Readers may have noticed that, in this column two weeks ago, I offered £4,320 to anyone who would assassinate George Bush. These comments were picked up by the American embassy, which telephoned the New Statesman offices to complain and threaten unspecified redress. In the light of this, and any offence caused to others, I feel that the only thing I can do is increase the bounty. Anyone who kills Bush will now get £4,500.
Faced with this new onslaught, America's reaction can only be to declare a "war on satire". Blair, Bush and probably Punch magazine will stand shoulder to shoulder against their common enemy. Liberals will protest the plight of the thousands of innocent comics - whose only crime is observational humour - who are caught in the bombing raids. The US defence secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, will appear at a glittering Hollywood awards ceremony booming in that gravelly voice of his: "And the nominations for the axis of evil are . . ."
Fanatics will hide in caves doing knock-knock gags. CNN will show footage of masked men in desert training camps crawling under barbed wire, slipping on banana skins and chanting in unison: "How many presidents does it take to change a light bulb? Two! One to change the light bulb and the other to deny any friendship with the broken bulb's energy company."
OK, the US embassy isn't supposed to have a sense of humour. If it were, every now and then the staff would hide the flag and put up a big sign outside the building saying, "Free hard-core porn giveaway. Take as much as you can carry!", just to see who came in. However, if they or any others believe that my "offer" is genuine, then they shouldn't bother tutting and reaching for the Basildon Bond; they should report me to the police. The Terrorism Act clearly defines a terrorist as someone whose "use or threat of action . . . endangers a person's life". I am threatening to take action, and George Bush qualifies as human life, though even pro- lifers might raise an eyebrow at that idea.
The law and its application have long been the pliant servants of those who wish to quell dissent. While protesting at the US base at RAF Feltwell in Norfolk, in December 2000, the veteran peace campaigner Lindis Percy had the audacity to hold up a US flag with the words "Stop Star Wars" written on it. For this heinous crime, she was charged with committing a "racially aggravated" offence, which was later amended to a charge under the Public Order Act 1986 of "causing alarm, distress and insult". Apparently, the armed US marines on the base saw the flag and were emotionally disturbed and upset. We can only imagine the impact on the sensitive marines' self-esteem had one of the protesters shouted: "Khaki green makes you look fat!"
It is more than likely that US military personnel in Britain have the Stars and Stripes printed on items of clothing, such as a T-shirt or a pair of boxer shorts or Y-fronts. So, if "insult" can be caused by writing on a flag, surely the level of "alarm" and "distress" must intensify at the mere thought of the Star-Spangled Banner stained with a squaddie's secretions. Yet, somehow, wearing the flag as underwear and placing the hallowed image next to a person's genitals is seen as patriotic.
At the very least, it seems inconsistent that certain words written on American flags should cause upset while others go unchallenged. For example, no one seems to mind that most US flags have the words "Made in China" written on them. The US flag is used or misused, depending on your point of view, all around the world: from the Middle East, where American flags are sold at petrol stations for convenience sake, to America itself, where conceptual artists have the right to desecrate their flag enshrined in the constitution and legal precedent. However, the finer points of logic and irony seemed to have eluded the Norfolk magistrates who found Lindis guilty, only to be overruled at the High Court.
Since her victory, Lindis has faced a string of other legal charges. On 1 March 2002, she entered RAF Croughton, a US base in Northants, where recent building work points to the base's eavesdropping capacity and probable role in the forthcoming US National Missile Defence system. Lindis was arrested and charged with "aggravated trespass" - which basically means that the Ministry of Defence plods believe she would impede them in carrying out their activities, ie, removing people from the base. The MoD prosecution insisted that Lindis not be given bail, muttering about the current climate, especially considering 11 September.
The magistrates agreed, and promptly placed the 60-year-old Quaker, grandmother and health visitor on remand in Holloway Prison, believing that she represented a violent threat to the public. Either that, or they believed that a woman who has never failed to turn up for a series of minor court appearances, and who uses the cases as part of her peaceful protests, was likely to abscond.
So a Quaker peace campaigner is, in reality, a violent threat. A comic is a terrorist. Meanwhile, a US president (whose country continues to give financial support to Colombian death squads that have already murdered hundreds of human rights activists, trade unionists and peasants, and, moreover, is preparing nuclear weapons and scenarios for their use in seven countries) is regarded as a defender of life and liberty.
As we went to press, Lindis Percy was granted bail on appeal after serving 11 days.