Tuesday, May 09, 2006

"immeasurable grief"

posted by k

Brian Haw

He's an eccentric, of course.

He must be absolutely mad to stay there, day after day, opposite the Houses of Parliament and all those police with their heavy weapons.

What on earth does he think he'll achieve by it? He may be embarrassing to the government - he may even cause them the occasional twinge of shame - but they're hardly going to say, "Good heavens, he's got a point. Yes, we were wrong. Too many have died. Think of all the dead babies. We're ever so sorry. Let's pull the troops out now, say sorry and try to make amends."

Our current leaders aren't going to make public statements of contrition. They'll go on justifying themselves and looking for new lands to bomb and pillage.

Who takes any notice of Brian Haw?

He's scruffy, too - is this how we wish tourists to see our "green and pleasant land"?

Well, yes, actually. There's something about free speech that's still worth defending. And I've a feeling that Brian Haw, scruffy as he is, speaks for more people in this country than the sharp-suited man in Downing Street - or his chosen successor.

Let's go back to that "green and pleasant land" which Brian Haw is culttering up with his posters and unruly opinions. That's a quotation from William Blake and thinking about Blake might help us see the question in a different light. William Blake was an eccentric and oddity, out of step with his times and opposed to overbearing state power. He lived in a country whose government tried to stifle free speech. He warned his friend Tom Paine to flee from England when the government wanted to ban his book and throw him into jail. Blake himself was tried for treason (and acquitted) for saying that all soldiers were slaves.

These days you can still be imprisoned for advising soldiers to leave the army. The government wants to imprison soldiers for life if they refuse to occupy another country or fight in an unjust war. Perhaps we could be put on trial for repeating Blake's words.

You can see a number of Blake's paintings across the river from Brian Haw in the Tate Britain Gallery. His poems are studied in schools and universities.

I think William Blake and Brian Haw would have understood one another pretty well.


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