Saturday, 23 July 2016

The price of prejudice: The holistic nature of hate.

I shall arrange my footing: the following is not in the name of justification; I am not making excuses for the actions of terrorists. Nor is it religious apology. I am not a supporter of the Abrahamic faiths, any of them. I don't like the legacy of homophobia and misogyny that spills from the old testament, I don't believe in flying horses, bisected moons or unicorns. Searching for, or providing, reasons for actions is not the same as excusing them.

Fundamentalism is a problem, and is frequently referred to as the soul cause of grotesque behaviour: look at the word for a moment. It means, when applied to Christians, Jews, Muslims or any of the multitude of faiths, that they follow the fundamental elements of the religion. Moderates skim over elements of the religion that have been disproved and are now unacceptable due to being ridiculous, cruel or both. Fundamentalism, from which ever faith, is merely a sprouting twig from the main stem of its host religion.

Abrahamic faith has been in a major influence upon the western world in one form or another for well over millennium. If it could sweepingly lift up an arm, gesturing at the years gone by, to proudly announce: "Look at the peace it has brought" then I might be more open to persuasion than I am of of it being of some intrinsic benefit. However, fundamentalism, indeed religion, however frequently at fault, is not the root nor solitary cause of contemporary terrorist attacks.

The attacks in Europe have been portrayed in a false manner, everyone knows that history is written by the victors, but contemporary information is also biased in a myriad of differing ways. From the portrayal of the same information, carefully selected information and completely invented information; actual facts belong in neither the left nor right wing category, in fact neither do most people. Despite what we are led to believe people are intelligent and are aware that black and white answers are over simplified.

Using the fox news report from July 15th to comment on the Nice massacre is an example, the headline ran: "This is war. It is aimed at the west. And we must fight back." It portrays the west as just sitting, having picnics and skipping through the surf, when all of a sudden there was an attack on our way of life out of nowhere: It is monumentally naive to think that this was the case.

In every conflict propaganda is key to the argument and the stance of the populace; in conflicts in which it was not controlled In Vietnam, for example, the peoples opinion quickly turned against the conflict and consequently the state. No western country has made the same mistake since. Journalists have been carefully guided and controlled during the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and politicians that stood against the conflict were derided before it started despite a strong public opinion that shared the same view.

Baghdad. 2002
It is easy to formulate propaganda against terrorists, in the digital age it is one of their tools and we help them with this without pause. However it is also easy to provide propaganda against the west and we also help to provide it: Barack Obama is the fourth consecutive president to order the bombing of Iraq. The same country, with allied assistance, has bombed 12 Muslim majority countries since 1980. (I am not including Kosovo and Kuwait in this list as the circumstances of those incidents are more complex.) I am not putting this information forward to say that the west deserves these terrorist attacks, just to make it clear if a newspaper from a differing nation to Fox news wrote: "This is a war. it is a war on Islam. We must fight back." they would have a good supply of data to back up that argument.

When it comes to the killing of innocents it simply isn't religious fundamentalists that have achieved the big numbers. Admittedly the two leaders most fervent in regard to their faiths: Bush Junior and Tony Blair, were responsible for the unprovoked wars that led to the destabilization of the countries which are now the key source of the problem. I am not putting this forward to compare "good" and "bad": I am putting them together as these actions are a direct cause for the state of affairs that exists today.

In 2007 the president of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, warned of repercussions due to the high level of civilian deaths caused by allied operations. The key question is: why wouldn't there be any? As in Iraq: if you are the cause of 100,000 deaths and are unable, or in fact, unwilling to provide a valid explanation for these actions what consequence would you expect? After the attacks on a Paris nightclub Britain was very quick to bomb Syria in what seemed more like random retaliation than strategy. When someone attacks your home country, not mentioning your country has attacked others, or pretending that the two events are unconnected, is either imbecilic or deliberate misdirection.

The bombing of Baghdad was incredible: it was a capital city with a population of over five million people; there was no way that were going to be no, or even a low, amount of civilian casualties. Do the people of Iraq know that we did if for no valid reason other than the privatization of the countries resources? Even the censorship of western papers couldn't keep the horror of what we had done down to a minimum. We know how we view the perpetrators of bombings in London and Paris and other peoples view of the people that bombed their cities isn't any different. I know the victims of the bombings in the west were innocent; the victims of our western bombs were innocent too.

2000.000 People in London march for peace. 2003.
Do the people of Afghanistan know that we chased an individual pointlessly through their country for a decade before finding him in a different one and labeling the operation a success? Despite the fact that British and American troops are still there today and the country is in ruins. We took away their schools, their hospitals, their friends and their relations. Imagine it was your country, imagine you were eight years old ten years ago. These children from 2003, they haven't met you or I, they have never seen a kind or gentle westerner. They have only seen Englishmen high above dropping bombs or driving by in armored vehicles with weapons pointed, at them and at their loved ones. Many have seen death first hand, our country has made it unlikely that they wouldn't have done.

We had a war on drugs and the drug problem increased exponentially; was anyone optimistic about the war on terror from the start? Terror is not an enemy it is a strategy. We certainly encouraged it among the french and other occupied countries during world war two and the Germans definitely called it terrorism.

Baghdad. 2003.
There are other elements: The refugee crisis not least among them. The idea that we can "solve" the largest displacement of human beings since world war two by closing the borders of the UK is a nonsense that cannot be upheld with any level of in-depth consideration.

Since this this war on a concept began more than a million people have died in Iraq alone, more than a million. This does not include those among the three million displaced by the conflict who faced unimaginable hardship and died as a result of that. More than two hundred thousand innocent people have been killed in Afghanistan  since the invasion began. These people, like those in Europe, had nothing to do with the war on terror, or 911, and were in no way a threat to our freedom or philosophy. The people that survived a bombing in one country are just as angry as the ones that survived in another.

Volunteers bring hope to the displaced of the refugee camps.
We have created a generation of millennials, very different to the ones from Chiswick and Croydon, and they are misinformed, understandably angry and above all traumatized, traumatized by experiences that we, as western adults would be immediately given therapy to recover from if we experienced. This, if anything, is a conflict born of greed and malice.

It can be simplified: The innocents of the west are being killed because the innocents of the east were killed, and the people that caused it are rich.

The numbers still roll in, over one hundred innocent people killed by allied bombing in Syria in a week. There will be survivors, there will be children among them. Will there be people in ten years time wondering what the cause of radicalization might be? As Leaders today declare terrorism a "sickness" without voicing the consideration that the events in the Middle East are remotely connected to the horrific events that are now taking place in Europe.

I have met some of the children of this war: mute, wide eyed and rocking. Flinching at sudden movements and noises, the bombs that fell around them still loud in their heads. I promise, without kindness now there will be anger later on.

I am not suggesting for a moment that contemporary violence can be stopped by kindness, that is as naive as thinking that terrorist acts are based on faith alone. Future acts of violence are a very different matter, as can be seen by the obvious, yet ignored, cause of our present suffering.

We must feed the refugees that we have caused. We must stop the killing and save the children lost in the horror we have created. Otherwise we condemn future generations to the same anger and retribution that we face today. Not only to save ourselves, but because what the western countries have done is a crime against humanity.

I don't believe in flying horses, bisected moons or unicorns. But I do believe in the holistic effects of a negative long term foreign policy and I do believe in people. In the same way that there is no dark, only an absence of light: there is no such thing as evil, only an absence of kindness.

In the arsenal of war kindness is not regarded as key, but in this surreal war of our own making, unless you wish the next decade to look as horrific and disappointing as the one that you are in, it is the only weapon we can wield that can strike the only enemy there is. And we have it. We have it in abundance.

Saturday, 9 July 2016

If the Somme could sigh: Chilcot and the repetition of history.

The hundredth anniversary of the battle of the Somme still provokes a strong emotive response from the British public, this includes myself. The sadness and the futility echo with us, the knowledge that streets of wives, mothers and children all lost their husbands, sons and fathers in a single day.

We know now that the young men who walked across the fields did not do so for their own freedom: It was for the empire of others. Most men were short from bad diet, the German soldiors had the vote where their English counterparts, predominantly, did not. They had left tedious or dangerous work and, once they had joined up, reported having the best food they could remember eating. There was no threat to Britain, and most had no freedom to speak of to defend if there had of been.

This year the anniversary fell awfully close to the release of the Chilcot report: a review of a contemporary conflict that begs reflection on our progress. A century since the whistles blew in flanders, what was our modern motivation and was it any less questionable than that of the past?

It was not the first time the English had fought on the Somme: Agincourt still raises pariotic rhetoric through the medium of Shakespeare, and Waterloo, which ended a long and bitter war against the french. It can't be denied that both of these were empirical battles. Nor was 2003 the first time British boots went to Iraq, far from it.

Iraq itself was formed by the British, lumped together from three Ottoman provinces once oil was discovered in Mosad. The already disgruntled populace, denied the freedom and independence it was promised for fighting with the British in WW1, was placed under direct British control. What were now Iraqis, although quite probably not to themselves, saw this as an invasion. In 1920 they revolted and were brutally reminded who ran the country. Gas was used on the insurgents of the day.

In 1941 it appeared as thought the British were busy; allies against the British were also, apparently, in abundance. None the less the support from the Germans was minimal and another rebellion was quickly quashed by British soldiors, all of whom were experienced and battle hardened. Iraq had been independent since 1932, but this was in name only and no real changes took place for the populace. It is important to remember why this took place: if the oil had not been there then neither would the British. 

In 1914 German soldiors were not slaughtering babies on Church doorsteps, in 1990 Iraqs troops were not massacring babies in Kuwait hospitals nonetheless, on both occasions, this is what the allied countries were informed. Nayirah, the daughter of the Kuwait ambassador pretended she wasn't and said she had witnessed these atrocities take place. It is safe to assume the enthusiastic allied leaders knew this, but the enemies of empire killing babies is a historically tried and tested method of encouraging the unwilling to fight. The testimony of the girl received massive exposure at the time: rather notably and for obvious reasons it rarely gets a mention now. In the context of false reasons of fighting iraq it does seem awfully relevant, even if it was an earlier war it proves how happy those that desire war are willing to lie to achieve it.

We continued to bomb and threaten Iraq between 1991 and 2003, occasionally firing tomahawk missiles to enforce the dubious peace and no fly zone created at the culmination of desert storm. This was just a Conflict of air defense systems but it was still very noticeable to the Iraqis, if not to the western media.

The Chilcot enquiry is supossed to explain why we started the 5th Anglo Iraq war: once again the reasons were false. Atrocities were used as propaganda once more: the genocide of the Kurdish population was frequently referenced. Although the allies were clearly not overly influenced by it: firstly it took place in the eighties, when Saddam Hussain was regarded as an ally and we didn't seem to mind at the time. Secondly the chemical weapons used were of western manufacture and sold to Iraq to be used against Iran,  which they were. This one of the reasons Iran is deeply suspicious of the west to this day. We know the other reasons, we know they weren't true.

What we know of both wars, in 1914 and in 2003: a great deal of money was made and both were the direct cause of future conflicts. The profiteering of WW1 gets less of a mention than a lot of its other aspects, because it still relevant. companies such as vicars and citroen, among others, were caught up  in a perpetual arms race. The french were very aware of this as their revolt of 1917 suggests, the revolt was supported by the song adieu la vie (goodbye to life). The topic of the song is that the rich men at home should do the fighting as it was they that want war.  A german soldior wrote the words: "we have to fight only for the purse of others, anything else they keep telling us is rubbish." It was observed, cynically but accurately by soldiors on all sides, that the war could not continue without the support of the newspapers. All sides were reassured by celebrities and politicians that God was on their side.

Britain and America are still huge arms dealers, but that is just one aspect of the industry: Haliburton made at least 1.7 billion from building prisoner of war camps and army bases. (Remember Dick Cheney was the vice president of this company at one point). Before Iraq was "freed" the oil was nationalised and closed to outside interests, now ExxonMobil, shell and BP all operate there. America troops were told on more than two separate occasions, but in this case, once by Woodrow Wilson and once by George Bush that they were going to "make the world safe for democracy". On no occasion has it been the truth: As observed, Germany at this point had a much more equal democracy than Britain.

The war to end all wars was the direct cause of its sequal: The loss of land, the collapse of the German economy and destruction of its infrastructure, this led to the hyperinflation of the weirmar and a political void. French general Ferdinand Foch said of the treaty of versaille: "This is not peace, but a twenty year armistice." The destruction of iraqs infrastructure and the political void that was left is the exact reason we are fighting the 5th Anglo Iraq war against Isis. Nothing breeds a dictatorship like desperation and nothing breeds radicalisation like decades of bombing and poverty.

There is no need to draw unnecessary comparisons or conclusions: we have a long history of going to war for reasons other than those that we are told, the actual reasons are often the same for differing wars. As another example we know for a fact that the bay of Tonkin incident that started the vietnam war was a lie: I don't want to list examples of this from the past, I would like an example suggesting it has stopped.

Before the battle of the Somme Field marshal sir Douglas Haig stated at the start of a speech "The nation must be taught to bear losses." It did learn, and after half a million iraqi civilians died, I assume they learned too. But we didn't need to learn, why should we have to? The lies made the world unstable, both at the beginning of the 20th century and the start of the 21st. Ruining the lives of millions of people globally on both occasions.

Harry patch, the oldest surviving veteran of the Somme said: "I felt then as I feel now, the politicians that took us to war should be given the guns and told to settle the difference themselves, instead of organising mass murder." For me at least, this applies to contemporary conflicts.

The emporers may have changed their clothes a little, but many of the lies remain the same. Whenever we are informed there is an enemy we should look closely at the person saying it, just to make sure it isn't them. Through education, spotting deceit through our knowledge of history, through kindness and forgiveness, may we find the peace for our children that we have failed to find for ourselves.
The ambassadors daughter. 

Saturday, 11 June 2016

Sunshine and suicide: the tale of two journeys.

Saturday the 7th of May, it is about 34 degrees, slow spinning dark teak fans move the warm air above me and my cold bottle of Bintang beer. Writing in a notebook, bits of a book I am composing on the topic of teaching in indonesia. I am in Kota Toa, old town in indonesian, which long before was Dutch colonial Java. The restaurant is everything that pretends to be awesome about colonialism if anything was. Outside the wide white boulevard is loomed over by the columned and green shuttered buildings, now museums that reflect upon the turbulent history of the island as the heat and light of the equator reflect off of the marble.

Six months ago I planned a journey, seems longer and at the same time no time at all. I have been living here four months, one thing is obvious, both to the people at home and those I have met since: I love it here.

One secret, an actual one, I have told no one until now, it was not the only journey I planned.

I was looking at jobs overseas whilst I looked at the train line website for uk travel: I intended to go to Swansea, get a bus to Gower, from there like many before, I intended to jump onto the rocks of the Welsh coast and to be washed away by the Irish sea. I am aware that it seems an over statement, but I had no doubt that once there it would be automatic. Once walking to the train station it would flow naturally until it's conclusion. I was occasionally concerned catching the train to work, just in case I got on a different train.

What is now a year ago; I lost my home, my job and the love of my life departed in what felt at the time like a car crash. If you have been in a car crash you will know that it appears to happen slowly, so you become a horrified spectator enabling you to watch something you know full well is going to hurt but have no capacity to intervene in the cause of. There was no anger at this point, just a numb emotional nihilism and acceptance of a turgid and joyless reality.

I love the coffee here on the island of Java, for reasons that are self explanatory. The food here is nothing like I had tried, the local Wartegs and the people that feed me have welcomed me, often as an odd sort of furry pet, but still happily accepted me as a part of their everyday lives.

In the morning I leave for work, mothers have carried heavy double gas hobs onto the street and fry a breakfast of tofu, children play with match box cars and marbles on the uneven stone that their mothers sit upon and wave at me as I walk up the narrow road in the shimmering heat of the morning.

Only a few months ago I had sat in a box room in Reading surrounded by my remaining possesions, stacked up as they were, higher than the edge of the bed and filling the remainder of the room. Perched on the edge of the bed I had cried. The tangled wires of my stereo system sticking from bags of books, the possesions I had once thought important, now just a pile of bin liners and badly labelled boxes.

I had worked with abusive and abused youths for a long time, but the abuse I received at work and was well accustomed to struck home in a way like never before; the students I had worked with for so long began to hit a nerve. "I'll kill you fucking cunt. I fucked your fucking mum you pedo." Made me cross. I had lost perspective on their motivation for saying it along with my professional ability. "Fucking waste man".

The physical assaults I had avoided, despite my not infrequent hospitalisations I had had in the past, began to frighten me. I got edgy and flinched at sudden lunges by students, which encouraged them to do it more frequently. My fear was that I would strike one of them: if they hit me at that point in my life I would have struck them back. A boiling, knotted part of me wanted to and the pain of being hit myself would be a trigger.

For some reason music, all music, made me angry. As though any expressed emotion on the part of others just encouraged a false, nonexistent idea of hope or happiness that I found physically revolting.

I went to Gower with my ex girlfriend once, I made a mental note to send her a message, one that said using Gower wasn't a message or statement to or about her. It wasn't. It is just a very convenient cliff that I knew of and could use without anyone being traumatised by my remains. These things seemed very important to me, even though nothing else was.

I was trying to find reason, tried to focus on positives, change my perspective but a dull weight in my stomach joined by a sense of hopelessness caused a slouch in my demeanour, I would grind my teeth and think of the cliff face several times each day. I would leave my bag on the bench at the top with a note, I thought, I wasn't keen on the idea of the Facebook goodbye.

The summer of 2015 arrived and I went to the refugee camps in Calais, I hoped to teach there and write an accompanying article. I have written enough about that experience and I returned to England to work in a demoted capacity as winter began. I was aware that the buses only ran to Gower in the summer months, so I elected to get a taxi. It would be an expensive journey, but it wasn't as if money was going to be a problem for the rest of the month.

I know meeting with those fleeing war, those who lost their homes and even loved ones, who continued to struggle should have put me in my place. Should have made me realise how lucky I am, but depression isn't logical, it cannot be defeated by rational cogitation alone. It takes more.

I was aware that the people I lived with would have to clear out my room, this would be an awfully unpleasant task.

This problem solved itself as I spoke of work overseas and sold and gave away most of my things. All of my friends thought they knew where I was going, everyday I fought to prove them right. I lost all self confidence, I began to shake when alone in cafes. I felt scrutinised and obvious. The repeat of each day made me furious to have started it when I knew I should have made the choice yesterday not to. I looked at the train timetable for Wales at work and felt furious at nothing.

Frequently I couldn't face my friends; unable, even at a new years party among people I had known for ten years, I could not convince myself that I was welcome. More and more I growled as I walked, becoming frustrated at people I loved for nothing more than being present.

It was time to catch a train. I caught the right train, in the end. If it had not been for the kindness of others I am certain it would not have been the case. I wasn't running away, I wasn't searching for anything, just using the freedom the previous months had taught me I have.

Men in the uk between the ages of twenty and fortynine are more likely to die from suicide than any other cause. One thing they shared: there was a time, for all of them, when they would never had thought it would end that way. They do not all suffer from depression, they cannot all suffer from a long term mental illness.

At times events are turbulent and the expectation is that you cope: in truth there are times when you cannot. The fact that you cannot causes a new contortion of anger at ones self. Your feelings of bitterness are doubled as you blame circumstance for the state of affairs and you for your failure. Death is not sought, merely escape.

Aeschylus wrote: in our sleep, pain which cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart until, in our own despair against our will, comes wisdom, through the awful grace of God.

This, in part, is the straw that we must clutch: when all is all is lost the fear of loss is gone along with it. This, in it's way, is a form of courage and one we did not previously have. It may all seem horrendously meaningless, but this is a boon to ambition: is failure not as meaningless? There is food you have not tasted, joys you have not felt and the vast unpredictability of life is now completely yours.

Your journey will end at some point, it will be just as inconsequential as though you had ended it yourself. You may as well walk it until then. And now, now you have been as low as you can be, the scenery is entirely up to you.

Friday, 29 April 2016

The Sun and the fox: Not just Hillsborough but a history of hate.

The Sun newspaper is struggling in the U.K right now, the reason for this is a history of corruption and lies, along with supporting false statements by corrupt police officers. While Newscorp carefully avoid the topic of this in Britain they successfully spread hate overseas.

Fox news opinion today was as interesting as ever: An insightful article in regard to transgender rights from Todd Sarnes ("a must read for Conservatives!") He mindlessly quotes that: " When I was growing up we just had boys and girls (him and her, not ze and zir). Our bathroom choices were limited to our God-given plumbing."

He advocates a boycott of Target for its policy on transgender toilet use, but most important is the link to the AFA. The Fox news website and The American family association are linked as associates anyway, but today the group were referenced as: "one of the most prominent and respected family advocacy groups in the nation,".

The AFA published an article on gay and transgender rights today too, try and read this just once:

"You see, the homosexual movement gained traction when it was able to get the psychological and academic communities to first reclassify homosexuality from a deviant behaviour to merely an orientation. The next push was to get medical data supporting the theory that one is born homosexual. Once that was accomplished (inconclusively so, not unlike evolution), the goal was to obtain minority status and claims for special status, as in a persecuted class of people deserving of special treatment, or “civil rights.” ".

"Not unlike evolution." The enlightened Lonnie Poindexter there writing for this "prominent and respected group." He goes on to add: "As an African-American male and a Christian, I am appalled and highly offended that my ethnicity is being lumped in with something that God’s Word says is wrong," Don't be, would be my advice, another group having civil rights doesn't make them black. That is the stupidest statement I have ever written and there really is some truly stiff competition.

I reiterate, both these articles are from today.

I digress, you have access to an Internet box: Fox news, which is the Sun, the Times, Sky, the Sunday Times and others is the largest advocate of anti LGTB rights operating in the United States today. You have the power to check this first hand.

I am not comparing this to the Hillsborough debacle, but illustrating that Newscorp is an international, old, and ongoing problem.

Rupert Murdoch, the grandfather of this nest of weasels, met with Thatcher eight times between 1988 and 89, the Hillsborough disaster was in April 1989. Rupert met Tony Blair 30 times in two years (97 - 99) and admitted bartering for buying out the UK media from David Cameron over dinner (BskyB bid, Leveson inquiry.) We should remember the present links of the prime minister to Newscorp, do me favour, Google it if you have forgotten.

I always wonder what the motivation was for the Sun headline so soon after the Hillsborough disaster, it really seems as though there was an emergency meeting to see how it could be gotten away with. And they did get away with it. The police, the politicians, the paper. People calm down a lot if you give them over two decades.

The Hillsborough argument has had time to come out in the wash, and we are truly blessed that the Internet exists at this point to remind ourselves what David Cameron and Boris Johnson had to say about it before it was brought into the light.

Context: when Rupert Murdoch was asked why he was opposed to leaving the EU: "Easy. When I go to Downing Street they do what I say, when I go to Brussels they take no notice."

I know the Daily Mail is owned by a viscount who doesn't pay any tax in the UK. I know the Express is owned by a barely sentient meat lump that donated a million pounds to UKIP, but you don't have to buy those either.

You don't need Sky TV, we have the Internet, and you certainly don't need the Sun and the Times. Until we don't buy anything under the Newscorp umbrella or vote for the half-arsed politicians it promotes we will be victims.


I apologise for formatting and things: this is the first blog I have written on a tiny tablet, which I had to write in a bar in Jakarta so I had access to the Internet. Have a wonderful day.

Sunday, 3 April 2016

Sexuality, Faith & pronouns: Doughnuts and diabetes.

I was in a cafe with a Christian couple and a Muslim, this is not a strange state of affairs in Jakarta nor had we just walked into a bar. I had been posed a question: "How can you agree with gay marriage?" I had laughed originally but the looks of intensity I had been given implied that I was supposed to answer.

"Right." My teacher arms did their thing subconsciously, indicating my torso and then swapping to indicate the listener as if throwing invisible information at them.

"If a man meets a woman, you don't know them." I gestured to an empty space in the room. "They're over there. They fall in love, get married and things. Has it got anything to do with you?"
"No." The Muslim confirmed, but he smiled as his brows furrowed with friendly suspicion.
"So if a man meets a man and you don't know them." I gestured to the same empty space in the room. "They get married. Has it got anything to do with you?" 
King Salman: Thinks the internet spreads
homosexuality, it doesn't.
"It is against my religion."

The Christian responded quickly with a quizzical face, the Muslim nodded and I took a deep breath.

"Do you eat pork?" I asked the Christian.
"Of course." I pointed at the Muslim.
"That is against his religion."
"That's his..."
"Yes. His, hers, theirs. Not yours."

I lit a cigarette as though smelling napalm in the morning.

No anger poured from either, a consensual nodding from the lady and thinking faces from the blokes. We are all still friends, we all had dinner and spoke about other stuff: Why I don't like football, favourite Indonesian and western foods, the myriad of reasons why I'm single, why I should be married and, well, stuff.

The Ancient Greeks: Used Tinder.
Religion seems to struggle with personal and possessive pronouns: His, hers, theirs and mine. If you feel that others should behave in accordance with your religion then surely you should behave in accordance with that of everyone else's: Don't work Saturday or Sunday because someone else doesn't. Don't eat pork, and moving outside the Abrahamic sphere, why not, don't eat beef either. You might suggest that this makes no sense and you'd be right.

Tolerate doesn't seem the verb for the job either, it seems rather presumptuous to assume that you are in the position to simply put up with the behaviour of another when it doesn't actually affect you in the slightest.

The seemingly consistent oversight in regard to gay marriage is that you don't have to join in; you can eat pork and you don't have to drive on a Saturday. Other people eating doughnuts does not affect your diabetes so please stop pretending that it does.

Sunday, 20 March 2016

Jakarta and juxtaposition: The UK over the horizon.

I have been living in equatorial Asia for all of nine weeks; it seems like I have been here forever while feeling simultaneously like no time at all. I love so much of what I have seen, the people are welcoming although this explained a little by the lack of bule (pronounced boolay) here. This is Java slang for white foreigner and you will hear it said a lot as you walk around the city if you are one.

Strange looks are common and after the first week or so you stop checking if you have something on your face, people are just interested in what you are doing there at all. As you walk down the street there are waves and greetings of "hello Mr", especially from children, who tend to speak English better than the older populace. The reason for this is the quality of education here, although certainly not without it's faults, has improved massively over the last twenty years.

The food in the capital can not be overrated; the city gathers people from all of the islands of Indonesia  and their habits, culture and food with them.  There are no breakfast, lunch and evening meal foods, you just eat what you like when you like; from satay, soto, nasi padung and warteg (pronounced vartek) all is wonderful. I assure you I could devote an entire blog to this at some point.

One thing that has to be expected if you come here is that the standard of living is surprisingly low for the majority of the population; corrugated shacks and slums surround the occasional affluent mansion and there is no border between them.

The shimmering glass and the shacks.
There is a huge difference here between rich and poor and affluence is happily advertised. Jakarta is not centralised although there has been several attempts to alter this; this means that the poverty is not concealed like it is in many western cities. Children of a very low age sell packets of tissues and coffee on the street late into the night and carry umbrellas for the rich for a few yards and a fraction of a rupiah.

There is no clean water here, the river sits and bubbles, ominously green with unmonitored industrial and domestic waste, nothing lives in it and the only movement is the multitude of insects skimming at the pungent surface. The rubbish here is removed by hand pulled wooden carts, some collect elements of it in backpacks manufactured from old plastic barrels as they can form a meager living from selling it.

It is clear to an outsider that there is a problem here with caste; there is no social mobility here at all. I have asked several people, including a class of twelfth year students; what are the chances of someone here who works on the bins going to university? The response was uniformly given with a furrowed brow at the ridiculousness of the question. None. Of course none.

Sometimes the answer raised in pitch at the end, putting it into an inquiry of why I would ask at all. On occasion, with friends, I told them that that is what happened to me; I used to work the bins and I went to university. They were impressed that I lived in a country where that was possible, but it occurred to me, just recently; if I went home now I wouldn't.

I do not see myself as an ex-pat; this a term invented by white people to differentiate between themselves and what foreigners are doing. If you have moved to a foreign country you are a migrant; as you would presumably be if you had moved from Jakarta to Birmingham.

One habit that remains with me, as it was on cold mornings in Berkshire, before the traditional British commute on the apparently random Reading Waterloo line or the delightful bus to Bracknell, was to sip my black coffee and go through the news of the morning from a variety of perspectives. This usually includes The Independent, Guardian, Huffington post, daily mail, AFA, Fox and the spoof-like racism of The Express.

Immigrant INVASION. FOREIGN worker
All history students know that all sources are deliberately or inadvertently biased, so sometimes one must estimate the truth nestling among the human discrepancies. Contemporary media certainly forces us to do this in the present, presumably somewhere between the tits and the capital letter racism are the remains of reality.

Far away from me, not even peeping over the horizon, a tiny island seems to be regressing. A disenfranchised populace has no say in the direction of the country as a facade of a democracy is run by a by a ruling elite.

The news is completely distracted by the resignation of someone who was in no way qualified and no one wanted to be in charge of work and pensions in the first place. No depth needed on this; but for those who have tried to claim benefits can you imagine saying that you had quit because you disagreed with your boss or disliked someone you worked with? You would be sneered at. Who do you think you are? It is not your place to make judgments. And you know what? You are not in a position to make judgments and your position is your caste.

The removal of a tentacle doesn't kill Medusa, you have to
hold a mirror up to the whole monster.
From the bombing of Syria and it's inevitable international repercussions, newly formed contracts for doctors, zero hour contracts for everyone and the repeated and completely politically motivated delay of the Chilcot inquiry. It doesn't matter where you stand and no-one asked you.

Now the complete overhaul of the education system "announced by ministers". Announced. Sorry teachers, parents and members of the populace: Not your place.

Academies function in this way: The lack of pay scale results in teachers getting paid apparently randomly differing wages and are discouraged from discussing them with other members of staff. As there are no long term contracts you could be asked to interview for your own job every July to review whether you return in September.

This discourages anyone disagreeing with management however badly the school might be run. Altruistic motivation in a profession can only take you so far. The mental breaking point of teaching in the UK is by far far enough without it being made pointless by incompetent managers with misguided concepts of their own importance.

A vacant eyed lawyer who has never
worked in a school is in charge of education.
No one will want to teach. So why do it? A teacher is no use to a Tory: an educated populace looking between the tits for the truth is their nemesis and they know it.

Caste does not exist: it is in the minds only of those who believe they are in the upper one. We are not serfs born to carry on the tasks of those who preceded us. It doesn't matter what your stance is, it doesn't matter if our political ideologies differ if none have the right or ability apply them. Caste is a global issue, but in a race to the bottom the UK is winning.

It may take a while to take back what has been stolen, perhaps it's slipped too far this time, but it is the same thieves as before and we leave the door wide open to them again and again.

As for me? England looks like a nice place to visit, but I'm not sure I'd like to live there.

Tuesday, 29 September 2015

Priorities and permanence: The lost lives of war.

A great deal has changed in the eyes of the world since I visited Calais a mere month ago: One thing that is noticeable is the amount of cameras that are present now; before I saw only a couple of journalists in the week that I was there, now every fifty yards I was able to see the fluffy end of a microphone boom amongst earnest, animated faces.

This, in turn, has helped: I saw four rental vans from the U.K with open rear doors handing out donated toiletries, clothing and food, even a minibus belonging to a primary school was parked near the entrance, driven to Calais on good intentions and empathy.

The overpass that stood as a gate to the Jungle no longer does so; tents now sprawl from underneath it and out into what was the approaching road. The reasons being that more refugees have arrived and land within the camp has been lost to water. On arriving I sought out the art tent, in which I had previously found it so easy to talk to people, but it seems to have been moved or shut as the area it was in is now rancid and waterlogged.

On the left is where the Art Tent used to be.
I circumnavigated the camp, past what was a large expanse of sand that was now two hundred yards of water, leaving only a narrow path that two people could not simultaneously pass. As I bore right it became apparent that the whole map of the Jungle had altered in my absence; where there previously paths there were now ramshackle gatherings of shacks, where there were dwellings and open ground are now large pools of stagnant water.

The camp is certainly more inhospitable than before, even some of the road wide thoroughfares are now unnavigable despite the day being a warm one. A sea breeze thankfully relieving the smell that settled over the camp during the still hot summer.

I was walking towards the church and the books in the Jungle tent, a small library that had a dozen books and a leaky roof on my last visit. It was locked up and looked very similar to before, perhaps there are more books inside now, but whether added permanence to the site is positive is a question which nags at the back of my mind, not quite identified at this point.

There is a throng of people by the church, a huge pile of battered footwear is piled neatly at the door. The church has grown in my absence; a large canvas wall surrounds it and murals adorn the outside wall. Within the makeshift walls of the churchyard a large grill is set up, people sit around on the floor eating rice dishes from polystyrene takeaway cartons. As I line up to take a photograph of one of the new paintings a man sits down on the floor to my right holding his food; he kisses the yellow tray and then taps it gently with his forehead, repeating the process three times before opening the lid. Even as an Atheist I am made thoughtful by how grateful people can be no matter how little they have.

Time spent: by someone with nowhere else to go.
I leave the makeshift gates of the church, opposite this there are two people building a platform on wooden stilts, the idea being to move their dwelling on to it to avoid the rising water that will quickly follow the first days of autumn. This, along with elaborate decorations on the church, seem to indicate that many people here see no end to their state of affairs.

I was doubtful there would be anyone at the school, but set off in that direction, moving to the edges of what was the path to navigate numerous litter strewn pools. In the middle of a dry section stood a small girl looking disconsolately down at a brimming bucket of water. I asked her if she wanted help and she stood straighter and nodded, examining my face. We both held the handle and bumped gracelessly along as I asked where she was going. She pointed with her free hand at a group of buildings not far in the distance.

She was an eleven year old from Eritrea, and had been in the Jungle for two weeks. I asked what she thought of the place, she managed a shrug. "It is safe." She conceded eventually. "It is the only place I know that is safe." Her perspective on the world was a dark one and I reeled slightly from it, although I can see why to her it is a valid one. Her father had fled with her to avoid conscription or imprisonment, a choice with no positive option. He is the sole guardian, her mother, like many women, never had the chance to leave Eritrea.

I tried to shake off the melancholy feeling that follows me whenever I walk around the Jungle; it had been emphasised by the last meeting and is not helpful. I stomped toward the school once more along what had in August, been a path. There was a hut in front of me, two men sat outside it in the gentle afternoon sun and heating an open can of beans on a small fire. They waved me to a halt as I passed.

Where an eleven year old girl lives with her father: An hour
from the British Library.  
"You can not get through that way." He pointed to a path back to the wider road. "You have to go that way." There were large white words painted on the door of their canvas shack: Kamal smile please. "Why are you going there anyway? There is nothing
good over there."

He was smiling as he spoke. The other man pointed to where I had walked from.
"There is nothing good over there either." They both laughed and the nearest slapped me on the back. They were both Syrians and had been on the camp for nearly two months, both now in their early twenties they had fled the civil war in their teens. I asked about the words that filled the door.  "Do you know who Kamal is?" The first speaker smiled mischievously and I shook my head. "I am." He said, poking himself in the chest. "After three weeks here my brother painted it, he was bored of me being sad."

"Did it help?" I asked, Kamal shrugged and produced a half smile, curling his bottom lip under his upper at the silliness of the conversation.

"Sometimes it is the small things." There was a sadness still in his eyes, but he seemed determined not to let it show. I sat with them for a while, they occasionally poked at the can of beans with a fork as we chatted and asked me to write down the link to my first article for them. "When you are famous we can say we met you." Kamal's eyes smiled with his mouth this time. We shook hands once more and I wandered off towards the school.    

The school was closed but surrounded by people nonetheless, I continued past as everyone looked busy and focused around cameras without me getting involved. A high metal fence stood on my right and the entirety of the camp on my left as I navigated pools of water and passing bicycles. There were more signs and decorations than my first visit, as people tried to make things more like a home in the face of the circumstances.

From the art of the jungle (Look it up on Facebook) to the poems and the paintings, the planned stilted housing and the assistance of everyday people, the entire situation has altered from refugee to migrant and from crisis to permanence.

We are unable to repair the political situation in Eritrea, I cannot see a way to make peace in the Sudan, there is certainly nothing that can be done for Syria, especially if we continue to bomb it. These are not practical solutions for a separate symptom. Spend all winter on the coast of Dover in a shelter you have manufactured from waste wood and canvas, then picture your children perpetually living there.

Everyone wants to go home, somewhere one feels safe, a place to retreat to. For some children and young people the Jungle is the safest place they have ever been; as a result it has become their home. This is their time, their memories, their childhood and in this case not providing is as bad as taking away.