Monday, 2 January 2012

Mummy Made Me A Terrorist.

With Apologies To Stuart Christie.

"I may not agree with what you say, but I would defend to the death your right to say it."
Beatrice Hall. Voltaire's biographer.

Two recent events here in England serve as the latest milestones to appear along the route of our descent into an openly fascist society. 
At the beginning of December, the City of London Police sent to businesses described in their own literature as "key trusted partners" a briefing document entitled "Terrorism/Extremism Update". 
In addition to the ubiquitous al Qaeda, the document also lists the Columbian rebel group FARC and a terrorist group that attacked the tube network in Minsk. It also lists the Occupy London movement. 
We should be thankful to the City of London Police for highlighting the compelling need to remember that while terrorists plant bombs in public places, the Occupy movement is planting ideas in people's minds. The differences are substantial and ought not be difficult to discern. 
This attempt to demonise a movement through guilt by association might have invoked widespread derision had more people been aware of what amounts to an abuse of our common language. There might even have followed an investigation, and the censuring of the briefing's authors. 
A corner-stone of any democracy is that citizens remain at liberty to engage in peaceful organization and discourse without fear of retribution, and Occupy is providing the necessary forum, long overdue. 
Ominously, outside of this small and nascent movement, larger swathes of civil society now appear to be in danger of collapsing in upon themselves. It does not require a Nostradamus to point out that the economic depression engineered to drive down wages by some 25% to 35% will become much deeper throughout the coming year. Structural adjustment of this severity is not achieved without consequence, and there already exists an angry and brooding 'silent majority' nursing a myriad of private grievances.
Many of the owners of these grievances would claim that they are prevented from speaking out by the tyranny of 'political correctness'. Some among them even denigrate the very concept of human and civil rights, claiming them to be at the root of our present ills.
Conscientious citizens of any society however would recognize that while these rights are a vital defence against abuses by unchecked power, they are also inseparable from civic responsibilities. These responsibilities today include a commitment to working towards sustainable human development, the need to bring our perpetual wars to an end, and ultimately to work towards a world where none are too rich and none are too poor. The conscientious citizen recognises that an adequate definition of the word 'politics' is simply 'the way we live.' The continued dereliction of these responsibilities; of refusing to confront the realities of anthropogenic climate change and the escalating deployment of nuclear weaponry will likely be the harbinger of the way we all die. 

The word 'fascism' has been debated sufficient to fill a mile of bookshelves by now, and it is therefore instructive to go to the originator of the term in order to gain a clearer understanding of it. The fascist dictator Benito Mussolini described it very simply, stating that it "should more properly called 'corporatism', because it is the merger of state and corporate power." 
Interestingly, the employer of the City of London Police is itself a corporation, called the City of London, aka the City of London Corporation. Its two chief executive officers are the 'Lord Mayor of the City of London' and the 'Town Clerk of the City of London'. 
The City of London maintains its own permanent parliamentary lobbyist, called the 'Remembrancer', who sits opposite the Speaker of the House in Parliament; an arrangement which Mussolini would recognise in an instant. 
The City of London was once described by Prime Minister Clement Atlee as "... a convenient term for a collection of financial interests, able to assert itself against the Government of the country. Those who control money can pursue a policy at home and abroad contrary to that which has been decided by the people."
The Labour MP John McDonnell has more recently and succinctly described this entirely undemocratic institution as " ..the last Rotten Borough in Britain". 

A second catastrophic blow to democracy in England was the December jailing of a Birmingham bookseller found guilty of disseminating 'terrorist' tracts. His was an extensive stock of some 15,000 books, and Sayyid Qutb's 'Milestones' was one of only four that were presented as evidence at the trial. 
I first became aware of the book and it's author whilst watching the documentary 'The Power of Nightmares' made by Adam Curtis for the British Broadcasting Corporation in 2004. It is a reasonable question to ask whether any of the jury were also familiar with this film, which carries an interesting premise that remains wholly relevant today:
"In the past, politicians promised to create a better world. They had different ways of achieving this, but their power and their authority came from the optimistic visions they offered their people.
Those dreams failed, and today people have lost faith in ideologies. Increasingly politicians are seen simply as managers of public life, but now they have discovered a new role which restores that power and authority.
Instead of delivering dreams, politicians now promise to protect us from nightmares. They say they will protect us from dangers that we cannot see and do not understand. The greatest danger of all is international terrorism."
As somebody who lives among Muslims I have long anticipated the day when the possession of radical Islamic literature becomes a criminal offence. During my time living in Whitechapel I have witnessed previous campaigns to rid public library shelves of Islamic books judged as 'dangerous' by self styled guardians of the public interest. This so called 'War on Terror' then has had a profound and yet largely unrecognised effect upon our community. 
Looking back to the historic attack on the US on 9/11, I recall a conversation with a shop keeper that evening after work. The normally effervescent wife of the young couple who owned the business was inconsolable in her distress. Her husband explained to me that people were now going to blame Muslims everywhere for the events of that day. Both he and his wife were fearful of the backlash which they saw as inevitable.
I knew this charming couple quite well, and yet had never looked upon them as Muslims, why indeed should I have? I remember feeling at the time that they were possibly over reacting.
What followed though was indeed vilification, confirming their very prescient fears of a full decade ago, and today I am left with the troubling realisation that this campaign is actually an orchestrated one.
Since that dreadful day in New York and Washington, we have also suffered our own terrorist attack, staged here in London, and just as in the US in 2001, Muslims were among the victims.
I was working as a volunteer at the Stop the War Coalition offices in King's Cross on the day that London was bombed.  As part of my duties I took the cheques from the morning's post along to the bank, and happened to notice that the young woman who dealt with customer inquiries hadn't made it into work that day. I read later in the week that Shahara Islam had been slaughtered on a train at Aldgate. 
It has since been a grim experience to watch the Muslim baiting first cultivated in the yellow press steadily percolating upwards into the supposedly more responsible newspapers. The demonisation of Islam is now met not just with the silence of the mandarins who give a nod and a wink to the crimes carried out by state and corporate power, but by the far wider reaching silence of a frightened and ill informed population. Many Muslim people living locally are also cowed into passivity. In the current prevailing climate, our Muslim brothers and sisters are understandably wary of any political activity likely to impact badly on the lives of not just themselves but of their friends and families also. Predictably then, this assault upon an entire faith is proving to be a disaster for our own community as well as for the cohesion of wider society also.
Our anti war coalition meanwhile has proven itself lamentably inadequate in addressing the issues of Islamophobia and its consequences, simply because the war movement is so powerful.
The Fahad Hashmi case in particular has served as a potent deterrent to political activism hereabouts because the offences were committed in our borough. Hashmi is presently serving a fifteen year prison sentence in the US for the crimes of allowing a friend to stay at his home here in 2004, and for having a big mouth. The realities of his case make for sobering reading today, most strikingly because this young man is obviously not a terrorist. To all intents and purposes he appears to be the very antithesis of one, namely somebody deeply committed to the principles of universal justice and the democratic process. His tutors from the universities where he studied in the US and the UK hold him in high regard. He was studying for his Masters degree in international relations at the time of his rendition to the US.
Meanwhile the Islamists among us are attacked from all sides for demonstrating their opposition to war at parades of British troops returning from Afghanistan. The response of middle class Muslims is accurately reported by Samia Rahman in the Guardian newspaper.
Once again, the lack of a broad based anti war movement is telling. Where for example are Military Families Against the Wars when the home-coming parades take place? 
The reality is that today we live in a culture that recently celebrated the coming of the 'Prince of Peace' by making a homage to its occupation forces in Afghanistan the best selling song of the Christmas season. It is not difficult to understand people's reluctance to stand up to the widespread opprobrium that any dissent would invite. 
All in all it is hard to avoid the conclusion that we are witnessing the beginnings of something akin to the persecution of the Jews in Nazi Germany in the mid 1930's.
Adam Curtis's film showed with devastating clarity how a population can be controlled by the state using fear as a tool, and Hitler had learned this lesson well some ninety years previously.
Before his death, Nazi leader Hermann Goering was interviewed in his cell by prison psychologist Gustave Gilbert:
Goering: "Why, of course people don't want war. Why would some slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in England, nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship."
Gilbert: "There is one difference. In a democracy the people have some say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the US only Congress can declare wars".
Goering: "Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."
Those of us who have read his Fuhrer's book will be aware that Hitler attributed a large portion of the credit for Germany's defeat in the First World War to the well oiled propaganda machines of the US and the UK. He writes that next time around, Germany will be better prepared. Comparing these two contemporary First World War recruiting posters, it is easy to see his point.


Today, as an old man, my bookshelves groan under the weight of years spent reading political and social history. December's judgement on a bookseller suggests that perhaps it might soon be prudent to consider disposing of them, because it is now impossible to determine what is deemed a terrorist publication. In my own defence of being in possession of dangerous books I would have to implicate my mother, who introduced me to libraries as a young child, and thus helped to nurture in me a love of learning and of ideas. 
Glancing along the shelves now, I wonder whether it might soon still be permissible to join Nelson Mandela on his long walk to freedom, but verboten to join Arundhati Roy walking with the comrades?
Disposing of them presents problems also. If there is terrorist material among them then I cannot risk giving them away and thus being accused of dissemination, and therefore I would need to destroy them. I shall resist though, because if takfiri jihadists and others are working to undermine liberty and democracy here in England, then we should certainly not be helping them.
Michael Perry Jan 2 2012.