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Posts Tagged ‘Terrorism’

London 22.3.17

March 23, 2017 16 comments

Yesterday was the anniversary of the terrorist attacks in Brussels, which killed more than 30 people. I posted about that a year ago today, in From A Distance. In that post I said “Attacks like this strike at the heart of our society. London is now on heightened alert and must be a strong candidate for an atrocity such as this.” A year on, and I’m saddened that those words have been proved prophetic. I’ve also posted previously about terrorist attacks in Paris, and it would feel remiss of me not to do so for my own capital city. This post will draw on some of those posts, so you may recognise some of my words – I make no apology for that, as I believe I was right to say them then, and that hasn’t changed.

For most of my 38 years of employment I worked in London. It is my ‘go to’ place for sporting and cultural events. Whilst I’m not a Londoner by birth, I feel it to be ‘my city,’ and am horrified at what happened there yesterday. At the time of writing the full details have not been made public, for understandable reasons. What is known is that a lone attacker hired a 4×4 car – a large, heavy vehicle – in Birmingham, drove it to London and across Westminster Bridge. He did this at speed, deliberately taking indiscriminate aim at pedestrians, two of whom died and 40 more are now in hospital, several of them critically ill. He then crashed into the gates outside the Houses of Parliament, got out of the car and ran towards Parliament, knifed an unarmed policeman to death, before being shot dead by an armed officer. Those of you outside the UK may think it strange that our police forces are not all armed: for us, it is a symbol of our peaceful democracy that they aren’t, although we do have armed officers where necessary. Death by violent crime is much less prevalent here, which is what makes yesterday all the more shocking for us.

I first began working in London in 1975, at the time of the IRA bombing campaign. I worked in a government building which was classified as being at high risk of an attack, so I was made very aware of what terrorism could mean for us. I was working in Central London in 2005 at the time of the 7/7 bombings, only about half a mile from Edgware Road station, where one of the bombs was detonated. The eerie silence, broken only by sirens, that descended over London that day is something I’ve never forgotten. Watching the television yesterday afternoon, as events unfolded, seemed all too familiar. The reality is that, behind the scenes, our security forces are working very hard to protect us from such atrocities, and we know that there would have been more of them without their work.

On previous occasions I have asked one simple question: why? I cannot begin to understand what these people think they are trying to achieve. Do they want to destroy our way of life so that they can impose theirs? Do they really think that killing and maiming innocent people will achieve this? The fanaticism innate to such beliefs is way beyond my comprehension. And it makes me angry. My two daughters both live in London and I don’t see why I should fear for their safety as they go about their daily lives. What have they or the people killed yesterday ever done to deserve to live in fear of such an attack which will, in the end, achieve nothing except murder and slaughter on a large scale? It is inconceivable that terrorism will ever win, but these fanatical, cowardly, murdering lunatics are incapable of understanding that. Such terrorism and acts of war, allegedly in the name of religion, have been a part of history going back way before the Crusades, so it would be naive to believe that they will ever stop.

The phrase “Man’s inhumanity to man” is first documented in the Robert Burns poem Man was made to mourn: A Dirge in 1784, although it is likely that he reworded a similar quote from Samuel von Pufendorf, who in 1673 wrote, “More inhumanity has been done by man himself than any other of nature’s causes.” Nearly 350 years after von Pufendorf that lesson has not been heeded, and is still so true. Man is still doing so much harm to man, and the utter horror and futility of this leaves me deeply saddened.

My heart goes out to everyone affected by yesterday’s atrocity: I just wish that no one else would ever be touched in this way again. But I don’t think that is a realistic wish, sadly. Despite that, and however many times people do things like this, there must be one abiding message: you will never win, democracy will never bow to your perverted minds.

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It’s A Hard Life

May 5, 2016 27 comments

Some weeks ago, when I posted in response to the terrorist bombings in Brussels, I titled my piece after what I had always known, until then, as a Nanci Griffith song, although it was actually written by Julie Gold  – From A Distance. I had been listening to music as I often do, as a lot of truth is spoken in song lyrics and the words of that song resonated with me. One of her own songs also came to mind, and it was a bit of a toss up which one I used to illustrate my post. I chose that one as it made my point for me, and the other song has a wider meaning which I thought I might revisit as a companion piece. Having been kept away from here by illness it has taken me longer than I intended to do this, but this is the other song I had in mind:

Nanci Griffith was born four months before me so, although we have grown up in different countries we have to a degree shared our experience of the world and all its changes. In the song she references growing up in the 60s which, when we look back now, was a tumultuous decade, which in many ways has shaped our lives now: the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement, the assassinations of JFK, Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King, the Cold War in Europe, student demonstrations, and the massive changes in popular culture. But what have we we learned from all of this? The song’s chorus goes:

It’s a hard life, it’s a hard life, it’s a very hard life,

It’s a hard life wherever you go,

But if we poison our children with hatred

then a hard life is all that they’ll know.

Look around you. What does the news tell us? Have we learnt the lessons of recent history? That song was released in the late 80s, but more than 25 years later it seems to me that we continue to poison our children with hatred. The obvious example of this is Donald Trump, who now looks very likely to be the Republican candidate in the forthcoming US Presidential election. Despite his recent appointment of some spin doctors it is difficult to forget some of the rhetoric he has used during his campaign, and the way that it has demonstrated a position built on racism, bigotry and hatred. As I have said several times before, I fear for the world if he should become President, and hope that doesn’t happen.

But the issue I want to draw to your attention is far greater than just one man, however odious he may be. Next month, we in the UK will be voting in a referendum to decide whether we remain a member of the European Union. In recent years the main (only) political party of any note to espouse this cause has been the UK Independence Party (UKIP) which, by the actions of its members and its beer swilling, chain smoking leader, has largely come across as a bunch of racist buffoons. But here we are, in the midst of a campaign which seems to become nastier by the day, and in which much of the language used seems to be based on bigotry and hatred, of Little Englander perspectives. And we have always had our far right parties, going back to Oswald Mosley’s Blackshirts in the 1930s, via the National Front and British National Party in  more recent times. Another current incarnation is Britain First, which was started by someone who was thrown out of the BNP for being too extreme (!) and which makes UKIP look like a credible political organisation.

And this isn’t confined to the UK, either. All over Europe there are similar political parties and movements. France has long had the Le Pen family leading the Front Nationale. Italy has the Northern League, which is anti-immigration. Germany has the Alternative for Germany party (AfD) which began life as an economic movement but has jumped on the racist angle and is getting huge increases in public support as a result. Similar groupings exist in Spain and Austria, amongst others. Flip the coin and you have ISIS, or Daesh, or whatever we are supposed to call it. Then there was Al Qaeda. And in North Africa there is the Boko Haram group, amongst others. Everywhere you look you see organisations based on hatred, and the worrying thing is that they are generating huge amounts of support.

What are we doing to ourselves? Not content with destroying the planet, we appear to be trying to solve that problem by destroying ourselves from within first. In the song, Nanci Griffith references the KKK and the racial hatred for which it stands. Her song was inspired by a taxi trip around Belfast, which at that time was still a city divided by religious and political terrorism. Towards the end she mentions that she ‘can’t drive on the left side of the road.’ For the uninitiated, we in the UK drive on the left-hand side of the road, although most of the world does it the other way. Her choice of metaphor is very apt: it is about time that we all started to learn to drive on the other side of the road. We have poisoned our children with hatred for far too long.

 

From A Distance

March 23, 2016 22 comments

Yesterday morning, as is my regular habit, I switched on the TV to watch the BBC Breakfast programme whilst waking myself with my first coffee of the day. I hadn’t been watching long when the whole tenor of the programme changed, and it became apparent that something serious was happening in Brussels. For the next three hours or so I couldn’t tear myself away from the sheer awfulness of what was happening. I was going to write something about this yesterday, but just didn’t feel that I could. It’s not as though I knew anyone involved, or had ever been to Brussels, but I needed to gather my thoughts and deliver a calmer response to these events. Attacks like this strike at the heart of our society. London is now on heightened alert and must be a strong candidate for an atrocity such as this. I was working in Central London at the time of the 7/7 bombings, only about half a mile from Edgware Road station, where one of the bombs was detonated, and the eerie silence, broken only by sirens, that descended over London that day came back into my mind yesterday as news of the bomb on the train at the Maelbeek metro station came through.

I posted after both of the terrorist attacks in Paris last year, and this now seems to be becoming a sadly regular occurrence. On those occasions I asked one simple question: why? I cannot begin to understand what these people think they are trying to achieve. Do they want to destroy our way of life so that they can impose theirs? Do they really think that killing and maiming innocent people will achieve this? The fanaticism innate to such beliefs is way beyond my comprehension. And it makes me angry. My two daughters both live in London and I don’t see why I should fear for their safety as they go about their daily lives. What have they or the 31 people killed yesterday ever done to deserve to live in fear of such an attack which will, in the end, achieve nothing except murder and slaughter on a large scale? It is inconceivable that terrorism will ever win, but these fanatical, cowardly, murdering lunatics are incapable of understanding that. Such terrorism and acts of war, allegedly in the name of religion, have been a part of history going back way before the Crusades, so it would be naive to believe that they will ever stop.

The phrase “Man’s inhumanity to man” is first documented in the Robert Burns poem Man was made to mourn: A Dirge in 1784, although it is likely that he reworded a similar quote from Samuel von Pufendorf, who in 1673 wrote, “More inhumanity has been done by man himself than any other of nature’s causes.” Nearly 350 years after von Pufendorf that lesson has not been heeded, and is still so true. Man is still doing so much harm to man, and the utter horror and futility of this leaves me deeply saddened.

As I often do at difficult times, I sought solace in music. There have been many wise words written in songs, and the one I found myself listening to last night was this:

To my shame, I had always thought of that as having been written by Nanci Griffith, and it was only when I went to YouTube this morning to get the video that I realised that it was actually written by Julie Gold. No doubt you will know it from the Bette Midler version, but this is, I think, far more subtle and retains the meaning of the song far better. Please, whatever you are doing, take five minutes out of your day to listen to the words of this song. Its message that we have no reason to be so different from each other is stronger today than ever. It is a simple truth, yet so many are incapable of grasping it.

The other thing that made me angry about yesterday was the sadly all too predictable political response. Here in the UK, both sides of the debate on our membership of the European Union took to the airwaves to claim that the Brussels murders proved their point. And of course Donald Trump had to proclaim that France and Belgium were ‘disintegrating.’ Moron. I don’t intend to start a political debate here, but the important word in all of this is ‘Union.’ If a songwriter can understand the basic goodness of man, why do people distort this so much in the name of religion, politics or whatever cause they espouse? I’d like to think that I will never feel the need to write something like this again, but I fear that it is not a question of ‘if’ but ‘when.’

My heart goes out to everyone affected by yesterday’s atrocities. I just wish that no one else would ever be touched in this way again. But we are looking at peaceful co-existence ‘From A Distance,’ aren’t we?

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