Not A Sick Society: A Sick State – 2nd January 2012

Not A Sick Society: A Sick State – 2nd January 2012

Comparing how States deal with dissent

This article was submitted to national prison magazine Not Shut Up. The editor approved it for print but the Head of Education at HMP Wandsworth blocked its final publication.

The winter is closing in but still the Arab Spring bursts through the concrete like some unstoppable rose, spreading seeds across the globe.  Over there, across the Mediterranean, Syrian and Egyptian resistance reintensifies in the face of relentless oppression and tyranny.  These are obvious police states that slaughter their citizenry with the contempt and brutality that only a state can wield.  Russia has not had bloodshed from its police state but there are mass arrests and a sincere mistrust of the questionably elected Putin regime.  I wonder how our system compares.

I was locked up for throwing a joke shop smokebomb at Topshop, for 18 months.  Jordan Blackshaw and Perry Sutcliffe are serving four year sentences for creating facebook pages during the summer riots.  There were countless pre-arrests of street performers before this year’s royal wedding, people who were planning to express their wit.  Pile on the mass arrests at student and TUC protests against the cuts, the police harassment of St Paul’s protestors and the bully boy tactic of destroying homes at Dale Farm that were not even regarded by the misers at the local council as illegal, and we see a public image of freedom of protest with a police that sinks to Putinesque depths to keep those protests muffled to below the level of the carnival that expresses the heart of a protest.

There may be such a thing as reasonable protest for those who wield power.  This generation saw millions turn out for peaceful protests against the Iraq War.  The same generation saw that voice blindly ignored and so shouts louder.  People have a right to express their dissent in any way they see fit, that doesn’t impede public safety.  My incarceration, and those of countless others banged up for voicing dissent is the act of a sick state on a clampdown.  Cameron may say society is sick but it was society that organised the clean up after and during this year’s riots.  Those on a riot heard a father with a murdered son give a heartfelt speech and listened to reason.  The political tactic of threats of water canon and tear gas went unheeded over the three days.  Sympathy was the social touchstone for disturbance to end.

Inflated prison sentences for protestors are simply a gateway to more unemployment on release.  So, if you want a job, keep calm and carry on, as the t-shirt says.  Conform and comply.  Unless you’re a banker who gambled off sub-prime assets.  Increase your bonus.  Have a bail-out.  Unless you own a corporation that dodges taxes with offshore accounts.  Have a Knighthood.  (Yes, Topshop)  The English judiciary have plainly pursued a highly politicised notion of justice when it comes to protest.  They seek to demonise a popular movement while our taxes will be splurged at the Olympics and the Diamond Jubilee in 2012.

Police states, like Syria, are a bit less underhandin dealing with dissent.  They switch off the internet, kick out all foreign journalists and get dirty.  When I was there, the winter before last, I stayed in a Palestinian refugee camp.  Facebook was blocked but there was a way around it.  I couldn’t watch the Old Firm game on the telly, but there was a way around it.  You just had to resist that clampdown.  A local family gave me a hand-woven keffiyeh.  I made friends with one man I kept in touch with.  I called him this spring when his town rose up.  The camp had been occupied by the army and they gave him three choices.  Be killed, be imprisoned or go on the run.  It was that stark a choice.  My friend was still on the run when I travelled to London for my sentencing.  I wore that keffiyeh in the dock that day.  It gave me humility and strength.
That spirit of resistance raging across the Middle East is turning the exhaust fumes of dictatorship into the oxygen of freedom.  It stops war machines in their tracks, washes tear gas away in the morning, mourns its dead, remembers those in prison and fights for real freedom.  A freedom we all envision in our hearts.  A freedom the power hungry fear.  A freedom whose day I am doubtless is coming if we work together.  A freedom of the indivdual that requires only society to take care of business.

Posted By

Omar Ibrahim Ma...
Jan 9 2012 02:41



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