Prague, 1965May 11, 2010
Hey, these must be those “interesting times” the Chinese were banging on about! Life sure is hella interesting at the moment, isn’t it? Hung parliaments and that? The freefall feeling is quite bracing in a way. Who knows what’s coming next? Anything’s possible! Wheeeeee!
The thing is, while most of us are waiting for the other shoe to drop, for the full force of these interesting times to come down and do a bit of major league squishing upside all our heads, a young man named Paul Chambers has already had his passport well and truly stamped by them. Paul is the man who, excited about traveling to Belfast to a girl he had met through Twitter, posted the following Tweet:
“Crap! Robin Hood Airport is closed. You’ve got a week and a bit to get your shit together otherwise I’m blowing the airport sky high!!”
Yesterday, he was found guilty of sending an “indecent, obscene or menacing” message and received a £1000 fine and a criminal record. On top of all this, he lost his job and Crazy Colours (the girl he was originally flying over to meet) said yesterday “Paul was half way through qualifying as an accountant. This conviction means he can’t qualify now. His career is ruined.”
Ever read ‘The Joke’ by Milan Kundera? It’s good! Not my favourite novel by the man, but holy shit, guess what it’s about! (Forgive me for copying and pasting the Wikipedia synopsis).
Written and set in 1965 Prague, the novel opens with Ludvik Jahn looking back on the joke that changed his life in the early 1950s. In a playful mood, he writes a postcard to a girl in his class during their summer break… “Optimism is the opium of the people! A healthy atmosphere stinks of stupidity! Long live Trotsky!” His colleagues and fellow young-party leaders do not quite see the humor in the sentiment expressed in the postcard. Ludvik finds himself expelled from the party and college and drafted to a part of the Czech military where alleged subversives form work brigades and spend the next few years working in mines.
Jack of Kent is the man to read on why both prosecution and law are bunk in this case, so I won’ t try to add to that. I just wanted to address just the two or three people who I saw yesterday trotting the old “He was stupid to post the joke and deserves what he got” argument around the paddock. And that includes the Judge on the case, Jonathan Bennett, who said he was ‘satisfied’ the message was of a ‘menacing nature in the context of the time we live in’.
What all these people are essentially saying is this: because this country was made less safe by the hasty, reckless, duplicitous way in which Tony Blair took us into war (a war which only yesterday claimed 114 more lives), and because he will never be brought to justice for that, we must live in a state of paranoid readiness, a state of nervous anxiety, a humorless state that cannot tell the difference between a joke and a threat, for the foreseeable future. Because that one, massive crime will go unpunished, we shall all be punished in thousands of interesting ways.
As Robert Harris said, while we stand at airport security with our shoes in our hands, Tony Blair floats unimpeded through another part of the terminal.
As we sit by a ruined Tube station, picking rubble out of our hair, Tony Blair is on his way to a thousand quid a plate dinner in a bulletproof limo.
To those people who put forward the view that Paul is the one at fault here, I’d like to say, it’s not supposed to be like this. We’re not supposed to be scared of our shadows. We’re not supposed to be torturing people. We’re not supposed to be letting people get away with murder. We’re not supposed to be prosecuting people for offhand jokes.
If you want to follow the case, the #twitterjoketrial is the hashtag du jour. If you want to contribute to Paul’s fine/legal defence, details are here and here. If you want to complain about the case to the CPS, go here. I urge you to get involved in whatever way you can. We need to show these people that we refuse to live by their arbitrary, paranoid laws. We need to remind them that we are living in England, 2010, not Prague 1965. While we can’t avoid some of the interesting times up ahead, we can at least carry ourselves with some dignity through them.