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weedy besides Kunzru's: I downloaded instructions on how to make a bomb when I was researching the IRA for my latest, unpublished novel.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?


Charles Lambert said...

This is nothing to do with the post, (actually, it has everything to do with the post) but I just gave you an award for powerful writing. You can pick it up on my blog (It's a cute little lion for your sidebar...)

Muhamad Lodhi said...

I think what we are witnessing now is the result of our complacency -- it doesn't matter who you are, a writer, a poet, or a politician.

Pants said...


So it's not just me then.



Elizabeth Baines said...

Crikey, Charles, thanks. I'll have to try and live up to it!

Muhamad: You're right, I think: we have been far too complacent and blinkered.

Hi Pants: Symptomatic of course that we should be in a situation where we are are wondering if it's just us. xx

Charles Lambert said...

This kind of legislation (and the anxiety it creates) reminds me of the old 'sus' law and the way it was applied, with exquisite discretion, to black youths and practically no one else. This kind of essentially totalitarian weapon will always be used in a partial way for specific political ends. Which means that we should be safe enough until the attention shifts from Muslims to the mild and relatively harmless antics of white writers. This is not, of course, a good thing. Perhaps we should all commit some kind of inflammatory literary act and see what happens...

PS The lion looks fabulous!

Elizabeth Baines said...

Yes, I think the case which has emerged today of the collapsed Leeds diabetic man who was attacked by police with taser guns (and another gun held to his head) because they thought he looked 'Egyptian' is an indication that, horrifyingly, and as if we hadn't guessed, the new legislation is so far being applied selectively.

Rus Bowden said...

On Clattery MacHinery on Poetry, where this post of yours is linked, there is a call for poetic license, for freedom:

World Samina Malik Day December 6th