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Op-Ed: Locked up for reading a poem in Bahrain

By Alexander Baron     Jun 2, 2011 in Politics
An article relating to the arrest of a young woman in Bahrain urging caution in evaluating the situation, and the aversion of double standards.
One of the big stories concerning the so-called Arab Spring this morning is that of 20-year-old Ayat al-Gormezi (transliterations of her name vary). According to The Independent, she was Locked up for reading a poem; other reports including from the Iranian press agencies condemn this apparent act of political repression; the Iranians claim the student poet was murdered or even raped and murdered. Maybe they know something we don’t, or maybe “spin” isn’t entirely a British phenomenon.
Although this woman is allegedly a political prisoner and possibly even a martyr, we have been told very little about her. Another report says she was arrested after reading her poems (plural) apparently in front of a number of protesters. The same report adds a strange twist: “The government is trying to force her to write a poem praising Prime Minister Sheikh Khalifa ibn Salman Al Khalifa,” but “she tried to do it, but could not think what to write. Now she is refusing to write”.
One piece of information that appears to have eluded the major search engines is the name/text of the poem or poems she was allegedly arrested for reading. Obviously this sort of thing could never happen in Britain. Or could it? Ask Samina Malik. In November 2007, this twenty-three year old Moslem achieved the dubious honour of becoming the first woman to be convicted under the new Terrorism Act. Malik called herself the Lyrical Terrorist because it sounded “cool”, a phrase one could hardly imagine passing the lips of the late and unlamented Osama Bin Laden – that is assuming he really is dead!
She had also downloaded material from the Internet, the mere possession of which according to a senior police officer was “a serious criminal offence." That doesn’t sound quite so sinister when one realises that the possession of photographs of public buildings, such as can be downloaded from many government or tourist websites, have also been considered serious criminal offences in the war on terror, and prima facie evidence of the preparation of terrorist acts.
In June 2008, the Court of Appeal quashed Malik’s conviction, after which the CPS insisted she had not been prosecuted for publishing her poems but “for possessing documents that could provide practical assistance to terrorists”.
One of her poems is called How To Behead, and really is as graphic as it sounds, but novels, films and even TV series can be just as graphic, indeed more so.
If the lurid, or some might say playfully mischievous, poems of the somewhat youthful Miss Malik gave some people cause for alarm, there have been many prosecutions of far less harmful material in Britain, including of cartoons. One person who had his collar felt for this heinous crime as long ago as 1981 was the cartoonist Robert Edwards. His “crime” was to produce a children’s comic which fell foul of Britain’s then already Draconian Race Relations Act. The subject he chose – Jews and the Second World War – is still considered off-limits today. Thirty years later, Edwards is still drawing cartoons, and like all good political cartoonists, he uses a scattergun approach. Although a nationalist, over the past few years he has produced a fair number of cartoons that have made him more than a few enemies in those rarified circles.
Since 1981, there have been a large number of arrests and prosecutions in Britain for “crimes” that in the United States with its constitutional safeguards of free speech and liberty though still considered unpleasant, are not crimes in any sense of the word. At one time it was white racists who were the principal targets of this sort of arbitrary state tyranny, but of late Moslems have increasingly been targeted, including those who are less tolerant of homosexuality than the scriptwriters of EastEnders, who have recently written a gay Moslem into the show’s plot.
Of course, none of this means that we should not condemn the abuse of human rights and civil liberties in Bahrain and everywhere else, but we should not condemn other governments for doing what our own government does unless we condemn the same repression just as vigorously, and we should reserve judgment until we have had a chance to evaluate what this young woman actually wrote. If she called for free speech and freedom of association, fine, but if she called for the beheading of the Royal Family, maybe we should think again.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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