‘1984’ comes to 2007 in Britain

Dusty Loy

The European Union continues to inch closer to the dystopia foreseen by George Orwell in his novel “1984.” In Orwell’s novel, the main character is a party member in a socialist, totalitarian government that perpetuates its power through omnipresent surveillance and perpetually seeking out “thoughtcrime,” such as holding views that were contrary to what the party wishes individuals to think. In the main character’s diary, he explains it thusly: “Thoughtcrime does not entail death: thoughtcrime is death,” and “Thoughtcrime is the only crime that matters.”

After six years of work, the European Union announced in Luxembourg last week that they had come to an agreement on new legislation that is intended to combat hate crimes, xenophobia racism. The document is titled “Council Framework Decision on combating racism and xenophobia.”

The document defines racism and xenophobia as “publicly condoning, denying or grossly trivialising … and directed against a group of persons or a member of such a group defined by reference to race, colour, religion, descent or national or ethnic origin when the conduct is carried out in a manner likely to incite to violence or hatred against such a group or a member of such a group.”

The penalties for possessing such irrational fears of foreigners include one to three years in prison as well as exclusion from entitlement to public benefits or aid, temporary or permanent disqualification from the practice of commercial activities, or being placed under judicial supervision.

Therefore, if an EU citizen “grossly trivializes” or “publicly condones” the Armenian genocide – exactly what several groups were doing in Times Square in New York City on Sunday – they would get thrown into jail for three years and be banned from having a job or benefits of the state upon release. The new rules would completely protect any event labeled as genocide by the International Criminal Court in the Hauge, and thus any views differing from theirs are severely punished.

In “1984,” to enforce this plethora of regulations on thoughtcrime while maintaining their iron grip on individual thought, the state of Oceania enacted a surveillance society. They had omnipresent devices called telescreens, televisions equipped with video cameras that informed citizens when they broke the rules and aided the “Thought Police” in locating and squelching dissent.

Britain recently introduced talking closed-circuit television cameras that will allow police to tell individuals to stop misbehaving through a built-in microphone and speaker. The BBC states that Britain already has more than 4.2 million standard CCTV cameras installed across the country, that’s one camera for every 10 individuals, with more going in every day.

Restricting freedoms because of fears and guilt is not the answer. Even in America, knee-jerk reactionaries across the country call for restricted freedoms whenever tragedy occurs. Irrational fears of other cultures, tragedy and littering are part of a free and open society, something we except in order to maintain individual liberty. Europeans would be better served by exercising freedoms to inform, convince and educate those who disagree or deny. Draconian sentences for these thoughtcrimes combined with prevalent monitoring only exacerbate the problem by stifling debate and eliminating liberty.

Dusty Loy is a columnist for the Iowa State Daily of Iowa State University. It was made available through U-Wire.