I've just renewed my membership of Amnesty International, something I've been meaning to do for a while, but in the hustle and rush of moving countries and houses and changing jobs and raising boys and writing books and sitting exams and I know, excuses excuses. But various things have reminded me that I used to be a member and that I should rejoin and this time get really active.
Number one - the Radio 4 review of the papers mentioning the Daily Telegraph's demand that we withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights so that we can deport people back to countries where they are certain to face 'inhumane and degrading treatment' (link: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/opinion/main.jhtml?xml=/opinion/2008/06/18/dl1802.xml).
Yes, I know, it's Abu Qatada, a pretty revolting specimen. But... (I can hear my father-in-law saying even as I write, imagine that your two sons are killed or injured in a terrorist attack because Abu Qatada roams the streets, your principles will provide cold comfort) but....
While I loathe, detest and abhor fundamentalists of all denominations, I do not wish my native country, of which I have been an occasionally proud but mostly sceptical citizen, to be one which tacitly endorses torture. Amnesty is busy fighting 42-day detention - that the UK should voluntarily wish to become the country with the longest period of detention without charge is sickening. It is also busy campaigning against the barbaric and plain irrational treatment of asylum seekers by the Home Office or UK Border Council or whoever it is that compounds the cruelty already visited on the people who come to us for protection and sanctuary.
Mark Haddon, author of The Curious Incident etc, wrote a moving piece in last weekend's Observer (link: http://www.guardian.co.uk/uk/2008/jun/15/immigration.familyandrelationships)
about asylum seekers, and that too enraged and infuriated me into taking up with Amnesty again.
It seems a small and trivial action - but it is a start, because one thing I've learned is that until we all, every last one of us, abide by the Human Rights conventions that require us to treat our fellow human beings with dignity and respect, we will continue to kill and maim and destroy one another. And yes, I do know that HR conventions are contradictory, opaque and culturally dubious instruments. But they are currently the only thing we have to hold back the barbarian that rides towards the gate in each of our souls.