By Linda S. Heard, Special to Gulf News
Watching old movies makes me sad. I'm inevitably reminded of a kindlier, gentler world without cameras that spy on populations, where overseas travelling was pleasurable and privacy was an individual's right.
Nowadays, states are usurping responsibilities that are rightfully those of their citizens. Western so-called democracies, in particular, are supposed to have governments that are servants of the people, whereas, in fact, the opposite is true. Under the guise of doing what's best for us or ensuring our security, governments are exercising more and more control over our lives. And, tragically, we are facilitating this erosion of our own freedoms, mostly because we're not even aware it's happening.
The US and Britain are leading the pack in this encroaching Orwellian nightmare. "War is peace; Freedom is slavery; Ignorance is strength," wrote George Orwell in his book Nineteen Eighty-Four. In recent years, they have waged wars in the name of peace, put entire populations under their thumb in the name of freedom while government spin and a compliant media serve to keep people ignorant about their leaders' true motives.
If we only knew it we are being indoctrinated to offer up our personal freedoms to save ourselves from a horrible fate at the hands of nicotine, calories and Al Qaida. We are being taught to fear asylum seekers, climate change, crazed terrorists and even each other. Western governments are perfecting the politics of fear because fearful populaces will do their bidding without question and willingly subject themselves to control.
Britain has become a master of this technique. It currently holds a data base containing the DNA of 4.5 million people, arrested for both serious crimes and minor infractions. The police have found this tool so useful they are pushing to expand it to cover everyone in the country although the Home Office has rejected the idea for the moment.
By 2012 Britons over 16 will be required to hold biometric ID cards checkable by police, immigration and customs officials as well as public and private bodies such as travel agencies, airlines, banks and even retailers.
By 2010, Britain is also expected to incorporate Radio Frequency Identification memory chip in passports designed to carry a wealth of personal data on travellers.
Further, there is a plan to embed RFID chips in vehicle number plates allowing authorities the capability of identifying any vehicle anywhere in all weathers. RFID chips have been embedded on every packet of cigarettes manufactured in the UK since October last year, while others have been fitted to trash cans officially to boost the rate of garbage recycling. Pets entering Britain from abroad are also chipped.
Apparently, the government is also considering injecting prisoners with RFID tags. If that goes ahead it's surely the slippery slope to babies being chipped at birth.
US has forced European airlines to hand over 19 pieces of information on travellers prior to their departure and wants to extend this one-way data flow to passengers over-flying the US en route to Central America and the Caribbean. UK wants the system to be used throughout Europe and domestically.
Not only do authorities want to control Britons' movements, they are also after their thoughts. Remember the Orwellian Thought Police, who used surveillance methods and psychological profiles to interpret the future goals of potential dissenters and deviants? This is already happening in the UK where people can expect to be caught on camera up to 300 times per day and where their phone calls and internet browsing is routinely monitored.
Earlier this month, three British Appeal judges had the good sense to quash the convictions of five young Muslims, prosecuted for simply downloading "extremist propaganda" from the internet. There was no other evidence against them and no proof they intended to act on any message contained in such material. In other words, their initial conviction was purely based on thought crime. The judgment read: "Literature may be stored in a book or on a bookshelf, or on a computer drive, without any intention on the part of the possessor to make any future use of it all."
Big Brother Britain isn't working. Indeed, the prisons are full to over-flowing and violent crime is on the up-and-up, much of it fuelled by drugs and alcohol. You've surely heard the expression "give a dog a bad name ..." Could it be that when law-abiding citizens are pre-judged as criminals some of them might conclude "What the heck"?
But Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-four isn't exactly where Britain is headed. The reality is a combination of Orwell's theories and those set-out in Aldous Huxley's Brave New World.
As the American author Neil Postman wrote in his book Amusing Ourselves to Death whereas "Orwell feared the truth would be concealed from us, Huxley feared the truth would be droned in a sea of irrelevance. Orwell feared we would become a captive culture. Huxley feared we would become a trivial culture" consumed by "an almost infinite appetite for distractions".
In a way they were both right. Unless we tear ourselves away from our pretty toys and distractions just long enough to remove our rose-coloured specs, freedom will be obsolete except as a slogan above the gate of the Ministry of Truth.
Linda S. Heard is a specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She can be contacted at email@example.com.
Monday, March 10, 2008
You think you are free?
Posted by Saigon Charlie