Fabricate that fear: Gareth Peirce on the "Kafkaesque" treatment of Ireland and Islam

Those snatched from their homes in Britain following 11 September 2001 have all but vanished into an evasive system.

The lawyer Gareth Peirce, celebrated for her defence of miscarriage of justice victims, wrote recently: "Over the years of the conflict, every lawless action on the part of the British state provoked a similar reaction: internment, 'shoot to kill', the use of torture . . . brutally obtained false confessions and fabricated evidence. This was registered by the community most affected, but the British public, in whose name these actions were taken, remained ignorant." Referring to the conflict in Northern Ireland, she was drawing a comparison with "our new suspect community", people of Muslim faith, against whom a vicious, sectarian and mostly unreported war is well under way.

As Peirce points out, "internment, discredited and abandoned in Northern Ireland", now allows, not 42 days, but the "indefinite detention without trial of foreign nationals, the 'evidence' to be heard in secret with the detainee's lawyer not permitted to see the evidence against him". Those snatched from their homes in Britain following 11 September 2001 have all but vanished into an Anglo-American gulag, which in this country joins Belmarsh Prison, where people are consigned to oblivion, with Broadmoor psychiatric prison, where they are sent as they go mad, and with Kafkaesque versions of "home" where others are interred under "control orders". One such home prisoner, wrote Peirce, "a man without arms, was left alone and terrified, unable to leave the flat or to contact anyone without committing a criminal offence, subject to a curfew and allowed no visits unless approved in advance by the Home Office". Going into the garden, arran ging a plumber, speaking to a child's teacher, all require permission. The families go mad, too.

Preferring "a quick death . . . to a slow death here", one man who took a risk and returned to Algeria has been lost in the subcontracted gulag, where his new torturers have given the British government "assurances" and are themselves reassured by the fact that BP, the ethical oil company, has sunk £6bn into getting oil out of Algeria's southern Sahara. Jordan, another subcontractor, is held economically afloat by the US so George W Bush's "renditions" and torture can proceed there. No British court has found any of these people guilty of any crime, but as Tony Blair, a genuine prima facie criminal, put it so well, "the rules of the game have changed".

As in the Irish conflict, it is again the ignorance of us, the public, upon which the state relies. All propaganda is directed at honing this ignorance and fabricating a fear. This is primarily the task of journalists. True fear is in Muslim communities. Visit them and you will find people terrified by your knock on the door, and women who now never go out. In effect, control orders have been served on thousands of British citizens.

As Peirce reminds us, the Irish had allies in the Catholic Church and the 40 million Americans of Irish descent; Muslims are alone as they watch the British state, with its "obstinate incomprehension" of their faith, do to them as it would never do to those of other faiths. You can't imagine Jews treated this way; the profanity is too great. The silence of British Jews, who have the history, is also great.

As the suppressed facts of "terrorism" show, Muslims are by far the most numerous victims - up to a million Iraqis dead, including 500,000 infants, during "sanctions" against Iraq in the 1990s; perhaps another million dead when Blair and his mentor ignited the current inferno; countless killed and maimed in Afghanistan by weapons that include the British thermobaric bomb, designed to suck the air out of human beings. And there is Palestine, an entire nation under a permanent control order.

Reviewing this monstrous record, it is no less than amazing that the world's most violent governments - Britain is now the world's leading arms merchant - have sustained only two retaliations on their home soil. With every hypocritical act, they beckon another. Moreover, wrote Gareth Peirce, "If our government continues on [this destructive] path, we will ultimately have destroyed much of the moral and legal fabric of the society that we claim to be protecting. The choice and the responsibility are entirely ours."

"Was it like this for the Irish?"
by Gareth Peirce, London Review of Books.

John Pilger, renowned investigative journalist and documentary film-maker, is one of only two to have twice won British journalism's top award; his documentaries have won academy awards in both the UK and the US. In a New Statesman survey of the 50 heroes of our time, Pilger came fourth behind Aung San Suu Kyi and Nelson Mandela. "John Pilger," wrote Harold Pinter, "unearths, with steely attention facts, the filthy truth. I salute him."

This article first appeared in the 30 June 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Thou shalt not hug

Photo: Getty Images
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When will the government take action to tackle the plight of circus animals?

Britain is lagging behind the rest of the world - and innocent animals are paying the price. 

It has been more than a year since the Prime Minister reiterated his commitment to passing legislation to impose a ban on the suffering of circus animals in England and Wales. How long does it take to get something done in Parliament?

I was an MP for more than two decades, so that’s a rhetorical question. I’m well aware that important issues like this one can drag on, but the continued lack of action to help stop the suffering of animals in circuses is indefensible.

Although the vast majority of the British public doesn’t want wild animals used in circuses (a public consultation on the issue found that more than 94 per cent of the public wanted to see a ban implemented and the Prime Minister promised to prohibit the practice by January 2015, no government bill on this issue was introduced during the last parliament.

A private member’s bill, introduced in 2013, was repeatedly blocked in the House of Commons by three MPs, so it needs a government bill to be laid if we are to have any hope of seeing this practice banned.

This colossal waste of time shames Britain, while all around the world, governments have been taking decisive action to stop the abuse of wild animals in circuses. Just last month, Catalonia’s Parliament overwhelmingly voted to ban it. While our own lawmakers dragged their feet, the Netherlands approved a ban that comes into effect later this year, as did Malta and Mexico. Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, North America’s longest-running circus, has pledged to retire all the elephants it uses by 2018. Even in Iran, a country with precious few animal-welfare laws, 14 states have banned this archaic form of entertainment. Are we really lagging behind Iran?

The writing has long been on the wall. Only two English circuses are still clinging to this antiquated tradition of using wild animals, so implementing a ban would have very little bearing on businesses operating in England and Wales. But it would have a very positive impact on the animals still being exploited.

Every day that this legislation is delayed is another one of misery for the large wild animals, including tigers, being hauled around the country in circus wagons. Existing in cramped cages and denied everything that gives their lives meaning, animals become lethargic and depressed. Their spirits broken, many develop neurotic and abnormal behaviour, such as biting the bars of their cages and constantly pacing. It’s little wonder that such tormented creatures die far short of their natural life spans.

Watching a tiger jump through a fiery hoop may be entertaining to some, but we should all be aware of what it entails for the animal. UK laws require that animals be provided with a good quality of life, but the cruelty inherent in confining big, wild animals, who would roam miles in the wild, to small, cramped spaces and forcing them to engage in unnatural and confusing spectacles makes that impossible in circuses.

Those who agree with me can join PETA’s campaign to urge government to listen to the public and give such animals a chance to live as nature intended.


The Right Honourable Ann Widdecombe was an MP for 23 years and served as Shadow Home Secretary. She is a novelist, documentary maker and newspaper columnist.