Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A personal account

22 Feb. 2009

So much is currently being written about surveillance, security and the consequences of the British and American governments' approach to terrorism that it is impossible for me to keep up.

As for making sense of all of it here, in these notes, it is impossible.

Anyway, that is not my role. This is a personal account (I almost said a personal 'meditation') on freedom and what it means to me, at this time.

The less comprehensive and the more ideosyncratic, personal, tentative and thoughful this blog becomes, the better and more useful it will be.





'Up to a point, Lord Copper.'

I am, as you can see, a touch conflicted about these issues.

Anyway, that is how I feel this particular morning in this particular, rather beautiful, place in Scotland at this particular time of day, before I have had my porridge and raspberries for breakfast.

Let me summarise, as briefly as possible, a recent article in the Guardian newspaper.

Seamus Milne was the author and it was published on the 19th. February.

The headline is: "Rimington is right. This is a recipe for creating terrorists."

The article points out, with incredulity, that Dame Stella Rimington, who used to be head of MI5, "has warned that the government has given terrorists the chance to find 'greater justification' by making people feel that they 'live in fear and under a police state.'"

"Rimington went further, denouncing the US for Guantanamo and torture, but reverted to type by insisting MI5 'doesn't do that'"

Milne refutes the idea that MI5's hands are clean and refers to the "chilling" conclusions of the recent report of the International Commission of Jurists:

"The framework of international law is being undermined .... the US and the UK have led that undermining."

Milne goes on to discuss un-published details of new anti-terrorist measures planned by the British government and leaked to the Guardian.

These include "the extraordinary proposal to label 'extremist' any British Muslim who supports armed resistance anywhere ...."

Come again?

" .... supports armed resistance ANYWHERE .... "

Even in other Arab countries with which they may have social, family or religious connections?

This is grossly unjust. In fact, it ought to be a ridiculous suggestion.

Britain and America invaded Iraq and Afghanistan and have lavished immense resources on changing the governments of those countries to models which favour British and American interests, especially British and American oil interests.

These recent anti-Muslim wars (because that is how they are perceived) are as rapacious as any medieval Crusade and it would be astonishing if most or many Iraqis and Afghan citizens did not support resistance to the invaders in some form.

How can the British government express either surprise, disappointment or disaproval when British Muslims also feel sympathy for fellow Muslims who have been attacked?

Did not most British people feel sympathy when Hitler marched into Austria and Czechoslovakia and attacked Poland?

Would most British people not have supported armed resistance to Hitler, in those territories and (if he had invaded) in Britain?

Would that not have been very much the right thing to do?

If Hitler had invaded Britain in 1940 a brave few of us, would have fought on, ineffectually throwing petrol bombs at fire-proofed vehicles from behind demure Home Counties pillar boxes and living rough in the Highlands of Scotland to prove our Iron Man credentials.

Many, perhaps most of us, would have sympathised with these hopelessly idealistic Resistance fighters, secretly supporting a plucky British fight back against the oppressors and all the odds. I can hear the stirring music now.

Many more (and sometimes the same people) would have collaborated with the German occupiers, to keep jobs and families safe, to keep themselves and their nearest and dearest secure, to try to survive in a desperate position.

Is the Iraqi or Afghan situation any different from the situation that might have happened in Britain?

Do Iraqi and Afghan loyalties and intellectual freedoms matter less than ours and those of our immediate forefathers?

My father was not a natural military man. He was small, slight, perhaps with something of the air of a Professor about him when he was young. He was also a professional musician.

He volunteered to fight Hitler in 1939 and joined the Coldstream Guards as a private soldier in spite of the fact that his first child, my sister, had just been born.

I am not at all sure that my mother approved - she got very tight lipped when the subject came up - but there was no arguing with him. Hitler had to be stopped, at whatever cost to him and his dependents.

If Germany had invaded and my father had survived, he might have been imprisoned for a while but he would eventually have found his way back into the civilian population, shattered, demoralised, saddened and physically weakened by his experiences.

By that time, the war would have been over but, from the security of Canada, Winston Churchill would have started to transform himself into a British Charles de Gaulle, calling for resistance and for undying loyalty to the British Crown.

My father was never a monarchist but he would have answered that call in his heart and so will the Iraqis.

Every time an Iraqi unlaces his shoes, he wishes he were brave enough (like Muntadar al-Zaidi) to throw them in the face of an American President and call him a dog, a cur, which is a great, great insult in the Arab World.

Every time an Iraqi sees fellow countrymen (and woman, and children) murdered by alien invaders he must feel sympathy or something stronger for those who practise armed resistance and who believe it necessary. That is no crime, that is the only reasonable thing to feel and think and believe when you see strangers killing your own people, apparently unjustly.

Freedom cannot be rationed, it does not belong merely to people of whose aims we approve. It is our birthright, the birthright of every human being - man, woman or child.

The freedom to think wrong thoughts, to be, silly, subversive, even frankly wicked in our thoughts - provided that (as Lord Mansfield laid down in the eighteenth century) these are not transformed into terrorist acts, is very fundamental.

Perhaps I can quote what I put in an earlier entry on this blog, because it is absolutely crucial to my continuing argument:

Lord Mansfield, in the eighteenth century, defended Britons' rights to think or even to intend anything - however horrible or wicked - without penalty. He considered that you shouldn't be sent to prison for having naughty thoughts. But Muslims now are being sent to prison merely because they talk about jihad, they talk about violent revolution and war against Western secularism and capitalism and they even go on the net and inform themselves about what they could do if they had the resources and the nerve to fight these forces. These are not (should not be) imprisonable offences and I find it very frightening to think that they are so. What it would do to any of our lives, to be held with out charge for 28 or 42 days or even more while the police rummaged our homes, dismantled our computers, frightened off our customers or suppliers, lost us our jobs and then took us to court and convicted us because of what we had chatted about, imagined or hoped. Or even - like that silly girl who worked at Heathrow - because we had written verses about glorious martyrs. Anyway, I have made my point. If you do not protest or object or even notice when the Muslims (like the Jews in pre-war Germany) are bullied by state authorities in your name, when are you going to protest or try to defend your remaining civil liberties? And when will the police come for you or yours instead of just for the people who have different colour skins and different habits and very different ideas?