by Seth Ferris, New Eastern Outlook:
During The Troubles in Northern Ireland, which were effectively a 30 year civil war, one of the issues which generated a lot of dispute was prisoner status.
Many people on both sides of the conflict, but predominantly Republicans, were jailed for acts such as bombings, murders and kidnappings which would not be legal anywhere, and were not supported by most of the civilians these individuals claimed to represent. Yet Republicans so jailed insisted they were “political prisoners”, not in prison for committing crimes but for having the wrong opinions.
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There was some justice in this view, in that it was an offence to belong to certain Republican organisations regarded as “terrorist” because of their activities but not to belong to certain equally “terrorist” groups on the loyalist side.
Similarly, Republicans argued that institutional discrimination left them with no choice but to resort to arms to further their cause of ending the partition of Ireland, a principle accepted elsewhere, as the political process neither gave them an opportunity to pursue their legitimate goals nor protected
them from violence in their daily lives. Therefore sympathetic governments sometimes did regard jailed Republicans as “political prisoners”, whilst continuing to jail people in their own countries for the same crimes, irrespective of their opinions.
There are many other conflicts going on today in which one side, or all sides, claim that they have no choice but to resort to criminality to further their cause, and that discrimination against them makes any convicted person on their side a “political prisoner”. This is an appeal for these individuals to be regarded in the same light as famous political prisoners such as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, thus affording a higher status to them and their cause regardless of what they have done, a sometimes successful tactic.
You might expect this in the Middle East, or amongst displaced peoples or defeated sides in ideological conflicts. The potential for such situations to arise is always there. If the Native Americans resorted to violence to reclaim their ancestral lands and rights they would be taking a logical next step, however wrong it is to abuse innocent people. They would likewise ask why the terrorists who ended British rule of the American colonies, and then destroyed the Native American peoples, are regarded as heroes if their own combatants are not.
There is on-going academic and legal discussion of what being a “political prisoner” precisely means and doesn’t mean. But there are certain acknowledged boundaries to the definition.
Firstly, you have to actually be in prison. Secondly, simply losing an election, without being subject to any discrimination or legal penalty, does not make you a political prisoner, even if those elections themselves were rigged – only when you are punished for being on the losing side might you transform to political prisoner status.
Yet Donald Trump, who has continuously redefined standards of civilized conduct to the detriment of the human race, now wants to redefine “political prisoner” as well. We all speculated about why he keeps bringing legal challenges to his election loss which dissolve into nothing when placed before an actual court. It is gradually becoming clear that his aim is to pretend that he and his supporters, over 70 million of them, are all “political prisoners” – regardless of the consequences for the country he pledged to serve in his oath of office.
Two Rules are No Rules
When 150 million people vote in an election, there are going to be a few anomalies. Not every vote will be legal or genuine, though the fault for this lies more often with election officials, or political organisations, keeping inadequate voter rolls than with the voters themselves.
However we are still waiting for hard evidence of voter fraud in the recent US presidential election which will stand up in court. The Trump campaign has brought so many cases, so determinedly, that if this evidence existed it would certainly have come out by now, and been exploited to the full. It isn’t there, large-scale organised fraud didn’t happen, Joe Biden won the election fairly.
No one seems to be asking Trump how he knows he would have won easily without the alleged fraud, as he keeps claiming. He could only know that if he knew the result before the vote was cast, invalidating the whole electoral process. As he is the sitting president, he is accusing himself of greater electoral fraud than he is accusing the Democrats of, or rather the election officials on both sides, some of whom are avowed Trump supporters.
But all of Trump’s claims are predicated on one idea. He has consistently maintained that he represents the real, legal America, which has been unfairly discriminated against by crooked politicians, illegal immigrants and everyone else he doesn’t like, working together in some grand conspiracy.
Even when Trump won in 2016 he ascribed his popular vote loss to millions of illegal immigrants being allowed to vote by corrupt political machines, as if no right thinking person could vote against him. This time one of his fraud allegations was that some military ballots had been cast for Biden – Trump wishes us to believe that no serviceman would, of his own free will, vote against him, so the ballot must have been tampered with in some way.
Therefore only what Trump wants is fair. Everything else is crooked. If the political system which he claims has discriminated against his supporters doesn’t give him what he wants, this makes all of these people “political prisoners” – deprived of their rights, and cast out of society, because of their beliefs.
Unfortunately this view is not entirely misplaced. It is clear that most of the US media has a very negative view of Trump, and has spent the last four years treating him the same way it once did Saddam Hussein or Muammar Gaddafi. Outlets which give sympathetic platforms to Trump supporters, such a Fox News, are picked on by the others, even though the same journalists are quite happy to work either side of the fence for a pay cheque.
Similarly, the states furthest from the national centres of power, the rural ones in the south and west, are now predominantly Republican, having once been predominantly Democratic. The traditional have/have not voter split is now the opposite way round to the norm, with the haves being more progressive and the “have nots” seeing liberalism as a threat to their fundamentally conservative values – much as in Uruguay, where the Broad Left of today was founded by former rural conservatives rather than big city liberals.