Sunday, 13 March 2016

Radicalised prevention

The drawing of a 4-year-old child in Luton, England, which was meant to depict a cucumber, made a nursery want to refer the child to the Government's anti-radicalisation Prevent strategy's de-radicalisation program Channel. Latter is one of the latest gadgets in the British anti-terrorism toolbox.

During just the June - August period in 2015, 300 children have been referred to this program, out of a total of 796 people. Since the start of the Channel program, 1400 children, out of which 153 under-11s (!) have been referred (as also reported by the BBC).

The National Union of Teachers stated that teachers, who have legal obligation now to report "radicalised" children, are afraid of getting it wrong...

There have been, and still are some, societies, where the dominant principle of "protecting" the society was that internal and external enemies were lurking everywhere and they had to be identified via any means possible. Constant vigilance was key to this, suche regimes stated.

One may ask: in the current version of paranoia cult, in face of a real and random threat, how is the Prevent program in any way different? We don't yet automatically lock people up based on the first report(s) from concerned "citizens", but the thought pattern that is introducing such blunt instrument is the same.

The general population, sections of which now have legal obligation to be vigilant and to report people irrespective of age, has done and will continue to do what any such measure always results in (and history is showing this eloquently): it over-reacts, it acts out of the fear of missing something, and in some cases it over-zealously misreads even perfectly innocent cases.

A 4-year-old drawing and mispronouncing cucumber is just the latest truly symbolic case of this.

Yes, the rhetoric (used by many Governments over many years, irrespective of the specific circumstances) always has been that for such a threat, only such measures can protect "our way of life".

As soon as any society adopted such measures, it sacrificed that way of life. Yes, the rhetoric has always been that this is a price that needs to be paid for our "safety".

However, one has to ask the obvious in this, by now thoroughly paranoid, society (let us not even touch on the statistics of wrongfully arrested photographers who were "acting suspiciously" according to the previous Blair Government's anti-terrorism measures' Orwellian paragraphs)...

The obvious question is: the intended protection against the undoubtedly unpredictable threats can only be served in everyday life by such Stalinist programs like Prevent? Which, as it has been amply seen, already caused thousands of false alarms, but as we don't live in a society with Stalinist retribution, only one with equal levels of paranoia cult, those reported were not subjected to draconian measures...

Or, perhaps, the same authorities should look at why many high-profile figures, invited even to lecture at Universities, can say and post on the internet speeches that would normally land any person in clear violation of the existing laws on the incitement to hatred & violence?

How is it possible, that such paranoia levels and such indiscriminate blunt instruments are introduced by a Government that fundamentally refuses and fails to take real action against the impressive numbers of openly radical (and radicalising) characters?

The other side of the paranoia equation is that authorities are openly afraid of being seen as politically incorrect, or even racist in the eyes of some. Rational measures and rational debates are no longer possible in face of facts, so one type of self-made fear leads to another type - and latter, as it is eloquently demonstrated, is happy to sacrifice even fundamentals of the Magna Charta.

We have the freedom to pick what we are afraid of, and what measures we introduce to reduce or to control that fear (in better cases, also to control the sources and causes of that fear).

However, going about it in such Stalinist manner, with a superbly blunt instrument, which every single time in history (and as we can see also in this recent specific incarnation of it) has led to the very same excesses in the application of that instrument, is not quite a rational process.

Irrational instruments like this are, in their essence, no different from what we have seen far too many times causing overwhelming numbers of false positives.

How this society deals with the false positives and the real problem cases is thankfully very different from some Regimes of the past & present.

However, this does not change the simple fact: irrational strategies (an oxymoron to some respect) that provoke irrational acts of everyday people in everyday life should look extremely familiar to us, if we have learnt anything whatsoever from our history.

Photo by BBC.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

The undoing of freedoms

Laszlo Tokes, the Hungarian ethnic protestant priest, now Euro MP, who basically started what we know as the December 1989 Revolution in Romania, had been given the Steaua Romaniei (Star of Romania) presidential award in 2009.

A few days ago the current Romanian president, Klaus Iohannis, took back the award from Laszlo Tokes... as per a court decision that stated: Tokes has acted against the Romanian Constitution.

That act was an extremely simple exercising of freedom of speech. Laszlo Tokes has expressed his opinion on how Hungary's PM, Viktor Orban, should protect the Hungarian ethnic minority in Transylvania.

In order to reduce the pro- and against Romanian media furore and rhetoric in various forums to the bare essentials, let's just state the very basic and essential facts:
  • The key figure of the December 1989 anti-totalitarian Revolution expresses a personal opinion, as controversial as it may be in the eyes and ears of some (primarily, those of Romanian nationalists, but this is a minor detail);
  • He is stripped of a high presidential award recognising his quite heroic and incontestable contribution to the country's transition from a communist dictatorship to a democratic system (with its vast shortcomings and corruption, but again, in this context, a minor detail...).
Ergo: 26 years after the Revolution he had been instrumental in, which brought freedom of speech and freedom of thought to the country, he is stripped of his merits because of having exercised those freedoms on one occasion.

The irony could not be greater. The clarity with which this describes Romania 26 years after the Revolution could not be greater. 

Behind all the facade and posturing, apart from it still being a tragically corrupt country, the core essence of Power has not changed at all. 

Someone can be judged and humiliated (at best), simply for saying something that does not please certain ears. 

To top the irony, if even possible, the Romanian courts have found his "act" one that goes against the Romanian Constitution. It is highly symbolic, but one doubts that courts and Mr. Iohannis, the oh-so-democratic force of the country, realise just how perfectly this describes Romania of today.

As the ancient Romans used to say in their ancient language, quod erat demonstrandum.