19th November 2007
Way back in August – yes I know its a long time ago – an extraordinary column appeared in The Times by one Theodore Dalrymple. Britain – which already imprisons more of its population than anywhere else in Europe (except Portugal for some reason) needs to ‘double the number of prisons at least, and to pass much longer sentences on those sent to prison’. Prison fails to deter because ‘Given the value of unskilled labour on the market, it is a very poor burglar who cannot steal more than one day’s wages from a house’.
Now I re-read this article carefully wondering if it was one sort of Swiftian Modest Proposal – Satire on a grand scale. But no, this man is absolutely serious. Let us follow the wondrous logic of the capitalist. First you smash the unions so that you can depress wages, make more profits and run a ‘good’ economy. But surprise, surprise those who then cannot earn a decent wage turn to burglary. What could the solution be? Simple – lock ’em up and build lots more prisons. There are after all lots of workers from even more miserable parts of the world whom you will be able to ‘import’ to do your dirty-work, at even lower wages. In fact you can lock up the whole of the indigenous working-class and make your massive profits on the backs of imported labour which can then be easily deported when expendable. Its a scheme to gladden a New Labour Minister’s heart.
But – just in case those prisons are not full enough – we can imprison people for writing poetry. Yes Britain, the ‘home of liberty’, has imprisoned a woman, Samina Malik, for writing poems. Apparently they are very bad and nasty poems (though as I cannot find them anywhere I have no way of verifying this) ; apparently they call for Holy War and glorify terrorism. It would be nice to think that those who preach from certain Old Testament texts would be next to be locked up on a similar pretext – irony alert if you hadn’t noticed.
The destruction of Liberty which is taking place in Britain at this moment is simply astonishing – but this case, the imprisonment of a woman for writing poetry – astounds even me. We are regressing. We are back with the 17thC and Bunyan. Thought crime is becoming a reality. It is no longer an exaggeration to say that Britain is a Police State. A state which imprisons its citizens for writing poetry cannot be described in any other way. 2007 – the year that freedom died in Britain.
Cathy Lamb left…
Nick, I am surprised but not astounded. I think that the idea that Europe has so much greater freedom of press than in the 18th century simply does not hold up to examination. For example, I am now reading City of Laughter, a book about political satire in 18th century. Some of those illustrations were at least as bad as the one of the Spanish Crown Prince in bed with his wife. I believe that the Spanish newspaper publisher of that got a jail sentence last week . I recommend that we go back to the method of censorship in the 18th century – having the hangman burn the book on the gallows. The only problem is that it is so hard to find a hangman these days. Regards, Cathy
2. nick hay left…
Thanks very much for the comment Cathy – yup public book burnings sound like a logical next step for Brown and crew. By co-inicdence I am also reading, or have started, City of Laughter. Despite the sheer physical pleasures of the book – lovely glossy paper – I am not that taken with it so far. It all seems a little intellectually light-weight, detail (some of which does not interest me) substituted for original thought. But there are, inevitably, many individual pleasures. I will proceed with it if I get time.
3. Ellen left…
Only a link told the tale of why Thanksgiving was a peaceful day. Isabel made herself a chicken too & was okay — she watched ice-skating.
I don’t know Malik’s poetry. Would you send some to me? what could be so terrible?
Today in a newspaper I read that Rudolph Giuliani whose big for the republican nomination for president is precluded because he’s pro-choice, not rabidly anti-gay and has some decent positions (mostly because he was Mayor of NYC), Giuliani said waterboarding is not torture. He justified it. On HHistSex they said a man was imprisoned in Scotland for having sex with a bicycle. Apparently this is a big joke in newspapers.
I’m tired and a little drunk so am not making much sense. I’m trying to respond on the theme that _plus ca change, moins ca change_ around the world.
Cheers to Cathy too, Ellen
4. nick hay left…
Thanks for the comment. But no I couldn’t send you any of Salima Malik’s poetry – it is not available and were I to post any I would myself probably be raided by MI5 and jailed (I am not joking!). But I don’t doubt for a minute that it is both deeply unpleasant and bad – both of which however are, of course ,quite beside the point.
And yes – thank you for raising it – a man in Scotland has been placed on probation and put on the sex offenders register for having sex with a bicycle. I had caught a vague reference to the story, in terms of lame jokes, but had not realised until I read Mick Hume in The Times today that it is a true story. It is becoming ever more difficult to distinguish fact from fiction in 21stC Britain as our descent into a police dystopia continues.
The facts are these. A 51 year old man was in his own locked room in a hostel in Ayr, Scotland (‘hostel’ indicates that this man was very poor as only the very poor live in hostels). His room was unlocked by two cleaners who disovered him in some kind of act of sexual self-satisfaction with a bicycle. The police were called and he has been tried, convicted and sentenced as described above. Being placed on the sex offenders registers links the man with rapists and paedophiles and means that it will be virtually impossible for him to, for instance, get any sort of job. It is instructive to combine this with the fact that the conviction rate for rapes is around 6%. We are not only in a police state, but a police state in which harmless deviancy is punished while the rich and powerful can act with impunity. Blown’s Britain 2007.