On Liberty

By Shami Chakrabarti

Rating: 4 stars

I can’t, in all honesty, say that I enjoyed this book, but I do think it’s an important one and one that I got a lot out of. I had to read it in reasonably short doses because it would just make make angry. The behaviour of politicians and the media leaves a lot to be desired and Chakrabarti has no qualms about dipping into the mire for examples to illustrate her case.

The fact that people have such short memories that they actively argue that rights accorded to a person purely for being human, without fear or favour, no matter their nationality, colour or creed, are a bad idea strikes me as privilege of the worst kind. The sorts of people so secure in their own station that they lose empathy. As Chakrabarti repeats more than once, we’re all foreigners sometime and somewhere.

I found this book important because it makes a clear and, to my mind, incredibly persuasive, case for universal human rights and gives me the tools to argue for those rights when I would have found it difficult to find the right words.

For full disclosure, I’m a member of Liberty, the civil liberties organisation of which Chakrabarti is director and I passionately believe in what they stand for, so me giving this book a high score is not unexpected. What I really want, and what is less likely to happen, is for those who argue that human rights shouldn’t be universal to read the book. I’d like to give it to Daily Mail readers and right-wing politicians. And, more positively, I’d love to see it in school libraries and other places where young people could read it and use it to help form their opinions.

The book is also highly readable. The arguments are laid out clearly, using examples and counter-examples from her own life and work both in the Home Office and with Liberty. Chakrabarti argues with the passion of a lifelong believer in her subject and the clarity of a trained lawyer at their best. This is a subject that is important for all of us: privileged or poor, refugee or citizen, having rights that we can all call upon against the terrifying power of the state is one of the things that allows a country to call itself civilised. And Chakrabarti shows us just how thin that veneer of civilisation in the UK really is.

Book details

ISBN: 9780141976310
Publisher: Penguin
Year of publication: 2014

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