I’ve now started this post four times.
Each time, the introduction was very sincere and thoughtfully articulated (you’ll have to take my word for it) and featured words like “freedom” and “oppression” and even “cohabitation”, but in the end what it boils down to is this;
Some people make me wish I could resign from the human race, whilst there are others whose modesty and integrity almost take my breath away.
And in the last few days, there have been a number of news stories that nicely illustrate this contrast in human nature.
Picture the scene – a kindly looking, bespectacled elderly gentleman sits enjoying a relaxed pub lunch in Leith, Scotland.
Maybe he’s doing the Times crossword, maybe he’s reading the latest copy of New Scientist magazine, maybe he’s thinking about particle physics.
This last option is a distinct possibility, because the kindly old gent in question is none other than Professor Peter Higgs, eminent physicist and co-discoverer (with Belgian scientist, Francois Englert) of the Higgs Boson or “God particle”.
Now picture the Nobel prize committee, eager to bestow their award on one of the greatest scientific minds of our generation. Making increasingly frantic phone calls to try and locate the latest inductee into the world’s most exclusive club, they finally have to delay the presentation after realising the publicity-shy professor doesn’t own a mobile phone.
We return to Leith where professor Higgs, now strolling down the high street, is stopped by a passing ex-neighbour and is congratulated on his wonderful news.
“What news is that?” he asks politely.
At which point the neighbour tells him that he should probably ring the office.
Apparently he was originally going to spend the week in the Scottish Highlands to avoid any fuss people might make about one of the greatest scientific discoveries in recent years.
Such is the unassuming nature of someone who could quite rightly blow their own trumpet until the cows come home, a perfect example of good old British understatement.
Peter Higgs, Britain salutes you.
Whether you like it or not.
Isn’t it sad then, that in the same week we have to put up with the frankly vomit-inducing sight of the man who once flaunted a tattoo of a mosque with the word BOOM across it on television, seemingly having some kind of media-fuelled damascene moment and leaving the odious EDL (English Defence League) that he founded and led for four years to join an anti-extremist movement.
Yes, Tommy Robinson has hung up his swastika-spurred jackboots and seen the error of his ways.
Nothing to do with the fact that he’s currently under investigation for obstructing the police during an anti-Islamic demonstration following the death of soldier Lee Rigby, or that by his own admission he’s getting ostracised by other parents at his childrens’ school.
No, it’s because he’s realised what a silly man he was at all those rallies and demos, threatening the Muslim community at large with retribution should any harm befall other British subjects and making himself look like an ill-informed dick on Newsnight.
I shan’t give him any more coverage than that, except to share the twitterati’s amusing take on the matter.
The third story that caught my attention was reported by a fellow blogger.
Sting of the Scorpion posted a piece the other day about everyone’s favorite hate-mongering cult-of-no-personality, the Westboro Baptist Church.
Unbelievably, this “church” enjoys tax-exemption status, despite the fact that a petition to classify them as a hate group (defined by the FBI as one whose “primary purpose is to promote animosity, hostility, and malice against persons belonging to a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, or ethnicity/national origin which differs from that of the members of the organization.”) has many times more signatures than originally required.
It seems as if a certain Mr Obama is reluctant to recognise their bile-filled sermons and bigoted street corner abuse shouting sessions for the racist and homophobic rants they so obviously are.
Whether or not public opinion on this matter will reach a point at which it can no longer be ignored by those in charge remains to be seen, but as long as the notion of complete freedom of speech is abused by moronic minorities like this, it can only serve to cause more restrictions to be placed on those who have something genuinely worthwhile to say.
But in a country where the Southern Poverty Law Centre finds it necessary to publish a “hate map” of all the groups of extremists, organised by type of hatred (one category is simply called “general hate”) I don’t hold out much hope.
You can read the Scorpion Sting’s whole excellent article right here, and I shall just include this, my favourite moment of WBC bashing.
Here’s English scarecrow dandy, Russell Brand, giving them a friendly talking to.
Which brings me full circle, so to speak, as we return to the 2013 Nobel prizes and a story of incredible courage and dignity which proves that no matter how bad the cruelty and oppression inflicted, some people have a strength of character that is almost inconceivable to me.
Five years ago a BBC journalist was reporting from the Taliban-controlled Swat Valley in northern Pakistan.
This was the sort of area where it wasn’t uncommon to see the headless corpses of policemen hanging from lampposts in the town square, where all music and TV was banned and where any education for women was expressly forbidden.
As part of his story on the plight of women under the Taliban, the reporter tried to get female school teachers to write about their experiences but none were willing to go on record.
However, to his surprise an eleven year old girl named Malala Yousafzai wanted to write a diary of her life, would the BBC publish it?
Over the next few weeks Malala passed hand-written notes to the journalist, which were posted on the BBC’s urdu language website under the anonymous title of Diary of a Pakistani school girl.
By the time she was 14 she was speaking out publicly about the rights of girls to get an education even though it was now common knowledge that she was being targeted by Taliban death squads.
If you don’t watch anything else today, watch as Malala leaves motor-mouthed US TV satirist Jon Stewart totally stunned by her response to hearing about the threats to her life…
Not long after learning of the death threats, she was travelling to school when she was ambushed by gunmen who shot her in the head.
Miraculously, after leaving Pakistan for emergency surgery she survived and embarked on a campaign fighting for the right to an education for girls and women around the world.
And today she narrowly missed out on being the youngest ever recipient of the Nobel peace prize (pipped at the post by the Syrian chemical weapons inspectors).
Hearing Malala Yousafzai talk, you would think she was twice her 16 years, showing more poise and integrity than many of our allegedly civilised Western politicians.
I would highly recommend watching the full version of her interview with Jon Stewart via this link.
On balance, I think that if you judged the current state of human decency on just those four stories from the past week, we’d still just come out ahead.