Tag Archives: politics

Now I am ashamed to be British

My world view is broken, as finally and completely as the mirror I dropped that shattered into a thousand fragments each of which reflected back a splintered version of my shocked face as I gingerly attempted to gather them up without slicing the skin of my fingers.

I grew up believing that for all its faults (and it has many not least the blood drenched imperial past so beloved of the right wing) Britain had in the second half of the twentieth century come to stand as for a liberal, tolerant world view that was outward looking and inclusive. That it really did strive to ensure equality, fairness and justice for all. That vision of my country has been ripped up, trampled and spat on. Mirrors once broken, even if repaired, remain cracked and reflect a distorted view. In the eyes of the world and many of its bemused, dismayed and shocked citizens Britain is now broken as comprehensively as that mirror.

Birmingham this week has been brutal. Racist, xenophobic and disgusting speeches largely unchallenged by a supine, subservient and self-serving media. I remember Enoch Powell’s ‘Rivers of Blood’ speech in 1968. Interestingly also delivered in Birmingham. It caused howls of outrage and his instant dismissal from the shadow cabinet. The conservative party leader at the time, Edward Heath stated “I dismissed Mr Powell because I believed his speech was inflammatory and liable to damage race relations. I am determined to do everything I can to prevent racial problems developing into civil strife… I don’t believe the great majority of the British people share Mr Powell’s way of putting his views in his speech.”

The Times newspaper declared it “an evil speech”, stating “This is the first time that a serious British politician has appealed to racial hatred in this direct way in our post war history.”
The Times response to equally nasty, if more subtle, incitement to hatred 48 years later is the feeble “May Takes Centre Stage in Appeal to Labour Voters”. Really? When did racist, xenophobic rhetoric become the centre ground of British Politics? I dare say if Edward Heath was alive today he’d be considered as unelectable as Jeremy Corbyn.

Powell’s speech was a more overt incitement to hatred but the vileness of the stuff Theresa May and Amber Rudd have been spouting is no less fascist, dangerous and incendiary. What happened to the 48% of people who voted remain? How can a 4% majority be overwhelming endorsement? A fair number (certainly more than 4%) of the Brexit camp was in favour of retaining membership of the EEC (the so called Norway option) and the concomitant commitment to freedom of movement. They, like the Remainers, have been airbrushed out. It was apparently always a  referendum on immigration and the people have spoken.  The hope that this is some kind of negotiating ploy for Brexit is rapidly receding over the horizon and we need to face the fact that Britain seems to have suffered a fascist coup. Not surprisingly the speech was applauded by Marine le Penn who is the current leader of the National Front in France.

Socrates (someone who knew a thing or two about Democracy) said “I am not an Athenian or a Greek, but a citizen of the world.” Theresa May said “A citizen of the world is a citizen of nowhere” – right now that sounds better than being British.

In Time of Breaking of Nations

Thomas Hardy’s poem was written in 1916 at the height of the Great War and just before  It seems very appropriate to use it as a title in the current circumstances of Brexit.

My Blog has been inactive now for over six months. Two reasons – firstly a complete though very positive upheaval in family circumstances meaning we now are immigrants in France. I refuse to be an Ex-pat. That to me is a word soaked in the dark heart of colonialism and empire and the fact that so many Britons living abroad use that term to describe themselves is probably a clue to the result on 23rd June.

The other reason is that sometimes it is just difficult to find words for how you feel. A feeble excuse and not what a writer should say? The truth is when I wrote my last blog entry ‘Whispering in a Hurricane’ I felt an overwhelming sense of  being a helpless spectator watching a catastrophe unfold but powerless to prevent or stop it.

I cannot in truth determine whether we stand at on the threshold of an unimaginably better or worse world. Our current global capitalist oligarchies are heading toward collapse through overexploitation, climate change and the ever widening gulf of inequality between have and have not. Could Brexit be the act that collapses it quickly before more damage is done and allows a new socially just, non-growth orientated sustainable civilisation to emerge?  Maybe, though on past performance I don’t hold out much hope. I was born at the end of the second world war. I grew up in a society that seemed to have changed irrevocably for the better. Health care, education, decent jobs and homes and not least the shared consensus that the weak and vulnerable needed protection and help. That has vanished. It lasted for about thirty five years which in hindsight was probably remarkable. The subsequent thirty five years have been marked by how remarkably easy it has been to undo all those gains for the ordinary average person.

On Friday when I felt quite desperately depressed and wanted to weep for shame at the sight of Farage triumphant I decided to retreat from the madness and read poetry. I had no particular poem or poet in mind but I turned to Yeats and the book almost of itself opened at the Stare’s nest by my window, a poem which I think speaks even more evocatively than Hardy’s about what it feels like to live in deeply troubling and uncertain times.
starling

The Stare’s Nest by My Window

The bees build in the crevices
Of loosening masonry, and there
The mother birds bring grubs and flies.
My wall is loosening; honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

We are closed in, and the key is turned
On our uncertainty; somewhere
A man is killed, or a house burned.
Yet no clear fact to be discerned:
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

A barricade of stone or of wood;
Some fourteen days of civil war:
Last night they trundled down the road
That dead young soldier in his blood:
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

We had fed the heart on fantasies,
The heart’s grown brutal from the fare,
More substance in our enmities
Than in our love; O honey-bees,
Come build in the empty house of the stare.

Whispering in a hurricane

I haven’t been very active on my blog – nothing since August. Over the past few months from time to time I’ve been tempted to put finger to keyboard and post in response to the various events that have spiked above the median level of my disaffection with the current state of our so called democratic society and it’s drift towards Inverted Totalitarianism. (The name coined by by Sheldon Wolin to describe the place to where it seems we are unerringly headed. A place where you absolutely do not want to be – a dystopian future that promises to combine the worst of 1984 and Brave New World.)

I haven’t been short of material. The refugee crisis and Britain’s disgusting response. The misinformation and sniping that accompanied Corbyn’s unexpected victory in the Labour party leadership contest. Nuclear deals with China, TTIP and other madness. Our purblind response to the accelerating degradation of the planet and its natural resources. The yet more austerity imposed on us by Cameron and Osborne, men who readily understand that The comfort of the rich depends upon an abundant supply of the poor.”*

But each time I’ve sat down I’ve been overcome by the vision that all I’m doing is whispering in a hurricane. After all what can I add that others have not already said much better and more persuasively. Whose reach and audience is so much greater than mine. And I’ve deleted my words and posted a picture of a cat playing the piano on FB instead. I’d almost come to think that words were simply part of the problem and the solution might be to forget prose in favour of doing. Providing help to desperate refugees, marching to protest against the degradation of the environment or closer to home putting food in food banks for the hungry, etc. – pick your cause and get going.

Now the terrible bombings in Lebanon (hardly reported by our mainstream media) followed by Friday’s events in Paris have prodded me into writing this. It still seems like whispering in a hurricane but I came to the conclusion that the volume and reach of what one says is less important than the fact that one says it. No words can adequately describe the horror of bombing unsuspecting people who are going about the daily business of their lives (and by extension our lives). I lived in London at the height of the IRA bombing campaign. It had the same purpose of shock and horror. The idea of turning the inhabitants of Britain against the Irish who lived among them, their neighbours and work mates. Isolation and division. It didn’t work then because the strands between Britain and Ireland are old and deep and although there was some anti Irish sentiment in the immediate aftermath of each atrocity by and large it faded quickly.

Most of us live in the comfortable middle ground between secular and spiritual, good and evil, eschewing extremes and rubbing along with each other as best we can. The extremists call it the grey zone because it does not belong in their world of absolutes, of black versus white. Daesh want to destroy the grey zone. Daesh – I prefer that term to ISIS or the Caliphate or any other name they choose because it is an Arabic word meaning ‘a group of bigots who impose their will on others’ which perfectly sums up not only Daesh but every other extremist movement in history. They want only polarised extremes not the colourful, chaotic, holistic, tolerant centre where humanity flourishes. Unlike other extremists such as the the UDF and the IRA they won’t sit down and carve up the territory once they’ve removed all the moderates from the equation. What can you say to a man who tells you he prefers obeying God rather than men, and that as a result he’s certain he’ll go to heaven if he cuts your throat?” *

Before we get too complacent we should remember that it isn’t so long ago that we had religious intolerance, bigotry and hatred of that dimension in Europe. The religious conflicts that tore through Europe between 1520 and 1650 were on any interpretation bloody and brutal; every bit as appalling as anything Daesh are serving up in the so called Caliphate and elsewhere. Drawing parallels from history is always a risky business because history does not repeat itself – it would be too easy if it did – but we can look at what happened in the past and ask ourselves some searching questions.

The first must be, what is it about our way of life that makes it worth preserving? What is it that makes us sure that what Daesh stands for; the way it wants to shape society is wrong and abhorrent? The second must be, is the rhetoric of war is the right solution? If not then what is the right response? Each of us may answer these questions differently. I have no easy or complete answers. What is important is that we ask them and consider our answers to them. Then we should ask ourselves what consequences might flow from our action or non-action. Not just the ones we desire but all the ones that might occur.  What those responses say about us as people and about the sort of world we want to inhabit. 

It seems to me that extremism is born out of fear and hatred. Out of poverty and oppression and injustice. It is fed by ignorance. We created a vacuum with our ill judged war in Iraq and Daesh have filled it. Faced now with a force that clearly understands the value in war of shock and awe (videos of beheadings, mass killings) and who want to impose on us their world view rooted in the violent seventh century beginnings of the Muslim faith what should our response be? For me the answers to the questions I posed above lie in the essential difference between tolerance and humanity and their polar opposites. I don’t believe we should bomb Syria or put our troops on the ground there. We have already made enough of a mess in the middle east. That is the easy option that will lead only to Daesh recruiting more eager young people who want to be martyrs. I do think we should support the Kurds and the Iraqis and others who have no option but to fight Daesh because they are defending their homes and loved ones. Perhaps the only justification for war is the need for self defence in the face of an enemy who is hell bent on destroying you and everything you stand for.

In opposing the idea of ever increasing military action I am not saying we should wring our hands and do nothing. We can and should retaliate. Anonymous are taking down Jihadist twitter feeds through hacking. I may defend your right to free speech even though I dislike what you say but when you abuse your right and use it to incite hatred and violence I am entitled to exercise my right to stop you. We also need to cut off their supplies of money and arms. They trade in oil. How? We should concentrate on blocking that source of income rather than bombing Syria. We should above all welcome and help the victims of Daesh. The millions of desperate Syrians who are flooding across the borders into Europe. They are not the people we should be scared of. They are the people who we should help not only out of common humanity but also because they are our greatest allies against the threat posed by Daesh to all of us.

fuck daesh copyA friend of mine lives in the 11th arondissement not far from the Boulevard Voltaire. He took this picture and posted it on FB. A more wholesome and human reaction than that of media and politician’s calls to close borders and hate and blame ‘migrants’. One that neatly encapsulates why living in the ‘grey zone’ is the best place for humans.

Our politicians on the other hand seem hell bent on war. Those who aren’t are dubbed extremists. Why? Doubt is an uncomfortable condition, but certainty is a ridiculous one.” *

The only way to comprehend what mathematicians mean by Infinity is to contemplate the extent of human stupidity.” *

* Voltaire – it seems appropriate to quote him after last Friday.

Where next for Europe?

greece gets stomped

What we have watched unfold over the last five months goes far beyond the petty inadequacies of European politicians and poses a fundamental question to all of us.

What type of society do we want to live in – what type of world view do we want our children to inherit?

The Greeks have been subject to a harsh lesson. Freedom exists only in so far as you do not test its limits. Stay within the prescribed limits and you can have the illusion that you are free. Attempt to step over the boundary and feel the sting of the lash.

Society is one of those BIG words (as Cameron abused it) but basically society is a structural and functional arrangement that reflects the norms, values and mores of the individuals within it. Democratic society governs this arrangement by way of the will of the majority – imperfect but better than the alternatives. That is why the shifting of values of individuals within the population is of such fundamental importance to those who wish to change the nature of the society in which we live. The triumph of neo-liberal ideology is that it has mastered the art of shifting the baseline of popular opinion so much better than those of us who are merely ineffectually liberal minded and tolerant.

Worms of the world unite and turn.” Maybe lacks something as a rallying cry but it is where we’re at. Further more worms are good, honest and useful creatures.

Aristotle, The Troika and Hubris

Democracy in chains (image © adeg 2009)

Aristotle defined hubris as shaming the victim, not because of anything that had happened to a person or might happen to a person, but merely for that person’s own gratification in the victim’s humiliation. In its modern usage, hubris denotes overconfident pride and arrogance.

The Troika (IMF, ECB and EC*) are guilty of it in both it’s ancient and modern meaning. Their intransigent stance has little or nothing to do with curing the long term problems that bedevil Greece (and Italy, Spain and Portugal) and much more to do with punishing the Greeks for daring to challenge the status quo. No-one with any modicum of intelligence (whatever else I think of them I acquit Merkel, Lagarde, Schäuble, Juncker and Draghi* of stupidity) can really believe that more austerity will do anything to solve the Greek crisis. Many well respected economists and even parts of the IMF itself are protesting ever more loudly at the absurdity and wrongness of continuing to administer poison to a dying patient but are resolutely ignored. The present situation has been brought about by the inequality of power and by the strong being unable to exercise restraint – being unable to resist pushing for that final total capitulation by the weak. Greece must be punished not because it will do them any good but to show them who rules. So the Greeks have been shown the naked power of the money and bankers.

Less than a month after being elected the Greek government was told in no uncertain terms that the will of its people as expressed at the ballot box was irrelevant. The Germans in the person of Schäuble indulged in some distasteful triumphalism; his comment “Being in government is a date with reality, and reality is often not as nice as a dream”, deserves to rank with “Let them eat cake”. The troika have not budged from this stance in all the months of negotiation.

Only a small fraction of the €240bn (£170bn) total bailout money received in 2010 and 2012 found its way into the government’s coffers to soften the blow of the 2008 financial crash and fund reform programmes. Most of the money went to the banks that lent Greece funds before the crash. Unlike most of Europe, which ran up large budget deficits to protect pensioners and welfare recipients, Athens was then forced to dramatically reduce its deficit by squeezing pensions and cutting the minimum wage. In January the social crisis that resulted from the collapse of the Greek economy prompted them to elect a government pledged to end austerity. For the Greeks there really is no alternative. The ‘TINA’ so beloved of neoliberal proponents of austerity was turned on its head and the gloves came off.

The Troika continue to threaten Greece by saying voting ‘No’ means a euro exit (and by implication an EU exit). That is blatant interference in the democratic process. Whatever the outcome of the present crisis whether Greece votes Yes and capitulates or whether it votes No and marches into the unknown is almost irrelevant against the fact that the leaders of Europe in conjunction with the IMF have destroyed its raison d’etre. In the aftermath of the Twentieth Century’s two wars that had wrenched Europe apart and led to untold misery for millions, leaders who were a diverse group but who held the same ideals: a peaceful, united and prosperous Europe, came together to lay the foundations of the European Union in the Treaty of Rome. The ideal of a Europe that created prosperity and stability for all its citizens has been subsumed to the demands of the market.

‘The Market’ and ‘Market Forces’ have come to be invested with the kind of superstitious reverence and belief in their omnipotent capability to solve and rule every aspect of life. This bears much more resemblance to Cargo Cults (the belief that various ritualistic acts will lead to a bestowing of material wealth) than any model of society based on enlightened, humane and consensual (democratic) beliefs. If we are indeed a union then the stronger economies should support the weak (as has always happened within Nation States where governments direct support to poorer areas for example in the UK extra development funds to the North East of England or the Welsh Valleys; though sadly I fear this may also be in danger from austerity fever). What we seem to be witnessing in 2015 is the opposite; the main beneficiaries of the wealth created by Europe pointing the finger of blame at the poor. Malthus* is alive and well and holds the consciences of our leaders in his grasp.

That said I believe the true crisis here is one of democracy not economics. Neoliberal ideology could not let a left wing government demonstrate a viable alternative to the social engineering of society through austerity. In Britain we start from a stronger base but we are the subject of the same wrenching apart of society through ever widening inequality and Malthusian attitudes to the ‘poor’. British exit from EU will not solve our problems but it might just solve Greece’s. There will be a lot of pain but at least there will be some hope of a better and fairer society whereas there is none on offer from the present zeitgeist of Europe. Not what I hoped when I voted enthusiastically for Britain to join Europe – betrayed is the word that sums up my attitude to EU now. How many hundreds of thousands of Europe’s citizens are, like me, sitting in their homes reading about or watching to the unfolding crisis and wondering how the ideals and the vision of those who founded the European project have been so fundamentally betrayed.

The events of this last week would on the surface seem to make Britain’s exit from Europe more likely but no doubt even if the British people were to express the desire to leave the Union their votes would count for nothing if multi national corporations, bankers and billionaire manipulators of politicians want us to remain in the EU. Freedom and democracy are linked as if the one predicates the other; as if freedom implies democracy and vice versa. The generally accepted definition of democracy up to now has been Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives.” That is rapidly becoming the big lie of the twenty first century. The forms are preserved but the freedom to choose is ever more limited. How ironic that the nation credited with the invention of the democratic ideal is the one where its funeral rites are being held. Where the panegyric delivered by Merkel et al in praise of democracy trumpets this ideal as Government by the people, exercised either directly or through elected representatives except where this conflicts with the interests of banks and multi-national corporations.”

*International Monetary Fund, European Central Bank and European Commission
*Agela Merkel German Chancellor, Christine Lagarde head of IMF, Wolfgang Schäuble German Finance Minister, Jean Claude Junker head of the EC and Mario Draghi head of ECB)
*Malthus – Thomas Robert Malthus (1766 – 1834) Malthus developed the theory of demand-supply mismatches that he called gluts. Discounted at the time, this theory foreshadowed later works of an admirer, John Maynard Keynes. He is however best remembered for the views expressed in his 1798 essay on population “That population does invariably increase when the means of subsistence increase, and, that the superior power of population is repressed, and the actual population kept equal to the means of subsistence, by misery and vice.” In it’s most extreme form – being kind to the poor is cruelty and it’s their own fault they are poor so only harshness will prompt them to work to lift themselves out of poverty.

Update on absence – migration and brain fade

os cachorros loucas 2This post is prompted by the thought that I should let those of you who are kind and interested enough to follow my musings know that I have not dropped off the blogging twig.   The silence is entirely due to all my energies being subverted from writing into the business of emigrating.   Whoever said moving house was up there with death and divorce as the most stressful experiences nailed it.   Emigrating is moving house on steroids.   It is not the practical stuff – packing, sorting and organising, that is child’s play compared to the decision making.   ‘If this, then that but what if…’ is how we start almost all conversations these days. The dogs  merely concentrate on whether we’re packing a suficient number of dinner bowls and their favourite food and are all ready to depart in their own carefree way (as illustrated) leaving us to sort out everything else.

I certainly feel that I am now a character in one of those locigal brain teasers as in ‘there are six villages on the only perfectly round island in the universe….’ or ‘there are five cousins…’  where you have to work out the solutions from cleverly  misleading or incomplete information.   Example from our current life – five phone calls to the Inland Revenue about self employed status abroad and five different and conflicting sets of information provided – work out the correct route to take.   If you get it wrong you get fined and no we’re unable to give you an answer in writing because then it would be too easy for you.  AAAARGH!   If I continued with Rats at the moment (assuming I had any energy left after ten hour days of DIY and bureaucracy) it would be darkly Kafkaesque, unintelligible and depressing.  Rats will however be back in due course as will the rest of my musings.

We shall be shortly joining the hordes of Migrants allegedly flooding round Europe – Mr Farage and UKIP please note we are performing our own Brexit.   One of the reasons we’re leaving, apart from the British weather of course, is the depressing result of the general election.  At least UKIP only got one seat – what a nasty, narrow minded lot they are – migration is actually a good thing.   In terms of the stunningly unexpected this election was right up there with Kinnock losing in 1992 or Harry Truman beating Dewey in 1948.   I don’t know anyone who isn’t horribly depressed by the Conservative victory and the threat of the savage cuts to come plus the stupidity of a referendum on EU membership but then most of the people I know are intelligent, caring and compassionate.   Plus no doubt Scottish Independence will be back on the agenda before long.  At the moment there’s a Facebook petition doing the rounds for the North of England to apply to become part of Scotland.  It has a surprisingly large number of signatures.  The only problem is the area which people want included is gradually spreading southwards!

 

Lines in winter – for Raif Badawi

Lines in winter

                            I

Black flakes of birds, wind driven, tossed
from tree to tree across a bleak sky.
Winter stubble fields sullen and empty

tramlines of pale stalks in dark mud
even the weeds seem to have given up
attempting a foothold in this cultivated desert

The news is full of dismal stuff

Wars and plagues, immigration and austerity
and as if all that wasn’t enough
Politicians shuffling through piles of dead words

And I keep thinking of Brecht’s line
that it is almost a crime
to speak of trees for it is
a kind of silence about injustice

                           II

You think we have no reason
to write of anything beyond
personal experience, introspection,
intricacies of words and emotion
because no one will put us in prison
when our words offend?

But what is the purpose of poets
if not to focus the mind’s
attention where it is needed most;
to sing like canaries in dark mines
in the space between heartbeats?

                             III

And this skinny little man
with an impish grin and unruly hair
this twenty first century Voltaire

with his tongue and his pen,
who dares to use them to question
and to oppose oppression

and every beat of the cane
draws a line of fire  across his back
“he made no sound” the witness said
“but you could see he was in pain”

and each stroke of the lash opens
another throat to sing.  Becomes
one thousand strokes of one thousand pens;

lines of pale stalks that remain
defiant and upright after snow and storms,
gleaming against the dark of the earth

©2015  A de Grandis

Raif B 1Raif Badawi is one of us, a blogger and part of our community – he is a writer and activist who co-founded the website “Free Saudi Liberals”.  In 95% of the world he’d be doing what the rest of us do, leading his life, going to the day job, happily expressing his thoughts and opinions on his blog but not in Saudi Arabia.

In May 2012 shortly before his arrest he addressed the nature of Liberalism on his blog
“For me, liberalism simply means, live and let live. This is a splendid slogan. However, the nature of liberalism – particularly the Saudi version – needs to be clarified. It is even more important to sketch the features and parameters of liberalism, to which the other faction, controlling and claiming exclusive monopoly of the truth, is so hostile that they are driven to discredit it without discussion or fully understanding what the word actually means. They have succeeded in planting hostility to liberalism in the minds of the public and turning people against it, lest the carpet be pulled out from under their feet. But their hold over people’s minds and society shall vanish like dust carried off in the wind.”

His final thought quoted Albert Camus: “The only way to deal with an unfree world is to become so absolutely free that your very existence is an act of rebellion.”
More of his writing can be found at
http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jan/14/-sp-saudi-blogger-extracts-raif-badawi

Raif B 2On January 9, Raif Badawi was taken from his prison cell to a public square outside the al-Jafali mosque in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, where he was subjected to the first fifty of the sentence of one thousand lashes.
Days later, his lawyer Waleed Abu al-Khair’s prison sentence was extended to fifteen years
Then, on January 16, Badawi’s next 50 lashes were postponed because his injuries from the first round were too harsh to withstand additional flogging. They are scheduled to resume this week.  The Saudi Authorities will resume their torture once he has healed enough to withstand the next fifty lashes.

The crime that prompted this appalling punishment is that he ran a website called, with dreadful irony, Free Saudi Liberals. On this he discussed and advocated secularism, and mocked the cruel absurdities of the Saudi religious authorities, who denounce astrologers for peddling nonsense but themselves have people executed for ‘sorcery’.  He does not advocate violence and what he says would be taken as self-evident truth outside the closed, medieval and fearful world that is Saudi Arabia.

I’d urge all bloggers to take up Raif Badawi’s cause if to do no more than sign the petition that Amnesty International have organised to stop his further flogging
https://www.amnesty.org.uk/actions/saudi-arabia-free-raif-badawi-flogged-blogger

We must not forget that we enjoy our freedom to blog and to express our opinions because in our countries in the past there were individuals like Raif Badawi, writers and thinkers who dared to speak out against oppression and injustice.  I believe we owe him our support and our voices, which is what prompted me to write the poem.  I’m happy for it to be shared and used to help his cause.