Founder's Note: “Thus human courts acquit the strong”

A divisive sickness plagued the kingdom. Generations, classes, races, turning on each other. They died not all, but all were sick. At last the Afghan Hound was called upon to unite the provinces and quieten discontent.

“My dear friends”, she said, “I think these trials show that heaven intend to tell us that we will need to build a country that works, not for a privileged few, but for every one of us. So let us find the one of us whose crimes are worst to draw the lightning on his head alone and, hopefully, at one stroke atone for all. For history teaches that in times of crisis, one often makes these sacrifices. So search your consciences, look deep inside; reveal the ugly thing you always thought to hide. Hold nothing back, wipe clean the slate: a public confession is good for the state!”

“I have insulted great nations and foreign statesmen, volunteered the Orangutan. Had they harmed me at all? No, not in any way. So that was wrong, of course. But wait - there is more. I must admit that sometimes it occurred that, inadvertently, I lied and mislead my fellow animals about those nations and about international alliances”.

“Oh, Sire,” said the Afghan Hound, “We have the best of kings, whose scruples show his noble soul. But, I ask, why was mocking other countries a sin? Those low, retarded things were honoured when you made fun of them. And, I observe, this international alliance got what such meddling, bureaucratic organisations deserve. The European Union, exploiters all.”  

My attempt at fable writing is heavily indebted to the 17th century French writer Jean de la Fontaine, particularly ‘The Animals Stricken with the Plague’. The italics were lifted from Elizur Wright and Craig Hill’s translations of his work. Like many of his contemporaries, La Fontaine used animals to criticise the monarchy and the unfairness of the justice system.

In ‘The Animals…’, the lion-king gathers the animal kingdom to discover out who is responsible for the plague that has struck his state. Each animal, from the most to the least powerful, lists its sins. All are forgiven until we reach the poor, feeble ass, who owns up to having eaten a whole field of grass, a laughable transgression compared with the human and animal deaths acknowledged by fellow mammals. But the ass has no backing, no one dependent on his power, so he is condemned to death, which La Fontaine uses to illustrate his point that “human courts acquit the strong, and doom the weak, as therefore wrong.”

I have been thinking about this fable since Wednesday evening, when the new British Prime Minister Theresa May appointed Boris Johnson as Foreign Secretary. My biggest issue with Boris Johnson isn’t that he supported Brexit. Rather, it is his repeated and well-documented insults against foreign powers. A few hours before nominating him, May had declared, on the steps of 10 Downing Street, that she would prioritise “not the mighty nor the wealthy nor the privileged” but the working class.

Yet giving Johnston the Foreign & Commonwealth Office immediately negated the spirit of her speech. You have to be extremely privileged to be handed a top foreign policy job despite repeatedly making fun of foreign states and dignitaries. Many FCO staffers Johnson addressed the next day would probably see their careers seriously hindered, if not terminated, had they made, on the record, even half of Johnson’s comments. The political court has, for now at least, acquitted the mighty, wealthy and privileged Johnson.