A couple of years ago I went with some friends to see an exhibition at the Royal Academy of the work of the contemporary Chinese artist Ai Weiwei. Ai is held in high regard within art circles and I did find many of his works interesting, although I was not particularly impressed by the way he sometimes destroys antiques and antiquities to create an artwork and I am certainly not convinced by someone who uses the work of an artisan to create a piece even if they are the inspiration. This is however beside the point, Ai Weiwei is also famous as a Chinese dissident. Ai grew up in China under Mao, in 1958 his father was denounced by the regime and his family sent to a Labour camp.
Ai Weiwei has long opposed the regime in China and used his art as a form of resistance. This aspect to his art I find much more engaging, few can doubt his bravery given the consequences of falling foul of the Chinese regime. An example of the clever way he uses art is a piece called Straight, made up of 150 tons of twisted steel reinforcement recovered from the rubble of the 2008 Sichuan earthquake. The story behind the exhibit is even more impressive; Ai felt that the Government was covering up the truth about how poor building standards had contributed to the death toll from the earthquake. Ai launched a Citizen’s Investigation and managed to compile a list of over 5000 people who had died in the earthquake, many as a consequence of corruption between local politicians and construction companies. Ai was arrested and beaten by the police so badly he later needed brain surgery.
I am struck by the parallels between the treatment of Ai Weiwei and the increasing number of arrests of activists in the United Kingdom. Set aside your views on some of them and consider this instead. Ai Weiwei broke the law, he broke the laws of the regime in China and as a consequence the regime moved against him – their laws legitimised their actions. I think most fair minded people are sympathetic to the cause of Ai Weiwei (and many other Chinese dissidents) because the only way they can express their views or question the regime is to break the law.
Now consider the recent case of Tommy Robinson. For clarity I am not one of his followers though I would defend his right to express his opinion – I just don’t like the provocative way he goes about it. Tommy was filming outside a court where a trial was taking place that had reporting restrictions. Tommy also had restrictions placed on him from a previous court case. The police arrested him for breach of the peace and a judge sent him to prison for contempt of court in respect of existing conditions.
From what I can gather Tommy is no angel, he had a recent run in with the law over a mortgage application. Tommy is not however a stupid man, he would have known the consequences if he had been arrested. This is at the heart of this post and the point I am trying to convey – for all his faults Tommy was prepared to go to prison, the deeper question is not why he broke the law, it is to ask why he felt he needed to?
We live in a country where the true scale and horror of Muslim rape gangs is being concealed by the establishment, at times it almost feels as though they are not only being concealed, they also enjoy some level of protection. Our media fails to do its job, one or two newspapers will run a hand-wringing piece from time to time but there is a consistent failure to ask the simple question – why is it that the followers of a particular religion seems to feel it is acceptable to operate in this way?
The victims of these gangs are mainly white working class (Sikhs are also targeted), yet whenever a working class person tries to speak out they are denounced and vilified, branded a xenophobe, a cruel label when it is they who are the victims of xenophobia not the perpetrators.
So ask yourself this – when the ordinary people, already reeling in the wake of terror attacks, are hearing of gang rapes of children happening all over the country, the perpetrators protected and their crimes ignored, are you really surprised when they turn to a brave individual like Tommy? When leaders no longer protect their citizens then they turn to people who can. When a State acts as though it hates its own people what options do you leave them?
We can call Tommy all the names we want to, we can join in with the smug delight of the bien pensants over his imprisonment, yet none of this addresses the perception both here and increasingly around the world that this country does not have a Government, it has a regime and this regime will brook no dissent, it is a regime that really does not like its people very much.
You don’t need to believe me, you can find out for yourself how the story was run on foreign news outlets, it doesn’t look good. Self righteousness on our behalf does not alter the fact that the Government and our media have lost the narrative. Put more bluntly it doesn’t matter what we may think about it if it is not how the rest of the world sees it.
So to all of those who are happy to see Tommy in jail I say this – why do you assume a regime that will willingly lock people up that it doesn’t like will always lock people up that you also don’t like? What happens when they start locking people up you do agree with? Because one day that will almost certainly happen if we say nothing.
Recently a statue of the suffragette Millicent Fawcett was erected in London; she is depicted holding a banner stating ‘Courage calls to courage everywhere’. Whatever your views on Tommy he did have the courage to try and get the truth about what is going on to the outside world and he has succeeded in that. He was arrested and convicted, yes he was, no argument about that, the question for us all is whether this makes him a criminal or a dissident?