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Keep poking the elephants…

Why do we write?

Why do we feel the need to make ourselves heard, we who call ourselves bloggers, journalists, pundits, satirists, topical commentators and cartoonists?

Why do we choose to broadcast our inner thoughts to the world, assuming the mantle of unelected spokesmen for those who remain silent?
Do we have the right to speak for them, just because they won’t speak for themselves, or are we ascribing a set of values to the silent majority that they simply do not share?

After all, we don’t all claim great socio-political insights or expertise in current affairs, (at least I don’t) most of us are just like everyone else who feels outraged by the unjustified and cowardly actions of despots, dictators, terrorists and murderers.The only difference is that when something in the news pisses us off, we use our posts, columns, pictures and words to fight back, registering our displeasure, pointing out injustice, or paying our respects in the best way we can.

Whether that means railing against the perversion of religious ideologies for twisted personal agendas, highlighting the ineptitude, stupidity and corruption of our political overlords, or simply pointing out the idiotic and offensive behaviour of those individuals in our society that we would rather not be associated with, one thing we all have in common is the wish to share our beliefs and ideas with anyone who has the time and inclination to read, watch or listen to them.

But should this need to be heard by the world at large mark us out as legitimate targets for the ones at whom we’re directing our unsolicited opinions, or should we, like medics on a battlefield, be considered neutral and somehow immune to the violent attentions of our persecutors?

I can barely even begin to imagine the abject terror that must have been felt by the Charlie Hebdo staff and their police protectors, whose lives were brutally cut short by men who so clearly fail to represent the values of a religion they claim they are defending.
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The idea that the teachings of any faith would allow for the indiscriminate slaughter of unarmed civilians, just because they were able to see the funny side of outdated theistic dogma, strikes me as the ultimate insult to the belief system they are allegedly defending.
Surely if you were to consult with almost any religious leader, irrespective of their denomination, they would all cite inclusion and love as the primary building blocks of their faith.
Islamic scholar, Dr. Khaled Hanafy, was in fact today quoted as saying;
” I call on Muslims to stage demonstrations that denounce this aggression. I urge Muslim Imams and leaders to take all the necessary actions to denounce the incident, to reassure the Europe community, to actively participate in protecting Europe media institutions against any threat and to denounce extremism and terror.”

We should by now be far beyond the point at which we need to violently disagree with something as nebulous as personal faith, force others to hold similar beliefs to ourselves, or deny them the right to question belief in whatever deity we choose to worship, because that only serves to increase and accentuate the divide between different cultures.
That diversity is something which will only get more widespread as our communities absorb more diverse colours, creeds and religions, making it a richer and ever more fascinating society in which to live.

The need that some of us have to broadcast our views on these topics, in a rational, non-confrontational and humorous way, should in no way be proscribed by the ones responsible for preaching the words of their chosen religion, no matter how much they disapprove of our arguments, for only through open discussion can we hope to achieve any understanding of how others see the world.

So I for one will never give in to the bullying tactics of zealots or fundamentalists, be they religious, social or political.
Not that I’m comparing myself to the courageous and dedicated staff of Charlie Hebdo or other publications that routinely brave the irrational hatred of the evil minority, but I will continue to proudly wave the flag for those of us that who aren’t afraid to occasionally poke the elephant in the room with a long pointy stick.

And I hope you’ll all keep doing the same.

 
 

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Never give in…

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I rarely post material that isn’t my own, but in the spirit of the solidarity shown by the French people this evening, following the appalling events in Paris, I am reproducing this cartoon as a mark of respect.

We should never be afraid to speak our minds and never surrender to intimidation.

In memory of the editing staff at Charlie Hebdo and the two police officers protecting them.

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{Cartoon via Channel 4 News}

 
15 Comments

Posted by on January 7, 2015 in Arts, Blogging, Social comment

 

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The persistence of memory…

If you spend any time on the internet (which you obviously do if you’re reading this) then there’s a good chance that you’ve seen any number of slightly flippant, jokey posts about how we bemoan the minor inconveniences of our lives, ironically comparing them to the far greater ones of those far less fortunate than ourselves, often tagged as #firstworldproblems.
It isn’t a fad that I’m interested in following, as it strikes me as being a way of pretending to care about things, just so we can let other people know how terrible it is that we didn’t get our morning cappuccino exactly the way we liked it, or that we were just too late to snap up those Kate Bush tickets we so desperately wanted, all the while secretly hoping that someone will fail to see the irony and commiserate with how our comfortable, carefully insulated lives have taken a turn for the mildly irritating.

We all have problems.
Mine are currently……..well, you don’t want to know and I can’t say I blame you, I’m sure you have plenty of your own.
And I’m equally sure that to you they seem like insurmountable obstacles in the path of your existence, but at the same time you realise that, sooner or later they will work themselves out and you’ll be able to return to the relative ease of your comfy first world lives just like I will, our memory’s ability to relegate life’s little hiccups to the recycle bin of enforced amnesia once more coming to our collective rescue.

There are others who are not so lucky however, those who we do remember, and we remember because we consider it our duty to do so.
This post is about just a few of them.

You would need to be living in a box to have missed the fact that 2014 is the anniversary of the outbreak of World War One, or The Great War as it was called, before the curse of hindsight required us to number mankind’s episodes of inhuman folly, like some sort of horrific sequel in the continuing franchise of stupidity and senseless waste.
Like all good historical epics there are many small stories of huge heroism, many of them largely overlooked by history itself until a poignant reminder brings them to our attention, and this is one of those stories.

As a teenager I was lucky enough to visit the Thievpal war graves cemetery at Vallois Bayonne in France, site of vicious fighting in the battles for the Somme and resting place of many hundreds of soldiers, a deeply affecting place that has stayed with me ever since.
One of the extraordinary tales that has recently been brought to light is that of Joel Halliwell, a lance-corporal in the Lancaster Fusiliers who was awarded Britain’s greatest military honour for outstanding gallantry.

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During a blistering German attack in 1918 Halliwell took it upon himself to launch a one man rescue mission, his challenge being to recover wounded comrades who had been stranded in no-man’s-land.
Having captured a stray fallen German soldier’s horse he rode the terrified animal out onto the battlefield, criss-crossed with heavy machine gun fire, and bodily lifted a badly injured member of his battalion across it’s back, returning to the British lines, saving the man’s life in a show of incredible bravery that could very well have cost him his own.
But this wasn’t enough for Joel.
Over the course of the next few hours he made another nine sorties into the terrifying hell of mud, blood, mortar rounds, corpses and barbed wire, bringing back eight more “other ranks” and one officer, all of whom survived to return home when hostilities ceased.
Not only that, having secured the safety of his fellow soldiers – forced to abandon his efforts only when the horse collapsed from exhaustion – he walked over two miles in order to bring the wounded men water, earning himself the Victoria Cross at the age of 37.
Returning to England after the war, Joel Halliwell lived until 1956, although sadly his brother Tom, also fighting on the Somme, died of wounds he received serving his country in 1916.

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(A recent episode of the BBC’s Antiques Roadshow programme not only presented Joel’s daughter, granddaughter and great-granddaughter with a replica of the VC medal that he earned in battle, they also located Tom’s grave, finally allowing the family to lay a tribute to their lost hero, in the corner of a foreign field in which he lay down his life)

But not all of the events that have an anniversary this year are quite so honourable.
Twenty years ago, in April 1994, just 100 days of terror and unbelievably brutal violence meant that the chaotic and deeply divided country of Rwanda soon became one of the most horrifically tortured areas on the planet.

Even though the vast majority of Rwandans in the 1990’s (some 85%) were from the Hutu tribe, the dominant monarchy in the country was made up of members from the ruling Tutsis.
As far back as the late fifties the Hutus overthrew their Tutsi overlords, chasing large numbers of them over the border into Uganda. However, the Tutsis regrouped and returned to take back their kingdom by force in 1990, leading to fierce fighting which continued until an uneasy peace was agreed three years later.
The peace treaty didn’t last long though, because only a few months afterwards a plane carrying the Hutu president and his Burundi counterpart (also a Hutu) was shot down.
Even today, some believe that the deaths of the two presidents was a plot by the Hutu themselves, designed to give them an excuse to persecute the Tutsis, who they publicly blamed for the supposed treachery.
Whatever the case, the Hutu promptly began a campaign of organised violence and appalling atrocities against the returning Tutsis, eventually resulting in the deaths of a staggering 800,000 people, many of them women and children.

Someone who witnessed the tragic events that lead to those 100 days of terrifying infamy was Lindsey Hilsum, international editor of Channel 4 News and veteran of many war zone reports.
This week she told of how she was in Rwanda for the very first days of what would become one of the worst genocidal atrocities in modern times.
I first thought that I would quote from the piece she did on the programme yesterday, but I don’t think I could do her justice. So please watch this short clip of her, relating the heartbreaking story of her experiences in the war-torn hell that she lived through. For I truly believe that only by hearing first-hand how these events shaped the history of a nation on the brink of its own destruction can we hope to understand the inhumanity of which we are capable, and by doing so, making sure we can somehow prevent it happening again.

I’m aware that this isn’t an easy thing to hear, and neither should it be, because if it was then it would only show that we are already lost, along with our empathy for those who perished at the hands of their countrymen, their neighbours and in some cases, their own families.

The final thing I wish to address in this post, and one that I consider to be a stain on our own national conscience, is the decision by our government to allow the faceless murderers of hundreds of innocent civilians to go free after the years of grief and pain they caused so many families.
I am of course speaking of the odious Northern Ireland (Offences) Bill, which will let terrorists of both sides in the long running, bloody and senseless slaughter of “The Troubles” walk away from their crimes without so much as a slap on the wrist.
It seems unbelievably cowardly and callous to simply wipe the slate clean on decades of violence and pain, purely for the sake of political expedience.
I offer no solution to this, neither do I profess any great understanding of how better to handle the situation, but I cannot see that adding to the bitterness and pain of an already blighted generation can do anything other than reignite the hatred and division that brought about so much loss to begin with.

The only thing that any of us can offer is the persistence of memory, the continued pledge that we will remember, in the hope that somehow we can avoid this sort of repetition of history in our future.

 
16 Comments

Posted by on April 10, 2014 in Blogging, News, Social comment, TV

 

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Watching the defectives…

As Adam Pain’s Golden Face Palms are only two short weeks away, I have been trying to work out who I shall be accepting the award on behalf of.

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Not that there is any shortage of nominations you understand, but I did make a case for two individuals in particular and I’m intrigued as to which one gets the “honour” of a GFP being bestowed upon them. (I’m thinking that, considering the number of votes both of my nominations subsequently received via other people nominating them, whichever one I don’t pick up the award for won’t miss out anyway)

I feel sure the event is going to be a blast, pitched as it is as a fund raising piss-take of public numptiness.
But for every head-slapping story of inanity, insanity and ineptitude perpetrated by high profile d-list dullards, there are many other, equally deserving ordinary everyday morons members of the public who deserve a mention, locally, nationally and worldwide.

It could be something as simple as the bloke at work who, in an attempt to win favour with our new site manager, went to the trouble of opening a LinkedIn account so he could send the boss an invitation. When the top man accepted, the scoundrel proceeded to use the business networking site to grass up his workmates for talking, using their mobile phones when they should be working and spending too long in the toilet.

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Or it could be the Keystone Spooks story about the security services and jihadi wannabe, Mohammed Ahmed Mohamed, accused of membership of Somali terrorist group al-Shabab and fitted with an electronic tag as part of the restrictive TPIM (Terrorism Prevention Investigation Measures) imposed on him.
Not only did he manage to somehow remove his tracking tag, but he also outwitted his watchers by entering a mosque and, after changing into a full-length woman’s burka, walked straight out under their noses like something out of a satirical remake of Some Like it Hot.

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And while we’re on the topic of inappropriate disguises, how about this for a bit of jaw-dropping stupidity from across the pond.

The ironically named Jessica Black of Craigsville, Virginia thought it would be perfectly acceptable to continue the “family tradition” of dressing up her 7-year-old son, Jackson, in a Ku Klux Klan costume and sending him out Trick or Treating on Halloween, much to the indignation of her neighbours.

You can watch her blithely defending her decision to turn her offspring into a social pariah in this clip from the local news.

But without doubt the prize for the most staggering and serious mishandling of a situation has to go to the police force of West Auckland, New Zealand.

For 2 years Auckland police have known about a deeply unpleasant group of local teenage boys calling themselves the “Roast Busters” whose idea of a good time is getting local underage girls drunk, gang-raping them and then uploading the results to YouTube and Facebook in order to humiliate the girls into keeping quiet.
They even have supporters who set up a fan page to follow their conquests.

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A couple of Roasters. Calm down ladies, you’re not drunk enough.

As if this isn’t atrocious enough, the attitude of those tasked with protecting and serving the community is almost too callous to be believed.

Detective Inspector Bruce Scott is quoted as saying that;
“None of the girls have been brave enough to make formal statements to us so we can take that to a prosecution stage”

I’m sorry, the girls haven’t been brave enough? Are you fucking kidding me?

But I’m sure you came down on the little bastards like the proverbial ton of bricks didn’t you Inspector, cowardly rape victims notwithstanding?
This is what our law enforcing hero had to say on the matter;
“We’ve told them their behaviour is verging on criminal if not criminal, and suggested it cease”

Verging on criminal”?
Suggested it cease”?
Are you out of your tiny mind?

However, I expect the odious little antipodean cassanovas are suitably contrite since their horrible activities have been made public?

Hardly.

Here’s a quote from one of the apparently unfazed members of the gang, responding to accusations that he is, not to put too fine a point on it, a complete scumbag;
“You try and get with the amount of girls we do. This is hard, it’s a job, we don’t do this shit for pleasure.”

Ah bless, you poor thing. It must be awful for you, spending all your pocket money on cheap booze, only to have those ungrateful little trollops get all upset when they wake up with a hangover and no virginity or self respect.
You probably tell them you feel terrible and promise to make amends don’t you?

No?

No. What he actually likes to tell his distraught victims is;
”Go ahead, call the cops, they can’t un-rape you.”

Unbelievable.
Or is it?
Bearing in mind that the delightfully named Roast Busters are made up of, amongst others, the sons of policeman and in one case, the son of a Hollywood movie star, (Anthony Ray Parker, who played “Dozer” in The Matrix) it seems unlikely that they will be brought to justice anytime soon.
Although New Zealand’s 3 News has begun a crusade to publicise their activities, so they may yet have a case to answer.

Come to think of it, it wouldn’t be a bad idea to inaugurate a worldwide Golden Face Palms ceremony to highlight the sort of outrageous and incomprehensible behaviour this type of cretin engages in, if only to bring it to the attention of those with some power to deal with them, or at the very least to galvanise public opinion against them.

For now I think the inestimable Mr Pain has enough on his plate, but you never know, there’s always next year…

 
9 Comments

Posted by on November 8, 2013 in Awards, Blogging, News, Social comment, TV

 

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