In this piece, Orwell Prize Winner 2013 and Editor in Chief of Lacuna A.T. Williams, explains what motivated him to write his prize winning book: “A Very British Killing: The Death of Baha Mousa”. He also reflects on what George Orwell might have made of the death of Baha Mousa, a hotel receptionist, at the hands of British forces in Iraq, and the reaction of the British establishment to the attempts of Baha Mousa’s family to understand what had happened. Andrew writes:
When A Very British Killing won the George Orwell Prize in May 2013, I wondered what Orwell would have thought about all this. Wouldn’t he have recognised the detachment of so many British army personnel and bureaucrats when faced with the system’s own injustice? Wouldn’t he have thought about his story of a hanging in Burma and hear again the awkward laughter of men who’ve participated, if only as witnesses, in something that is palpably wrong? Wouldn’t he have read the bureaucratic and political language of ‘lines of enquiry’ and ‘learning lessons’ and seen them as ugly and degenerate?
I don’t know. But I think he would have agreed that the writing of the story of Baha Mousa’s death and the failure to address the wrong was a necessary act. I think he would have agreed that political writing fuelled by anger is still an essential response. Orwell wrote once that ‘It seems to me nonsense, in a period like our own, to think that one can avoid writing of such subjects.’ His main target then was the evil of totalitarianism. But I would like to think his underlying aim was to challenge indifference to the suffering of others. That for me was the real devil which emerged amidst the detail of my book.