Picture of a judge's wigThe Judge RANTS!Picture of a judge's wig

Date: 06/07/06

Remembering What, Exactly?

Tomorrow (Friday) at noon, we will be called upon to take part in a two-minute silence marking the first anniversary of the London bombings and to commemorate the 52 fatalities of that day.

I have a problem with this. Well, not with this particular event, but with such occasions in general.

First off, as someone who tries to adhere quite strictly to William Carlos Williams' advice, "If they give you lined paper, write the other way", I deeply resent being told what to think, what to do and how I should react to events by anyone in a position of real or self-delusory authority. So when I see that Tessa Jowell, Ken Livingstone and other semi-entities will be taking part in a series of specially-choreographed photo-opportunities around central London on the day, it causes a digestive reaction that bicarb is quite unable to ward off.

Because you see, dear reader, I don't think you can ever go far wrong by being deeply sceptical about commemorative events which are organised by the state. The given reasons are seldom the real ones - for that you need to dig deeper.

Apart from one-offs like the 'victory parade' after that ridiculous Malvinas business back in '82 (that was the one where Thatcher took the salute as if she were the Queen Empress herself, and where none of the soldiers and sailors who had been maimed in the course of that mad war was permitted to attend, lest it remind people of what war is actually about), the starting point for this obsession with commemorative silences began scarcely a decade ago. For indeed, it was that footling little tit John Major, desperate for support from the far right of his party and of the press, who decided that Remembrance Day would not only be marked with a silence on Remembrance Sunday, but by another one on the 11th of November itself, irrespective of which day of the week it was.

This was followed, in due course, by other such officially-approved events. I think we had one for Princess Clothes-Horse in 1997, we certainly had one for Elizabeth The Artificially Preserved in 2002.

And then, of course, there were the silences enjoined upon us for events of what is commonly termed 'terrorism' in the past five years. We had a whole three minutes after 11/9 (as I insist on calling it - we're not State #51 yet) to mark the killing of 3000 or so Americans. We had two minutes (if I recall correctly) to mark the Madrid bombings. And now, we're to have another 120 seconds for the 52 who were killed in London last year.

Those even more cynical than myself might spend a happy moment or two doing the calculations on this one: 1000 Americans per minute; 96 Spaniards per minute; 26 BPM (Brits Per Minute).

So what exactly is my problem with this? Why should I not wish to mark the slaughter of innocents?

Who says that I don't? All of those events were outrages: how could they be regarded otherwise? But what in hell right does any Government (with the faithful media forever in tow, natch) have to tell me how I should do so?

"Oh", runs the argument, "you don't have to join in: this is just your opportunity to do so." And what happens if you visibly fail to toe the party line? We saw it in the 11/9 event: the reactions from 'right-minded people' to others who didn't go with the official recommendation (be it through contrariness or simply not giving a flying one) varied from outbreaks of tut-tutting in letters to the press from Disturbed of Dagenham or Concerned of Consett right the way through to outright physical violence towards those who dared to be different.

This is why, whenever I and my colleagues are 'invited' to take part in such unsponsored silences, I take it as in invitation to absent myself from my desk for a period of some minutes before, during and after the event. This is, I admit, partly as a pathetic attempt to demonstrate to my employer and the state (one and the same) that it has no right to dictate my response or demand my compliance. But it's also out of a form of warped politeness. I've never spoken to any of my colleagues on the point, but they may hold very different views on this matter. My continuing to work normally while they all played 'statues' by government invitation would quite possibly lead to a debate, which would in turn lead to dispute and friction, and none of us needs that. So, I either go and sit on the lavvy for five minutes, or find a reason to go into the rooms housing our IT and telephony equipment, and stay there until the show is over. Besides which, I just know I'd find it so funny to see all my colleagues standing to attention behind their desks, as if they'd been got at by an alien paralysing ray in a particularly bad SF movie.

There is, however, a more serious reason, which goes back both to what I wrote above about the real reasons, and what I said about calculations further on.

We have had silences to commemorate the dead in New York, Washington, Pennsylvania, Madrid and London. We have not had silences to mark the mass slaughters in Palestine, Afghanistan or Iraq. Need we ask the reason? The dead in the first list were nearly all European, Christian (at least nominally so) and, mostly, white. The victims in the second section were/are none of these. 'Dead wogs don't count'. They don't count even when the death toll numbers in the tens of thousands. This is not what our leaders want us to be thinking about. Only we civilised Westerners are victims: the others are just 'collateral damage' even when their existence is acknowledged at all.

Thus it is that we have a state, a government and media which, between them, lied us into a murderous and illegal war, continue to lie to us about how 'well' the war is going, and which (scarcely surprisingly) does not want us to consider the true victims of that aggression, even in the form of a silence. Besides which, on the basis of the formula I outlined earlier on, how many dead 'others' would be commemorated in one minute? 40000? 100000? Would that be all the time they would be worth? Were their lives, their right to life, to be accounted so small a fraction of that of 'our' people?

This is a naked and blatant politicisation of remembrance, far more flesh-creeping than John Major's posturings ever could have been.

So at noon tomorrow, if you want to find me, I'll be in the bog.