Wednesday, July 09, 2008


June was pretty eventful. It rained, clouds burst, lightening flickered and people shouted quite a bit. So while Europe played some spry football in relentless rain and as parts of India witnessed their first queer parade, Kashmir marched to re-claim its forest land. The endgame warmed some hearts and ached others. So while the Spaniards walked away with the UEFA cup and the unqueer bystanders watched the Delhi parade in a mix of horror and amusement, two significant things went completely unnoticed.

Both things concern us -- at a very basic level. And they are both connected to the larger question of human freedom and civil liberty. First, the US Supreme Court ruled on a key constitutional case. The 5-4 verdict stated that all prisoners detained at Guantánamo Bay are now constitutionally entitled to bring Habeas Corpus in a federal court to challenge the legality of their detention, thus upholding the iconic right of any individual, whether guilty or not, to petition. Second, in the UK, the very courageous David Davis, Britain’s shadow home secretary shocked everyone when he resigned over a proposed 42-day detention plan [part of the Counter Terrorism Bill] authored by Messer’s Gordon Brown and co.

Both instances have been moral victories, if nothing else, for all those who value and cherish freedom and who find it preposterous that Prez Bush and his British acolytes are hell bent on trampling the fundamental freedoms of human beings. Bush, the war-monger, whose political countdown has already begun and who is, for sure, going to go down in text-books as a classical case of America’s most stupid Prez, began this by suspending the most efficient safeguard of the liberty of a human being -- the Habeas Corpus. Under Bush, anyone with a slightly different skin-hue, could arise the suspicion of the state, and hence could be held against his wish. Interrogated and thrown in some hell-hole to rot. Worse still, he could not fight or prove his innocence in any court of law. Thankfully the Supreme Court, in its June 2008 order, set the record straight -- while Bush is still in the dying days of his flawed Presidency. That is like one more egg on his arrogant face.

Across the Atlantic, continuing with the mini-me policies of the discredited Tony Blair, one fine afternoon Gordon Brown came up with his own parchment of draconian laws. He wanted to extend the detention period of anyone, innocent or otherwise, with a slightly different hue of skin -- and hence perfectly mistrustful -- to 42 full days from the current 28, reducing the emblematic and historic Magna Carta to a joke. Having convinced the Conservatives, Brown did manage to pass the parchment in the House of Commons. Just when it looked like a connivance, there was light: David Davis stood up in the Westminster to tell his own party and Brown -- that they had got it all messed up. Just like the kid in Andersen’s Emperors new clothes, he uttered the real truth: The 42-day joke was nothing more than an erosion of civil liberties in the United Kingdom. David resigned, while Brown fumed. However hope bobbed in the island country.

As I post, a major poll for the respected Joseph Rowntree Reform Trust has found that more than 61% of Britons believe six weeks detention is too long. The Upper house in the British Parliament or the House of Lords appears set to reject Brown’s parchment, since Labor has no majority in the upper house. Most political scientists in the UK now opine that the 42-day clause is almost certain to be scooped out of the Counter Terrorism Bill and thrown into history‘s trash bin. Meantime, David Davis is expected to do well, as he stands for a by-election tomorrow, having resigned his MP post on the issue, and stirring a nation-wide debate on liberty and rights in his country. I hope he makes it.

But that the roar of thy Democracies,
Thy reigns of Terror, thy great Anarchies,
Mirror my wildest passions like the sea,
And give my rage a brother! Liberty!

Oscar Wilde wrote in the Sonnet to Liberty. It was in the 19th century. I am convinced he was right, then, as he sounds now.