Farah Mendlesohn gave me her new SF anthology, and I'm wondering what to send her in return when she's hauled away to the Tower of London. A loaf of dwarf bread with a file in it, perhaps. To think that this self-confessed criminal once lived just up the road from Langford HQ in Reading!
Farah's book, with a suicide-belted superhero on the cover, is called Glorifying Terrorism (http://rackstrawpress.nfshost.com). It plays the dangerous game of mocking our political masters for creating another lunatic thoughtcrime with the 2006 Terrorism Act. We need the great J.B. Morton ("Beachcomber") to report on proceedings ...
Mr Justice Cocklecarrot: Committing, planning or inciting terrorism are established crimes, but what exactly is glorifying it?
Mr Tinklebury Snapdriver, for the prosecution: With respect, m'lud, that point is irrelevant. The introduction to the prisoner's work begins: "The purpose of the stories and poems in this book is to glorify terrorism." An open-and-shut case.
Mr Honeyweather Gooseboote, for the defence: Objection. The statement is satirical. Clearly no real encouragement was intended.
Snapdriver: But the Terrorism Act says equally clearly that "It is irrelevant ... whether any person is in fact encouraged or induced by the statement to commit, prepare or instigate any such act or offence." No exception is made for satire.
Cocklecarrot: Must one abandon every vestige of common sense when interpreting this Act?
Snapdriver: Yes, m'lud. We should make an example, not only of naughty Ms Mendlesohn and her 26 contributors, but of "sci-fi" fans in general – a shifty lot. Among the supposed classics of this appalling genre is Dune, by Frank Herbert, whose "hero" Paul Atreides becomes the leader of fanatical Muslim terrorists with a taste for jihad.
Cocklecarrot: Why has the miscreant Herbert not been arrested?
Snapdriver: He is American, m'lud, and dead, and thus doubly outside your jurisdiction. Let me return to Dune, a book which the prisoner (in her capacity as SF critic) has signally failed to condemn. The narrative includes a suicide attack, approvingly described, against hundreds of occupying Imperial troops doing their legitimate duty. Furthermore, the man Atreides takes the Arab name Usul, meaning "the base of the pillar" – and we all know that Al-Qaeda translates as "the base".
Gooseboote: Objection! It can also mean "foundation".
Snapdriver: I will return in my closing speech to the villainy of the late Isaac Asimov, whose SF novel Foundation not only appeared in Arabic as Al-Qaeda but reportedly inspired the Japanese terror cult Aum Shinrikyo, notorious for its nerve-gas atrocities. Meanwhile, Paul Atreides of Dune not only proceeds to detonate nuclear Weapons of Mass Destruction but becomes a revered messiah, almost a god. He is the most glorified terrorist in fiction.
Cocklecarrot: What has this to do with the case against the sinisterly red-headed Ms Mendlesohn?
Snapdriver: Just spreading a little guilt by association, m'lud. I now call the inexpert witness David Langford, who wrote about SF terrorists in the Spring 2002 issue of a lewd publication whose title [peers dubiously at magazine] would seem to be SEX.
Langford, twitching cravenly: I was only joking!
Cocklecarrot: Take him away, Inspector Plod, and bang him up for contempt. Anything to say for the defence, Mr Gooseboote?
Gooseboote: With respect, m'lud, only someone with the IQ of a retarded woodlouse could imagine that the Terrorism Act applies to fiction.
Snapdriver: It defines glorification as "encouraging the emulation of terrorism". This clearly includes positive representations in print and other media. M'lud, terrorism is such a fearful crime that – as freedom-loving America has shown us – we dare not allow frivolous considerations of evidence, due legal process, habeas corpus or the presumption of innocence to stand in the way of a conviction.
The Prisoner: It's a fair cop. I done it. You got me bang to rights, guv.
Cocklecarrot: Does that mean I can put on the black cap?
Snapdriver: This has been in the nature of a test case, m'lud. The dock is now being enlarged to accommodate the cast, scriptwriters, and production crew of the BBC's Robin Hood. For this blatant glorification of arrow-happy outlaws and their systematic attack on authorized British law and order, we will urge the maximum possible penalty.
Cocklecarrot: We will now adjourn for lunch, and possibly forever. Actually, I preferred the case of the twelve red-bearded dwarfs ...
David Langford revealed the (spurious) link between Asimov and Al-Qaeda in Fortean Times a few years ago.