//Jail for thought, really

Jail for thought, really

Farrukh Dhondy, Thursday, March 09, 2006  22:43 IST
Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, consider this: 3 am! Knock, knock, knock—bang!

“You evil enemy of the people’s Soviets, running dog of capitalism, you have sown your last wicked seed of dissent!”

The KGB storms into the house, grabs the man and his family and marches them off to the waiting black vans. They shiver with guilt and fright. “You dog, Nastikoff, your time has come,” says the KGB colonel as they kick him into the van. The man rolls over on his back and whoops and roars with laughter. “What’s so funny?” asks the KGB guard. The prisoner controls his joy sufficiently to blurt out “Nastikoff lives next door!”

The end of the Soviet Union may have been celebrated as the end of the thought police. In the US there was McCarthyism, in Cambodia Pol Pot. Thought was subject to policing, its expression to punishment. With the Berlin wall, such fears collapsed, we thought.

We rejoiced too soon. Thought policing is ever with us. Hydra has her heirs. Political correctness, environmental religion and its heresies, religious fundamentalism and the prescriptions on writing, speech and thought are fast establishing themselves as today’s regime of thought control. Where the state does not prohibit and punish, the mob takes over with fatwas and bounties.

We’ve seen a lot of it in Europe in the past months. Sir Iqbal Sacranie, a secretary of the Muslim Council of Great Britain, appears on TV and denounces homosexuals as disgusting and an abomination unto God. Scotland Yard calls on him the next day. Was he stirring up hatred against minorities? They question him about an offence instated by parliament to protect the very people Sac purports to represent.

A gay director of the National Theatre sensibly declares that he would defend the right of Sac to call him and his inclinations disgusting if he had the reciprocal right to publicly state that he found Sac’s religious beliefs primitive and disgusting.

Then there is Nick Griffin, leader of the British Movement telling his members that Islam encourages murder, paedophilia and homosexuality. A diametric opposition to Sac’s view, but Griffin is actually put on trial for incitement under the same law. He is found not guilty and released.

Abu Hamza, the clownish ‘imam’ of a mosque in north London is indicted for inciting young men to acts of terror. His defence represents him simply as a man of extreme opinions. The Crown argues that he was doing more than holding opinions, that he was inciting terror. He is found guilty and given seven years. In Austria the idiot British ‘historian’ David Irving is given three years imprisonment for saying, 16 years ago, to his neo-fascist fans, that there were no gas chambers in Auschwitz.

Jail for thought, really, ladies and gentlemen of the jury.

And so to the case of Ken Livingstone, Mayor of London who emerges from a civic party and is politely asked by an Evening Standard journalist whether he enjoyed it.
Livingstone asks the reporter what business it is of his. The reporter names his newspaper and sends the Mayor into a spin. Livingstone doesn’t approve of that particular group of newspapers.

“You are acting like a Nazi concentration camp guard,” the Mayor says. The reporter replies that he is himself Jewish. The mayor persists with the Nazi taunt.

The encounter ends and the reporter and his newspaper complain to a local government ‘Standards’ Board’ which exercises its legal powers and suspends Livingstone from the Mayoralty for a month for bringing his office into disrepute. He refuses to retract or apologise and goes to the courts to assert his right to compare Jewish reporters and their behaviour to Nazi concentration camp guards.

And then, came the cartoon riots. Thought policing is with us and doesn’t mean fighting opinion with opinion. It means suppressing expression with repression.

Though the Romans did throw Christians to the lions, the historical evidence for the invention of policing thought rather than actions points the finger at Sassanian Zoroastrianism which, in the Iran of the fourth century, allied the religion to the state and declared all deviant belief to be heresy. The state persecuted a novice called Mani and put him to death for his views. It’s not something that we Zoroastrians should be particularly proud of. So ladies and gentlemen of the jury, we should either be forgiven or be seen as the original inventors of the sin of modern dissent.

The columnist is a script-writer based in London.