Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Blair turns Kafka into reality

I’ve decided to re-read Franz Kafka’s “Der Prozess” (The Trial). His writings gave us the term “Kafkaesque”, an adjective often employed to describe some surreal distortion of reality. However, this reality has finally arrived with the government’s intended new anti-terrorism laws.

This is how it starts: “Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K., he knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested.” It is the story of a law-abiding citizen who wrongly believes the authorities won’t target him if he has done nothing wrong. Under Blair’s ultra-right-wing New Labour government (Kafkaesque, isn’t it) this experience has become the norm for hundreds of people locked up under suspicion of terrorism only to be released without charge but with their lives permanently damaged.

At the moment police can only hold suspects for up to two weeks, but with the new proposals we are moving a step closer to Kafka’s absurd reality. Once people are held for a whole three months without due process, they loose touch with reality and will have great difficulties rebuilding their lives. The poor character in Kafka’s story, of course, does not get released at all, he gets executed.

I am sure our government would prefer it that way, too. Having to release people after admitting that there was not an iota of evidence against them is embarrassing. That’s why the government also wants to be able to use secret evidence which does not have to be produced in open court. Already we held foreign subjects imprisoned without them being able to even know the nature of the charges against them until our law lords decided that it was inhumane to do so. Hastily the government arranged for “control orders” to keep the same people under house arrest.

Now if you are arrested without being told why, kept for 90 days in the hope that you will finally be willing to sign anything just to get it over and done with, charged with an offence of aiding terrorism (a word on whose meaning the UN could not agree on in its last general assembly), and neither you nor your lawyers will be allowed to get to see the evidence which will only be presented to a specially selected judge – well, you’d be forgiven to think the world has gone mad. It’s a leaf right out of Kafka’s “The Trial”.

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