June 2006

The small measures of increasing ferocity add up over time to a society of a completely different flavour

Henry Porter, in the Independent, attempts to document Blairs nine-year assault on civil liberties that reveals the danger of trading freedom for security.

There is a demonic versatility to Blairs laws. Kenneth Clarke, a former Conservative chancellor of the exchequer and home secretary, despairs at the way they are being used. What is assured as being harmless when it is introduced gets used more and more in a way which is sometimes alarming, he says. His colleague David Davis, the shadow Home Secretary, is astonished by Blairs Labour Party: If I had gone on the radio 15 years ago and said that a Labour government would limit your right to trial by jury, would limit - in some cases eradicate - habeas corpus, constrain your right of freedom of speech, they would have locked me up.

Indeed they would. But theres more, so much in fact that it is difficult to grasp the scope of the campaign against British freedoms. But here goes. The right to a jury trial is removed in complicated fraud cases and where there is a fear of jury tampering. The right not to be tried twice for the same offence - the law of double jeopardy - no longer exists. The presumption of innocence is compromised, especially in antisocial behaviour legislation, which also makes hearsay admissible as evidence. The right not to be punished unless a court decides that the law has been broken is removed in the system of control orders by which a terrorist suspect is prevented from moving about freely and using the phone and internet, without at any stage being allowed to hear the evidence against him - house arrest in all but name.

Freedom of speech is attacked by Section Five of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act, which preceded Blairs Government, but which is now being used to patrol opinion. In Oxford last year a 21-year-old graduate of Balliol College named Sam Brown drunkenly shouted in the direction of two mounted police officers, Mate, you know your horse is gay. I hope you dont have a problem with that. He was given one of the new, on-the-spot fines - £80 - which he refused to pay, with the result that he was taken to court. Some 10 months later the Crown Prosecution Service dropped its case that he had made homophobic remarks likely to cause disorder.

There are other people the police have investigated but failed to prosecute: the columnist Cristina Odone, who made a barely disparaging aside about Welsh people on TV (she referred to them as little Welshies); and the head of the Muslim Council of Great Britain, Sir Iqbal Sacranie, who said that homosexual practices were not acceptable and civil partnerships between gays were harmful.

The remarks may be a little inappropriate, but I find myself regretting that my countrymens opinions - their bloody-mindedness, their truculence in the face of authority, their love of insult and robust debate - are being edged out by this fussy, hairsplitting, second-guessing, politically correct state that Blair is trying to build with what he calls his respect agenda.

The Independent got it from Vanity Fair, so you can also read it here.

Celebrate the moment

Found picture July 17th is non-photography day, which has been launched - ironically enough - by a photographer.

In an interview with the BBCs Culture Shock programme, Becca Bland who is organising the enterprise explained that she wants people to put your camera down and appreciate the moment you are in.

When you simply take photos of something, without fully engaging with it, youre assuming that all you can have and take is the actual appearance of a place - rather than other creative factors that exist in the place, Ms Bland said.

She then goes on to talk about Buddhism and putting a frame around things. But, leaving that aside, I think the idea is a good one.

Whenever we go anywhere its far too easy - expected even - that we will take a stack of photos of the sights rather than actually look at them. This is something that first struck me about five years ago while on holiday in Egypt. At one point we found ourselves faced with a spectacular view overlooking the three pyramids of Giza. After trying, unsuccessfully, to capture all three pyramids in a single shot I realised that Id done no more than glance at the view before spending far too much time faffing around with the camera.

I took very few photos for the rest of that holiday. I dont have a photo of either the pyramids or the Sphinx but I did have a fantastic time and still have plenty of great memories.

The only real complaint I have about this campaign is that July 17th is a Monday. So the chances are that I wont be in a position to be celebrating anything.

Tim Burtons USB drive

USB teddy bear holds data, scares children via sp3ccylad

Quote of the Day: On balancing security and liberty

Was it safe to live in Saddam’s Iraq? Is it safe to live in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe? Blameron’s logic would have you believe these were paradises of security.

- Quaequam Blog!

Spot the difference

Charles Clarke Geoffrey Howe
Geoffrey Howe Charles Clarke

Much has been made of the similarity between Charles Clarkes recent remarks and their similarity to Geoffrey Howes 1990 speech.

What I find most striking is that Geoffrey Howe made his speech to the House of Commons while Charles Clarke has seen fit to express his concerns to the media.

Historical Parallels

Lessons from the Cold War about reforming Islam

Two of the best-known Muslims in Europe met for the first time last week. Ayaan Hirsi Ali is an apostate: three bodyguards protect her from the radical Islamists who want to kill her. Tariq Ramadan is a pious, in some ways rather conservative, Muslim who has no bodyguards yet.

But I wouldnt be surprised if he gets some soon. He wants his co-religionists to be active and peaceful citizens of modern Europe. Some see him as the leader of a reformation that would lead to a nice, cuddly Euro-Islam. Radicals loathe him for that; many secularists still think he is creepy and sinister.

Tariq Ramadan is a pious, in some ways rather conservative, Muslim who has no bodyguards yet. But I wouldnt be surprised if he gets some soon. He wants his co-religionists to be active and peaceful citizens of modern Europe. Some see him as the leader of a reformation that would lead to a nice, cuddly Euro-Islam. Radicals loathe him for that; many secularists still think he is creepy and sinister.

Hirsi Ali (a Somali-born refugee) and Ramadan (a Swiss-born Egyptian aristocrat) debated at a conference in Sweden organised by the wealthy and iconoclastic Ax:son Johnson Foundation. It was gripping stuff (though Im biased, as I was chairing it). Hirsi Ali said Ramadan was duplicitous. He responded by calling her, in effect, a publicity hound, more interested in impressing western audiences than changing Muslim thinking.

Both were impressive: Ramadan is formidably articulate, almost demagogic. But behind his charm, hes prickly and humourless. He didnt like it when Hirsi Ali (who has a wicked sense of humour) started teasing him.

The conference participants sympathies divided pretty evenly. But I was struck by a historical parallel. Ive always been suspicious of prominent, vulnerable reformers since I made the terrible mistake, briefly, of being a fan of Mikhail Gorbachev. The danger is that you get besotted with a particular personality and end up sacrificing the people who actually share your views in order to protect someone who agrees with you only a little bit.

I see Ramadan as a kind of Gorbachev figure: hes eloquent, sympathetic and exposed. Its tempting to help him: we wanted Gorbachev to make the Soviet empire safe and we would like Ramadan to do the same for Islam. But Hirsi Ali is more like Andrei Sakharov. She has suffered physically because of her beliefs. She believes passionately in democracy, free speech and the rule of law, with no ifs and buts.

So I find it worrying that Hirsi Ali is leaving Europe for America for safety and freedom - rather as dissidents left the Soviet Union. I would have been delighted if Ramadan had, for example, begun his remarks by deploring the attacks on her, endorsing her right to say what she likes and offering to attend the launch of her next book or film. He didnt: he speaks out strongly for freedom and the liberal order in principle - but seems much less eager to do it directly to a potential victim of Islamist extremism sitting just next to him.

Another echo came from the question of Koranic authority. Hirsi Ali says that until Muslims explicitly move away from the idea that the Koran is the literal and revealed truth, Islam will not be compatible with liberal democracy. Ramadan tries to blur the issue, saying that the Koran must be read in context (though he doesnt, quite, say whether that means that wife-beating is always wrong, or only sometimes).

That recalled the Congress of Peoples Deputies in December 1989. Sakharov took the podium and bluntly told Gorbachev that Article Six of the Soviet constitution, which guaranteed the Communist Partys monopoly of power, had to go. Gorbachev silenced him harshly, saying: Lets not put pressure on each other by manipulating public opinion. Sakharov died a few days later.

But he was right: truthful words beat blurry ones, even if those who defend powerful old thinking find them uncomfortable.

Quote of the Day: Retaining rights

Human rights or civil liberties are not commodities which can be awarded preferentially. They are indivisible, a standard which a society either chooses to respect or not.

- Henry Porter

All rhetoric, no results

Reid has left abusers without supervision

The home secretarys decision to move scores of paedophiles out of hostels next to schools backfired spectacularly last night amid concerns many were now under less stringent supervision than before John Reids unprecedented intervention.

Read the rest.

Quote of the Day: Results, not rhetoric

Think hard before deciding that what our society needs right now is another grand statement of governmental purpose and a further round of headline-grabbing legislation

- From Prof Ian Loaders contribution to a Downing Street debate on the future of the criminal justice system.

Fluffy the Penguin Goes Skiing