Waiting for the Barbarians

My friend and colleague Sharif Hamadeh has just posted an essay on Waiting for the Barbarians at OpenDemocracy. Its one of my favourite books, a stunning examination of our fear of the ‘other’.

My friend and colleague Sharif Hamadeh has just posted an essay on Waiting for the Barbarians at OpenDemocracy. Its one of my favourite books, a stunning examination of our fear of the ‘other’.

Update: Guy Keleny’s ‘Errors and Omissions’ column in The Independent compliments Hamadeh’s article.

The assumption behind the word [barbarian] … is that people who live in cities, pay taxes and obey written laws are superior to the more disorderly and robust denizens of wilder regions.

You may argue that this is so, but is it really fair to regard it as axiomatic, and to imbed in our language an insult to human societies with many admirable features? When people talk about ‘barbaric crimes’, I wonder what would be the reaction of an honourable barbarian such as Vercingetorix, Boudicca or Sitting Bull to the unspeakable crimes comitted by civilised peoples in the 20th century.

I had best find use another word to describe fox hunting.

Let’s disrespect more religions

The British really don’t care about religion. Disrespecting minority religions is a sign of integration.

Hindu looking navitityI’m not sure what the blog nettiquette is for quoting yourself, posting on someone else’s blog. I posted an opinion over at Pickled Politics that I had been meaning to make on this site. I shall repeat the thought here, but with a little more research this time.

The Hindu Forum of Britain are offended that a Royal Mail Stamp depicts a distinctly Hindu family fawning over the infant Jesus.

Commented Ishwer Tailor, President of the Hindu Forum of Britain, “Would the worldwide Christian community feel comfortable if the Government of India issued a Diwali stamp with a Christian priest offering worship to Baby Krishna?”

The quote from Ishwer Tailor betrays a wilful lack of understanding of his non-Hindu British neighbours. Despite preposterous Christian symbols on our flag, the British really don’t care about religion, and there would be little outrage to a Vicar/Krishna synthesis.

When seven men were arrested for their part in an alleged Ricin Terror Plot, the police raided Finsbury Park mosque, North London, in a search for evidence. There was an outcry from sections of the local Muslim community, who said that a Christian church would never have been desecrated in this way:

What can people have in a mosque? I think it was a provocative act. It was silly and illogical. When did you last hear of a church being raided when someone has been arrested? These people do not have principles. (Abu Hamza, via CNN)

My response was to laugh. We live in a country where our places of worship are rapidly being converted into pubs and art centres. Does anyone seriously believe that the police would think twice about raiding a chapel or arresting someone in a church! Christianity in this country does not have the same social cohesion as other religions. I cannot imagine criminals being stupid enough to stash anything incriminating under the local pews (although the thought of members of the Finsbury Park WI getting frisked with the same regularity as their neighbours down at the mosque, provokes a malevolent smile).

So it is with the slightly less sensitive issue of the art on stamps. The bizarre truth is that a refusal to pander to the Hindu religion is a sign of true integration with the ex-Christian majority, who refuse to pander to the whims of the increasingly outdated and irrelevant Church of England.

True equality at last! Welcome.

Update

Back at Pickled Politics, a comment by Inders describes an incident in the 1980s where the police broke into a temple in order to deport a Sri Lankan man. I’ve also noticed that the visiting Scientologists are hardly being treated with reverence either…

Protest through music, not guns.

Download the free MP3s to help a peaceful protest against oppression

Remi Kazani reviews FREE THE P! over at The Electronic Intifada. Visit the link to get three free MP3s!

A quote from rapper Tamer Nafar, again emphasising that the goal for Palestinians is mere equality, not a jihad against Jews or Christians:

“It’s not that I don’t love the flag. I do.” … Yet, Nafar doesn’t want the Palestinian flag to be altered with a symbol of exclusion, like the Israeli flag, which focuses on the Star of David. Nafar noted that “Muslims, Christians and Jews” made up Palestine before Zionist gangs pillaged the state, and emphasised that the injustice and racism which has enveloped the Israeli state cannot suffocate or hinder the Palestinian cause, which seeks justice, unity, and peace for all Palestinians. The audience of Muslim, Christians, and Jews erupted as the beat rolled on in the background.

Its also nice to know someone agrees with me about symbols on flags.

Ahmadinejad damages the Palestinian cause

Muslim fundamentalists and Zionists are on the same side

The letters page in The Guardian gives severla lucid responses to President Ahmadinejad’s “wipe them from the map” comments. (via DSTPFW)

Dr Nur Masalha, the British-Palestinian author-academic, writes:

I believe we (Palestinian Muslims and Christians) should always make a clear distinction between our political struggle against institutionalised racism and ethnic cleaning in Palestine-Israel and the fact that we and the Israelis would, ultimately, have to live together as equal citizens under some form of secular democracy – and not wipe each other out.

We should concieve of all these global troubles as a civil war within the species of homo sapien. I repeat: The fundamentalists are the enemy, be it Ahmadinejad and his call for a new holocaust; or the ultra-Zionists who declare that the Arabs of Palestine have no right to live in the West Bank.

Immigration and Public Services

I’ve just been sent the November newsletter from the Social Market Foundation

I’ve just been sent the November newsletter from the Social Market Foundation, which includes a very interesting essay by Conservative moderate John Bercow.

Aside from the cultural benefits of a multiracial society, there is a powerful economic case for immigration. Put simply, immigrants are incoming assets for at least three reasons. First, in a global economy, their labour is vital both to tackle severe skills shortages and to fill long term vacancies. Immigrants are not taking jobs that British workers could fill, but jobs which British workers are unable or unwilling to do. Second, the idea that immigration is an intolerable burden on the taxpayer and the welfare state is baloney. Immigrants give far more than they take. It is estimated that they make a net contribution to the economy of £2.5 billion, account for over 10% of the income tax take, and are disproportionately employed in the public services. Third, as our population shrinks and ages, immigration is vital to staving off a pensions crisis.

In the same publication, SMF Director Ann Rossiter talks about improving public services, and how to pay for them:

… polls show that people are willing to pay more for services they value. However … when it comes to election time, the public tend to vote with their pockets.

One of these days, a politician needs to stand up and call the public a bunch of selfish bastards…

On which front do we fight?

The true nature of the global conflict becomes clear – Religion is the enemy.

Two articles against Christianity: George Monbiot kicks off a debate by asking whether better off without God, since the stronger the faith, the stronger the function. Meanwhile, Johann Hari launches a timely Global War for the soul of Catholicism, after seeing how the church hinders the sex-education of vulnerable children. I’ve been thinking about these for a couple of weeks ago, until yesterday when I read a couple of letters in The Independent asserting that the problem with all religion is an inherent lack of tolerance.

last night I remembered Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger’s homily, at the funeral of Pope John Paul II.

Today, having a clear faith based on the Creed of the Church is often labeled as fundamentalism. Whereas relativism, that is, letting oneself be “tossed here and there, carried about by every wind of doctrine”, seems the only attitude that can cope with modern times. We are building a dictatorship of relativism that does not recognize anything as definitive and whose ultimate goal consists solely of one’s own ego and desires. We, however, have a different goal: the Son of God, the true man.

Joseph has a point, but I’m with the relativists. While losing God and your moral anchor might mean a descent into egomania and decadence, this is by no means certain, and (more importantly) it is also not true for most people worldwide! Conversely, the dogma that the soon-to-be Pope advocates must entail a dictatorship, in order for it to work. And the worst kind of dictatorship too – one that is unchanging, static, and thus cannot be reasoned with. Continue reading “On which front do we fight?”

Undermining the UN

This news could cause me to change my mind about the UN

A little while ago I wrote that a great deal of political discourse is nothing more that a shouting match, as people on both sides of a debate merely present arguments that reinforce their own argument, oblivious to the fact that someone of the opposing view is likely to give the benefit of the doubt to those they arlready support. The best arguments and evidence are those that are so compelling they ring true even with people who are naturally pre-disposed to think the opposite.

I tend to be naturally pro-UN, mainly because we need such an organisation and its the only one we have. I have always thought that the disregard for the UN by the United States does as much to undermine the organisation, as any inaction on the part of the United Nations itself. However, the report of doctored UN reports seems to me a classic piece of almost opinion-changing evidence. It has transpired that, in a report into the death of former Lebanese leader Rafik Hariri, someone in the UN deliberately removed allegations that brother of President Bashar al-Assad of Syria was involved in the assasination.

The UN must derive its strength from being obviously impartial. This does not simply mean that it remains impervious to pressure from the USA, but also that it does not aid and abet wrong-doing of the apparent ‘other side’, the Arabic and/or Islamic states in the Middle-East. If we and the UN wish to condemn US unilateralism, we also have to condemn such acts by other states as well. Nothing could be more unilateral than the upper echelons of the Syrian regime committing political assasinations. Never mind the fact that the assasination back-fired, and resulted in a diminished Syrian power-base in Beirut; the UN has sunk into the trough of the moral-low ground, and seriously undermined itself by these actions.

On a side note, I find it fascinating that such a large, global organisation has been undone by the ‘track changes’ tool in what I can only assume is the Microsoft Word programme (although I suppose it could have been the open source alternative, OpenOffice.org). Hasn’t anyone in the UN heard of a PDF? Obviously not. It is another delightful example of technology and the internet exposing the duplicity of the organisations that seek to control the information we receive.

Plant Photography: The birth of a meme

Libby Purves’ comments will become a new cultural cliche

It is rare that one is present at the exact moment when a new cultural meme is born. Okay, so I was not actually present in the studio when Joan Rivers called Darcus Howe a “son of a bitch”, but I was listening to it live. In fact, I was lying in a state of semi-consciousness and River’s shouting aroused me from slumber.

The presenter, Libby Purves, did well to let the argument run its course, and allow Joan Rivers to refute Darcus Howe’s allegation that she was offended by the word “black”. However, she was eventually obliged to give other interviewees space to promote their projects. She turned to photographer Andrea Jones and said:

Andrea, shall we talk about plant photography?

This simply could not have been scripted better. The new subject was the perfect antidote to a heated debate about racism, true ‘flower-power’ in action.

Other people clearly feel the same. Just as “Weapons of Mass Destruction” has now become an easy short-hand for some figment of the imagination, an impossibly acrimonius debate (or more specifically, its forced conclusion) has already been labelled ‘plant photography’. Several examples of this new turn-of-phrase have already appeared in abundance. The blogosphere will certainly entrench it in the coming weeks – I wonder if it will catch on stateside?

document 3: Human Rights Film Festival

Four short films on immigration and asylum

Our location is Nice n’ Sleazys on Sauchiehall Street, oppposite the CCA in Glasgow. We have just watched a set of short films at document 3, the International Human Rights Film Festival.

Runaways follows a group of Afghani refugees as they make their way to the border with Tajakistan. Although the subjects are subsisting in a manner that would not have looked odd a thousand years ago, the film is very much of the 21st century. Before the advent of digital technology, a lone film-maker could not have ’embedded’ themselves so unobtrusively into a group of people. A little girl helps her toddler brother over the mud. A young man pushes his veiled mother onto a donkey, then pushes the donkey like a pram out over the plains. These silent vignettes portray the simplicity of the group’s goal – to keep moving, and survive.

Laura Waddington’s Border manages to capture a similar state of mind. Out in the fields around Red Cross Sangatte camp in northern France, we watch the desperate refugees as they try and smuggle themselves through the channel tunnel to England. When they are caught and sent back to the camp, they return to try again the next evening, as if they are clocking-in and clocking-off at a factory.

The clandestine attempts to abscond are captured by a digital camera on its most extreme ‘night setting’. This mimicks a very slow shutter speed on a film camera, and the result is a grainy, sepia image which constantly strobes at only a couple of frames per second. The people we see are mostly in the shadows, which fits with the conception of the refugees as an under-class, a set of ghosts that move among us unseen, submerged. However, after half-an-hour of this, the lack of clarity in the picture becomes slightly tiresome, and I found myself wishing in vain for some daylight shots, or even some proper, infra-red night footage. Accompanied by the sombre narration (the authors of which clearly believing it was far more profound than it actually was), the final ten minutes seemed more like a conceptual art project than a film with substance.

Better the short simplicity of Arrival, a short description of one man’s entry to the UK at Gatwick Airport. Albino Ochero-Okello narrates his own story, and the directors let his words paint the picture of a man so scared that he leaves behind everything in the world that matters. The images serve as a backdrop, and the contrasting sequences of train journeys in England and East Africa enhance the sense of travel and distance. I just wish the same strobe effect we had seen in the previous film had been abandoned. These are documentaries, not music videos.

The visual style of this triumvirate contrasted sharply with the clean presentation of the fourth and final film, which was also the shortest. Unconstrained by the need to be wandering over marsh-land, scrambling through ditches in the dark, or leaning out of a train window, Bon Voyage instead concentrates on a single shift at work, of a single immigrant worker. Each image has been carefully story-boarded, and the extra effort to set-up tracking shots pays off. The result is a perfectly framed montage. Clearly, asking the central character to tell their own story is the way forward with these kinds of films – A woman who cleans toilets at Montparnasse Station wistfully recalls her time in Africa, and wishes she was in a place with status, comfort, and money. As with the other films, she reminds us that many emigrations are not made voluntarily, and that most people who find themselves seeking asylum never expected their fate to be thus.