Friday 12 November 2010

Tonight's Launch Of 'Dispatches from the Dark Side'

No-one organises political events on a Friday night. It's almost a golden rule. But this evening's launch in Stratford of Dispatches from the Dark Side, a series of essays by the radical lawyer Gareth Peirce, was packed out, completely absorbing and, because of Gareth's long association with Newham, an opportunity to celebrate her extraordinary commitment to fighting injustices that most people choose to ignore.

In the past this commitment involved challenging the state over its treatment of black and Irish communities and innocent so-called 'terrorists' like the Birmingham Six and the Guildford Four, people vilified during an earlier period of paranoia and suspicion. Now it means defending those who are caught up in the government's new and increasingly draconian 'war' against Islamism, suppression of which is used to justify 24 hour surveillance, house arrest and state complicity in torture, actions that Britain has the audacity to condemn others nations for participating in. Who knows, in the future perhaps another group - anarchists maybe, or anti-government campaigners in general - may become the new enemies (the concept of 'domestic extremism' certainly points in that direction) and the widening powers to suppress and harass in the name of 'security' will turn onto others. That's why we need lawyers like Gareth - and as she made clear this evening, campaigns to bring injustice to the attention of a public that might prefer not to hear what has become of their 'free' country.

Tonight was also, quite deliberately, an opportunity to show support for former Guantánamo Bay detainee Moazzam Begg, who has been one of those horrendously vilified over the last year. The unsubstantiated and often irrational attacks on him by Gita Saghal and her supporters from February this year, which left many of us utterly confused and then increasing angry, have undoubtedly had an effect on Moazzam - as he said this evening, he is a survivor of torture and although he tries to appear confident and articulate, like the rest of us that isn't always how he feels.

Inviting him to speak alongside Gareth was a way of expressing a little solidarity and it was great that he was able to attend. It's also to the credit of Stratford Circus that they ignored a complaint from at least one (as yet unnamed) Newham councillor and a telephone call today from anti-terrorism officers, saying they were aware of the event and asking for copies of any leaflets distributed this evening to be kept. When a literary event becomes the subject of state suspicion and condemnation by council morons, you begin to understand why solidarity is so important.

In ten days time we have another event organised jointly by Newham Monitoring Project and Newham Bookshop - about the 'terror plot' that never existed. In January 2003, the media splashed the news that anti-terrorism police had disrupted an alleged al-Qaeda cell, poised to unleash the deadly poison ricin on London. Police had reportedly found traces of ricin, as well as a panoply of bomb and poison-making equipment in the cell’s ‘factory of death’ – a shabby flat in north London. ‘This danger is present and real, and with us now’ announced former prime minister Tony Blair.

But, when the ‘ricin plot’ came to trial at the Old Bailey, a very different story emerged: there was no ricin and no sophisticated plot. Rarely has a legal case been so shamelessly distorted by government, media and security forces to push their 'war on terror’ agenda. In Ricin! The Inside Story of the Terror Plot That Never Was, jury foreman Lawrence Archer and Fiona Bawdon give the definitive story of the ricin plot, the trial and its aftermath.

The event takes place on Monday 22 November at 7 pm at St John’s Church, The Broadway, Stratford E15. Tickets cost £5 from Newham Bookshop (020 8552 9993) and copies of the book, published by Pluto Press, will be available to buy.

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