“TO ALL FREE MEN OF OUR KINGDOM we have also granted, for us and our heirs forever, all the liberties written out below, to have and to keep for them and their heirs, of us and our heirs…”
It sounds like something the Prime Minister of Great Britain would have said in the House of Commons yesterday, but it was, in fact, written by the Barons under King John in 1215.
This year, we “celebrate” 800 years since the signing of the great document of liberties: the Magna Carta. Just four of the original copies remain, but the words still resonate today.
It does seem, however, that Magna Carta requires a revival in today’s world of security, surveillance, terrorism, and the internet. The core principals of life, freedom and property are arguably at peril; risking Magna Carta becoming – as Oliver Cromwell described – Magna Farter.
In Brig Newspaper’s first front cover of 2015, we stood with the victims of the Charlie Hebdo attacks; protecting our freedoms of speech and expression.
Though not included explicitly within Magna Carta, the original text did pave the way to the Bill of Rights, written in 1689. Indeed, both Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights were key influences on the United States of America’s very own Constitution. How well, then, do our governments uphold our rights to freedom of speech and expression?
We have already witnessed, in recent years, the apparent state surveillance that exists across both the USA and the United Kingdom, exposed by former-NSA counterintelligence trainer Edward Snowden in June 2013. Since 9/11, and President Bush’s “War on Terror”, freedom has been sacrificed for security. In France, following the Charlie Hebdo attacks, French authorities interviewed an eight-year-old boy, who reportedly said the terrorists had been right, and the journalists wrong. Are we becoming paranoid with security? Will terrorism’s real victory not be from the actual people they kill, but from the sheer effect they will have on a country?
Will we all become introverted, restrained in our liberties, and our very words be locked down in the interest of state security?
But terrorism is not what I wish to focus on, but rather our expressions, words, or actions, which are becoming ever more scrutinised in an increasingly politically correct world.
Nowadays you cannot criticise homosexuality without being labelled homophobic. You cannot question the relevance of the Holocaust in the present day (as a Pegida leader did in Germany) without being labelled as a anti-Semite, or even a Nazi. Say a word against one of the opposite sex and you are frowned upon as sexist. We have become so sensitive with adjectives and nouns that opening your mouth is like wading through a minefield.
Benedict Cumberbatch stumbled upon this problem on US television where he stated: “…as far as coloured actors go, it gets really difficult in the UK”. His use of the word “coloured” has caused a media and online Twitter-storm, with critics hammering him for his use of an “outdated” term.
But when we look at Cumberbum’s actual track record: he is not a racist, is extremely liberal, and is highly praising a black and minority ethnic (BME) actors. Indeed, Oscar-nominated actor David Oyelowo, who plays Martin Luther King in the film Selma, has described the furore as “ridiculous”.
I myself was taken aback by the outrage: ‘is coloured really outdated? Goodness! I better update my dictionary!” In the not-so-distant past, terms such as “blacks”, “darkys”, and the “N-word” were nearly commonplace. It is disappointing that as neutral a term as “coloured” has now been firmly red-lined in the English language. To use the term, as many have suggested, “African American” is an even greater zoom-in on a group Cumberbatch was not even referring to.
Then we have expression, and particularly women. The media went into a frenzy, with headlines like: “Sears threatens to overshadow Murray’s Aussie final”. Yes, Andy Murray’s fiancee apparently used the words “f*****g have that, you Czech flash f***” during Murray’s semi-final against Thomas Berdych.
The newspapers, such as the Telegraph, even recruited “professional lip readers” to give “their expert opinion on what Kim Sears” actually said. One could argue, that in this highly mediatized age, Sears should have remembered to leave her language at the door. My response would be: “who gives a f***?”
Not only was it a pathetic reaction on the part of the media, but the very intrusion on Sears’ freedom of expression is precisely the problem with the gossip-hungry media. The portrayal of sportsmen’s wives as being obedient, supportive, silent, and head-bowed is disgraceful. I do wonder whether the same attention has ever been given to a sportswoman’s husband.
The same image of dogged obedience is even placed on (possibly) the most famous woman on the planet: the USA’s First Lady.
Though not creating the same media furore, Michelle Obama’s refusal to cover her head when visiting the less-than-liberal Saudi Arabia, to pay respects for King Abdulla, did attract a lot of online criticism.
On the flipside, there was an alternative “Blurgate” scandal going on, where people claimed Saudi television had blurred out Michelle Obama’s head. Make of it what you will.
What Michelle did though was perhaps display that there is a choice for women. Michelle showed herself to be a strong and independent woman, in a world where the actions of famous men’s WAGs are often scrutinised it is good to see someone standing up for her freedom of expression.
The debate around Michelle Obama’s actions is far too complex to delve into right now, but does highlight this issue of “correctness”; what is proper, or what is expected, needs to be challenged.
And so, 800 years after the signing of Magna Carta, how free are we today? Our freedom’s are sacrificed for our “security”. Our, perhaps, unfortunate use of words are a measure of how accepting we are of other cultures; our expressions of passion, or of our own beliefs, are flagged up by the dog-and-bone world of the media.
If you believe Sears’ and Obama’s experiences do not apply to us, you are wrong. Magna Carta set out that its articles were for “ALL FREE MEN OF OUR KINGDOM”. This idea was then adopted by America, and by many states beyond.
In the end, we are all people. There should be no need for distinction between white or black; latino or Asian; gay or straight; Muslim or Catholic; Christian or Jewish; male or female. We are all free people of this world, and perhaps it is time we remembered that.