April 4th, 2007 – A nation in self-imposed chains
Today’s story of new measures to curtail the freedom of movement of undesirables, banning them from particular places and requiring them to report to the police even though they’ve committed no crime, has made my hair stand on end. Quite apart from any infringement of human rights and civil liberties, my gripe is that I don’t recollect any debate on the subject. Being somewhat of a news junkie, I watch and read whatever I happen upon while BBC World Service is on as background noise but this one either escaped my attention or wasn't brought to it. I suspect the latter.
Free and open debate is one of the most important measures of a democratic society. But what do you do with a people who accept whatever laws are imposed without so much as blinking? With a media operated almost exclusively – to use my favourite metaphor – by the alphas and betas in this Brave New Land (Havo/VWO graduates) that are themselves programmed not to question, not to criticize and to be a mouth piece of celebrities and politicians without being the eyes and ears of the public? What self-respecting public media anywhere else in the world would consider the endless repetitions of the same news broadcasts and text screens to be anything remotely resembling journalistic output? Not to mention a product in keeping with the vast sum of taxpayers’ money spent on it?
The measures announced today come as self-evidently as the requirement to carry ID. While Brits have opposed this vehemently for many years now, successfully arguing their right to go about their business peacefully, in Holland it was never even up for debate. The powers that be said ID cards serve to counter terrorism and to catch illegals so everyone complies. Blindfold. Brilliant idea, let's all do it. Talking to a Dutch student doing an MA in political science (of all subjects) recently, he said ‘you’re right. I never even thought about the implications. He continued ‘but the government is elected democratically and has the people’s mandate to do as it sees fit’. What if ... you can fill in the blank as you please but let me make some suggestions ... it saw fit to go to war against Iran and the other rogue states now? ... it saw fit to install cctv in every home? ... it saw fit to tax the air we breathe?
It gets worse. So entrenched is the mindset that the government know best and that the law must be obeyed that anyone applying a little … creativity, shall we say, in his or her compliance is termed antisocial. Not carrying ID by way of taking a personal stance for your rights is antisocial, as is trying to get away with a parking ticket or painting your window frames any colour other than dark brown or green. Voicing my notion that a dynamic society needs a degree of civil disobedience, of protest, of people pushing their luck and testing the law to its limits, I only ever get ‘there are official channels for doing so’ coupled with a dark frown. There goes the innovation the Dutch so urgently need for surely the two are inseparable? Acceptance of the status quo precludes any desire for change, any ability to think outside the box and any need to make things better.
Another questionable measure was introduced not too long ago in a new Leiden Police Order. It is now a fineable offence to chalk on the pavement. Children cannot play hopscotch without breaking the law. So when the intelligence services estimate the threat to Holland to consist of something like 100 to 200 people having thoughts “that are not completely coherent with the rule of law”, maybe they’re referring to children’s antisocial need to play outside?