Britain to World: Shut Up

I have often wondered about the legal and moral issues involved in the Israeli-Palestinian struggle. Armed resistance is permitted against an occupier, and there’s no rule requiring that attackers have a getaway planned. I’m not in favor of attacking civilians, of course — in fact, I find it hard to support attacking anyone. But as a lawyer, at least, I think that a case could be made that suicide attacks against the military in occupied territories are acceptable under international law.

At the same time, though, I’ve had a hankering to visit Great Britain. I spend a lot of my time reading British books; I’ve always wanted to see the summer light in the Orkneys; and I have a long-standing weakness for English music.

If I want to hop on that plane for Heathrow, I’d better keep my mouth shut, because from now on I could be barred from the UK or even deported for “writing, producing, publishing or distributing material, public speaking including preaching, running a website; or using a position of responsibility such as teacher, community or youth leader to express views which foment, justify or glorify terrorist violence in furtherance of particular beliefs; seek to provoke others to terrorist acts; foment other serious criminal activity or seek to provoke others to serious criminal acts; or foster hatred which might lead to inter-community violence in the UK.”

(If you don’t want to wade through this passage, the key portion is this: “writing, producing, publishing or distributing material . . . which justif[ies] . . . terrorist violence in furtherance of a particular belief.” And note, please, the modifier at the end. Fans of Jack the Ripper can relax — it is still all right to justify destruction and slaughter as long as it’s killing for killing’s sake. The only no-no is shedding innocent blood “in furtherance of a particular belief.”)

I can take comfort from the fact that the Reverend Pat Robertson will undoubtedly be banned from the United Kingdom until God calls him to his Heavenly one, because only this week he sought “to provoke others [i.e., the US government] to terrorist acts.” I am eagerly awaiting the deportation of those right-wing Zionist partisans who for half a century have defended and even glorified the Irgun and the Stern Gang.

And even though Ronald Reagan is now dead, and safe from the embarrassment of being turned away at the airport, there have got to be a lot of CIA and State Department officials around who supported and praised the Contras in Nicaragua, not to mention Henry Kissinger. Hadn’t they better start revising their travel plans?

Still, even though I’m sure I’d have lots of good company, I’d better not write that column on Israel and Palestine. I’m not the only one I have to worry about. There’s our editor, and all the other nice people at Monthly Review. Maybe Monthly Review‘s internet host. All of us, guilty of “writing, producing, publishing or distributing material . . . which justify . . . terrorist violence in furtherance of a particular belief,” forever barred from the Yorkshire Dales and the Tower of London. And it would all be my fault.

The only comfort I can take is the knowledge that we have a Constitution and a Bill of Rights that are supposed to forbid such legislation here.

For the moment.

Hold on to your First Amendment, folks. It’s going to be a bumpy ride.

Michael Steinberg is the author of The Fiction of a Thinkable World: Body, Meaning, and the Culture of Capitalism published this year by Monthly Review Press and essays in professional journals in history, music, and law. He and his wife Loret, a photographer and professor of documentary photography, live in Rochester, New York, under the supervision of two domestic medium-hair cats. He will give a reading from his book on Thursday, October 6, 2005, at Robin’s Book Store (108 South 13th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19107 — Tel: 215-735-9600).