SLIPPERY SLOPES AND SILVER LININGS

Over the past few days, we’ve received two reminders of how societies bereft of basic civil liberties and intolerant of criticism or dissent operate. In Saudi Arabia, the women’s rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul was sentenced to five years and eight months for ‘spying with foreign parties’ and ‘conspiring against the kingdom’. One of the prominent campaigners to demand Saudi women be granted the considerable privilege of putting their feet on a pedal and steering a wheel, she had already been detained for over two years without charge; even though her sentence is to be backdated to her initial detainment in May 2018, her potential early release on parole will come with the caveat of a five-year travel ban and a three-year threat of a return to prison should she be deemed to be committing the same ‘crimes’. Loujain al-Hathloul claims she was tortured and sexually harassed during the period before her sentencing, and whilst her case is an undoubted abuse of human rights, it falls into a familiar middle-eastern tradition that could happen at any time.

A case more pertinent to the unique conditions of 2020 occurred in China when Zhang Zhan, a ‘citizen journalist’ who had posted online critiques of the Chinese Government’s response to the embryonic pandemic in Wuhan earlier this year, was sentenced to four years. Eight whistleblowers have already been punished for criticising how the CCP dealt with events in Wuhan, but Zhang Zhan received a wider audience via her videos and blogs reporting on the situation and challenging the party line. Found guilty of spreading ‘false remarks’ and ‘picking quarrels and provoking trouble’, Zhang has been on hunger strike since June and, following in a proud tradition established over a century ago to treat Suffragettes protesting the same way, she has been force-fed by her captors courtesy of the good old nasal tube. The manner of punishment dished out to both Loujain al-Hathloul and Zhang Zhan should serve as a potent lesson in how a West we are constantly being told is an utterly oppressive place to live has some serious competition for that accolade in other corners of the globe. But maybe our own democratically-elected overlords are the ones learning that lesson.

A government beholden to scientific and medical advisors whose sudden elevation to positions of power has given them carte-blanche to let their fantasy totalitarian blueprints for society run riot is not one any of us should invest our trust in. The general population is not so dim that it can’t calculate the positive effects of the measures introduced to prevent the rise in coronavirus infections that it has endured for the best part of ten months are, at best, minimal. In terms of achieving their overall aim, they just don’t bloody work. If incessant lockdowns, social distancing, the wearing of masks, the cancelling of ordinary social pursuits and the prevention of mingling with family and friends did work, the virus would have been severely downgraded by now – the magic vaccine not withstanding; instead, with the evidence of these policies’ failure all around us, the Government and its motley crew of megalomaniac cranks and quacks are ramping up the restrictions with a dangerous blend of desperation and self-righteousness. Tier 3 wasn’t enough, so Tier 4 came along; and now we’re informed Tier 4 is no good either. How many Tiers does it take to change a light-bulb?

When the public were gearing up to put the restrictions on temporary hold for a few days in order to enjoy Christmas, the ‘mutant strain’ (which had been held in reserve for just such a moment) was suddenly detonated to justify cancelling festivities. How convenient. And, if the latest Tiers produce the same results as all the ones before, who’s to blame for the rising infection rates? Well, not ‘the science’, obviously; no, it’s all the fault of those members of the public who aren’t doing as they’re told, of course. One doesn’t have to venture far into any shopping parade to realise the majority are observing the rules; the idea that the naughty minority disobeying the rules are a big enough section of the population to affect infection rates is laughable, but let’s not let that get in the way of passing the buck and absolving Government and the likes of SAGE from any blame, shall we? Yup, it’s our old default friend, divide and rule again. Point to dying grannies on trolleys in hospital corridors and then point to the nominated guilty parties to neutralise any deviation from the narrative. Question or criticise and you’ve got octogenarian blood on your hands. It’s your fault that new box of Werther’s Original will now never be opened, you sadistic, seditious traitor.

The apocalyptic prophesises of a ‘Covid Catastrophe’ pale next to the grim reality of the ‘Lockdown Catastrophe’, a killer which will have far more catastrophic ramifications for decades if the disastrous approach applied so far isn’t abandoned soon. The Doomsday predictions which repeatedly emanate from that deluded, fantasist clown Neil Ferguson sound more and more like an administration and its crackpot advisors scraping the bottom of a propaganda barrel to legitimise the continuation and strengthening of newfound powers it doesn’t want to relinquish. No, we’re not Saudi Arabia or China – that goes without saying; but where are we going if we stay on this path? Hardly towards a freer democratic society. Look at what we’ve already surrendered without a fight over the last few months, based on the pretext that each sacrifice was for the greater good. This time last year, would any of us have believed the extent of what we’ve given away in 2020? And where the hell will we be this time next year if this situation carries on?

The media lapdogs’ abandonment of their duty to question the wisdom of Government policy in 2020 perhaps reflects the manner in which newspaper proprietors and TV broadcasters have dispensed with their most authoritative and independent voices over the past decade; you can’t move on Fleet Street for the chattering of chickens that have come home to roost in the derelict newsrooms of every once-great paper. If any public service is struggling to cope with the demands placed upon it in the current crisis, chances are it’s because budgets have been annually slashed in a relentless tide of underinvestment that never anticipated a time when it’d be needed again; similarly, don’t expect any media outlet to abruptly regain its long-lost mojo when all the journalists whose talented pens put those outlets on the map have been pensioned off or simply sacked over the last few years. It’s no wonder the MSM response to this situation has been so supine and spineless.

All the most measured, rational, intelligent and eloquent responses this year have been found online. Yes, Twitter has a lot to answer for, but highlighting the worst offenders on social media as evidence that cyberspace is as much a stew of deliberate misinformation, lies and biased bullshit as any medium of older vintage is like holding up ‘Love, Actually’ as evidence that all British cinema is shit. In fact, one cannot but admire the true voices of sanity and reason that have fought for the right to be heard in a climate that has seen big tech try to silence any dissenters that have dared to question the prevailing and suffocating orthodoxy. The mere fact those voices have dared to speak and have made so many isolated individuals genuinely feel they’re not alone in 2020 has been the sole crumb of comfort and sliver of hope for a future that this God-awful year has offered. And, as long as those voices can continue to be heard in 2021, there is hope that twelve months from now we won’t find ourselves living in an offshore suburb of Riyadh or Beijing, bereft of any proof of who we used to be or who we really are.

© The Editor