Friday, February 15, 2008

Artistic freedoms under attack in Britain

Britain is not exactly a 'police state' as some on the left of politics would like to suggest - indeed, I would argue that such propositions say far more about the people who espouse it than it does about the state of freedom in contemporary Britain. However, when it comes to evaluating the extent of artistic freedom in Britain today, the charge of 'police state' is not entirely that wide of the mark.

Witness the treatment of Samina Malik at the hands of the British state - a second-rate Muslim poet (ok, I wouldn't like to massage Samina's ego), third-rate Muslim poet, who's only crime was to write terribly bad poems. Salmina, a 23 year old Londoner, aka the 'Lyrical Terrorist', wept openly when the jury at the Old Bailey found her guilty of 'possessing records likely to be used for terrorism', or in other words - her poems and a Mujahideen handbook.

It's true that Malik was a bit of an idiot with some far fetched nihilistic fantasies, but since when has it become a crime to be a wannabe nihilistic weirdy-beardy pin-up poster girl, with hateful thoughts and some seriously dodgy poems? To all intents and purposes, Malik was found guilty of harbouring some sick ideas, and some really bad poems. To lock someone up and waste the time of the Old Bailey just because we don't like someones poems is a far more dangerous trend than anything that Samina Malik could have thought of.

The attacks on artistic freedom in Britain goes much deeper than the case of Samina Malik and her 'dangerous' poems - over in petty authoritarian Brighton, the the powers that be are planning on banning any art exhibition, or revoking the licence of any music venue that exhibits or performs any work of art or piece of music that might provoke 'racist, homophobic or sectarian violence'. Failure to comply with the councils policy could lead to the closure of any art or music venue. Such draconian decrees are reminicent of the worst days of East Germany under Stalinist type dictators, it's the thin edge of a very ugly anti-freedom wedge.

In the name of protecting minorities, Brighton's licensing policy has become the cutting edge of the assault on artistic freedom. Brighton councils intentions may be good, but the consequences and long-term implications in interfering with the arts and artists are much more frightening. The council are effectively saying to artists that there are certain things you cannot express in your art, and if you want to exhibit or perform in Brighton you will need the councils nod of moral approval, or else.

I'm very much in agreement with the political journalist Brendan O’Neill, who rightfully argues that 'Brighton is doing so much more than simply messing about with its licensing laws: it is using its power to define what is socially responsible art, and to circumscribe the artistic imagination itself'. Indeed, some of the perverse consequences of the councils licensing laws are spreading further than Brighton's galleries, bars and clubs - now libraries, music shops and radio stations are coming under anti-freedom attacks.

The biggest lie we are constantly being told here is that there is apparently a very thin line between what artists say or think, and what other people might do as a consequence of being exposed to such thoughts or ideas. On the contrary, that line is very thick, and Brighton council, and the high courts of the Old Bailey have no right policing the publics taste of what is or what is not appropriate or acceptable art, music or poetry. I'll leave the last words to an artist and poet who really understood what freedom and art are all about, Victor Hugo, who argued that 'freedom in art, freedom in society this is the double goal towards which all consistent and logical minds must strive'.

Picture: Green Party Councillor Simon Williams displaying the music he wants outlawed in Brighton.

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At 9:35 PM, Blogger by the Pink Pasty said...

The police are HOMOPHOBICALLY also attacking gay art/artists as well. See this video on youtube regarding police treatment of a gay artist in Cornwall.

At 10:36 AM, Blogger Cheezy said...

Great post, and I share your scepticism that the arts are a root cause of anti-social behaviour.

You're also right that Britain isn't a police state - we're a long way from 1970s Argentina or something like that - however, I think it's easy to identify a nasty authoritarian streak within the current government, and we have to guard against this sort of 'thin end of the wedge' stuff (like clamping down artistic freedom... even if, in this case, it's the freedom to be a crap poet).

At 12:07 PM, Blogger Phil A said...

Some excellent thoughts.

The fact is that the response to art is largely the responsibility of the observer.

I can conceive of things that if come across suddenly might reasonably provoke a violent reaction – such as coming home and unexpectedly finding ones long term partner in the throws of passion with another, or coming upon someone helpless being beaten.

Art, poetry, probably not though.

Sadly I fear it is beyond doubt that our liberties and freedoms are being eroded away though, in many instances, in many ways.

This government seems to seek to regulate and compel the behaviour it’s ruling elite expect of it’s subjects.

At 9:53 PM, Blogger marvin said...

To all intents and purposes, Malik was found guilty of harbouring some sick ideas, and some really bad poems. To lock someone up and waste the time of the Old Bailey just because we don't like someones poems is a far more dangerous

Common misconception here.

She was not locked up at all. She was given a 9 month suspended sentence.

And she actively assisted somebody preparing to carry out acts of terrorism.,,30100-1299850,00.html

So it wasn't just "bad thoughts" or just a "bad poet".

At 9:54 PM, Blogger marvin said...

The terrorist and the shop girl:

At 12:12 AM, Anonymous Courtney Hamilton said...

Hi Marvin,

I'm not quite sure what point you were trying to make here, nevertheless, the BBC article you linked was quite instructive.

The article argues that 'Malik, convicted last year in a trial... made no mention of Qureshi'. Which suggests that Malik was convicted solely on the basis of her poems and being in possession of a Mujahideen handbook - which is not my idea of serious criminal activity.

Also, the article states that 'the pair never met in person' - indeed, Malik's observations about airport security measures are not exactly revelations are they? The information she gave was in fact common knowledge - no big secret.

The police argue that Malik was 'well aware of Qureshi's violent extremist views', however, we will just have to take their word for it as the article does not provide any evidence for this.

I'll leave the last words to Qureshi's defense lawyers 'Qureshi was a Walter Mitty figure fantasising about becoming a hero... he exaggerated his importance to impress others'.

At 12:46 AM, Anonymous Courtney Hamilton said...

Apologies Marvin,

Your first comment landed in my junk box for some reason and my reply relates to the 'terrorist and shop girl link'.

You are correct, Malik was not imprisoned, she was found guilty and given a suspended sentence - the way I structured that sentence, does on reflection, imply that she was.

What I should have said was something like 'to arrest, and bring to court a rubbish poet'.

I still stand by what I posted, and the article on Sky News sheds no more light on how Malik 'actively assisted somebody preparing to carry out acts of terrorism' than the BBC article you gave me. Again, it appears that we would just have to take their word for it - however, that, I cannot do.

Nullius in Verba
(Latin: "On the words of no one")

Thank you for you comment.


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