will not stop them.

The very best an ID card will do is allow the perpetrators to be identified after the event and when you are dealing with suicide attacks this is only slightly helpful.

There is a claim that the use of identity cards will allow people to be traced wherever they go and whatever they do and thus patterns of suspicious activity can be identified and the suspect persons intercepted by the police for questioning before they can cause any destruction.  This claim is not entirely false but neither is it particularly useful.


ID cards will increase the risk of ideologically inspired violence

Acts of ideologically inspired violence are not merely vandalism at a greater level of destruction.  Common vandalism is characterized by a lack of coherent ideology and generally is the act of people with nothing better to do.  Ideologically inspired violence is quite different because it is part of a process that is inspired by some larger philosophy and is often a reaction to some real or perceived injustice or unfairness.  If this is the case then acts of ideologically inspired violence can only be truly addressed by creating common values, having shared philosophies and by minimizing the amount of real or perceived injustice.  The tools for such works are education (in a very broad sense, not merely the education of children), communication and a system of governance and justice that allows people to feel that they belong to the society (i.e., that they are not marginalized) and that their concerns and grievances will be heard and dealt with fairly.

Avoiding ideologically inspired violence does require, therefore, a continuous process of interaction and of effort to ensure that people feel that they have more to gain by being part of the society than they have by trying to destroy that society.

Enforced identity cards do not form any part of the tools or processes needed for communication, education or the creation of a society that people can value.  On the contrary, ID cards help to create a state in which people are reduced to numbers and where people decreasingly that they have ownership of the society and increasingly that they are merely an object that society controls and manipulates.  When people feel that they are merely objects to be controlled by the state then they are less likely to cooperate with government authorities and more likely to feel resentment that, one day, might well also result in yet more ideologically inspired violence.

Thus ID cards are likely to actually increase the sense of disenfranchisement that is one of the steps towards ideologically inspired violence.


How can the threat of ideologically inspired violence be countered?

If we abandon the unhelpful and imprecise terms of terrorist and fanatic and, instead, use the more precise and accurate term of ideologically inspired violence then immediately we gain useful insight into the problem, namely that the violence that we are trying to avoid is not random nor unpredictable but is the result of a rational thought process that began with a rational person's set of beliefs and their circumstances.

Having realised that there is a chain of thoughts and events that leads to the violence we are then able to work along that chain and decide whether there is some real underlying problem that needs to be addressed and whether it is possible to intercept and alter that ideology before it leads to violence.

The perpetrators of the violence in America, Bali and Spain believed that their goals would be furthered by those violent actions.  We who have survived their violence can see that they were almost certainly wrong in their beliefs, those of the perpetrators who have survived might also now realize that what they have done has been largely futile as far as their own objectives are concerned. 

The problem that peace loving people need to address is not how to track the perpetrators before and after they commit violent acts.  The problem is how to engage with those people and communicate with them in a way that allows them and us to feel that our various objectives will be better served by dialogue and co-operation.  It might be (and is quite likely) that there are misunderstandings on both sides that can be corrected through dialogue.  This does not just mean that a few people should sit around a table and talk in the United Nations building ... the dialogue has to take place at many levels and it has to include dialogue between ordinary people even if that dialogue takes place through the media or through government or charitable agencies.  The goal of the dialogue is not merely to excahange information, but also to gain empathy and understanding on both sides.

Ultimately dialogue is the probably the most important means of preventing an excalation of ideologically inspired violence.

Biometric databases and identity cards as proposed by Mr Blunkett do not contribute anything towards dialogue.  Indeed Mr Blunkett and Mr Blair have shown by their actions that they do not value dialogue even with those whom they directly serve, namely the British people.

The simple fact is that when it comes to dealing with ideologically inspired violence we do not need a man who tries to be seen as a dynamic man of action, nor do we need a man with a controlling, domineering attitude and an Identity Card fetish. 

If we desire peace then we need men who can communicate and who understand something about the world's different ideologies, and who understand the way different people in the world think.  We need men who understand the god-fearing foundations that our strength was built upon, and we do not need a reckless man whose notions of power are not tempered with wisdom.  We need men who are able to understand the values that other people hold, and we need men with sufficient humility and empathy to be able to see the world as people in other countries see the world.


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