I’ve been worrying a bit lately that some of my Posts on this blog and the cross letters I occasionally send to my local MP about the inexplicable refusal of the authorities to enforce the speed limit through our village, all of which are intended to have a sort of humourousness about them, might begin to cross the threshold that is creeping towards us, of a humourless state in which merely imagining or joking about crime can get you a prison sentence – even when you have no practical means or intention of carrying out the act itself.
The thought alone, once expressed, will be perceived to be a sufficient threat to public order. The idea that I feel hatred towards those in Parliament who are supporting or at least failing to stop the pointless and indiscriminate experimental slaughter of five thousand badgers in the West Country, such as my own MP*, ‘just to see what happens’, aligns me to a certain extent with the activists who hope to disrupt it. Am I a culpable accessory, for signing a petition or writing a blunt letter expressing my dismay? Where is the boundary line drawn between legitimate political protest and – well, terrorism?
With so many petty statutes on the book – it is apparently now a punishable offence to drive for more than half a mile in the middle lane of a motorway – while society may be cowed and bullied into conforming to the laws of an all-powerful and intrusive state, it is not always easy or possible to know what crime one may be committing. Neurologists have lately claimed to be able to detect the subject matter of dreams: there is another possible area for the state to eliminate threats and antisocial behaviours.
We have so many exciting ways now of making our innermost thoughts public, so many temptations to do so, that we can hardly contain ourselves. At the same time, our masters have apparently so little ability to get them into context and proportion and to judge their real meaning and weight, so threatened do they feel by people’s thoughts, that they have felt the need to drag us all down the avenue of unsmiling, Puritanical fanaticism. They have forgotten that useful old adage: actions speak louder than words. They no longer appear to be able to tell the difference. All non-conformity must be punished equally.
Just as virtual police can patrol the world of Second Life, so real-life police now seek to patrol our inner landscapes looking for criminal tendencies and to act on them, to forestall what – chaos? The collapse of the state? Recent cases seem to show that the police now regards its remit as the cleansing of the nation’s sewers: detection and punishment of the offence itself is no longer enough, every avenue must be explored to ruthlessly eliminate causal connections to other possible offences and perpetrators.
On the news this morning, for example, it was reported that, the day after a particularly heinous murder was committed last week by two self-proclaimed Islamist activists on an unarmed, off-duty soldier in London, over which anyone the suspects ever met appears to have been ‘arrested’, a ‘muslim’ man walked into a police station and either shouted or calmly explained, it’s not clear which, that he wanted to kill the Queen’s grandson, Prince Harry, together with all the Christians. He was immediately arrested, tried and is awaiting sentence. This outburst of passion was apparently considered so grave, that reporting restrictions were imposed prior to the hearing. He was in effect tried and found guilty in secret.
Is it seriously suggested that this man could or would ever have carried out the action? Yes, because he had been looking at incriminating things on his laptop: guns and cars and suchlike. (God forbid anyone should stumble on my son’s vast library of war books, including the Sniper’s Manual he made me buy him on Amazon one Christmas…) Did the man make the threat actually in the presence of the proposed victim, or in a manner likely to cause public alarm? Was he ‘armed and dangerous’? Probably not.**
I suggest that, even five years ago, a kindly station sergeant would have talked the man down off the ceiling, while carefully evaluating whether or not his mental state demanded some psychiatric intervention. Instead, the full weight of the anti-terrorism laws has been applied, the panic-button pushed. Many of us in this case would do well to have our mouths surgically sealed. Careless talk does indeed cost lives: mainly your own.
The fact that, not long ago, Prince Harry was explaining to the press about the muslims he has personally killed, might have been a factor in radicalising the man every bit as significant as the so-called ‘hate-preachers’ he is supposed to have listened to in the mosque. Prince Harry is an army officer: as ‘Captain Wales’ it is his job to kill muslims.
Of course, I am not saying that outside the combat zone it should be open-season on Prince Harry, nor on any other British serviceman, because of their military duties; although those who regard the Afghan insurgency as a legitimate attempt to resist a foreign, anti-Islamic invasion might hold their own counsel. For, it’s often been observed that one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter; while it was President Bush who established the principle that the ‘war on terror’ would respect no frontiers.
Nor mental barriers, it seems. The war is being fought in our heads now.
I’m especially concerned that just pointing these things out could in itself be interpreted as me being some kind of co-conspirator in sympathy with the convicted perpetrator of this purely hypothetical and quite unlikely assassination attempt on the fourth-in-line. I am not!
Even if Harry were to visit Aberystwyth, let me state clearly here and now that I would have no intention or thought of killing him. Dammit, I was at school with his father! (Whom I once deliberately kicked on the leg, a grave incidence of lèse majesté. Lock me up now!)
Nor do I believe in killing people; not even nasty, dangerous, fanatical people. Jain-like, I try never to tread on insects. I humanely rescue spiders from the bath, assist drowning worms to cross footpaths in the rain; speak kindly to flies. At worst, I would simply ignore the whole thing; I don’t get out much anyway. And although I’m not a Royalist, or anti-Islamic come to that, I actually rather approve of Prince Harry. He seems a good egg.
But if somebody else felt like killing him, with reason, I would understand – provided they did not actually intend to proceed with it. There has been a legitimate cause throughout history the world over for nations to rid themselves of monarchy; although in this instance we have largely done so already, by parliamentary means. I myself have ‘felt like’ killing people from time to time. I have wasted many an idle hour pondering what would be the most entertaining method of dispensing with the man who puts notes on my windscreen telling me I can’t park there… but you can’t say that!
And I would defend their right to share their hateful thoughts, provided they remained just that, thoughts – especially if they share them with the last people on earth who would ever be radicalised by Islamist hate-speech to act injuriously against a member of the Royal family: namely, the staff of one of Her Majesty’s police stations.
Probably the last place anyone going in to express their feelings of homicidal hatred (or justifiable social outrage) would expect to get arrested!
I think the word in this case is ‘duh’. Can we still say ‘duh?’
* To his credit, he did vote against it in an emergency debate, to no avail.
**According to today’s The Sun newspaper, the man is a ‘white’ English convert. To prove it, he has shaved his head and grown one of those big fuzzy beards without a moustache, like the character in the film 4 Lions. And to reinforce the point he has changed his name to Ashraf Islam. Apparently, he could get ten years for sharing his murderous thoughts with the police. I had better quickly then redact the bit about the man who puts notes on my windscreen. No, I agree, it’s not funny.
It’s quite sad, actually. It is vital that we have some private corner of our lives still where we can safely vent our frustrations and work through our hangups, without interference from the thought police. Total control leads to utter frustration, with violence the only outlet. History shows us time and again that state repression is self-defeating. Cut us some slack!