Thursday, November 15, 2007

The Terrorism of Intellectual Repression

It's an indication of the pass we have come to that, I'm ashamed to say, I needed to think about doing on this blog what Hari Kunzru also does in the Guardian today: respond to the conviction of amateur poet Samina Malik for the possession of "records likely to be used for terrorism" by confessing, in the name of freedom of thought, to one's own similar records, research for writing.

Kunzru points out that
we seem to have accepted the principle that it should be illegal to think, read and write certain things. Incitement to violence is rightly criminalised, but what about imagining violence? It's hard not to link Malik's poems to other trends - the push for ever-widening hate speech laws, the calls for writers like Monica Ali to be "careful" about how they represent the world. We are being taught to be circumspect. How long before it's suggested we should shut up altogether?
In fact my records look pretty weedy besides Kunzru's: I downloaded instructions on how to make a bomb when I was researching the IRA for my latest, unpublished novel. I have to say though that even as I downloaded them, a couple of years ago now, I had a sense of doing something incriminating - mainly perhaps because the novel is very much about such matters (persecution and the need to hide 'incriminating' evidence) , but also because I feel this atmosphere of intellectual repression has been building for some time. And I can't even prove my purpose: I never actually used the instructions for the novel in the end.

Last week I stood in the rooms where Anne Frank hid with her family from the Nazis. How long, as Kunzru says, before we need to hide our thoughts, if not our bodies, altogether?
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