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'Indecent Footage'

'Indecent Footage'

Monday, 2 May, 2022 - 10:45
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

British MP Neil Parish committed a horrific crime. Don’t go too far with your thoughts, dear reader. We are not in the terrible Middle East. He did not order the bombardment of an opposite neighborhood with heavy artillery. He didn’t plant an explosive device at the headquarters of the rival party. He did not plunder public money, nor did he despise his citizens. He did not conspire with the outside against his country. The issue is completely different and less formidable, yet it occupied the front pages and stole the headlines.

In short, a minister noticed her colleague in the House of Commons peeking on his phone at porn footage. She could only smile and forget, and record the incident as a despicable teenage behavior.

Yet, she didn’t, since the rules require that a member of Parliament must not be distracted with this kind of scene. As social media is a court that celebrates rulings of political and moral executions, a tragedy befell the representative.

The Conservative Party rushed to suspend his membership, while the knives of the media were swift in dissecting the victim.

Parish had only one solution to silence the storm, and he did not hesitate to resort to it. He resigned. He described his act as a “moment of madness.”

He said he had mistakenly opened the website the first time, “but my crime - biggest crime - is that on another occasion I went in a second time.”

He admitted that the second time had been deliberate and that it happened in the House of Commons while he was sitting waiting to vote.

Living in the West spoils a journalist, especially if he is from the Middle East. It radically modifies his dictionary and his reading of the world and events.

A few days ago, my British neighbor was pessimistic. I was not surprised, as I thought that he was under the influence of “indecent footage” of the war in Ukraine, the number of victims, scorched houses, and waves of refugees. I told myself that he might have realized the most dangerous aspect of this war that is crossing out the international borders of an independent country, and talking about modifying its map to annex or cut off some of its parts.

Normally, Europeans are concerned about the violation of borders. It reminds them of the horrors of World War II when tanks trampled on international law and breached all the rules. In fact, Europe witnessed decades of stability and prosperity after that devastating war, thanks to an agreement on the inadmissibility of violating recognized international borders.

I was wrong. He was sad for other reasons. He said it hurts him to see his country lacking politicians who could deserve the title of statesmen. How horrible it is for a British to make such a statement before a Lebanese! I thought that the man had seen an atrocious crime, similar to the many ones engraved in the diaries in our countries. When he recounted his suffering, I tried to refrain from laughing as I thought about the wide gap between two dictionaries and two worlds.

The British man said it was difficult for him to live under a government headed by a prime minister, who trespasses the law and dares to mislead the House of Commons. He was referring to the ceremonies that were held in 10 Downing Street when Britain was under strict curfews to prevent the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic. Among the “indecent footage” that stirred public opinion was an event held at the peak of the lockdown, to celebrate the birthday of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who raised a glass on the occasion.

The pandemic did not spare Johnson. It sneaked into his body and led him to the hospital. The citizens feared for his fate. But this did not help alleviate the criticism when news of the events began to leak out. Johnson initially denied the reports, claiming they were business occasions. Then he admitted his mistake and apologized; but he refused to acknowledge the breach of lockdown regulations.

The civil service has opened an investigation, which is expected to be published in full. Its impact may be stormy, especially if the Conservative Party achieves disappointing results in the upcoming local elections. Meanwhile, the police launched an investigation and imposed fines on Johnson, his wife, Carrie, and his neighbor, Chancellor of the Exchequer Rishi Sunak. The most serious accusation leveled against Johnson is misleading the House of Commons and with it public opinion.

Many say Britain cannot accept a prime minister who misleads Parliament.

A person coming from the Middle East can hardly believe what he reads or hears. Johnson did not order his forces to bombard a city with rockets or artillery. His opponents did not accuse him of covering up a mass grave or of helping a perpetrator evade justice and enter Parliament to enjoy parliamentary immunity. He drank a glass privately on his birthday and in the presence of a handful of his friends. But the British consider that he who steals an egg steals an ox. They consider that putting the Prime Minister himself above the law is a danger to the rules and values on which the democratic system is based, the most important of which is equality before the law.

Johnson was not charged with murder. He was accused of misleading. Events that may have breached lockdown measures have been treated as indecent scenes that deserve punishment.

Poor Boris Johnson. He did not push his countrymen into emigration. He didn’t cover up the destruction of a port, the killing of a city and a country. He didn’t conceal the theft of depositors’ money. He did not despise state institutions and squander them. His policies did not push his citizens to jump into death boats. He did not plunge his country into hunger and poverty, nor did he humiliate his people to the point of digging through piles of rubbish to repel starvation. He did not claim to be in the opposition despite staying in the palace. The same is true of the architect of total darkness. Johnson did not make Captagon the pride of national industry, nor did he contribute to the isolation of his country.

Can’t these crimes be included under the category of “indecent footage” that deserves an apology, resignation, or accountability?

When will people live under real institutions, the rule of law, transparency, and accountability? When will the era of failed and corrupt governments whose existence constitute the ugliest “indecent footage” end?

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