There is little privacy in Britain these days. People are followed, photographed, trolled, and the most intimate images put online by friends and ex-lovers. Some men and women expose themselves deliberately for the thrill of it, and write frankly about their sexual adventures and family matters. Thanks to Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, we know about widespread government surveillance and spying games. So these do feel like extraordinarily open times where knowledge and information cannot be kept from the public. But they can, and are. Especially in the UK, one of the world’s most tightly-controlled and guarded nations. Admittedly we are not oppressed and silenced like folk in China, Iran and North Korea, but many of our freedoms are imaginary, our rights illusory.
Where to start? Look at just the last four weeks. This paper reported that our Government was not properly regulating British defence manufacturers who are sending military equipment and parts to Israel. How can we criticise Israel’s appalling killing record in Gaza, if the weapons used were part made by British companies? We, the little people, didn’t know this level of involvement, and weren’t supposed to.
Next the Government was accused of trying to conceal Britain’s role in “extraordinary rendition”. Obama has finally admitted: “We tortured some folks. We did some things that were contrary to our values,” and a US report promises to divulge more information. William Hague is trying to block full disclosure of what was done by Britain to “folks” on the tropical island of Diego Garcia. The full and frank findings of the Chilcot inquiry are similarly being sabotaged – but in a very gentlemanly fashion, of course.
Eight years after the ex-KGB Russian dissident Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned in London, a judge-led public inquiry was announced last month by Theresa May. Only, parts of this inquiry will now be heard in secret. Why? Because that is what happens in our country. Secret courts have been established. We may only know what they wish us to know. According to Adam Curtis in Secret Affairs: Britain’s Collusion with Radical Islam (2010), our intelligence agencies work with “a variety of outright terrorist groups. These groups have promoted the most reactionary of religious and political agendas and routinely committed atrocities against civilians”.
There is more. Knighthoods, peerages and other privileges are still neither transparent nor honest. This week, several Tory donors will be made Lords and Baronesses, a form of patronage doled out by the other parties, too. We are kept in the dark about royal finances and shady connections. Questions are either never asked or never answered. It is the system. It has survived since the Magna Carta and kept this country stable. That is the myth. Those who remain sceptical or seek the truth are dismissed as loony conspiracy theorists, or regarded with suspicion. One friendly peer recently said this to me: “You would have got into the Lords by now, we need independent-minded women like you, but you aren’t careful about what you say and don’t play the game”. Quite right. What is the point of having an independent mind if it can be co-opted?
Very worrying too have been the revelations – partial and cagey, as they are – of how the police spied on the families of those killed or injured by police or, in the case of Stephen Lawrence, suspected racist killers. In July, Mick Creedon, Derbyshire’s chief constable, shared some of his findings and concerns after carrying out an internal investigation into the Met’s Special Demonstration Squad. Creed concluded this squad had not followed set rules and regulations for covert work and that much of the information collected “served no purpose in preventing crime or disorder”.
These were important admissions. But what was not said was much more worrying. Why were family support groups being watched? And if we have a fundamental right to demonstrate, why was this squad needed? We know the police infiltrate all sorts of blameless networks – environmental, anti-racist, anti-capitalist and others. They have never explained why being part of a campaigning group imperils Great Britain. Do they infiltrate big banks and watch rabid financial operators? If only. We would not have had to go through the catastrophes of the last five years if they had.
In his powerful book The Enemy Within, journalist Seumas Milne warned: “Britain’s secret state remains a dangerous political and bureaucratic cesspit, uniquely undisturbed by any meaningful form of political accountability”. This book concerned the fate of the miners , who were savaged and eventually brought down by Mrs Thatcher and the establishment. What happened to those hard workers happens to others today.
Millions of Brits still believe that they live in a land of the free and that their betters know best. Ignorance is indeed bliss. Those who can’t or won’t accept they are only “subjects” in this mysterious kingdom will find out the hard way that the order is fixed and forever. They say the state in Egypt is deep and impenetrable. Ours isn’t that bad, but it’s not so far off, either.
A modern hero who pursues a different jihad
What does the English Defence League (EDL) think of Moeen Ali, the British Muslim cricketer who could be the next superstar of the English game? EDL members want England washed clean white and here he is, a swarthy man in whites, sporting a Taliban beard, playing for their beloved nation. The “patriots” must be furious and stamping their jackboots. What a pleasing thought.
Off-spin bowler Ali is gifted, smiley and unflappable. Cricket boffins have been stunned by the skills and strengths of the cricketer- he was able to play matches through Ramadan in July, without drinking or eating anything from sunrise to sunset. In the dressing room he has a place where he can pray. He doesn’t drink alcohol. When the demands of the game get him down, he turns to his faith to find purpose and perspective. It can’t be easy being a devout Muslim who is committed to the game, to his club and fellow players. But he shows it can be done. Ali is an exemplary jihadi.
“Jihad” has become a rallying cry for mad, bad and dangerous Muslims who blow themselves and others up to further an extremist cause. But the supreme Jihad is struggle directed within oneself. Muslims are expected to fight against weakness and temptations, and to become the best they can be. Just as Ali does. And through his achievements, he shows there is no inevitable clash of civilizations between England’s people and the people of Islam. A true hero for these dark and violent times.