Our vigilante thugs make the Chinese courts look merciful
The latest Army of Liberation come to free us from oppression will have spluttered with scorn at the efforts of Gordon Brown, David Miliband and assorted MPs to win a reprieve for Akmal Shaikh.
Had Mr Shaikh fallen into the hands of our local liberators rather than into the hands of the Chinese authorities, he'd have had his brains splattered against the wall before members of his family, much less Members of Parliament, noticed that he hadn't come home for his tea.
Mr Shaikh was doomed from the moment he was arrested at Arumqi airport on September 12, 2007 with 4,030 grams of heroin in his suitcase: in China, the death sentence is mandatory for possession of 50 grams. Mental illness seems not to be regarded as a mitigating factor, much less ground for acquittal.
Neither would a medical condition of that sort, or of any sort, impress the stern moralists of outfits like Republican Action Against Drugs (RAAD).
RAAD - based in the north west, led by ex-Provos - would have no truck either with namby-pamby notions of letting carriers off easy if they have been caught with only 20 or 30 or 40 grams stuffed down their trousers.
Mr Shaikh was accorded some semblance of legal process. Hardly justice done and seen to be done.
China's ruling class may have adopted the free market model when it comes to economic organisation, but it has retained the political practice and legal norms of the dictatorship of Chairman Mao. Mr Shaikh did have a trial, though, of sorts.In contrast, the process in cases handled by gun-toting galoots like RAAD consists of orders to some gibbering underling to "houl' the bastard down, will ye!"
Leading politicians may publicly tut-tut about the pitiful fate of Mr Shaikh, but we have threats of murder and maiming regularly made and delivered against comparatively minor drugs offenders in our midst and no serious or sustained political outcry ensues.
There are many who never approved of anyone's armed struggle and who would regard themselves as generally adamantly anti-violence but who will openly concede they make a different judgment when it comes to 'drugs'.
In large measure, this reflects the success of governments in generating hysteria about drugs in order to win acceptance of laws which make rubbish of civil liberties.
Wannabe or ex-paramilitaries in need of a fix of violence have not been slow to take up and amplify the same extravagant attitude within their 'own' communities.
Former members of mainstream paramilitary groups suffering night-sweats from a lack of action only have to announce their determination to 'defend the community' by eradicating 'the scourge of drugs' to acquire an implicit licence to resume killing.
The arrogance and swagger of gangs like RAAD, their confidence that they are expressive of a wider mood in society, comes through in their public pronouncements.
In November, RADD announced in Derry that they had "deployed" five pipe-bombs in working-class areas of the city in a "series of co-ordinated attacks".
RAAD doesn't hurl explosive devices through car windows or abandon them at the kitchen door of homes in the Bogside. They "co-ordinate" their activities, "deploy" their weapons . . .
They were also concerned to "advise individuals not to challenge our activists while on active service as innocent people could well get hurt".
That is, anyone who interferes with us when we are out on the prowl looking for somebody to attack will themselves be attacked ...
Take the December communiquÃ© from a different gang, Communities Against Drug Dealers (CADD), explaining that they had resolved to start torturing and murdering only "after a prolonged consultation within our communities".
They claimed to enjoy "the full support of the community''. Not a degree of support, or even majority support, but "the full support".
The group added, for the avoidance of doubt, that anyone they reckoned had an involvement in drugs "will receive a warning and if that warning is not heeded then the next action will be execution. And that does not mean a kneecapping or an expulsion - execution will mean execution."
They continued: "We will . . . lift these people and they will tell us whose [sic] involved with them, right to the top. And when they're in with us, I can guarantee you, they will talk."
A straightforward public threat to torture people who have fallen into their clutches before murdering them.
CADD has been 'warned off by a more formidable organisation which believed that its franchise for controlling particular communities was under challenge. But its language remains indicative of the attitudes of violent 'anti-drugs' groups generally.
The assumption is that this issue, more than any other, can provide them with a mandate for imposing control on communities. That's what it is about - control.
It is true, of course, that the lives of sizable numbers in our society are ravaged by drugs. The most destructive by far is alcohol.
Prescription drugs, particularly tranquilisers, have ruined thousands of individual and family lives. Drugs classified as illegal, too, have devastated thousands more.
It is in no way an accident that these ills mostly afflict communities trapped in deprivation, in which great numbers remain traumatised by the Troubles.
Only social and economic change can usher in any semblance of serenity. Only by mobilising for change can communities free themselves.
The role of the proliferating array of vigilante gangs is to prevent any such thing happening.