It is over 60 years since Anthony Burgess was told he had less than a year to live, and so decided to embark on writing one of the most influential books of the late 20th Century ‘A Clockwork Orange’. At the time of writing Burgess had fears of Mods and Rockers in his recent memory, but much more menacing forces are at large in 2017, calling into question the importance of free will. When our Parliament buildings are under attack, is freedom of choice still the most important virtue we prescribe to all humans?
Burgess himself was an advocate of free will. He himself said “when a man cannot choose, he ceases to be a man”. In ‘A Clockwork Orange’ Alex challenges our perceptions on where the line should be drawn. He rapes, kills, beats up a defenseless homeless man, but all the time Burgess defends him. He creates sympathy for him, as Alex is ganged up on in the “Staja” (prison), and he is de-humanised, his name is reduced to “6655321”. Furthermore, Alex uses his own teenage argot (nadsat), which distances the reader from the violence he commits, instead transforming violence into an art, rather than thoughtless and sadistic crimes. For Alex violence is “gentle” and “beautiful”. Therefore, Burgess is keen to protect the rights of humans to have free will, at all costs too it appears.
But should defending free will at all costs be limited to the world of fiction, where consequences of barbarism do not influence and traumatise the public as they do today. Should we allow individuals, like Khalid Masoodn who stabbed a police officer at Westminster only a few days ago.Burgess’ debate continues even to this day.
Accepting the importance of free will does mean we have to live with its consequences. Unfortunately terrorism today is shaping Europe, and generating new waves of populism and radical reaction from both sides, the Left and the Right. We simply have to live with the consequences. “We must believe in free will. We’ve got no choice”, as Isaac Beshevis Singer commented. We are stuck with it. From the Mods and Rockers who clashed violently at Hastings and Margate in the 1960s, to the threat of IS inspired extremism today, there is no alternative to begrudgingly accepting that terrorism does exist and we just have to put up with it.
Or is there? Some have suggested that closing our borders and banning Muslims from entering our country would resolve this issue. There already looks like movements towards this through Trump’s twice-attempted travel ban from certain Islamic countries, and here in England laptops from similar countries are no longer allowed on planes. However, there are issues with this knee-jerk reaction. Firstly, Khalid Masood was English; he was born in England and lived here for 52 years. Therefore, closing borders would not have prevented the tragedy that unfolded on 22nd March. Also, closing borders would only entrench hatred, when understanding is necessary. We cannot blame Muslims for the 1% of radical fundamentalists. Morally too, we have no right to take away their right of travel and to flee war-torn and poverty stricken countries.
There is a solution. Understanding and tolerance key. Yet there will always be some who want to turn Europe into a Muslim caliphate, so what can be done to fight against that? Well, leaving the E.U. is an important step in that. This will allow Britain to monitor who enters the country, and avoid the dangers of unrestricted movement of people which has reaped havoc on mainland Western Europe. However a Europe hostile to Muslim immigration will only cause more problems than it would solve. Therefore, any reaction that says we should isolate ourselves from Islam is severely limited. We have to understand, to co-operate. However, your opinions on the limitations of free well are extremely welcome, and leave a comment if you would like. What are your thoughts, is it better for some members of society to be a “clockwork orange”, with their free will taken away if the rest of us are safe?