I lost my posting nerve today. The loss of confidence happened after the thought that the leaders of our nations have a duty of care. That thought took me to a keyboard to tap out my idea that leadership requires a set of standards by which leadership performance can be assessed. Perhaps we need an international body, I thought. Tentatively, I wondered if the International Bill of Human Rights might have the teeth. And then I began to seriously worry that I have no self-appointed right to express unqualified personal opinions in such a public forum as an online journal. My musings might constitute noise. Or misinformation. Considered dangerous by some perhaps. Danger is relative. Could something as simple as an E at the end of your name mark you as a Catholic? A English friend of mine thinks it could one day. “No matter now” he said, “because Catholicism is being tolerated”. But we know pograms happen. And like it or not, it’s complacency that enables them. A read of Antonio Tabucchi’s novel Pereira Maintains is a very instructive what-if.
And lacking confidence, I printed my draft musings, something I’d not done in this campaign. I marked them up. I edited them. Rewrote, rephrased and diluted them. Green ink all over the page, I lost the sense of them. And put them aside.
Later, a lot later, I thought about some events I wrote about last year but had kept on file.
Dateline October 2019 London: We hugged someone this evening. We embraced a ‘disobedient’ journalist and human rights defender. We were concerned for her and her family after security forces had again raided her home this morning. They knew she was overseas yet felt the need to deploy over thirty police officers [to break down her front door]. Once inside, at 5 am, they put a rifle to her husband’s head in front of their children. This seems to have been their clumsy and brutal reply to her documenting human rights violations and war crimes. Not their first visit. This time, their justification is an investigation into her social media posts criticising their military offensives.
“Can you imagine …?” is how she often starts or ends stories that are beyond our imaginings.
We also met her last week at a [PEN International] vigil [poetry reading] to mark the second anniversary of the assassination of Maltese investigative journalist and anti-corruption campaigner, Daphne Caruana Galizia. We heard from the ‘disobedient’ journalist that her door had been broken down once before and how on a subsequent raid, she saw the police coming and opened the door to them, thwarting their messaging.
The occasion for tonight’s hugs was a performance dedicated to Ahmet Altan, the Turkish writer jailed for life for disobedience. The location was the Southbank Centre in London where Phillipe Sands presented a work based on his 2016 book East West Street: On The Origins Of Genocide And Crimes Against Humanity. A powerful use of dramaturgy involving narration, song, piano works, photos and video told how the many named city of Lemberg played a major part in the origination of the concepts of genocide and crimes against humanity. Above all perhaps, a story about the words that define a system of rules intended to protect human dignity.
“Does it matter whether the law seeks to protect you because you are an individual or because of the group of which you happen to be a member?” wrote Sands in East West Street.
Retrospection is a powerful tool. Humanity can punish those guilty of past crimes. Perhaps the agents who murdered Daphne Caruana Galizia will be prosecuted. Perhaps those who ordered it will be exposed.
‘Disobedience’, however, continues to be a relative assessment. The expression of ideas contrary to the notions of governments and their power brokers can put you in mortal danger in many parts of the world.
Enduring obedience is not a right of the state. However, authorities may restrict our rights regarding freedom of expression if they can show that their action is lawful, necessary and proportionate. As a metric, should not these restrictions be justifiable to the global community? Anything less might be considered modern feudalism.
For many writers, it’s not just conscience that makes them ‘disobedient’. There is also an awful sense of complicity in selective silence.
We wish this ‘disobedient’ journalist and her family to be safe and secure in their home city. While we’d like an end to all hostilities, for as long as they persist, we hope she and other writers will continue to document war crimes, crimes against humanity and bear witness to genocides.