Writers on Rights: John Kampfner

As the fifth book event in the Writers on Rights series York Amnesty was delighted to host one of the UK's leading political writers and human rights campaigner John Kampfner on Tuesday 23rd March 2010, for discussion of his latest book release Freedom for Sale and related issues.

In the well-crowded hall Kampfner's polite and friendly manner allowed an easy atmosphere in which his insightful knowledge and views were regarded with several nodding heads. In his book John details what he terms the 'pact' between the state and populace, in which people have been willing to trade civil liberties in exchange for an easy life; as he reiterated on Tuesday, the majority of people live: 'life in a hermetically sealed bubble'.

According to John a fear of not wanting to 'rock the boat' or upset the status quo is what most people are subject to, thus as long as states allow individuals the right to pursue private freedoms, such as wealth, education and travel, then the government can continue along its 'merry ways' and civil liberty will perish.

One lady in the audience outlined the seeming futility of the anti-Iraq war marches of 2003 involving millions of people globally, and the disillusionment which followed; the valid point was raised: what does 'rocking the boat actually achieve?'

As a second-year university student at York St John, I found this point particularly relevant as a young person attempting to find some footing in a world reeling from the enormous effects of what John deems 'years of globalised glut'. As honest, law-abiding, ordinary people, why should we stick our necks out for the greater good, for our civil liberties, for public freedoms, when it seems little change is brought about anyway? Yet it is exactly this attitude which John Kampfner is attempting to address and ultimately reform; he argues that it is a fantastic time to be active in the UK, and we should begin by reclaiming those public freedoms that have been lost.

Tackled with a wealth of probing questions, John responded with repeated honesty and clarity; when asked: 'what is the solution?' we were implored with a grin to'get out onto the streets of York!' In general the population's docility towards public affairs and freedoms was a point about which John expressed his utter astonishment; we laughed over the reality of John's involvement with the BBC, when he informed us of the repeated short conferences he was held captive to in the hallways, in which bosses would tentatively suggest: 'you are sure of your sources for that last story?'

It is inquiring 'trouble-makers' such as John Kampfner which keep the debate of what freedom truly means held up for scrutiny. Far from dictating his views and opinions without consideration, John was a man, down to earth, highly approachable and open to criticism.'

Emily Gordon, English Literature student at York St John's, currently working with York Amnesty International Group as part of her Working with Words module.