The COVID-19 Pandemic is a once in a lifetime phenomenon that impacts millions of people across the world. Many people have died from the virus, others have been hospitalised, unemployment is at unprecedented levels, businesses have shut, and borders closed. Since Britain is a part of the global community, it is not exempt from the pandemic's side effects. However, in its attempt to tackle the virus, the British government is slowly moving along the road to totalitarianism.
Before I continue, let me make my stance on the pandemic clear so that people will not misunderstand me. I believe that Covid-19 exists and is dangerous. I wear a face mask and maintain social distance to protect myself and others. I know loved ones who have been afflicted with the virus. I believe I contracted the virus early January last year, although testing was not readily available.
However, I think that those sceptical of the virus or the science behind it should be heard and not persecuted. Over the past couple of months, I have noticed the government's high-handed tactics. Still, it was not until the British Police arrested my friend Max Garry at Speaker Corner, Hyde Park on 2 January 2021, that it dawned on me that Britain was on the road to totalitarianism. Some background information on Max would be useful. Max Garry is a man of strong convictions. He is sceptical of the science behind the virus and has a viewpoint contrary to mainstream understanding. Garry is well versed in the science of epidemiology and has participated in several anti-lockdown protests in London.
On that fateful day, Max was at Speakers corner to take part in another protest. A lawyer was having a conversation with a police officer about the need not to harass the protesters when Max joined the conversation. He came to the lawyer's defence and asked if she wanted to have a hug, she obliged, and they hugged. Max walked away, and with his arms outstretched, he exclaimed, "Who wants a hug?" Five other protesters went towards him and willingly hugged him. As Max continued walking, two police officers handcuffed him and arrested him. To put it succinctly, police officers detained Max Garry because he was hugging amid a pandemic.
The irony of his arrest is that it took place at Speakers Corner, a place with a long history of protest and free speech. It was the focal point for the protest against the war in Iraq and has provided a platform for people like George Orwell, Tony Benn, and Harold Pinter to demonstrate free speech. Max Garry's arrest is not an isolated case; hundreds of other anti-lockdown protesters have been arrested in the past couple of months.
As we move towards totalitarianism, the British public appears oblivious to this emerging trend. Fear of the pandemic has made the general public overlook the erosion of civil liberties. Martin Luther King once said, "It is wrong to use immoral means to attain moral ends." It is equally wrong for the British government to use the immoral means of repression and tyranny to achieve the moral ends of stopping the pandemic.
As a keen student of history, I often always wondered how totalitarianism could thrive in Hitler's Germany, Joseph Stalin's Russia, Mussolini's Italy, and Mobutu Sese Seko's Congo, but with what is happening in the UK, I now understand how. Some of the tactics used by these despots are taking shape in the country that gave us the Magna Carta. According to Big Brother Watch, the British civil liberties and privacy campaigning charity, the Covid-19 emergency laws are the most draconian powers in peace-time Britain. Schedule 21 of the Corona Virus Act of 2020, gives the police the power to detain anyone (including children) and force them to go to a place for screening and assessment, if they have "reasonable grounds" for "suspecting" one is potentially infectious.
The government and the media have created an atmosphere that stifles an alternative approach to tackling the virus. Those opposed to the government's position are demonised. People sceptical of taking the vaccine and against wearing face masks are dismissed as anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers. Paradoxically, those supporting the vaccine and mask-wearing are not described as pro-vaxxers and pro-maskers. The media does not provide a platform to hear both sides of the argument; neither does it feature scientist and other medical professionals who other an alternative analysis of the government's position on epidemiology.
A snitch culture has been encouraged whereby government officials encourage citizens to report on each other for breaching lockdown and social distance guidelines. When the government came up with a "rule of six" limits on social gatherings in September 2020, the policing minister Kit Malthouse said concerned neighbours should ring the non-emergency police phone number to report violations of the restriction. After the government introduced a Christmas bubble rule which restricted gatherings during Christmas to those within one's social bubble, Priti Patel, the Home Secretary urged people to report neighbours who flouted the bubble rules. When people are arrested, scolded, or sacked for breaching social distancing guidelines, some individuals flock to the online media's comment pages expressing their satisfaction.
In December 2020, Douglas Courthouse was sentenced to four weeks imprisonment for crossing the Irish Sea from Scotland to the Isle of Man on a jet ski to visit his girlfriend in what has been described as a breach of Covid-19 Laws. In Maidenhead, police officers stopped drivers outside of Tesco handing out leaflets stating, 'Why are you here?" A few days ago, four men were fined Â£800 for travelling in the same car on their way to McDonald's while the police arrested 28 protesters, including 92-year-old Eric Levy. Scotland Yard has given its officer permission to ask people why they are not in their homes. West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner David Jamieson urged, the British government "To give officers power of entry to homes, to help 'enforce the new regulations more easily." The Home Secretary also supported the police confronting people on benches stating, "The police have been asking individuals why are they out and about, and should they be out and about, when the message right now is stay at home'."
Big Technology has been engaging in online censorship by silencing those critical of the government's position. When TalkRADIO criticised the UK government's recent lockdown policy, Google removed the TalkRADIO channel from its YouTube platform.
The repression of civil liberties that we are experiencing today is similar to the repression which occurred after 9/11. Under the guise of the "War on Terror," the US government began a mass surveillance programme, engaged in an unjust war and illegal detentions. Just as people's fear of a terror attack in the 2000s allowed the US government to harvest encroach on their liberty, people's fear of a virus in the 2020s enables the UK government's human rights abuse to go unquestioned. When I interviewed Max Garry on his ordeal, he told me, "We are frogs being boiled. I did not stay silent. I did not acquiesce. I did not and will never consent."
To understand Britain's slow march to totalitarianism, Naomi Wolf's book The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot written in 2007 comes in handy. She identified the ten steps it takes for a country to transform from a functioning democracy into a fascist state. In the next couple of lines, I will briefly compare how today's Britain fits with Naomi Wolf's ten fascism pointers.
1. Invoke a terrifying internal and external enemy: Those sceptical of the virus and the so-called anti-vaxxers and anti-maskers have been identified as the enemy. People who violate the lockdown and social distancing guidelines are also included in the enemy category.
2. Create secret prisons where torture takes place: This stage is yet to occur.
3. Develop a thug caste or paramilitary force: The government has mandated the police enforce to Covid rule breaches.
4. Set up an internal surveillance system: British citizens have been encouraged by senior British politicians to act as pseudo secret police spies by watching and snitching on their neighbours.
5. Harass citizens' groups: As Max Garry's example demonstrates, those opposed to the lockdown are being arrested.
6. Engage in arbitrary detention and release: The latest lockdown rules make it easy for police to harass and detain anyone for merely walking, sitting on a bench, hugging, sitting on a train or driving a car. Some anti-lockdown activists have been arrested and released several times.
7. Target key individuals: people face the sack for breaching lockdown restrictions rules. A senior official at a Premier League broadcaster called for the sacking of footballers breaching the restrictions. A nurse who attended an anti-lockdown protest was sacked from her place of employment.
8. Control the press: As the removal of TalkRADIO from YouTube demonstrates, expressing a contrary view has serious consequences. The media houses present only one side of the argument. Some journalists have advocated for the removal of freedom rights for Covid Sceptics.
9. Dissent equals treason: Historically, in repressive regimes, dissent is assumed to be treason. In present-day Britain, those critical or sceptical of the government's Covid rule are criminalised and demonised. They are denounced as enemy combatants and locked up if necessary.
10. Suspend the rule of law: The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 3) and (All Tiers) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 gives the police sweeping powers to interrogate people on the street and fine or jail them if found to be in breach.
Britain's slow road to totalitarianism is almost complete. We are witnessing an increase in police overreach and the growth of the surveillance state. Can things go back to normal? History tells us not likely.
As we sleepwalk into totalitarianism, it is time for the citizens to straighten their backs and say, "Not under out watch." I conclude by paraphrasing Naomi Wolf, "We need to look at history and face the "what ifs". For if we keep going down this road, the "end of Britain" could come for each of us in a different way, at a different moment; each of us might have a different moment when we feel forced to look back and think: that is how it was before - and this is the way it is now."
About the Author
Ahmed Olayinka Sule is a CFA Charterholder, photojournalist and social critic. He is an Alumnus of the University of Arts, London; where he obtained a Certificate in Photojournalism. He has worked on various photojournalism projects including Obama: The Impact, Jesus Christ: The Impact, The Williams Sisters etc. He can be contacted via e-mail at email@example.com and via Twitter @Alatenumo
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