At first, I could not believe what I was reading! The headline implored, ‘Lock Us Down: Suspend Habeas; Save the Nation’. The author Michael Dorf, a Cornell University Professor, was urging the US Government to suspend the rule of law.
Dorf acknowledged that suspending habeas corpus — which has been recognised as a fundamental feature of a free society — is an ‘extreme measure’, but he believes that it is a small price to pay for making people feel safe.
Unfortunately, the demand to close down society is not confined to a small number of authoritarian minded law professors. The entire Anglo-American media has become wedded to the idea that unless governments adopt extreme measures, humanity will face extinction. Anyone listening to the media or reading the press is left in no doubt that if the British Prime Minister doesn’t impose a harsh regime social control, he will be dumped by either his ministers or by popular pressure.
At recent press conferences with Boris Johnson, one journo after another called on him to shut down UK Plc. Larisa Brown of the Daily Mail could barely contain her anger, when she blurted out: “people aren’t acting responsibly so when are you going to get tougher and bring in the police?”
Regrettably, the herd like demand to give up hard fought liberties, is coupled with an intense level of hostility towards anyone who disagrees with the call for establishing, what would be in effect a police state. Those of us who raise doubts about the call to close down the nation are denounced as irresponsible idiots, who are prepared to play with other people’s lives. They are, in the words of panic-in-chief Piers Morgan, covidiots, who need to be kept at a distance from other members of the community.
The public health emergency facing the world has allowed those who are in any case disposed towards intolerance to let rip at anyone who questions the wisdom of some of the measures put in place by the government. Anyone reading the twitterstorm directed at journalists such as Peter Hitchens or Brendan O’Neill would imagine that instead of raising questions about the shutting down of pubs, they were calling for the institutionalization of child murder.
Predictably, in a climate of insecurity brought on by COVID-19 many people become scared and their anxiety can be easily exploited by groups of fear entrepreneurs. In recent days, the media has gone out its way to highlight every example of anti-social behaviour at supermarkets. It has let rip at parents who decided to take their children to parks or to the seaside on a sunny Sunday. Pictures of people enjoying a day out in the open air have been portrayed as the behaviour of irresponsible COVID zombies that threaten our very existence.
Despite the fact that in reality there has been very little irresponsible behaviour by members of the public, in a febrile atmosphere of blame and recrimination many people have become influenced by the rhetoric of fear. In local community websites and conversations there is far too much finger pointing at people who behave in ways not approved by so called opinion-makers. In these circumstances even people who know that there is something deeply wrong with the demagogic rhetoric of people like Piers Morgan, find it difficult to voice their dissent.
Yet, we must raise our concerns and questions when we feel that society is going in the wrong direction. Instead of closing down dissent, we need a mature and grown-up attitude towards those with whom we disagree. Precisely because no one has the answer to all of the problems thrown up in this pandemic, we need to hear all points of view. Those who want to be locked down do not possess a monopoly on wisdom. We must resist the locking down of debate and discussion. On the contrary, it is precisely in an emergency that we need to open up all channels of communication, so that every member of the public feels that their voice still counts.
Original: Frank Furedi – the author and social commentator is an emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Kent in Canterbury.