From A to X: A Story in Letters by John Berger

Stansted 15 terrorists

In the UK as I write, these people are waiting to be sentenced, having been convicted under anti-terrorism legislation. I think it’s obvious what a hardened bunch they are. They are called the Stansted 15.

The terrorist may be a hardened killer of his fellow man. Or she may be that smiling face in the middle of the front row, wearing a fetching yellow coat and a pink scarf. She may feel that injustice must be protested against. And in the UK right now, the freedom to protest is being dismantled by the politicians. So far the legal system is still on the side of the protesters, but for how long, we may wonder. Around the world politicians are at war with the legal system…or doing dirty deals with it. We knew when we started giving increased powers to ‘deal’ with terrorism, that people like those photographed would eventually pay a price.

This book is about two terrorists. One is in gaol for two life-times. We don’t know whether it is for death and destruction or for some simple peaceable act of bravery, such as carried out by these fine young people who were willing to stand in front of a plane. The other, his lover, is on the outside. She writes him letters, the intimacy of which are supposed to make them feel that they are together. She weaves together reports of the small acts of living with the acts of war being carried out against them. We don’t know where it is.

I’ve never really understood the expression ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’. One minute, one hour, one day, one week, one month, one year, one lifetime. That expressions starts and stops somewhere. It isn’t infinite. These two terrorists will never be together again. Yet with a modest past and a dangerous present, the letter writer creates a life, a shared life, which may approach infinity, despite their irrevocable separation.

There is, as always in John Berger’s books, specific knowledge, radical thought, and the precise and sympathetic eye of the artist. He finds beauty where ever he looks. You will side, as he does, with the terrorists.

To follow the fate of The Stanstead 15, go here.


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