“The heathen in his blindness
Bows down to wood and stone.
The Colonial conceit was that
The Brits knew God alone!
The Heathen thinks that Christians
Worship a wooden cross
Which today would be an electric chair
Or a noose to hang humans in the air…”
From The Song of Khatribai Ghulamfaggot by Bachchoo
My father, the Indian Army veteran that he was, would read the daily headlines about various miscreants — hoarders of grain who caused shortages of food, child rapists, large-scale fraudsters — and would inevitably exclaim, in English or Gujarati: “line the so-and-sos up against the wall and shoot them”. The so-and-so expletive would vary with the language in which he framed this summary sentence.
Dad wasn’t given to the niceties of socio-political argument. In India recently, I read in several publications, vociferously argued cases for and against capital punishment — these in the context of the Nirbhaya rapist-murderers appealing for mercy against their hanging. The arguments were on the one side vengeful and, perhaps, karmic; on the other, a consideration that rapists and murderers were reared by the social circumstances, mentalities and morals of our society and these should be reformed.
My father’s pronouncements had no consideration for such subtleties. I can’t say if his reaction was inspired by the Zoroastrian theological contention that the universe and life are the battleground of good versus evil and that, being on the side of good, he was obliged to wipe out the perpetrators of evil. Perhaps his intolerance was more likely influenced by military morals and a view that summary justice was better than the namby-pamby of “due process”.
My wonderful, if hastily mistaken, dad’s dictum came to mind this week in London when Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his dimwit home secretary Priti Patel put in train fast-track action and legislation on three fronts.
Firstly, they deported 27 “Jamaican” criminals who had served their sentences for manslaughter, violent acts and even paedophilia back to their “home country”. At least 50 other such criminals were listed for deportation on the same chartered aircraft but appealed against it on the grounds that they were not afforded contact with any legal representation because the jail in which they were serving sentences had wi-fi problems. The courts upheld the stay on deportation.
Liberal opinion in the country opposed this measure but, without any statistical evidence, I feel that a vast majority of the country would have cheered it on. The one argument against such a cheer is that very many of these individuals, while not having papers to prove that they were British, had lived from childhood in this country and had been socialised and perhaps criminalised by it. Nevertheless, technically they were not British and consequently subject to expulsion from the sceptred isle.
The second measure which Predatory Patel has initiated is a bill in Parliament to change the liberal rule governing the release of convicted terrorists who have served half their jail terms. This is seen by that same majority that supports deportation as eminently sensible. And it may be. In the recent past, two terrorists convicted of offences such as harbouring materials and recoding messages of terror, rather than having bombed a place or killed anyone, were released from prison having served half the prescribed period. They went on to murder innocents in the name of jihad.
Of course, this legislation can be seen as protective of the public, but there is the argument that spending six rather than three years in jail doesn’t necessarily stop the offender when he is released from doing what he would have done after serving only half that time. There may be a case for the three extra years in jail being used to effectively deradicalise jihadis through rehabilitation and re-education programmes, but there is not much evidence that such programmes work.
There is an outcry now by prison wardens and by commentators that prison is itself a radicalising hothouse. Jihadis in contact with each other reinforce their determination to commit acts which will transport them to heaven and grant them 72, willing or reluctant, virgins. They also come in contact with petty criminals whom they sometimes succeed in converting into murderous terrorists. There is overwhelming evidence that points to these phenomena.
What would behsti Pappa (dad) have said? “Line them up against the wall and shoot them.”
Even Predatory Patel, whatever her instincts, can’t follow such advice in an avowedly civilised and democratic society. And while she contemplates a solution to this brewing of terror in the institution of prison, she should consider evidence from other countries where dispersing terrorists, isolating them or giving them longer sentences hasn’t done anything to stop the movement which is dedicated to recruiting new members.
If Prowly Patel can get the money off the new chancellor (after Sajju Javid’s shock resignation from the Cabinet this week), her first move should be spending it on refurbishment of prisons.
Today, there are 82,000 prisoners crammed into spaces designed for 60,000. There are 10,000 assaults on prison officers each year. Britain’s prisons are markets for drugs, smuggled in by bribed warders or delivered by drones.
The programmes of rehabilitation are laughable. Mullahs are sent in to preach Islamic values to those convicted of serious jihadi offences such as the making of bombs or the membership of cells with published plans for terrorist acts. There is no considered programme of rehabilitation and no supervision of what these mullahs say and no assessment of what effect their preaching has on determined death-cultists.
A measure of discipline, compassion and supervision is the direction reform should take.
These would, at the least, enable an assessment of the progress towards a solution. What they won’t do is make the sort of headlines this government wants in order to appeal to their core voters.
I wonder what dad would have said should be done to Cabinet ministers who pander to populism instead of implementing effective solutions....