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Foreign Correspondent
by international syndicated columnist & broadcaster Eric Margolis


Copyright: Eric S. Margolis, 2006

February 20, 2006

LONDON - Britain used to be called the `Mother of Freedoms.’ From its shores came the institutions and constitutional rights that form the framework of many modern democracies.

Hyde Park Corner used to symbolize free speech in Britain. There, each Sunday morning, orators of every sort would mount soapboxes and say whatever they pleased. Nothing was taboo, not even the queen.

No more. Last week, PM Tony Blair rammed an outrageous new law through Parliament making `glorification of terrorism’ a criminal offense.

Across the Atlantic, Blair’s big brother, President George W. Bush, is in deep political trouble over the Iraq debacle, mounting casualties in Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina, and the storm of national ridicule caused by trigger-happy VP Dick Cheney.

The image of Cheney, America’s supreme warlord, who evaded military service during the Vietnam War, blasting defenseless little birds and an unlucky friend, probably damaged the Bush Administration more in the public eye than all its blatant lies about Iraq.

The only area in which Bush still commands favorable public support is his so-called war on terrorism. Incidentally, the Pentagon just proclaimed a `long war’ against terrorism – meaning an Orwellian endless struggle against a ghostly foe that hopefully will keep flag-waving, small town residents and suburbanites voting Republican, and defense plants running three shifts indefinitely.

Here in Britain, Tony Blair’s power is eroding. He has been repeatedly exposed as a serial liar over Iraq. Britons have much less patience with lying politicians than their American cousins, and the Iraq war is highly unpopular in Briton. In sharp contrast to the servile US media, Britain’s feisty press keeps slamming Blair for dishonesty, shiftiness, hypocrisy and increasing totalitarian impulses.

How to reverse Labour’s waning fortunes? Monkey see, monkey do. Follow your leader, George W. Bush. Whip up the voters over terrorism even though there is no such thing. As Prince Hassan of Jordan observed with impeccable logic, `terrorism is a tactic, not a definable enemy.’

Britons are demanding more security after the 7 July bombings of London’s Underground that killed 52. I was boarding the Underground’s Victoria Line when the bombs started going off.

Tighter security is certainly in order. Any militant groups -Muslim radicals, Tamil Tigers, Sikh separatists, etc – who resort to violence in the UK should be jailed for long term, then expelled. No cause, however noble, justifies targeting civilians.

But a vague law mandating prison for `glorifying terrorism’ reeks of totalitarianism and undermines Britain’s reputation as a font of democracy and justice. A reputation, by the way, that has suffered because of the increasing use by the government of so-called security notices to keep sensitive or embarrassing secrets from public scrutiny.

The very term `terrorism’ has become a propaganda tool. To preserve the status quo, the Great Powers decided to brand all armed struggles against oppression and injustice as `terrorism.’

Palestinians resisting Israeli occupation and land expropriation. Tiny bands of Chechen mujahidin fighting Russian genocide in the Caucasus. Guerillas battling brutal communist regimes in Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kazakstan. Filipino Muslims resisting Christian invaders seizing their farms. Muslim Uigher Chinese battling ethnic inundation by Han Chinese settlers.

Southern Thais battling growing repression by the Bangkok government. Oromo fighting Ethiopia’s Marxist regime; Kashmiri’s fighting for independence from Indian misrule. All are now `terrorists.’ America’s Mideast satraps, Pakistan, Malaysia and Turkey have joined this charade.

Today, mounting a Hyde Park soapbox to praise the Chechen’s valiant struggle against impossible odds, or urging Palestinians, Kashmiris, Iraqis, Afghans or Irish to keep resisting illegal foreign occupation is now a crime.

Terrorism has erased the term justice from our minds.

The litmus test of free speech is letting people you detest say what they chose, and defending their right to say things that may be painfully hateful or deeply stupid.

Tony Blair just trampled this basic British right. He might as well have blown up one of Parliament’s towers. Britain now joins sleazy, third-world despotisms where The Glorious Leader alone determines what one may and may not say

Stopping the ravings a handful of loud-mouthed fanatics like the recently jailed British Imam, Abu Hamza, is not worth the price of endangering Britain’s sacrosanct freedoms.

History shows such gag laws are soon followed by graver crimes like `insulting the nation,’ or `insulting the leadership.’ Then, by crimes like `encouraging anti-state activities,’ and, finally, that gulag gate-opener, being `an enemy of the people.’


  • A Chinese government delegation recently visited the easternmost Maginot Line fort in Alsace, mighty Schoenenbourg. Question: why were the Red Chinese poking around France’s great line of 1930’s fortifications?

    Were they merely comparing Great Walls? Are they planning to buy the Maginot Line and turn its vast underground galleries into factories? Or are they planning to build their own, updated version of the Great Wall of France?

  • Speaking of the Maginot Line, at its time, the fortress system was the most advanced piece of military technology on earth and a stupor mundi. Since then, French have always considered themselves as masters of advanced technology, contrary to the American view that France produces only cheese, wine and insolent, insubordinate leaders. This week, President Jacques Chirac is off in India, trying to peddle Airbus aircraft and nuclear reactors – to the chagrin of the Americans who have been hotly romancing the Indians.

Published at since 1995 with permission, as a courtesy and in appreciation.

To read previous columns by Mr. Margolis: Click here

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