[Written end October, 2012 as part of the Letters to Europeans project run by the ALICE project] I write as a human rights activist of twenty years plus, and I write to say there should be no such concept. It is dead, defunct and we can no longer shoulder the weight of its corrupt genesis. Many have tried with good heart and clean intentions to make its terms those of universal connection, whereby all can be equal and in that universal good, we can speak of shared humanity. Except, except, except it is that corrosive idea of humanity that is born of (elite) (European) MAN’s desire to consume and control that defines it, and so now its tyranny must end.
This is a fight, but we are not European men that we will use bombs and bullets back at those who have killed us. We will write and we will use those weapons that have you once controlled and use to hurt us most You wrenched our souls with them and tore our hearts and condemned us to servitude, slavery and subordination this way– so we will speak words.
These are my words to the idea of the European. To a man who shows why the idea of European values is a misnomer. If the idea of meritocracy and democracy was even true by its own internal reasoning then Talha, you would be a European. Instead you languish in a dungeon in the usurped land where heinous crimes of extermination set in motion the creation of European identity against the ‘other’. I write to Teresa, a woman. You have embodied all that socialisation to a European male norm entails, and your actions mirror the subjugation of European women dressed up as liberation – a cruel joke for all those oppressed who suffer at the hands of all those subjugated others who have joined the elite ranks as faithful, blind soldiers.
And I write to Tony, who needs no introduction. Your bloody warmongering has fuelled the resurgence of a white patriotism that defies national bounds. It is you that have made clear that war is just when those you fight against are cast – by you – as not worthy of the appellation human. For them the right to life and security and peace are denied in service of your rapacious (tautologous) supremacism. Human rights were your weapon to use to dehumanise most of the world as non-human wrongdoers. This is the binary we will now defy (not invert), and we will eventually win because we have hope in the Good and True, which your terms and values do not hold.
To Syed Talha Ahsan, detained without charge for 6 years in Her Majesty’s Prison Long Lartin, UK and extradited to the USA on October 3, 2012 for alleged cybercrimes.
I hope and pray you are well. That is all we can do. We have not heard from you – a phone call, a letter, none of the last vestiges of contact a prisoner can have – have been allowed you, since your government expelled you from the UK where you were born and raised. You suffer Special Administrative Measures (SAMs) – torture by any other name, and named as such if they existed in any country outside the realm of European ideological and political hegemony. You are in solitary confinement thousands of miles away from ‘home’.
Your poetry, for which you have been highly acclaimed, is writ in English, as sonnets and sestinas, and free flowing lyric from the heart. Novelists and laureats have supported you, and yet you are left to rot a slow death of a so-called ‘terror suspect’, though who you terrorised and how is still not explained except by association with a website.
You were extradited while Muslims world-wide were being castigated for their protests against a video insulting our beloved Prophet Muhammad, may the peace and blessing of Allah be upon him. At the same time another young Muslim man was jailed for the crime of ‘gross insult’ for wishing all NATO alliance troops serving in Afghanistan and Iraq to go to hell. We are told to believe in free speech, but speech is only free when it is to spew hatred against us, to demonise us and a world full of ‘others’. Speech is only free when it is a tool of violence against us. I do not know whether your website sowed the seeds of hate against ‘Western values’ it was accused of. Even if it did, isn’t it yet to be defended as all the institutionalised languages and discourses of hate that justify the wars being waged against us? I do know your poetry has been described in its Gnosticism as akin to Julian of Norwich. Another victim of a male, white hegemonic discourse, Julian’s mediaeval murder – by long slow solitude in history bereft of beatification – is still not resolved in the march of violence upon which Europe is built. Except she is revered by some as a martyr, and others as a seminal poet. If human rights apply to all, then that could be you. But then if human rights applied to all, if you were considered human, you would not be where you are now.
When last we spoke, you thanked us at IHRC and all who campaigned for you to be released, or at the very least to be charged and tried in the UK for the crimes you were alleged of committing. You know I have no belief in the system that held you – a poet for our generation – as a terrorist. Yet, when you asked for me to visit that Sunday after your last court hearing trying to stop the impending extradition, because as you said, “It could be the last time we can meet,” I didn’t still believe that if you lost your case, I wouldn’t be able to see you. And you did lose. It was Friday. I glanced at the computer screen and the news, not from any mainstream channel but campaigners outside the prison. A single photo showed that a van with you in it, had already left. A plane had landed not today, or this evening, it did not even set off after the judgement that decreed your exile. It left a week before to await the decision in favour of the US government even before your case had been heard. This was unremarked upon, except with complaints as to why this process had taken so long. ‘Our’ Home Secretary, Teresa May, was sorry (to her British, white, European public) for the delay.
To Teresa May, Home Secretary (Minister for Home Affairs, Minister of the Interior), in the Conservative-Liberal Democrat Coalition government, United Kingdom.
Farida Ahsan wrote to you this year and asked you one mother to another to consider the plight of her son, detained without charge for 6 years. I am not sure, but I don’t think you answered. The story of the letter did not make it into any journal that you could read, or which could pressure you to make any decision. You did listen, it turned out, to the case made by another mother Janis Sharp, and the national newspapers who advocated for her son Gary McKinnon. You blocked his extradition to the USA, two weeks after you extradited Talha. To extradite Gary, you said, would violate his ‘human rights’. Gary’s ordeal lasted ten years. He has admitted hacking into the Pentagon and other high security servers in the USA, and had been bailed during this decade long drama which saw requests for him to be sent to the USA to be tried for cybercrimes that actually would fall within the remit of ‘terrorism’. He suffers from Aspergers syndrome and has been assessed as a suicide risk. This in total has made you consider his case unacceptable, unlike those of the ‘five terror suspects’ you mention in passing whose cases you highlight as sound. Not for them, but because of Gary- a human- you have decided to change the extradition arrangements.
You and your supporters see no contradiction, nothing to indict you or them in what has been said. Talha also has Aspergers and was assessed a suicide risk. This had no bearing on his case. This did not constitute him as human.
Teresa it was better you did not lie. Gary is human because he is white, not black, he is European not Muslim. The climate is so poisonous, people – your people might even applaud you. After all, the Daily Mail had long ago campaigned for Gary to be kept and tried in the UK, under the banner ‘British Justice for British Citizens’ whilst calling for Talha to be sent away.
Like your precursors of supposedly different political persuasions, those high ranking women who are supposed exemplars of women’s emancipation only possible through the emulation of a European teleology of progress, you have fed us the lie that our failure to emulate your heights is due to our inferiority. Inside you must know, you must feel the depth of your hypocrisy and betrayal of your gender if not all the oppressed, as you trade with the devil you meant once (perhaps) to overthrow. You have power now, but to effect what? Your power – in your own cultural canon is that of minions – and Mephistopholes will tell you, time and again as he tells all Doctors Faustus – that you live ten thousand hells for being separated by your choice from the face of God. Maybe I will be jailed now for gross insult.
You think your position proves the meritocracy you espouse, but it simply condemns it. You employ the language of anti-terrorism to terrorise those you deem minorities, except they make up the majority of the world’s population whom you oppress within and without your borders, the difference being only severity and methodology. That said, sometimes they are the same. As two of ‘these’ women are battered to death every week, or have their eyes gouged out by their boyfriends, or are raped in their hundreds of thousands (your statistics) every year and you cut the budget to deal with domestic violence, all (‘these’) women are safe in the knowledge the that they are not the victims of honour killings like ‘those’ Muslim / brown / black ‘others’ upon whom your daisy cutters and drones have enacted a bloody lesson in the superiority (and reality) of European values. They can feel safe that all the ailments they/ we bring on ourselves with stilettos, platforms and pointy toes to be feminine mean that we are free. Indeed your PR gurus primed you for power with a makeover while in opposition which made you famous then and now for your sexy kitten heels. You / we are not like those Chinese girls whose feet are bound at birth (or is it in childhood) to enforce a notion of beauty on them that cripples them for life. How happy are we.
You keep the ‘majority’ of those within your jurisdiction down by the idea that you (and only you) protect them from the insidious others, who want their jobs, their privileges and their lifestyle whilst hating everything good – democracy, human and women’s (because they are separate in your canon) rights and free trade.
One of the last poems Talha wrote was to you Teresa. Deeply ironic, he called you his muse. I wonder whether, like his mother’s letter, you read it. She wrote to you as a mother, but you denied that she was one. Your decision – announced in kitten heels and with no sense of shame of irony – to save Janis’ son affirmed her motherhood and the loss of your soul. You have denied the humanity of all those ‘others’ but it is your spirit that is sold.
To Tony Blair, former British Prime Minister 1997 – 2007, New Labour government, and current envoy for the European Union to the Middle East
Your appointment Tony (I don’t accord you a proper greeting, addressing you directly compromises me enough), to your post as envoy symbolises everything that is humanly wrong with the idea of human rights. Your crimes are not disputed, or the ideas you used to justify them. Whilst some of us ‘here’, and most of us ‘over there’, want to prosecute your criminality, your acts of war and words of vengeance and dehumanisation are celebrated in your world as worthy, noble and good.
You are a known perpetrator and supporter of asymmetric (properly unilateral) war and the ideologue against any act or discourse of liberation that critiques a European world-view of dominance. Thus I will elaborate only to offer an alternative.
You told us that the rules of the game had changed, and that as Muslims we must accept women’s rights, human rights, free speech, homosexuality and deny any type of political Islam like khilafah or vali-e-faqih as inimical to democracy and modernity and all of the above. We should accept the existence of Israel and be silent to any of its (inherent) brutality. In a desperate bid for survival, or maybe just out of stupidity, our civil society capitulated in grati-servitude, yet it wasn’t enough.
Campaigners for the now extradited men, waved union flags and called for British justice to prevail. They went to the European Court of Human Rights and found in every sense they were decreed to be not human (enough) for these rights to apply. They went, just as the discourse states, individual over community, but they were judged against in a manner that reduces the non-European to a mass it is not only the ‘Muslim’ that will suffer the consequences.
Yet here is the rub. Now that we know there is no shared sense of citizenship where the same rules apply – now that we know we are a mass, we can do what individualism denied us. We claim what is ours collectively and we can name your crimes in usurping this from us. Land and wealth owned in trust for all not as our own were not only denied us, but our cultures and beliefs, even the fabric of our languages, their morality and their wisdom shorn of meaning if they did not comply with your vision of the end of Man. It is time for the end of MAN, the huMAN and all complicit ideas in HIS hegemony. Our way(s).
I am only speaking now as a Muslim, and even then these ideas are just some that have been lost in the march to progress. Imagine Tony, that we are not able to deny each other’s being. Neither you me nor I you. What could connect us is not the idea of humanity, or the idea that we have rights to counteract our inevitable wrongs.
What if we believed that we are all socially connected, we exist as a group and every act that we undertake has repercussions beyond our personal existence?
Every piece of food we waste, every drop of blood that is spilled, every young person incarcerated, tortured, killed affects not just ‘us’ but you too.
To make ‘us’ understood colonial translators have taken Islamic canons and used their own discourses to make known our beliefs. These have been taught back to us in a colonial age, retranslated in our various languages to show us either our barbarity against or unanimity with the cultures of power. If we believed that An-Nas is not as is translated MAN but is as it is derived from Quranic terms, social being, then suddenly you and I share the power and privilege of existence. You may try with violence to remove that power from me, but conceptually you never can. Already I / we defy, already you have lost half your armoury.
If you must use the term human rights, then they apply to all, but perhaps it is better we start talking about social rites – that which we do because we were created (to be) innately good. ‘Human rights’ as we know it creates a hierarchy of individual political and civil rights over the social and economic rights of the group. They also justify the hierarchy of human through to sub- and then non-human. When you ranked us according to belief, never really able to aspire to the highest level of humanity, you were mimicking that which the post-genocidal normative regime tried to build after the Second World War. A language born in European tradition, to be redemptive for the heinous murders of millions of Jews (Roma and blacks and Slavs and Russians too) by the Nazis (let us forget as you did, the Indians and Bengalis starved to death by the British and the North and West Africans, the hundreds and thousands of cannon fodder who died in Europe and were erased by design from collective memory for their heroism). It is nothing new. We had this discussion centuries ago when your forefathers needed to know whether those enslaved could be redeemed as child like imitators of your tradition or whether they had no soul at all and you could do exactly as you brutally pleased in good conscience. This cycle of meaning needs to be and will be broken and those enslaved by bringing their own words to the table, else we will all never be free.
Of course when we sit down to talk, which we must, whether you or I like it or not, you may bring your ideas, but remember that until now they have been proven for their real worth and we no longer will listen if all you do is bring the same in different guises. Of course you can continue to send the bombs, and impose sanctions and imprison us ‘here’ and ‘there’ directly and through your proxies. But we are using our words now and if you choose not to listen or read or care, it is you that loses not we, for we will carry on and though we will seek justice, we will not deny that you – even you – could gain your innate goodness if you but tried.
Arzu Merali is one of the founders of Islamic Human Rights Commission. You can read the rest of the Letters to the Europeans here.