42 Days

By Lisa Appignanesi

Like a beacon emitting warnings to our times, Kafka’s chilling classic, The Trial opens with the words: ‘Someone must have been telling lies about Josef K. He knew he had done nothing wrong but, one morning, he was arrested.

When K. asks his policemen why he is under arrest, they declare: "That's something we're not allowed to tell you. Go into your room and wait there. Proceedings are underway and you'll learn about everything all in good time… Cases like this can last a long time, especially the ones that have been coming up lately.

K. reassures himself with the thought that after all he is ‘living in a free country…all laws were decent and were upheld.’

The reassurance is to little avail. After a year of due and undue process during which the charge against him is never clarified, K is marched out one dark night to a quarry. A knife is pushed deep into his heart and twisted twice. He dies ‘like a dog’.

We don’t know how K felt on day 14 or day 28 or 42 of his arrest. In German and in its new translation, The Trial is called Der Prozess. It is the process of being arrested without charge, kept under something like a control order, which catapults K into a nightmare where social relations are eroded and humanity is undermined.

Tony Blair was the first peace time Prime Minister to eat away at the fundamental British right, older than the Magna Carta, not to be detained without charge or trial. The traditional 24 hours grew - first to seven days, then in the wake of 9/11, to fourteen then doubled to 28. And now, it may be 42.

The escalating numbers carry a symbolic toll as well as an actual one. They ring out the fact of our growing inhumanity and the erosion of our rights. On the streets, it is not just so-called terrorists who are arrested under the anti-terror legislation. Protestors of all kinds are caught within its loose aegis and can be held without charge or trial.

Forty-two days has an added unwished for side-effect: it helps to radicalize rebellious Muslim youngsters and ‘glorifies’ them into the very terrorists it purports to protect us from.

Far better to go back to calling violence the crime that it is and keep us secure in our historic liberties.