What will you put up with?
Even now - over 30 years later and as a wave of neo-Thatcherism threatens a new generation - too often do I feel that the massive human rights failure at the H block continues to be diminished or, more frustratingly, rationalised with mechanical and repetitive comments about the war on so-called "terrorism".
This account gets right to the bones of the human experience of torture at the Maze: the long, tense hours in squalid cells, with no stimulation whatsoever, interrupted periodically by invasive, demeaning cavity searches, brutal beatings, spirit crushing insults and mockery, all exacerbated by the pernicious consequences of malnourishment. It's not always an easy book to read, but it is a powerful and inspiring one.
Prompted by the relationships between key figures in the diary sections, I have reflected on how I carry out my own responsibilities, both as a citizen of the state (who happens to be a civil servant) and also, as self-determining human being (who happens to be Scottish).
On the one hand, we have the perpetrators of abuse: the guards and orderlies. They display an unforgiveable lack of self-awareness, a sycophantic willingness to conform and, within the security of that conformity, abdication of responsibility for their callous treatment of other human beings. As an educator by profession, I draw a parallel with those who chose to manage children with corporal punishment before it was abolished from state education in 1987. Is that this practice fell within the confines of the law a substantial enough reason to enforce it? It is eerie to think that this sufficiently incomprehensible insight into the abuse of power at Long Kesh may be but a fraction of the wider corruption, brainwashing and tragedy that haunts the recent history of this country.
On the other hand, we have Bobby Sands, who, despite the torture he endures, actively and persistently refuses to conform to the role the state bestows upon him, i.e. criminal. The physical effects of his ordeal are evident in his battered, malnourished and exposed body. His poems and stories attest the psychological pains of a caged and ceaselessly persecuted man; his obsession with the free moving, long-legged curlew, distant dreamy memories of days when he 'once had a life' and was free to roam and enjoy his country, visions of his wife's smile and regret for the hardships that had to be endured by his parents and, more generally, by his people.
If we wish to live in a country that practises political freedom can we overlook - or continue to deride - the suffering endured by the freedom-fighters as a result of their campaign to be recognised as political prisoners? I would suggest we have no right to disregard the plight of any woman or man who, for the benefit of all, has attempted to throw off the shackles of their oppressors rather than submit to their weaker moral requirements. We must also ask ourselves if we have properly and publicly addressed the wider issues pertaining to neglect and the disintegration of basic human rights that took place in British prisons as recently as the 1980s? And, have we properly and publicly held those responsible accountable?
It seems we have lost focus of our human responsibilities in the smoke and mirrors of manufactured jingoism. Torturous practices erode the moral fabric of society and are traumatic to both those who receive and perpetrate them. We cannot gloss over bigotry. This certainly wasn't good enough for Bobby, and if his story has taught us anything, it's that we get what we put up with. And so, it begs the question: just what will we put up with?