The wrong team

Partisanship is so bad in our community that people will shun you just for supporting the wrong humanitarian relief organisation.

We only support Human Appeal. We only support SKT Welfare. We only support Islamic Relief. We only support Muslim Hands.

Why? Can’t we do good through any of these conduits, according to need at a particular time?

Do we have to behave like childish fanboys and groupies, idolising some incredible brand? All of these organisations are fallible, but they are doing their best in the circumstances.

We should be able to support different people in different places at different times, using the most appropriate tools to meet those particular needs without thinking to ourselves, “This is not my team.”

My Vision – Revisited

Building confidence in our community

Last September I published a post setting out my vision for a confidence-building programme delivered independently in our communities and culminating in a shared obstacle course challenge.

While initial feedback was positive, an attempt to pursue it with local community groups was not particularly fruitful. Those I spoke to reasonably cited logistical and capacity concerns: their programmes were already full to bursting and the prospect of setting up the obstacle course challenge filled them with dread.

Continue reading My Vision – Revisited

In this climate

With ever-worsening climate conditions, those of us who live in temperate regions are just going to have to get used to increased incoming migration from regions hit by intense drought.

Conflict over scarce and dwindling water resources is on the increase, though few of us notice, so used are we to the simplistic apocalyptic binary narrative of good and bad, us and them.

We see fanatics waging insane ideological wars, and no doubt many a foot-soldier believes in the cause; we do not see the control of dams, skirmishes over shrinking lakes, the abandoned dust-bowl farms that lead and feed into these battles of epic proportions.

Here in temperate regions, for ordinary people, climate change is still a theoretical phenomenon to be debated in religious terms: we are either believers, disbelievers or agnostics. But for many elsewhere it is already a stark reality.

If we are to understand today’s geopolitical environment we’ll need to start looking beyond ideology at conditions on the ground. There is nothing new in ideologues invoking religion in times of hardship. This is from SOAS Professor, Paul Gifford:1

“In 1989 I heard a pastor in Greenville, Liberia, preach on Revelation 6, 1-8, a passage which deals with four horsemen given authority over a quarter of the earth ‘to kill by the sword, by famine, by plague and by wild beasts’. He claimed that this text was being fulfilled at that very time. He linked the prophecy of famine with Liberia’s food shortages.”

Today, ISIS in Syria and no doubt others in Nigeria and Somalia, invoke similar apocalyptic hadith from the Islamic tradition, but they are by no means alone. The debate about increased migration into Europe is also clothed in mythology: amongst the Right wing, as a Christian heartland under attack from marauding barbarians; amongst the Left, as a battle between secular modernity and religious backwardness. Realities on the ground are infrequently recalled.

But if we are to understand the years to come — and view our brothers in humanity through more compassionate eyes — we’ll need to equip ourselves with the tools to cut through the propaganda of ideologues on all sides. Most people in the world are in a battle for survival: against environmental degradation, failing crops, diminishing water sources, rising sea levels, flooding, dwindling rainfall, rising food prices, intense heat… and the violent conflict spawned by these conditions.

Simplistic narratives of a war of worlds, of a clash of civilisations or of a battle of ideologies simply leads us towards blaming victims, instead of addressing their needs. There must be a better way to spend 5 trillion dollars than on bombing and maiming people on the wrong side of the ideological divide.

  1. P Gifford, Christian Fundamentalism and Development (Review of African Political Economy 52, 1991), p.11.

Tripoli

It’s reassuring that Britain, which spent over £950 million bombing Libya in 2011 to bring its people a taste of extremist militant anarchy, has the moral backbone to stand up to migrants heading out onto the Mediterranean from Tripoli. By refusing to support search and rescue operations, we are sending the refugees of the world a very clear signal: we have liberated you from the burden of being saved.

Sowing Division

I think we can all see through the hollow cynicism of Al-Shabab, who kill Muslims without compunction in Somalia, but seem to go to immense trouble to separate Muslims from non-Muslims when they commit atrocities across the border in Kenya. Divide and conquer is an old game; hopefully we are wise enough today to see blind killers for what they are.

Deformation

I do wish people would stop saying that Islam needs to experience the like of the Christian Reformation. This is exactly what it is already experiencing, and it is as bloody and brutal as the historical European template.

Haldrych Zwingli, Martin Luther and John Calvin were not nice people. They were as intolerant and violent as many of today’s puritanical ideologues.

The grotesque violence in the Muslim world today can quite easily be attributed to a reformist movement, which claims to leapfrog back to a truer, purer faith, allegedly not practised for hundreds of years.

The parallels are innumerable. Calvin had the printing press; today’s puritans have the internet. Zwingli chose which books of the Bible were apocryphal; today’s puritans just burn the books which delegitimise them and pretend they never existed. The Protestants whitewashed church walls and pulled down monasteries; the self-righteous of today blow up the graves of scholars and bulldoze the remnants of ancient civilisations.

So don’t tell us we need reform; we need reprieve from this simplistic, binary mind-set. A Protestant Islam is not going to work for us.

Ignorance isn’t bliss

UNICEF says that Syria is one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a child today.

7.5 million Syrian children are in need of humanitarian aid and 2.6 million are no longer in school.

What could be going through the minds of educated British citizens for them to attempt to take infants and young children into such an environment?

Time to remove the blinkers, I think. Tunnel vision has stunted the intellect of a nation. Millennialists say no to the “Mainstream Media” — and submit to pure, unadulterated ignorance instead.

State of ignorance

They travel thousands of miles to build new lives in somebody else’s land, oblivious to the desperate, shattered lives of millions of refugees scattered from their homes and livelihoods. What irony: when Israel did this, they jumped up and down at the eternal injustice and wickedness of the nascent state. But now they do the same: they are now the thoughtless settlers, taking advantage of the misfortune of others. Here is a land that has been emptied of its native population; children risk their lives crossing the Mediterranean Sea in search of peace and safety. In their place come the maniacs from comfortable lives in the West, some with children in tow. They dream now of their great religious state, enforcing their own kind of apartheid, discriminating against all except their kind. These squatters have learned nothing from history, because they never bothered to study it. Capitalising of the misery of others, they will have their state. But it will not last.

Selective Sympathy

Of course we are selective and reductive in deciding where our sympathies lie. Between 3 million and 7.6 million people died as a result of conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo between 1998 and 2008. Over the same period the conflict received minuscule coverage, and ongoing violence even today is largely ignored. The news we consume, the alliances we make, the sides we take: all of this is political. We choose to make some lives more worthy than others. We choose where our sympathies lie.

The prevailing tide

Most of us are not leaders, free thinkers or trendsetters. Most of us just follow the prevailing tide.

There may be a groundswell of revulsion today at the alleged crimes of Cyril Smith, Jimmy Saville and Rolf Harris, condemnation of the Police for infiltrating the Green Movement and behaving like agent provocateurs, and intense soul searching regarding the failure to prevent the exploitation of young women and girls by gangs of predatory men.

But in truth, at the time and for years and years, the victims of these crimes were not just ignored, but often vilified by the very same people taking the high moral ground today.

Today we are allowed to be outraged by those crimes; but at the time all of that outrage had to be directed at the victim. And nothing changes.

Today’s victims of events yet to be classified as crimes are also vilified in newspapers, on television, during radio phone in shows and by politicians storing up pre-election capital.

Speak of agent provocateurs causing havoc and nobody will recall Mark Kennedy or Craig Monteilh: you are just a fantasist with too much time on your hands.

Speak of underhand political conspiracies and nobody will recall Operation Boot: you are an unpatriotic turncoat.

Speak of the grooming of young girls by militant extremists: the girls are not victims, they say, for they know exactly what they are doing.

Just sit back, be patient. In ten, twenty or thirty years time, lessons will be learned. Investigations will be launched. Papers will be declassified. Court cases will be heard. There will be moral indignation, revulsion and outrage. It will be front page news, the topic of conversation, a wellspring for every columnist and commentator in the land.

But by then, those affected will be long forgotten, their allegations never really, truly taken seriously, even after all this time. The shadow of doubt will remain. And even then, after all that has come to light, people shall say, “Those were the mistakes of the past. We would never behave that way today.”

And we, the people, will ebb and flow like the prevailing tide, following orders, doing whatever we are told, nodding our heads in righteous indignation. For we are a superior people, so much more enlightened than those who passed before us. What superior people we are.