Saturday 16 January 2010

"Threatening, abusive or insulting words or behaviour likely to cause harassment, alarm or distress"

This story emerged in The Guardian last week. In sum, it seems that carrying placards and shouting slogans at British soliders is now enough to get you arrested (retrospectively arrested, too – if we decided we don’t like what you’ve done after you’ve done it, we’re going to come after you).

It really goes without saying that this is an obvious manifestation of a worrying trend that has emerged in recent years in the UK; a trend towards racial, social, and cultural profiling. (Of course, this is something that never went away, as the ingrained Thatcherite mindset of our times could too readily attest, were enough attention paid to it. For example, our newspapers & politicians have often told us (though not in so many words), that miners are brutish, unrefined working class animals – or at the very least, unfortunately, regrettably, expendable. Names, labels, faces, modes of dress, and justifications for singling out those possessing these, may change, but the motivating force remains at root the same.)

Those charged by the police were Muslims. One might well ask whether more worried heed would be paid to these arrests if those arrested were concerned white liberals protesting the BNP. Of course, this would never happen, as the BNP are a group we can all unite in hate against – they are the bogeymen we can all agree to loathe. (I don’t in any way mean to smooth over the worrying rise in their popularity, and the genuine concern felt by many at this rise; but I do wonder if they provide an easy way out for the increasingly right-leaning ‘mainstream’ parties– by being so openly racist and all the rest of it, they allow, for example, the Tories to present their own policies as eminently reasonable)). Well, white liberals might have been one thing – though of course they are much less worrying than evil hardline leftists like those nasty anarchists who have quite rightly been cracked down on in Greece or in London if G20 provokes them into their bestial action. These anarchists are acting merely to create turmoil, to disrupt our tourist snaps and the picture-perfect political co-operation of our leaders. No, not to dream of or to provoke the dissolution of insane systems of ingrained cruelty and of a loss of compassionate relation beyond the packaged tendresse of ‘charity’ (through which we can have the sensation of smoothing out troublesome creases in the fabric of society, through which we can feel good about ourselves, can bask in the warm cocooned glow of self-satisfaction with the excuse that we are really feeling good about helping other people.) Not to reflect, along with Martin Luther King, that “True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar; it comes to see that an edifice which produces beggars needs restructuring”; not to reflect, along with Blake, that “Pity would be no more/ If we did not make somebody poor/ And mercy no more would be/ If all were as happy as we.” No, the message is: smash no windows whatsoever, straighten your tie, and smile as you actively benefit from the misery of spirit and material circumstance suffered by others.

The terms are set, it seems: both as to who can protest and who they can protest against. And they most certainly cannot protest against ‘our brave boys’, who are our ‘heroes’, fighting for ‘freedom’ ‘on our behalf’ (forget ‘not in my name’ and all that bullshit, OK?). Yes, you may question (within the timid terms of tremulous liberal anxiety) the cause in which they have been sent to torture and ravage another’s country, another’s land, to commit everyday cultural rape. But they themselves are blameless as lambs.

Well knock me down with a feather if the real situation isn’t a little more complex than this nice fantasy. These soldiers, apparently so sensitive as to need the police to protect them from insults, are known as ‘The Poachers’, a name that implies that they hunt their prey as mere animals to be killed. Not exactly the most shy and retiring souls then – and perhaps, if their mindset is as suggested by their name, they view the use of force as the most obvious and logical ways to solve all disagreements (hence the police intervention; the soldiers themselves could obviously not lash out at citizens of their own country – at least, not yet, as the climate is still not quite ripe (though I venture to suggest that the time when such a response would be accepted is not far off, and is not merely the cautionary and never-realized warning of dystopian sci-fi)).

OK then, so I find ironic and bitterly laughable the notion that soldiers need defending from a few insults thrown (aren’t these the people whose job is to have deadly missiles thrown at them, and to throw deadly missiles back?). But I also find it worrying, as the obvious clampdown on civil liberties, on the right to protest, that it is; I find it worrying (though by no means surprising) that ideologically-motivated force is being exercised in the name of ‘law and order’. ‘Keeping us safe’ is always the excuse, though it’s unclear who ‘we’ are and what exactly our position is in the citadel we inhabit. Well, whatever the answers to those questions, the message here is ‘think twice about expressing dissent if you’re a Muslim, and keep your fucking trap shut.’

[Before anyone accuses me of spitting out one form of repression (right-leaning white western government) only to implicitly favour another (‘Islamofascism’), I should point out that I certainly do not support the use of religiously-motivated insults such as “British soldiers burn in hell” (though I would not go as far as to censor them by means of police intervention); I am firmly against repression and intolerance in the name of religion generally, let alone in the name of Islam. (And I'll note that a number of those arrested waved a placard reading, "Islam will dominate the world, freedom can go to hell.") But I would point out that slogans about hellfire and damnation do recall those used by White Christian Fundamentalists picketing ‘Jerry Springer: The Opera’. (On his website, Stewart Lee has published an example of the many hate mail letters he received; it warns him that, unless he repents, he will burn in hell). Now, forgive me if I’m wrong, but I would have thought that writing a satirical musical was less grounds for burning in hell than going to a foreign country and shooting people – though, evidently, that’s not what the police and other instruments of ‘law and order’ believe.]