Western liberals are afflicted by a rather perculiar disease. This particular disease manifests itself in getting involved in "human rights" causes abroad, especially where photogenic twenty-somethings are activists in the cause, but when the same actions are carried out rather closer to home, they mysteriously become unable to speak - or worse, start ranting and raving in favour of them.
Last month's sentences against Pussy Riot were rightly condemned by Western-based journalists of all stripes and political opinions. That a blasphemy law is invoked to arrest and detain people taking part in what was clearly a political protest is even more worrisome than the existence of a blasphemy law in the first place. This was yet more evidence of the "creeping authoritarianism"* of Putin, of how he is committed to jailing his political enemies and ruling Russia with an iron first.
Assuming that logic holds**, what are we to make of the fact that the UK has recently, in the past 12 months, put people in jail for expressing strong opinions on the war in Afghanistan, for badly done jokes that caused no harm and for tasteless jokes and being an all-round tosser?
British security attempted to censor books when Labour was in power, and had people arrested for owning illegal "terrorist" documents, or for writing shitty poetry "glorifying" terrorism. Control orders, arrests without charge and lengthened detention periods, restricted courts and unlicenced demonstrations being made crimes were the order of the day. By any reasonable standard, anything one says of Russia and Putin one must also say of the UK, and of Blair-Brown-Cameron.
One obvious conclusion that can be drawn from this is that the western press establishment are not only hypocritical but also insanely aggressive when it comes to anything about Putin. Which, of course, they are. Western journalists gave sloppy blowjobs to Russian oligarchs throughout the 90s, many of whom now consider themselves Putin's political enemies and rivals. Coincidentally, many of them own extensive amounts of property and investments in the UK. Furthermore, in painting Putin as a real-life Bond villain, they have created a narrative which lazy hacks and "opinion writers" can then reinforce. Any time something bad happens in Russia, it is because Putin planned it all, most likely while sitting in the Kremlin and stroking a white cat.
However, the truth is more complex, and ultimately depressing than that. Let's consider the role of public opinion in these prosecutions. A staggering 65% of Russians are in agreement with the Pussy Riot trial outcomes. A plurality even think the sentence should have been harsher. And in the UK, the story is much the same. Most of these arrests are little more than Facebook and Twitter driven witch-hunts - the mob howling inarticulate outrage because someone offended them. It's no coincidence that the things people are jailed for in the UK tend to be hot button issues expressed in rather stark terms - whether that's saying all soldiers should die, making jokes about the riots or making off-taste jokes about child abduction and murder.
It is further worth noting how this dialectic between the state and public opinion plays out. Most of the prosecutions are for "disturbance of the peace" style laws and regulations. This is an especially sinister piece of logic, because what this means is that people must self-censor in order to not provoke an emotional reaction which will cause people to become offended, necessitating the state intervene to restore order. Speech must be "reponsible", and what is considered more responsible in today's world than doing exactly nothing to undermine or damage the foundations of existing political power?
Protecting speech only when it is popular or tasteful isn't actually protecting speech at all.
*#creepingauthoritarianism did not, unlike #creepingsharia do so well on Teh Twitter, mostly because it took up too much space.
** it doesn't hold.