Knighthoods in Wonderland – Stand up for Catholics and the rest of us!

Since we speak of High Romance in the knighthood of the Duke, we might notice what our Juliet saw as the ‘mannerly devotion’ of her Romeo in our PM. As well as being a devout monarchist, Mr Abbott is a devout Catholic. This is a source of conflict and pain to our PM, because he can never have a Catholic as his monarch.

In 1701, the English had had enough of Catholic monarchs. They signed up a German line for their crown under strict terms. Under the Act of Settlement, ‘whosoever shall come into possession of this crown shall join in communion with the Church of England as by law established.’ That law is part of the English Constitution. While we have the English crown as our head of state, that law binds us, and it is beyond our power to change it. Catholic disqualification is a cross our PM has to bear while he retains his dual devotion.

Australia cannot have as head of state a Christian from any precluded sect, and we certainly we cannot have an atheist – just look at the previous incumbent, who lived in sin, to boot. The next thing you know, someone might suggest that we put a Muslem or a Jew up there.

Now, this lack of religious tolerance is offensive. It flatly contradicts our own Constitution and way of life. But that, we are told, is a small price to pay to keep the connection to the English crown. After all, no one takes any of these old laws seriously. You might as well bring back the round table, or knights and dames – or confer a colonial knighthood on an English duke.

Some Australians feel demeaned by this nonsense with the Duke. I am one of them. But I feel no more demeaned by this nonsense than I do every day of my life when I am told that the people of this nation are incapable of governing themselves without maintaining our mannerly devotion to the English crown.

The above is the text of the last of along line of letters that were not good enough for our press.  I should have kept a file.  I found another reject from November 2012 which is set out below.  It deals with one of the many disgraceful ways in which this nation dealt with the immediate past PM.  Whatever her faults were, there were no doubts about her sanity.  One of the curious issues in the present debacle is that I would have thought that the Palace in London would have understood that it does nothing in or for Australia of a remotely political nature until it is assured that the proposal has the full backing of Her Majesty’s Australian advisers.  It is common ground that that was not the case here.  This failing puts a dint in the proposition that having a monarch in England is a harmless window dressing since they only ever do what we tell them to do.

The text of the former letter follows.

People have not before been so revolted by their politicians as they are now. Some politicians now make people feel physically ill.

The inane pogrom by The Australian against the Prime Minister must make decent journalists ashamed to see their professional colleagues living off the earnings of Mr Rupert Murdoch.

Sir Maurice Bowra said that a people get the gods they deserve. So it is with politicians and journalists. The editor of The Australian does not apologise for threatening to sue one of his journalists – as it happens, a woman –for libel for contradicting him. His newspaper now shows for our country the evil that can be done to political life by a corrupted news outlet like Fox News or the Volkischer Beobachter.

In the upshot, The Australian has made a remarkable contribution to modern science. They have shown that the Prime Minister has balls but that the Leader of the Opposition does not.

Journalists at The Australian should be ashamed of themselves. They dishonour their profession.

And could someone tell them how the defence of superior orders went down at Nuremberg?

Terror in Paris IV- Insulting God in Paris and Melbourne



Assuming that I may do what I like in private, should I be ‘free’ to insult you or God in public? For reasons that I discussed in a previous note (posted on 13 August last year), a question in those terms may not be all that helpful. There are so many possible legal consequences of speech that the phrase ‘freedom of speech’ is one of pious political aspiration rather than one that has any legal or juristic utility.

Since about the time that the State of Victoria was formed, it has been a criminal offence for a person in public to use indecent language or insulting words or to engage in offensive or insulting behaviour – or to engage in conduct to the same effect. The reason is that such behaviour is likely to lead to a breach of the peace if it does not do so in itself, and that the first object of the law is to preserve the peace. If during a wedding at a church or a synagogue a disappointed suitor marched up and down outside chanting the words ‘the bride is a slut’, or carrying a banner to the same effect, most people think that it would be better to allow the police to intervene than to leave the bride with an action for damages (for defamation, not nuisance) and to leave everyone else to their remedy of beating the villain up.

There is also a federal law dealing with racial discrimination that makes it unlawful to offend or insult a person because of their race. The federal law does not create a crime – it confers civil rights. It is not directed to speech but to conduct generally, whereas some state provisions are confined to words or speech. There is a requirement in the federal law that the conduct be in public but it is differently expressed.

The federal law deals with offence or insult directed to race, not religion. The state law mentions neither. It deals with offensive or insulting conduct, including speech, generally. The federal law might be seen as a specific application of the state law. There are all sorts of reasons why a law might deal with offences or insults to race but not to religion. One reason is that the difficulties in making legal rulings about race are as nothing beside those of making those rulings about religion.

If someone went on TV or stood on a street corner and said that some or all abos are idiots or crooks, they could be dealt with under the state law or the federal law. If someone went on TV or stood on a street corner and said that all Muslems are idiots or crooks, only the state law might apply because the federal law is about race, not religion.

There is a debate about the federal law which is said to involve issues of freedom of speech. A curious aspect of this debate is that those who want to get rid of the federal law say nothing about the state law although it covers much the same ground in wider and older terms. Do we want to legalise insulting or offensive behaviour in public that is calculated to inflame others and provoke a breach of the peace? Do we want to make it legal for a white man to walk through Chinatown with a placard saying ‘Slants eat cats’ or to stand outside a mosque chanting ‘Muslems follow a false prophet’ with a cartoon to match? Many people, and nearly all police, would agree that there is no reason to change those laws.

The abolitionists are high on ideology, and they are obsessed with phantoms. They think that a law that makes a form of words unlawful or illegal infringes speech and operates as censorship. If you were to offer one million dollars to a hit man to get rid of your ex or to blow up parliament, you would look a bit of a dill if you told the arresting police that they were imposing censorship on your right to free speech. This is another case of people substituting labels or slogans for thought, the hallmark of modern politicians. But if you wrote a script for the evening news that was riddled with what we call the magic words, you could certainly expect the script to be censored, and if not, the publisher would be liable to be dealt with under laws designed to protect manners more than morals. We do not hear calls to abolish those laws. Nor do we see people murdered when these laws are broken.

Why then is there concern about offence or insult caused by race? Is not the threat of a breach of the peace worse if I insult or offend you on the ground of your race? Or do people argue that the offensive or insulting behaviour should be a crime – unless it arises from race?

The other day, twelve people were murdered in Paris for insulting Islam in a newspaper. Before the dead journalists and cartoonists had been buried, the Australian press carried suggestions that these murders should reopen the debate about our federal law – although that law deals with race and not religion, and the number of dead suggests that there might be something to say for curtailing speech that is likely to lead to violence.

I am having trouble in seeing the connection between the murders in Paris and our debate about offending or insulting people on account of their race. Is it any more than this? These murders in Paris deter people from speaking their mind on religion. Murders are bad. Therefore our laws that deter people from speaking their mind on race are bad too. Even though we abolitionists say nothing about the other more general laws to the same effect which do not mention either religion or race.

It is curious that no one mentions our law of blasphemy. As I understand it (and the authority I refer to is at best wobbly), the common law in this country may still be to the effect that blasphemy is a criminal offence that is constituted by a form of denial of the basic elements of a religion in a manner likely to give offence, if not provoke a breach of the peace. If this part of our common law is still with us, it may give more offence than it did previously, because it is likely to be confined to Christianity, if not the Church of England, the church that our constitution says that our sovereign must be a communicant member of. I personally find it easier to get agitated about the role of a church in our constitution, and the law of blasphemy, than an arid politically driven discussion about one small part of our laws dealing with insulting or offensive conduct.

Our state laws dealing with offensive or insulting conduct have been used by police to control disruptive ratbags for longer than I can remember. When I started in the law, the police abused those laws by producing a ‘sheet of language’ when they could not think of anything else to charge a protestor with, but those days are long gone. I am not aware of any other reason to get rid of laws that appear to be sensible if not essential to a civilised community.

Since 1789, people in Paris and what is now Melbourne have been committed to the idea that we should be free to do what we like provided that it does not injure others. By the time you categorise all the ways in which others may be injured, there is not much content left to the original idea – the freedom is determined by the ambit of the exceptions, and where you draw the line is where you get the arguments. This is very common in the law. The events in Paris remind us that there are hundreds of millions of people in the world who can be greatly hurt by speech directed at their religious belief – so hurt that many of them want to kill those responsible. It is curious that that reminder leads some politically driven people in Melbourne to resume their campaign to abolish a law that gives another category of protection against injurious speech.

What are we to make of this? A lot of the agitation comes from the Institute of Public Affairs and friends and associates of Mr Andrew Bolt and Mr Rupert Murdoch. The conclusion that I draw about the IPA is that its members are strangers to the concept of rational thought and to the workings of the law, and that the IPA is a gift from God to the ALP. It is a gift that will keep on giving, just as years ago the faceless men behind the ALP kept on giving to the Liberal Party, because every time it opens its dopey mouth, the IPA spreads electoral poison. And that just might be a real triumph for free speech in this nation.

Terror and the Police State – extract


Here is the beginning of the book Terror and the Police State.  I have put out some extracts before and others will follow, but the Preface seems to have relevance to the present discussion.  The case of Bob is real and continuing.  That vigilance is a cost of freedom might be a cliché, but it is hard to avoid.

Read on in the Preface above.

Mr Turner


Once I knew a very refined elderly man in Toorak who refused to go to see the film Amadeus. He worshipped Mozart and he did not want to see that lavatory humour splashed across the screen. For the first hour of Mr Turner, I was wondering if I should have followed this example, but the movie came to life, and started to carry the audience with its hero, thanks to two women, his maid and his later common law wife. Both of these parts looked straight out of Dickens – the sets and costumes are uniformly excellent – and each was played inch perfect. The Poms are so good at this on stage and screen – they bat right down the order.

Turner comes to life with his new love. For some reason the director wanted to drive us to distraction in a very long movie with two of the most irritating whingers ever born, the ex-wife and a failed painter. Foreplay may not be the hero’s strong suit, but the courtship scene is affecting and involving. We knew that he cared for his father, but we wondered otherwise if his only outlet was with the paint brush. Although Turner snorts a lot, and can be abrupt, he gets on with the Academy like one of the boys in the locker room at the golf club. I was surprised at his easy acceptance – the son of a barber with a gruff South London accent. We get a glimpse at some of the great paintings – there is a real frissson when a few of them in a boat see the fighting Temeraire being towed toward them by that black steam boat. Ruskin gets a family backhander, which is not unjust for the most over-rated commentator since Cicero.

For me, Turner is right up there with El Greco as a mould-breaker in painting. I doubt whether the film will convey this wonderment to all, but in one of two beautiful scenes involving a daguerreotype, Turner asks why the camera cannot show colour. When he is told that this is a mystery, he replies, softly, long may it remain so. We have seen an experiment on colour with a prism, but the mystery of art is inviolable. The film is gorgeously apparelled on the screen. I did not like the music, but others, I gather, do. At least it is not that Muzak we normally get. This is a film of substance about a genius.

An Australian in the Dakar


This year’s Dakar rally has been run and won. It used to be run from Paris to Dakar but for the last seven years or so, and for the foreseeable future, it has been or will be run in South America, from and to Buenos Aires, now taking in Bolivia as well as Chile. They cross the Andes, twice, and have to negotiate the Atacama Desert, and some salt lakes. The landscapes, the action, and the divergent peoples looking on – think of the gauchos or those hats in Bolivia – make it a paradise for photographers and television. There are alps, deserts, rivers and lakes, salt pans, prairie lands, ocean coasts, and canyons – the scenery is non-stop mesmerising. I have seen contestants stop to check the view.

The event is open to bikes, quads, cars, and trucks, and it is far more of an endurance test off road than the traditional World Rally Car events that have been dominated by Peugeot and Citroen. It is run over two weeks. The podiums tend to be reserved for the main manufacturers, but you get some gutsy individuals down the line for whom it is an honour to finish. One Japanese truck driver is over 70, and the current car champion is an Arab aged 44.

The bikes have been the preserve of KTM and Honda. In the cars, it has recently been Volkswagen and now Mini. Peugeot is trying to come back this year and had three previous champions driving for them. What counts for drivers counts for cars – experience. Cyril Despres won five titles on a bike but was well back in the field in his first outing in a car. Peterhansel has won many titles on both bikes and cars. He is in class of his own, but he was well back this year in a Peugeot. Peterhansel thought that Despres had been pushing his car too hard now that he had the luxury of a protective cage. The Spanish rider Mark Coma, who is 36, won his fifth title. An Arab, Nasser Al-Altiyah, won his second title at the age of 44. He is seriously quick, and a sportsman – he won bronze in Olympic shooting in London. The Russians rule the trucks. And I do mean ‘rule’.

At the top, all sport is a test of character, but there is no other test like this. They may have to drive 800 k’s in a day, including about 250k’s off-road in the ‘special’. Cars have a co-driver and navigator, and the protection of the car body. The bikes have neither and if you hit a rock at speed, it might be fatal. They have to be ready to do their own repairs or dig themselves out, even if it takes until three in the morning and they get next to no sleep before the next stage. Under the most trying circumstances, they have to be civil to the TV. Their demeanour might put all other sports except golf to shame.

I worry that the event is getting too tough. This year, they faced heat of 42 degrees, and a couple of days later, it was two degrees as they drove across a salt flat into rain and a wind for hours on end combatting fatigue while the weather, the wet, and the salt caused many bikes to drop out. No one was at fault – they just did not make it.

The competitors take a level of skill for granted. The rest is character – and experience. As in most professions or sports, there is no substitute for experience. That is why it is almost unbelievable that an Australian on a bike called Toby Price finished third at his first attempt. This must be at the level of getting to the podium in the Tour de France or in F1 first up. It just does not happen. The official TV cover said that the achievement was beyond words.

Mr Price is obviously gifted and a man of character. According to the press, he was badly injured about twenty months ago in the US. There were three fractures in his back. He was a bump a way from being a paraplegic. He was insured but he could not handle the quote for $500,000. He therefore took the risk of flying back to Australia where he was able to get off the plane, and have immediate surgery that was successful. After a crash course in the difficult Dakar navigation from Mark Coma, he was off on his first Dakar, hoping just to finish, at best in the top twenty. He was strong throughout, and finished well, although the last stage was like the battle of the Somme. He stood on the podium with his instructor, and another of his heroes.   He told the press:

I’m at a loss for words. When I decided to sign up three or four months ago, I was quite nervous. I didn’t know what I was getting into. And now I’m on the finish line … happy.

This is a remarkable story for this brave young man from the Hunter.

The Nightcrawler


There may be more to this film than meets the eye. The hero, Louis Bloom – Bloom! – is a predator, a jackal or vulture who preys on the vulnerable or dead. Stopped in a petty burglary, he mugs the nightwatchman for a shiny watch. Then he gets the idea of filming crime and accident scenes at night and selling the film to those mindless bottom-grazers on morning TV – ‘if it bleeds, it leads’. What could be better – preying on the vulnerable or the dead and trading in human misery? He hires a down-and-out whom he exploits ruthlessly. He gets under the skin of a news director whose star has faded, and she too is vulnerable to his exploitation – and corruption. Bloom is a simpleton who parrots management speak that he has picked up on the Net. He is a petty geek gone very wrong. He has neither brains nor conscience, but the froideur of an SS functionary. Jake Gyllenhaal is a spectral apparition who holds the audience between squirming and tittering. He resembles Pacino at times, but those shots in the car reveal wide eyes that challenge you to identify the frozen emptiness behind him. Rene Russo is very strong and appealing as the desperate faded pro. Bloom may be a metaphor for our trading corporations and their call centres – the hero has no personality, but he is driven by a machined business plan that leaves him utterly without heart or conscience. This is a different kind of American film that has a lot to say about the death of God and the Kingdom of Nothingness.

Terror in Paris III – Terror and Religion in France


There is a long history of terror and religion in France. The Reformation led to religious wars as bloody and terrifying as those in Germany. The St Bartholomew’s Day massacre in 1572 saw about 2000 Protestants (Huguenots) murdered in Paris and about 8000 in the provinces. England and Europe were horrified. The Edict of Nantes granted protection to Protestants and was a step toward tolerance and a separation of Church and State, but Cardinals Richelieu and Mazarin would be instrumental in governing France, acting effectively as Prime Ministers.

In 1685 the Sun King, Louis XIV, revoked the Edict, and Protestantism was again illegal. Protestant clergy had two weeks to convert or get out. The consequent brain and capital drain – the reason South African cricketers have curious names – damaged France, much as the expulsion of the Jews damaged Germany later. Louis XVI reinstated toleration just before the Revolution but the Catholic Church was a rich and corrupt part of government and was hated as much as the aristocracy.

The position of the Catholic Church in France then has been compared to that of the Jewish community in Germany later. The abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Pres owned land equivalent to two arrondissements in Paris. Accordingly, much of the venom of the Revolution was directed against the Church and its clergy. The object was to strip them of their power and wealth. Many wanted to annihilate the Church.

In 1790 the National Assembly enacted the Civil Constitution of the Clergy. They broke with Rome. The clergy were to be elected. They had to take an oath of loyalty. This split the clergy. There were a appalling massacres of priests. The revolt in the West (the Vendee) was both Royalist and Catholic, and the slaughter was atrocious.   Up to a third of the population was extirpated in what we would call genocide. Priests were locked on boats that were then scuttled on the Loire and men and women were stripped naked and flung off the boats in ‘republican marriages.’ During the Terror proper, blood literally ran in the gutters of France from the guillotine.

There is more about religion in the French Revolution in the attached. Religion in France.

Napoleon restored order and did a deal with the Vatican (the Concordat) for much the same reasons that Hitler would: to shut them up and to lock them in. The Church remembered the drownings and the slaughters rather than the Rights of Man and it became mindlessly reactionary. There was violence and terror in uprisings in 1830, 1848, and 1870 as France tried one form of government after another. The Church was not a main player in these events, but it was again seen as the party of the established social order and the enemy of the poor. And the Church was bitterly resented for its interference in social and sexual life by its teaching on birth control and its insane strictures on dancing – the polka and waltz were seen as morally dangerous.

Toward the end of the century France was convulsed by the Dreyfus Affair. It recurs throughout Proust. A high ranking Jewish army officer was cashiered on false evidence and process. The army covered up murderously and the Establishment backed it up to the hilt. So did the Church. The split ran for years and years and showed an ugly anti-Semitism and moral thinness in French society at the top. In its blind reactionism, the Church sided with the Establishment. The Church’s hypocritical and sex-crazed priests were rightly or wrongly seen to be in league with a greedy and presumptuous bourgeoisie and a vacuous and arrogant aristocracy. When that side lost, there would be a high price for the Church.

The other source of hostility was that Catholic orders were beyond the control of the bishops and the Concordat. Their role in education was seen as inimical to equality and fraternity. The French saw something that this country now knows too well – deux jeunesses, two childhoods, splitting society. In the early 1900’s a government led by Freemasons secularised the nation. Most religious orders were dissolved and forced to go abroad. Members of religious orders were prohibited from teaching. Education was the function of the family and government. The response of the Vatican led to a formal separation of Church and State. That secularism, what the French call laicite, has been planted deeply with blood into the French world. The sexual abuse scandal has served to confirm it and the decline of the Church in French life.

It was not until this time that the government of France became settled after the convulsions and blood of the Revolution and the Napoleonic Wars that killed millions. Then came the two world wars. During the second, many French people collaborated in the Holocaust and trainloads of French Jews were despatched to be murdered en masse. After those wars, the failure of France as an imperial power, came home to haunt it. It was subject to waves of terror for decades, especially because of its conduct in Algeria. Its standing in other Muslem nations was not much better. You will never see a French version of the Commonwealth Games. The 1968 uprising underlined the hollowness of the French constitutional fabric, but the intervening peace may be the longest period of stability since Calvin.

What does this mean for the recent surge in terror in France? Put to one side the religious strife and the waves of terror running through the centuries. Put to one side current reports that the Jewish community has more fear of attack than the Muslem community, and is leaving France in numbers. (The four who were murdered in the supermarket were buried in Israel.) What this history means is at least this. If you are a migrant with religious beliefs and practices and you want a government representing a nation that actively supports organised religion taking part in running the country, then you are in the wrong country in France. Your position is even worse if you are liable to be hurt by its other people exercising their legal rights. If you want the people of your host nation to change their ways and to give up their rights to suit your religious sensitivities, you are suffering from a delusion that is not endearing.

Muslems who want a government that will protect their religious sensitivities have plenty on offer. Saudi Arabia, for example, one of the most backward, decadent and cruel regimes on the planet, and a key ally in our war on terror, is currently administering 1000 lashes in public to a man given ten years in jail for being rude about Islam in a blog. Those who are sour on Charlie Hebdo might bear this chasm in mind.

The Imitation Game


Do you worry, too, when at the beginning of a film, you read ‘Based on a true story’? Just how far off the base are we going to fly, Brother? At a fairly great altitude in The Imitation Game. It is a great story. A man named Alan Turing had not been all that brilliant at his public school or at King’s College Cambridge, but he had mind of unexampled power when it came to solving puzzles and inventing machines to solve them. This extraordinary gift was truly providential for mankind in helping England to defeat Hitler. But Turing was homosexual and he got caught after the war. Rather than face prison, he agreed to hormonal treatment to take away his predilection. A couple of years later, he took his own life. A man who might fairly be said to have saved the nation was chemically castrated. After the laws changed and the work of the decoders became known, the English Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, gave an apology in Parliament. The Queen has since granted a pardon. It is hard to believe that these events happened in my lifetime.

This story is told lovingly by Andrew Hodges in Alan Turing: The Enigma, but it runs beyond 700 pages and it has a lot of technical stuff.  I learned that Turing’s father got him exempted from cricket at school and allowed to play golf. This may not have helped. The film shows Turing as a kind idiot savant who will not team with anyone. His mother enforced caste – Alan was not to play with children of a plumber for fear his accent might suffer. This would not have helped either. Nevertheless, Turing survived all this, and Princeton, and went on to become the leading figure at the now famous Bletchley Park in decoding.

The German Enigma code was driven by a fiendish machine and was regarded as unbreakable. Turing broke it. He did so by making a machine that prefigures the computer that will convey this note. It was a colossal achievement, and one that undoubtedly shortened the war and saved lives – fourteen million according to the film. The delicate part lay in how to use decoded material without alerting the enemy to the fact that the code was broken.

This is a wonderful example of how the English harnessed all their very best minds to fight the War – by expelling or killing Jews, Germany tended in the opposite direction. But the producers of the film have not been content with this story which so deserves to be told. They had to dress it up, or sex it up, with quite unbelievable espionage extras and moral dilemnas and conflict with the military that is overdone. After you wonder whether this is 007 or the Famous Five, you are left with a lot of soap and too many typed caricatures. The film is at risk of collapsing in smarmy silliness. You will still get the basis of the story, but I cannot help thinking that the subject could have ruefully foreseen the trimmings. He deserves better. He was a most remarkable man, and the whole world is in debt to him.

Terror in Paris II – Credo Killers


In Paris two armed men murdered twelve people. The killers were apparently religious fanatics or zealots. They conducted the operation with a cool efficiency that showed military training. They killed expressly in the name of their God and faith. They did so to create terror among other people for their own purposes. They killed people who they believed were acting against their faith.

About three thousand years ago at a little village called Ai in what used to be called the Holy Land armed men killed twelve thousand people. They were apparently religious fanatics or zealots. They conducted the operation with a cool efficiency that showed military training. They killed expressly in the name of their God and faith. They did so to create terror among other people for their own purposes. They killed people who they believed were acting against their faith.

The massacre at Ai is described in the book of Joshua in a book, the Bible, that provides a foundation for three religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Different numbers were involved in Paris and Ai. In Paris, two killers killed twelve people; in Ai, thirty thousand warriors killed twelve thousand people.

Another difference is in the reason for the killings. In Paris, it appears that the murderers killed people that they thought were involved in insulting their religion. The victims, including police, were in their perverted thinking guilty. In Ai, men, women and children were massacred and the city destroyed because they were part of the Promised Land, that is, part of the land promised by Jehovah to the tribes of Israel. At least, that is what the Bible says. Their ‘guilt’, including the guilt of their children, was to be on the wrong side of the tribal and religious divide. The dice rolled badly for them.

The indigenous or aboriginal peoples at Ai were all liable to massacre under the Law of God expressed in the Bible, to which Jews, Christians, and Muslems owe allegiance. The book of Deuteronomy (chapter 20, 13-17) records that Moses told the people of Israel that if they took a foreign city, they were to kill every male: the women and children ‘thou shall take unto thyself’. ‘But the cities of these people which the Lord thy God doth give thee for an inheritance thou shalt save nothing alive that breatheth.’ This is an injunction to commit acts of terror. It is a prescription for what we call ethnic cleansing or genocide. Under it, Joshua and the tribes blew their trumpets at Jericho so that ‘the wall fell down flat’; and ‘they utterly destroyed all that was in the city, both man and woman, young and old, and ox and sheep and ass, with the edge of the sword’. At Ai, Joshua set up a clever ambush to enable the massacre of all inhabitants. He did so with ‘thirty thousand mighty men of valour,’ and ‘so it was that all that fell that day, both of men and women, were twelve thousand, even all the men of Ai’(Joshua 8:25.)

Most historians say that Islam was spread by the sword. Well, the Promised Land had been taken by the sword for the tribes of Israel by mighty men of valour with the help of God. Most of the people of Islam now believe that the promised land of Israel is being increased by the sword, with or without help from God. On any view, the history of both of these faiths is marked by violence and terror in the name of their religion and the world as whole is worse off as a result of at least that part of their history.

There is another difference between the murders at Paris and Ai. Leaders of Islam have condemned the murders in Paris as being against their religion. If anyone has said the same for the murders at Ai on behalf of Judaism, Christianity or Islam, I have not heard it. It will be difficult to say that those murders were committed against the word of God. Did the author of the Bible get it wrong or has God changed the rules since then?

This two-facedness makes unbelievers angry. On what ground do the followers of Judaism, Christianity or Islam say that they do not follow a God whose word enjoins terrorism and the doctrine that might makes right? On what basis do they maintain that the God of the Bible is not a terrorist, and a much more lethal terrorist than any of the Greek or Roman gods?

A Jewish zealot shot and killed the Prime Minister of Israel Yitzhak Rabin. The killer used a Beretta 84F .380 ACP semi-automatic pistol. He said that he did it for God because in his view the Prime Minister was betraying Israel. Mr Rabin had been awarded the Nobel Prize for his part in the Oslo Accords for peace in Palestine. The murderer, Yigal Amir, also said:

There is no moral problem. If I was conquering the land now, I would have to kill babies and children as it is written in the book of Joshua.

Was he wrong? Yigal Amir killed for a belief. He killed in the belief that his religion justified his killing. The judges expressly repudiated this argument saying that it was ‘completely inappropriate and amounts to cynical exploitation of Jewish law for goals that are alien to Judaism’. In passing sentence, the Court said: ‘He who so calmly cuts short another’s life, only proves the depth of wretchedness to which [his] values have fallen, and thus he does not merit any regard whatsoever, except pity, because he has lost his humanity.’

Regardless of what the judges said, it hardly seems right to say that this killer was a radical Jew, or that his Judaism radicalised him and made him a killer. Is it fair or even open to blame Judaism for the acts of this killer whose beliefs are seen as a perversion of Judaism? We do not after all call the Ku Klux Klan radical Christians. Christians would be affronted by that description. Is it fair or even open to blame Christianity for the acts of the Ku Klux Klan whose beliefs are seen as a perversion of Christianity?

We need to have this in mind when applying labels like ‘radical Muslems’ to people who kill for a perverted belief in Islam. These labels do not conduce to fairness or sense. I am aware that many Muslems around the world tacitly sympathize with some of these people, just as many so called Christians in the American South tacitly sympathised with the Klan. But to brand every member of a creed by the actions of a few just because they hold that belief is to commit the moral and intellectual crime that lies at the very core of racism.

To the victims of people like Yigal Amir or the Klan, or the terrorists in Paris, the nature of the belief driving their killers hardly matters. It matters to the rest of us, believers or not, in trying to protect ourselves against others who are prepared to kill for a belief. The great American jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes stopped three bullets during the American Civil War. More than thirty years after the end of that war in an address called ‘The Soldier’s Faith’, Holmes spoke with admiration of those ‘able to face annihilation for a blind belief.’

The faith of Justice Holmes is in a different universe. The killers we are talking of kill for a belief that excludes tolerance for any contrary belief and any diversion or softening on other moral grounds. I believe – therefore I kill. Credo ergo caedo. They become what might be called credo killers – people like the terrorists in Paris, the Klan, Yigal Amir, and Joshua.

As it happens, the worst credo killers of the twentieth century were killing against God rather than with him, but that is not much help to the rest of us. It matters little to the dead and their families whether the belief for which they were killed is a perversion of a religious faith or a political idea, but it will matter if we the victims spread the poison by judging others just by their creed.

For those who may be interested, I attach a brief extract from the book Terror and the Police State from the chapter Religion, propaganda, and cults. Extract

And as a footnote to the note on A law of suspects?, I set out the following remarks by David Bromwich in a piece entitled Working on the Dark Side from the current (8 January) London Review of Books. In discussing the Senate Select Committee report on CIA detention and interrogation, the learned author says:

Cheney worked hard to eradicate from the minds of Americans the idea that there can be such a thing as a ‘suspect’. Due process of law rests on the acknowledged possibility that a suspect may be innocent; but for Cheney, a person interrogated on suspicion of terrorism is a terrorist. To elaborate a view beyond that point, as he sees it, only involves government in a wasteful tangle of doubts. Cheney concedes from time to time that mistakes can happen; but the leading quality of the man is a perfect freedom from remorse. ‘I’d do it again in a minute.’

Unfortunately for us, Mr Cheney is not alone in having a perfect freedom from remorse, or in being eager to come back for more.

Terror in Paris – I – A law of suspects?


There has been an increase in terror attacks in the West recently. The attacks in France have been worse than others. In their drive to outpace each other, the networks covering the events from time to time got ahead of themselves when looking at the histories of the dead criminals in the Paris attacks. The histories of those criminals had, we were told, made them ‘suspect.’ These histories were only in part in the open – the rest was the result of covert surveillance.

We could discern that there may be some shifts in public attitudes toward snooping on the communications if that snooping helps to prevent outrages such as those we have just seen, or to catch those who commit these crimes. For some bizarre reason I was reminded of my attitude to airline pilots a long time ago. I used to think that they were overpaid – but that thought always evaporated as soon as one of them had the job of lifting me and hundreds of others safely to the other side of the world.

Dealing with surveillance is one thing. Dealing with people who become ‘suspect’ as a result of that surveillance is something different. Under our idea of the rule of law, we do not deprive people of their liberty merely because they are suspected of having committed or of being about to commit a crime. It may be as well to look at how these questions are dealt with in states subjected to government by terror. The regimes of Stalin and Hitler were terrorist states. So was France for a period during the period of the French Revolution which erupted in 1789.

I have looked at those three regimes in the forthcoming book Terror and the Police State. On rereading the relevant chapter, it looks to me as if it has some bearing on some comments on recent terrorist attacks, and I set it out below. It does if nothing else give a warning of allowing terrorism in France now to allow us to be driven back to the laws of the Terror in France. The Law of Suspects was in some ways the low point of that Terror. It also is a warning about suspecting people or holding them liable just because of their creed.

Extracts from the opening chapter of the book giving terms of reference were posted here on 27 October 2014. An extract posted on 13 November gave a short history of the three regimes. Future posts will deal with terror and religion, surveillance and terror, and terror in France, Christianity, Israel and Islam.

A look back at history may provide an antidote to hysteria about the future.


Extract from Terror and the Police State.

Chapter 14

Scapegoats, suspicion, and proof

In Ancient Greece there was a practice or rite of casting out someone like a beggar or cripple or criminal in the face of some natural threat or disaster. There are traces of a far older tradition in Syria when a goat would be invoked in the purification rites for the king’s wedding – a she-goat was driven out into the waste with a silver bell on her neck. More recently, but before the Greek custom developed, the Old Testament, Leviticus 16:8, said that ‘And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel.’ The goat of the Lord was sacrificed, and the high priest by confession transferred the sins of himself and the people to the goat that was permitted to escape in the wilderness – where its fate would depend on what sort of predators it may have to contend with. There was a form of atonement. The goat that escaped became the ‘scapegoat.’ The traditions or rites might be said to prefigure the role of the Son of God being offered up to redeem mankind by atoning for its sins. A scapegoat is one who is punished for the sins of others. This ancient Middle Eastern rite has become a universal custom involving people rather than goats.

But the term has got much wider than that – a scapegoat now is not just one that has to answer for the sins of others; it has to answer for all the problems and failings of what might be called the host people. So, in the most gruesome example, the Nazis held the Jews responsible for all the lesions on the German people, moral or economic. The war had been lost only because of the failings of some generals and because Socialists and Communists had stabbed the nation in the back. Once the German people got released from the hold of these forces of evil, it could realize its potential for the first time, and nothing could stand in its way. The German character was not just innately good – it was superior; therefore the reason for any failings had to be found elsewhere. The notion of scapegoat was vital to the perversion of what passed for thought under Hitler. It is the natural first base for a weak and insecure person who is a moral coward. It is also the kind of sloppy thinking that attracts insecure people, edgy commentators and journalists, and weak governments.

Scapegoats played a far smaller role in the French Revolution. Pitt’s gold – bribes from the British government led by Pitt – came to be a convenient source of all of the discontents of the people, and the aristocracy and church were loathed and attacked, but they had been principal pillars of the ancien regime that had failed and that was being rejected and replaced, and large parts of the aristocracy and of the church were opposed to those seeking to advance the objects of the Revolution. The émigré royals and nobles were a real and not just imagined threat, or one conjured up for the purposes of propaganda. The aristocracy was no more of a scapegoat than the clergy.

There were even reasons to fear the capacity of the inmates of prisons to harm the Revolution – the September Massacres in Paris in 1792 were manic and brutal, but they were not fashioned just out of malice. The driving force of the massacres was not from on high in the government, but in the mob in the form of the sections of the Commune of Paris. Even the killers in their panic or blood-lust felt the need to employ some form of trial in a quest to find the real threat to the nation – not just to the Revolution, but to the sovereignty of the nation. What we find it hard to follow is the relief felt and the welcome given to those who were spared or acquitted. There were elements of formality and benevolence in the brutal carnage that led David Andress in The Terror to say:

Prompt justice was done, with sound practical considerations in hand. That is the real horror. It is easy to come to terms with the idea of irrational carnage carried out by sadistic mobs: such facts fit neatly into the concept of a radically different, almost subhuman crowd, safely distanced from the self-image of the observer. Far less comfortable is the realization that bloody murder could be committed by upright citizens in the name of the country’s freedom. If we quite fairly object that the victims of September were not, in fact, the active partisans of a fatal plot gainst Paris, we must also agree that believing them so was a mistake shared almost unanimously everywhere from the Legislative Assembly to street-corner tavern.

If on that occasion the blue collar crowd, the sans-culottes, showed a need for some kind of procedural check on their enthusiasm, a big problem with what we would now call the political class is that they found it so hard to check their enthusiasm. They had not had enough experience of what we call party politics and political in-fighting to allow them to tolerate differences in points of view. You are either for us or against us; you have to decide; and you might lose your head if you decide the wrong way.

They were not experienced or mature enough to be able to put up with doubt or uncertainty on what they saw as matters of principle that they also saw as having nation-forming consequences. They were in a way the sad victims of the kind of political absolutism that they believed that they were escaping. If Flaubert said that inside every revolutionary you will find a policeman, it may because what you first find is an intolerant zealot – a fanatic. This is one reason that what we call faction fights were so lethal then. People getting together to oppose those in government were, almost by definition, conspiring against the nation. Division was bad in itself.

Nor does it make much sense to look for the role of scapegoats in the Russian Revolution. The convoluted theories of Marx would lead to serious differences of view upon implementation at the best of times. They were predicated on classes being in a conflict that was terminal, and the theories had an apocalyptic and prophetic air that commanded an adherence that was most devout among those who did not understand the theories – which meant most Communists, let alone Russians. To that you must had the cold egomania of Lenin, who hardly gave the theories a chance, and the manic paranoia of Stalin, who could not care less, and you see that it hardly helps us in our inquiries to ask if the kulaks may have been seen as scapegoats. The thinking that determined who might be targeted by regimes led by Lenin or Stalin – or, for that matter, Mr Putin – may be something that just passes our understanding.

A scapegoat may afford a kind of out for a regime, but suspects are at least a potential threat to it, at least ‘suspects’ in the terms that we are about to see. There is no reason why one person may not fulfil the criteria of more than one category. An aristocrat may have passed through a journey in time from being an enemy, to a threat, to a suspect, to a scapegoat. One of the infamies of Hitler was his treatment of the Jews as scapegoats. One of the darkest parts of the French Revolution is seen to be the Law of Suspects.

The Law of Suspects of 17 September 1793 is a model of concise drafting, but we sometimes find that the more concise a law is, the wider and the more unpredictable is its effect. Clause 1 said: ‘Immediately after the publication of the present decree, all suspected persons within the territory of the Republic and still at liberty shall be placed in custody.’ Clause 2 says who are ‘suspected persons’. Well, the class includes ‘partisans of tyranny or enemies of liberty’, ‘those to whom certificates of patriotism have been refused’ and ‘former nobles’ and their families ….who have not steadily manifested their devotion to the Revolution’. That is to say – anybody that somebody in power does not like the look of. It is hard to imagine a more complete ‘enemy of liberty’ than the author of this law. The law does not say if these people are guilty of any offence, or how they are to be dealt with if they are – it just says that they shall be detained, at their expense, ‘until the peace’.

The French pride themselves on the economy and style of their drafting. Flaubert used to read some of the Code Napoleon each day to warm up on for his writing. (It is impossible for a common lawyer to imagine anyone doing that with any statute ever made anywhere.) The legal drafting during the Revolution may not have received the time and polish of later documents, but it was not long-winded. Most of the decrees are short and to the point and look like they might be addressed to issues of the management of a petanque club.

Clause 3 provided that each Watch (Surveillance) Committee (known as the Revolutionary Committee) is charged with drafting for each arrondisement ‘a list of suspected persons’, and issuing warrants of arrest against them, and having seals put on their papers. The ‘commanders of the public force’ receiving such a warrant must execute the warrant and arrest the suspect immediately. Clause 4 says a committee can only order an arrest if at least seven are present, and by an absolute majority. Clause 5 says that they are to be taken first to the local jail and then, under clause 6, transferred to national buildings. Clause 7 allows the prisoners to have their absolutely essential belongings, and says that ‘they shall remain there until the peace’ (which is not defined). By clause 8, the prisoners have to bear the expense of their custody. Under Clause 9 the Committee must give a list of arrested suspects to the Committee of General Security. Clause 11 allows courts to have detained in jail those who are acquitted before them – this clause makes no express reference to such a person being ‘suspect’. That is the whole law.

Like the decree about the Revolutionary Tribunal, this decree does not say that certain acts are criminal (against the law) – rather it just empowers some people to take some action against some other people without the intervention of a court. But what is clear is that if you had been refused your Civic Card – and we saw what the Paris Commune said about this – or if your Committee did not think that you had steadily manifested your devotion to the Revolution, they could cause you to be arrested and be held in prison indefinitely – without any charge having been made or even any breach of the law alleged; without any evidence having been required, collected, or tendered against the target; and without any intervention from any kind of judicial officer whatsoever. And all at the expense of the victim.

You would for example risk being suspected and therefore arrested and held indefinitely if you called someone vous or monsieur – even though that form of address was the spontaneous habit of a lifetime formed in a customary exhibition of courtesy throughout all classes in all of France.

There is nothing in the law that says that a suspect may be executed or otherwise punished for a breach of the law – it merely says that one class of persons may be detained for the duration, or until the peace. Some historians have believed that your being a suspect might of itself have led to the guillotine – this may have been so in fact, but not because of this law. It is not at all uncommon to find a law permitting a government to detain certain kinds of persons in a nation at war. During World War II, Britain did this with citizens of German descent, and the US did it with those of Japanese descent. These are called internment laws. Even Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus for the duration of the American Civil War.

In England during World War II, there was a famous exchange on England’s highest court, the House of Lords, about a wartime regulation that gave the Secretary of State the power to detain a person if he had ‘reasonable cause’ to believe that person had ‘hostile associations’. If this issue should come before a court, say on a writ of habeas corpus, should the court conclude that it must be satisfied of the ‘reasonable cause,’ or was it sufficient for the Home Secretary to say that he believed that he had reasonable cause? The majority thought that a wartime emergency provision should be applied to make it effective rather than to have it weighed down with fine legal argument. They were also sensitive that they as judges may not have had access to security information gained as part of the war effort. They accepted the submission of the government and held that the opinion of the Home Secretary was enough.

Even at the height of the war, the case caused headlines by the terms of the dissent of a very famous judge named Lord Atkin. He objected to a ‘strained construction put on words with the effect of giving an uncontrolled power of imprisonment to the minister’. He went on to say:

In England, amidst the clash of arms, the laws are not silent. They may be changed, but they speak the same language in war as in peace. It has always been one of the pillars of freedom, one of the principles of liberty for which on recent authority we are now fighting, that the judges are no respecters of persons and stand between the subject and any attempted encroachments on his liberty by the executive, alert to see that any coercive action is justified in law.His Lordship went on to say that he knew of only one authority to justify the reasoning of the majority – and he referred to the colloquy between Alice and Humpty Dumpty in Alice in Wonderland. This remark offended the majority, but not as much as his remark that ‘in this case I have listened to arguments which might have been addressed acceptably to the Court of King’s Bench in the time of Charles I’.

Lord Atkin’s reasoning commands general acceptance today, but sensible courts make allowances for decisions taken in extreme emergency, which England plainly was when the man called Liversidge was detained, and also about the need for judges to show some respect for the separation of powers where the executive appears to be acting bona fide in issues involving security and intelligence during wartime.

But although the French law did not of itself lead people to the guillotine, and most of those detained under this law survived the Terror, its impact was huge. More than fifty places of detention were established in Paris alone within a few months. If the inmates wanted a bed, and not just a pile of straw, they had to pay. Within a short time there were about seven thousand detained in Paris, and the number for all France would rise to about 300,000. Many must have lived in fear of an outbreak of another lot of prison massacres like the September Massacres. Simon Schama painted a dark picture.

Even by the standards of the time, the Conciergerie was a wretched hole, a place which managed to engender phenomenal squalor within imposing architectural precincts (for it too was a former princely residence)…..many of the prisoners compared it to the lower circles of Dante’s Inferno, a house of vermin, smelling of sickness and ordure…..the vast majority slept a la paille, on straw, in tiny cachots, deprived of air and water, with no place to relieve themselves except the floor. After a while, prisoners ceased to care, sleeping by and in their own excrement, covered with lice and open sores. To vary the routine, they could walk together under the ogival vaults of the long sombre corridor known as the ‘rue de Paris’, watch the scuttle of rats and exchange gossip about the latest admissions.


So, in looking at Law of Suspects, we need to remember that it was an emergency measure relating to internment during and for the duration of the then equivalent of a world war that saw most of Europe intent on overthrowing the government of the French nation and assisting in the setting up of a replacement government that was almost certainly contrary to the wishes of a clear majority of the French people. Another thing to remember is that this kind of wartime measure may run across general notions of due process or civil liberties in ways that might fairly become the subject of reasonable differences of opinion between fair minded people. It is not reasonably open to express any such reservation about any similar measures taken as part of the terror in Russia or Germany.

Nor is there much point in talking about onus of proof. That notion is hardly determinative if lay people are asking whether they ‘suspect’ someone within the terms of the relevant law. If someone was charged with an offence, then under the general French law, those bringing the charge had to prove facts sufficient to found a finding of guilt. That was the theory, but the practice was different – for the most part, there was a kind of presumption of guilt rather than innocence, and a kind of onus fell on the prisoner to ‘beat the charge.’ There was a sense that the prosecutor, judge, and jury were all on the same team, and someone on the outer had real trouble getting back into safety.

If the Law of Suspects could not of itself lead to the guillotine, what did? Even now, a charge of conspiracy in many jurisdictions signifies that those behind the prosecution cannot produce hard evidence of a clear breach of the criminal law, and there are what might be called forensic advantages for the prosecution in following such a course. Good judges now tend to be skeptical of this kind of process, and some are not shy to say so. Well, if nothing else, Robespierre knew all about conspiracies, and the more time went on, the more he was inclined to see one. As early as 1790, the press had commented on his repeated references to ‘plots and conspiracies of which he alone held the secret’, but it took years for the boy who cried ‘Wolf’ to be called out.

The English historian the Reverend J M Thompson of Oxford University was very far from being down on Robespierre, and his assessments are balanced and well informed. In his little book Robespierre and the French Revolution, Mr Thompson made these remarks in the context of prosecutions of enemies of the Revolution:

His method was to construct from the speeches or publications of individuals or from the company they kept a common programme or policy, of which perhaps none of them was personally conscious, and to father it on them all. Thus when they were put on trial each found himself involved in vague charges, based on a casual word here, a conversation overheard there, or a piece of gossip started by some spiteful neighbour – charges which it was useless to disprove in detail, and which in their accumulated effect were fatal.

On what was a kind show trial for the followers of Hebert, Thompson went on:

Between their arrest and trial he [Robespierre] made several speeches denouncing the prisoners, and informing the public that, as soon as the Extremists had been dealt with, the Government would turn its attention to the Reactionaries. There was in fact no trial in our sense of the term, but merely an indictment of persons who must be guilty because the Government had decided that they were: the salaried judges and jury would give their assassination an appearance of legality, and the crowd could be trusted to applaud their execution. Such is the technique of dictatorship.

Those propositions have the odor of truth or, if you prefer, reality, and the methods described have a ghastly resemblance to those used in the Moscow Show Trials in the 1930’s.

Robespierre’s lieutenant in enforcing the terror was a cold, heartless young lawyer and ideologue named Saint-Just. Saint-Just had the blood of Lenin in his veins. He said that ‘we must rule by iron those who cannot be ruled by justice. You must punish not merely traitors but the indifferent as well’. A colleague on the Committee of Public Safety, the crippled Couthon, was fond of asking: ‘What have you done to merit being hanged if the counter-revolution comes?’ Saint-Just was called ‘the angel of death’. The execution was referred to as the ‘Red Mass’, ‘spitting in the sack’, or ‘peeping through the window’. The presumption of innocence was as good as reversed. Robespierre said: ‘Whosoever trembles at this moment is also guilty.’ He had also added ‘trial by conscience’ – an intuitive decision rather than a reasonable one; the accused could be convicted for attitude as well as actions. How Rousseau would have applauded! In one speech, Robespierre gave the essence of paranoia – ‘Look about you. Share my fear, and consider how all now wear the same mask of patriotism.’ The good looked just the same as the bad.

Saint-Just said that ‘the very resistance of these scoundrels proves their guilt’. Couthon said ‘moral proof’ was enough – ‘for a citizen to become suspect, it is sufficient that rumour accuses him’. When the prosecutor said that there was not enough evidence to convict all of the Cordeliers, Saint-Just gave a short response – ‘Amalgamate’. Take them as a job lot.

We can trace a line of conspiracy allegations. Camille Desmoulins took exception to what Brissot had said in his propaganda journal, Le Patriote fancais, and he wrote an article in reply attacking Brissot for defending gambling – Desmoulins thought that Brissot was not a true patriot on that account. He went further and called him a traitor. Fifteen months later, Desmoulins launched a more comprehensive attack, The History of the Brissotins. He now alleged conspiracy and Brissot was expelled from the Jacobins. He had the ultimate answer of the ultimate conspiracy theorist from Brissot himself: ‘It is absurd to ask for hard evidence and judicial proofs that one has never had. Not even in the conspiracy of Catiline, for conspirators have never been in the habit of letting evidence against themselves be open to discovery.’ The less evidence there was, the deeper the conspiracy had to be! Desmoulins raked over all their record – and if you look at history in a certain way, it may tell you want you want to hear.

Desmoulins then claimed to be shocked when the charges of conspiracy that came to be laid before the Revolutionary Tribunal relied so much on his work. Then some of the Brissotins fled, and even Saint-Just would have spared some: ‘You must distinguish between those detained; most were misled; and who among us can flatter himself that he was never deceived? The true culprits are those who fled…..Proscribe them not for what they said but for what they did; pass judgment on the others and pardon the greater number.’

When it came time to judge Desmoulins, Saint Just was more than happy to judge the accused for what he had said, and there was none of that softness about people being deceived.

These people, who for four years have conspired under the veil of patriotism, now that justice is closing in on them repeat the words of Vergniaud [a Brissotin]: The Revolution is like Saturn, it will devour its own children. Hebert repeated these words during his trial; they are repeated by all those who tremble as they see themselves unmasked.

Saint-Just would be one of the last children of the Revolution to be devoured. He did not tremble; but neither was he heard in his defence. The republicans loved invoking Rome, and Cicero, especially Camille Desmoulins. Catiline was a bad politician and a worse leader whose hair-brained conspiracy was almost suicidal. In one of the few decisions of substance that Cicero took, Catiline’ s supporters were executed without trial – something that even Julius Caesar thought was a little strong.

As time went on, hardly anyone beat the charge. The process became so much more formal and peremptory. People were dealt with in batches – the charges were ‘amalgamated’, a favourite technique of Saint-Just, and toward the end the prosecutor could invite the jury to say that they had heard enough to satisfy their consciences. Paris looked like a lynch mob hungry for prey.

We have seen that under the Law of Suspects, an accused person who did beat a charge could still be detained under that law, and that was certainly a course open to the NKVD or Gestapo in the very rare cases where the prosecution simply failed. The whole purpose of the revolutionary or peoples’ tribunals was to stop that kind of accident happening. Civilized legal systems say that it is better that some guilty go free rather than that one innocent person should be imprisoned; the revolutionary regime or police state takes the very opposite view – and the very words ‘innocent’ and ‘guilty’ had very different meanings for those enforcing what purported to be the laws of such regimes.

When Benjamin Constant asked who had not been denounced since 14 July 1789, he went on: ‘After seeing Bailly and Pache, La Rouchefoucald and Marat, Condorcet and Saint-Just, Sieyês and Robespierre become the targets of the same accusations, can one still believe in Revolutionary reputations?’ It is a fair question. It had got to the point where it looked like the revolution was the source of its own conspiracies. For every action there would be a reaction. Suppressing one plot led to others. There was a cycle of vendettas, witch-hunts and pogroms, and people settled personal scores in the name of a political objective. In the words ‘Share my fear, and consider how all now wear the same mask of patriotism’, we come close to heart of the three regimes looked at in this book.

In The Russian Revolution, Sheilah Fitzpatrick said this:

Suspicion of enemies – in the pay of foreign powers, involved in constant conspiracies to destroy the revolution and inflict misery on the people is a standard feature of the revolutionary mentality that Thomas Carlyle captured vividly in the passage on the Jacobin Terror of 1794…..In normal circumstances, people reject the idea that it is better that ten innocent men perish than that one guilty man go free; in the abnormal circumstances of revolution, they often accept it. Prominence is no guarantee of security in revolutions; rather the contrary. That the Great Purges uncovered so many ‘enemies’ in the guise of revolutionary leaders should come as no surprise to students of the French Revolution.

After all, the French have a saying: Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose.