Monday 12 November 2007

Thoughts on Lyrical Terrorism.

I acknowledge my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

There are many things wrong with me, the top three being that I'm young, foolish and not as clever as I think I am. I have not posted for two days because I spent all of Saturday on a balcony somewhere in the depths of Haringey, being pumped full of dubious substances and ranting to anyone who would listen about how George Eliot was a disgrace to the revolution. I then spent all of Sunday sipping weak tea, watching Doctor Who, nursing a thoroughly deserved hangover and trying not to move my hands, as the sound of skin on blankets was upsetting me.

I am 21-and-almost-a-quarter years old. This sort of behaviour might not be clever, nor might it be setting me up for a glittering career in industry; it is, however, allowed, even expected, that young people in their early twenties do do thoroughly silly things from time to time. Drink too much, say, or take too many drugs; hurt themselves and other people through ignorance or cowardice or naivety or panic or sudden lust. In a fit of pique, one or two errant young things have even been known to vote Tory, although I've heard that you can now get pills for that on the NHS.

The point is that this sort of weird, destructive, fucked-up behaviour is not unexpected for bewildered, thrill-seeking young people in their early twenties. Really, deep down, most of us just want to look cool in front of our friends. Thankfully, most of us are also able to get away with a few indiscretions as we ramble our sticky, sordid way towards adulthood.

No such leniency for the Lyrical Terrorist, though. At the end of this week, Miss Samina Malik, 23, became the first woman to be convicted under the UK terrorism act. Malik had been working at a branch of WHSmiths at Heathrow airport, and spent her spare time writing really terrible poetry praising Osama Bin Laden, scribbling cryptic messages to herself on the backs of till receipts, and possessing a copy of the Al-Quaeda manual. At no point do any press releases give details of firm evidence that Malik is linked to any terrorist group whatsoever; she simply claims to have called herself 'The Lyrical Terrorist' because 'it sounded cool'.

Malik remains under house arrest until her sentencing on the 6th of December.

has pointed out, quite rightly, that Malik has been convicted for thoughtcrime, pure and simple. In the abscence of concrete underground activity or rebellion, merely the idea of such activities constitutes crime. Oh dear. Looking through my bookshelves, I possess the following seditious texts: The Scum Manifesto, by Valerie Solanas; Intercourse, by Andrea Dworkin; 1984, by George Orwell; The Female Man, by Janet Russ ...and many more, actually. I've written some really shocking poetry in my time, too, mostly to a boy called Ian Waples who was two years older and had dreadlocks. Moreover, whilst bimbling around the house cleaning things, I can often be heard singing punk songs alarmingly out of tune (one of the many reasons I like punk: it's forgiving to the anarchically passionate, yet musically average participant). Some of these songs even contain anti-establishment sentiment. I like folk music, my god - most folk songs are about rape, murder, rape-and-murder, or political insurrection. Do I have no shame? Does this mean that I, personally, am about to storm Dublin with a backpack full of nailbombs? Does owning 'The Scum Manifesto' make me a potential muderous man-killer, just drooling to aid and abet bio-terrorists in their ceasing struggle against our male overlords?

Of course it bloody well doesn't. Why, then, is a naive, rather stupid, politically curious, quite possibly mentally disturbed young woman - probably dissatisfied with a boring job and with her disenfranchised status as an Islamic young woman of colour in the UK - now under house arrest? Why is she being convicted for possessing material 'likely to be useful for a person committing or preparing an act of terrorism', when what's really useful to people preparing terrorists acts are not volumes of childish dogma but, say, phone-numbers. Any contacts at all. Weapons, or materials for making weapons. All of these would constitute potential evidence of planned terrorist activity: the ramblings of an addled young woman with delusions of grandeur, scribbling on the back of a stationary receipt, are not.

That Malik is being treated in this way because she is Muslim, of Middle-Eastern origin and female, is not up for debate. What this young woman needs is some compassion, and perhaps a few days off work and a decent therapist to listen to her problems. What she's got, however, is a slap-down conviction for nothing more than thoughtcrime, a conviction that will no doubt prevent her from securing decent employment for a significant period of her young life.

Something is deeply, deeply wrong here.


  1. I agree. For some odd reason, this case disturbs me more than a lot of other, more obvious, mis-steps that our society has taken recently. The judge summed it up perfectly by saying that he found Samina Malik 'an enigma'. The complete failure of empathy is terrifying.

    I've always gone through life with the understanding that I can probably reason with whatever the world throws at me. The thought of being confronted with a trial conducted by someone who can't begin to understand my personality or values sparks a particularly primal fear for me.

  2. On Clattery MacHinery on Poetry, there is a call for poetic license, for freedom:

    World Samina Malik Day December 6th


  3. Join the campaing

  4. When I heard a discussion about Samina Malik's conviction on the Jeremy Vine show (BBC Radio 2) the thing that incensed me more than anything was that one of his commentators admitted to owning a copy of the Anarchists Cookbook, and Vine didn't challenge him on it. This person (professional, probably white, male) was admitting to the same offense that Malik had just been convicted but nothing was said.

    I emailed the Vine show asking why no challenge and would they be reporting him to the Police? No response. So I called the Metropolitan Police to report the facts, and I haven't heard anything since. If the Police can't show an interest in applying the law equally to all then what they have done by prosecuting Malik is to demonstrate that they ARE politically motivated. This can only be more fuel for terrorist recruitment 'look, they prosecute our sister but are indifferent to a white guy breaking the same law'

    I am keen to find others who will push this a bit more and help to keep the mainstream debate going about the Malik prosecution - put media pressure on the Met to actively investigate what was said on the Vine show and have this guy prosecuted as well. If he is convicted then there really will be a debate.

  5. from daveeberhardt in the states-

    the poem on the poetry site - "clattery machinery" by ms malik and another poem on the palestine/israel point of view which ends w the word- "detonate" are refreshing to me in that

    they deal emotionally w issues of our time like few other poems

    as an activist and poet i can never figure out why aren't most contemporary poets interested in "our times"?

    as a believer in radical non-violent action a la m l king and the catholic left- my response to both poems lead me to conclude that they pomulgate- BAD TACTICS

    may i suggest to practioners of violence -usually - altho not always- it comes back to haunt you. or, you kill innocents thus giving the other side an advantage over you-

    the practitioners of violence come across as do these two poets- as persons who do not only mind killing yourselves but also bringing the wrath of superior fire power down on your people- THUS- you kill more of your own people

    now- if we do not value life- we can be like hitler or mao or osama and make tactical mistakes- me i love life

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