Tag Archives: France

Bastille Day Reign of Terror in Nice, France – Liberté, égalité, fraternité

Terror claims 84 lives in Nice, France

During Bastille Day celebrations in Nice, a French-Tunisian has used a 19-tonne lorry to mow down revellers and civilians, and to shoot at police before he was killed himself. This is France’s second large-scale terror atrocity in 8 months since Paris’ Bataclan and third since Charlie Hebdo. Whilst Liberté, égalité, fraternité (ou la mort) was the cry of the French Revolution and last night’s revelries, life and liberty have been taken from many, including 10 children, due to someone’s lack of belief in equality and fraternity.

French flag 3 terror attacks, Charlie Hebdo, Paris Bataclan, Nice
Three terror attacks in 18 months: Charlie Hebdo, Paris Bataclan, Nice

It is time to assert our common humanity and not ideological differences, although the exact motivation and any affiliation of the heinous act are not yet known. Neighbours described Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel as a divorced loner who was not evidently religious, nor had any known terrorist leanings according to security services. Yet, people are jumping to condemn Islam, Muslims, immigration, rather than the possibilty of his being a ‘lone wolf’ attacker or disturbed individual.

French prime minister, Manuel Valls, said in a statement:

“We are facing a war that terrorism has started against us. The objective of the terrorists is to instil fear and panic…Times have changed and we should learn to live with terrorism. We have to show solidarity and collective calm. France has been hit in its soul on 14 July, our national day. They wanted to attack the unity of the French nation. The only dignified response is that France will remain loyal to the spirit of 14 July and its values.” – Manuel Valls

President of the Nice region, Christian Estrosi, has held a press conference, in which he said:

“This is the worst catastrophe our region has seen in modern history. We now have to mobilise all of our services, all the psychologists, volunteers who are trained to help fellow human beings. We will work with the imams, priests and rabbis who will also join us to help the victims and families who are suffering and will probably never heal their wounds … I want to thank people who welcomed passersby and those people who show us tonight that hopefully, solidarity still exists in a world that is too egoistical and individualistic.” – Christian Estrosi

Jump to my personal response.

National & International Responses

Kneejerk responses have followed, with not a little emphasis on the ‘jerk’, coming from Donald Trump, “declaring war on terrorism” – we are here in part due to Bush’s “war on terror” and the criminal targeting and bombing of countries not individuals and ideologies. Trump also called for “extreme vetting”, a ban on immigration from terrorist countries and when challenged about home-grown terrorism, such as Orlando, said that “second generation” immigrants were “very bad” too.

Front National‘s leader, Marine Le Pen, speaking to Le Figaro called for “the closure of salafist mosques” amongst other right wing responses including this: “The war against the scourge of Islamic fundamentalism has not started, it is urgent now to declare”, all that before any evidence it was extremist Islamist.

Meanwhile, President’s Hollande’s threat to scale-up French intervention in Syria and Iraq, is incendiary and not helpful.

Germany and Italy have ordered tighter border controls with France.

Theresa May said a similar attack in the UK was “highly likely” and called for new police powers. She said that “The United Kingdom stands shoulder to shoulder with France”, well shoulder to shoulder in the future from outside the European Union. What a time to be leaving. The European Arrest Warrant applies to all 28 EU nations plus Norway and Switzerland, but obviously not Canada – the Single European Market model that David Davis, Brexit Minister, is in favour of adopting.

Jeremy Corbyn, on behalf of the Labour Party said this:

“Those killed yesterday will doubtless have been of different religions, ethnicities and nationalities. It was an attack on us all, attempting to set people against each other. That is why instead, we stand together, now and always, in defense of tolerance, peace and justice.” – Jeremy Corbyn

Jump to my personal response.

Social Media Response

Social Media was using numerous hashtags to stay up to date with the attack and offer support: #NiceAttack, ‪#‎JeSuisNice,‬ ‪#‎PrayForNice,‬ ‪#‎PortesOuvertesNice‬.

I have to admit to having a problem with #PrayForNice. Prayer doesn’t stop hate, indeed some prayers – Jewish, Christian and Muslim, incentivise it. Loving action stops hate. Loving acceptance, prevents it breeding in the first place.

Newspaper Headlines

Torn between “Tour de Farce” and Tory reshuffle headlines the newspapers couldn’t pull their first editions quick enough. Headline writers were regretting their already gone-to-print titles that ran with Brexit bloodbath or Cabinet massacre, etc. Political careers cut short, would seem so facile by the second editions which carried details of the actual bloodbath and massacre in ‪#Nice‬.

Sports pages ran with “Tour de Farce” and described Froome being “forced to run as crowds cause Tour farce” meanwhile in Nice crowds were running for their lives from a lorry and its driver intent on running or gunning them down.

“We left just before the truck came and then I looked out of the window and saw a river of people running and crying. It looked like the apocalypse but I didn’t know what was going on.” – Leila Pasini

Business paper City A.M. ran with an image of sniper’s crosshairs describing Theresa May’s “taking aim at Whitehall departments”

The Daily Mirror initially had a Coronation Street storyline about the death of Kylie Platt on the street’s cobbles – rather too close to people lying dead on the streets of Nice. Beneath that, it had Jeremy Hunt boasting about rumours of his (political) death being greatly exaggerated.

Daily Mirror 15 July 2016 front page first second editions
Daily Mirror 15 July 2016 front page first v second editions

Sailing By & Shipping Forecast Calm

My own reflections on Nice went through a distant relative grief process, as I feel a European more than a Brit and spoke at a Charlie Hebdo memorial in January last year. After the sadness and anger,  needed catharsis – and for that I turned to writing and the shipping forecast!

My first response was to keep up with the news barrage, mainly over social media and the Guardian live updates which trumped the BBC for immediacy. Sucked in like a Stockholm Syndrome victim it became hard to pull away from the uncertainty of whether it was over or was it only the beginning of multiple attacks. After several hours and the final midnight news broadcast, I ended up listening to BBC Radio 4’s “Sailing By” and the Shipping Forecast for their mundane reassurance that the world hadn’t gone mad, or had it? At least with the weather, a storm blows out, a flood abates, but the escalation of extremist terror seems to just keep coming like an undead zombie horde amidst a Game of Thrones winter.

Blame brought no resolution, nor is revolution and fresh invasion of the axes of evil. Evolution, on the other hand, is. Not a survival of the fittest, the ones with the biggest guns, cruelest views, etc, but an evolution of recognition of our common humanity, fellow human rights, freedoms to coexist, communicate, collaborate, learn from and love each other, irrespective of creed, colour, gender or sexuality.

A month ago, I spoke at an Orlando vigil and quoted MLK whose words remain as true as ever:

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.” – Martin Luther King

Pulp‘s Jarvis Cocker chose “Sailing By” as one of his Desert Island Discs, saying for many years that he’d used it “as an aid to restful sleep”

After the sadness and the solace came the guilt that I couldn’t pull away from other people’s pain, that what was real and terrifying for them was a distance news addiction for me. That each individual loss or injury was just a journalistic bean counter increasing and updating as the night dragged on. I had also begun writing and reflecting upon Baghdad’s worst ever post-war atrocity and not been able to post it or a #JeSuisBaghdad update as I’d done before because I was embedded in the outcome of the EU Referendum and pro-EU and anti-hate rallies ever since.

How do I go outside tomorrow and look at the sky, the birds, a flower, and regain my faith in humanity, in human nature? I don’t believe in a biblical Fall anymore, but are we not fallen, flawed?

Fortunately, my faith in humankind is renewed by acts of love and community, as when people rallied round the arson-attacked Eastern European shop on Magdalen St in Norwich, when 200 lovebombed the store, when 400 showed up to support Norwich migrant communities this week, when 2000 peacefully countered and overwhelmed an EDL demonstration in 2012 here.

Like as morning follows night, so my hope will rise anew with the dawn, well perhaps a little later, around coffee time…

Je Suis Tous Le Monde

What is happening in Nice happens nearly every day in Iraq, frequently in Syria, increasingly often in Turkey, and worryingly 3 times in 18 months in France.

‘Honest’ Nigel Farage & his “victory for real, ordinary, decent people”?

Real, Ordinary, Decent Nigel Farage?

More lies from Leave.EU and UKIP‘s ‘normal Nigel’ – I’m glad I’m not normal! Presumably, unlike Nigel Farage and his supporters, I’m not real, ordinary or decent, either! That said, he stood by his convictions, and was more down to earth than other EU or UK politicians, no wonder his message, however much I disagree with it, clicked with an increasing number of working class people. The worry – where do we go from here and what next for English and other nationalists? Democracy sucks when you’re on the losing side!

“We’ve got our country back” – Nigel Farage

“Dare to dream that dawn is breaking on an independent united kingdom…” – Nope, we are disunited and the Kingdom is likely to fracture and Vote Leave the UK next.

“a victory for real, ordinary, decent people” – What does that make Remainers?

“we have fought against lies, corruption and deceit…honesty, decency is going to win” – Erm no, you perpetuated and propagated lies about migrants, EU costs, fishing and more.

“we have done it without having to fight, without a single bullet being fired” – Tell that to Jo Cox MP.

“let’s get rid of the flag, the anthem, Brussels and all that has gone wrong, let June 23rd go down in history as our Independence Day”

Destroying the EU and the UK?

“The E.U.’s failing. The E.U.’s dying. I hope we’ve knocked the first brick out of the wall.” – Nigel Farage

And so it begins. The BBC described the UK’s Brexit as “receiving a rapturous welcome from Europe’s far Right”, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin. Worrying praise indeed.

Geert Wilders calls for E.U. Referendum in the Netherlands, “The Netherlands will be next”, he said. A Dutch television station Een Vandaag had a recent survey polling that a majority of the Dutch would vote ‘Out’ on a European Union referendum.

In FranceMarine Le Pen said that “The French must now also have the chance to choose”.

Spain is calling for Gibraltar back. Sweden, too, has suggested it might Swexit along with Frexit and Nexit.

Nicola Sturgeon says that Scotland will be drawing up legislation to leave the UK to protect its position, after “significant and material changes in circumstances”, subject to the Scottish Parliament’s will, and this will take place the 2-year Article 50 timeframe.

“The entire island of Ireland should be able to vote on unification”. Sinn Fein called for a referendum and said that the UK had lost the mandate to speak for Northern Ireland.

Even “Remain” London is stirring up London’s independence – #londependence! The vintage comedy film, Passport to Pimlico, comes to mind!

£350m a week “free money”, a “feather bed”

Nigel Farage Brexit thanks
Nigel Farage Brexit thanks

But it won’t go the NHS, despite the ads. The ads were a “mistake” and nothing to do with me, says ‘honest’ Nige, in an ITV Good Morning Britain interview with Susanna Reid.

UK EU Referendum results

51.9% voted for ‘Leave,’ 48.1% for ‘Remain’
Leave won 17,410,742 votes to Remain’s 16,141,241 votes

Economists for and against Brexit. Why don’t we believe the numbers? Lies?

Lies, Damned Lies and Statistics Economics

Economics can be studied as a BA or a BSc, with the latter having more Maths and Econometric elements. The point I’m making is that Economics is a dark art and an arcane weird science akin to alchemy, it is not a perfect predictor of the future, but on balance it makes sense. People are the irrational unpredictable factor. Nonetheless, a group of 200 Economists is in favour of Remain and 27 Economists for Britain, and a further smaller ensemble of 8 in favour of Brexit (3 are in both lists). No doubt there are other groups that would bolster both camps, you can add my BSc (Econ/Stats) to the 200 camp. In addition, ten international winners of the Nobel Prize in Economics have warned against Brexit and nearly every international economic policy thinktank and institute. Even the Brexit economists accept they are the minority:

“I do not deny for a moment that there are more economists who write on blogs and in newspapers arguing against Brexit than in favour. Furthermore, opinion polls suggest that most economists believe Brexit would be damaging.”

The verdict, then? People trust economists about as much as they trust politicians and journalists! The polls are roughly 50:50 at the moment with less than 48 hours to go, but with a consistent 15% of voters undecided, who may or may not vote, or who might change their vote.

£350 million a week or £60 a year?

Polls show that the majority of people actually believe the £350m/week claim (around £252/year each) of the cost of the EU which is a blatant half-truth in that it totally ignores the UK rebate, inbound EU benefits and investment, EU jobs creation etc, which by other counts brings the cost down to about £1.15 a week. Less than a cup of coffee – the cost of reciprocal EU health and travel benefits, improved worker rights, gender equality and human rights agendas, and multicultural diversity benefits – cited by a CEBR study as a cause of UK economic growth and investment attraction. £350m a week has been consistently debunked by the BBC, Channel 4, The Guardian, The IndependentInFacts, the New Statesman, and the head of the UK Statistics Authority who says it is closer to £110m, yet people still believe it.

Brexit EU 350m Bus Poster Claim
Brexit EU 350m Bus Poster Claim

One thing, for sure, is that we don’t send £350m a week to the EU. What the net contribution of the UK to the EU budget is, after our rebate, grants, subsidies and other receipts, sources cannot be sure but vary from £83m – £164m, minus just the rebate it is around £248m but that ignores other benefits:

[table id=2 /]

£4,300  a year cost or £3,000 a year gain?

The figure on the cost of Brexit ranges from £300-£4,300 to Armageddon per family, so it is not as if either side are clean of the putting a spin on the figures. The CBI actually says that we gain around £3,000 per household from EU investment, trade, jobs and lower prices across Europe. That £3,000 a year gain (or rather, status quo) more than offsets the £200-£300 a year cost per household.

Fear, Hate and Scapegoats

Few believe, however, neither the allegedly independent academic facts nor the financial fearmongering of Vote Remain, instead preferring the demonising of the EU. They quote ‘figures’ alleging that the EU sucks us dry financially, that we are supporting the sick economies of Europe, and financing the health and benefits of millions of migrants. Neglecting the costs that 2 million Brits living in Europe run up! You see, Vote Leave‘s fearmongering is combined with scapegoating – someone to blame, that is its increased ‘sell’ factor, its USP.

The irrational human factor, always the bane of economic theory, is that we seem to need someone to hate, someone to blame. In this case, it is the EU, some kind of nine-headed Hydra, the Beast of Revelation, the government of the AntiChrist, German federal dominion redivivus, or fresh French neo-Napoleonic invasion, not to mention an influx of ‘begging and thieving gypsies’ – as some have erroneously and xenophobically characterised Romanians and Bulgarians, not to mention an entire nation of millions of Islamic terrorist Turks – Turks who are more likely to be victims than perpetrators of ISIL violence.

This may partially explain why people are predisposed to believe only the figures that reinforce their preexisting views and beliefs – much like religious argument!

It has not gone unnoticed that some of the poster campaigns and political assertions would not have been out of place in the 1930s Nazi Germany.

Breaking Point the EU has failed us all, UKIP, Vote Leave, EU Referendum
Breaking Point the EU has failed us all, UKIP, Leave.EU, EU Referendum

Bigger Lies more likely to be believed

A “big lie” or famously the große Lüge was a Nazi propaganda tool first put forward by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf (1925) suggesting that if a lie were so “colossal” nobody would believe that someone would have the “impudence to distort the truth so infamously.”

“…in the big lie there is always a certain force of credibility; because the broad masses of a nation are always more easily corrupted in the deeper strata of their emotional nature than consciously or voluntarily; and thus in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.”  — Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, vol. I, ch. X (tr. James Murphy)

Goebbels took the theory further, and even cited the English in his development of it!

“The essential English leadership secret does not depend on particular intelligence. Rather, it depends on a remarkably stupid thick-headedness. The English follow the principle that when one lies, one should lie big, and stick to it. They keep up their lies, even at the risk of looking ridiculous.” – Aus Churchills Lügenfabrik (“From Churchill’s Lie Factory”), Die Zeit ohne Beispiel, 12 January 1941

When even opposite minds agree

It should either be seen as really worrying or oddly reassuring that the leaders of all the parties except UKIP and other further far Right political entities are in agreement that we should not leave. For Jeremy Corbyn and David Cameron to agree is a sign of institutional panic, and Corbyn is normally anti-institution. The dilemma is that people see Vote Leave as, as much a vote against the EU as against Politicians of all hues. Cameron is seen as dodgy Dave but Farage as normal Nigel, the honest speaking man of the people. It’s not just the Sun readers who believe its barely researched economic claims that Brexit fears are “nonsense” but also the entrenched traditionalist views of 75% of the Daily Telegraph readership.

The EU Referendum is not about those who have already made up their minds, but those who have yet to decide, for they will determine the UK’s fate on Thursday. Whether they will listen to 9 out of 10 economists, Richard Branson, and David Beckham, in favour of Remain or the 1 out of 10 economists, Boris Johnson, and Nigel Farage, we will see then.

More EU Referendum fact checking sites

BBC Reality Check & Live updates
BBC EU Referendum key claims round-up
Channel 4 Fact Check
Full Fact, independent fact checking charity
Katy Jon analysis

Safe Alcohol guidelines from Nanny State unlikely to change my Wine intake

New Safer Alcohol Guidelines

New “safe” alcohol guidelines from Nanny State have been drawn up, where “safe” means none, like a nun, more abstinence than absinthe. Beer takes a battering and wine is to be watered down. Livers up and down the country are leaping for joy!

Having a glass of wine at Rare Steakhouse and Grill
Having a glass of wine at Rare Steakhouse, as opposed to rarely drinking

I’ve always been a wine-drinker, but with food at the dinner table from an early age. It created a responsible drinking habit – again with the nun references!

I did try teetotalism for three months at University and pigged out on pizza instead. My partner is more into total-tea-ism.

I actually, never get drunk, well extremely rarely and unintentionally. I drink for pleasure and only with food, never to get drunk. I prefer to stay in control and able to appreciate the taste.

Tongue in Cheek Comment

Actually, all of this is tongue in cheek, wine sloshed around the palate stuff – I just hate being told what to do. Dame Sally Davies, England’s Chief Medical Officer recommends a cup of tea instead of a glass of wine so expect a tax on tea sometime soon. Tea duty! Perhaps we should have a Boston Wine Party or a new political movement like the American Tea Party movement, the British Wine Party movement!

It all seems to be part of the austerity cuts and equalities agenda. Men’s drinking has been cut to the levels of women as it turns out male livers and female livers were not gendered at all and after several female livers took the UK Government to the European Court of Humourous Rights the Government out of spite decided to reduce men’s limits rather than raise female limits to an equal level.

Furthermore, the hypocrisy continues as Parliament is choosing to keep its bars open to serve more than the daily drinking allowance to MPs drunk on their own power.

It’s all clearly an anti-LGBT ploy (or conceivably out of concern for our health and wellbeing – which is an anagram of “binge well”) since it turns out LGBT people are nearly twice as likely to binge drink compared to the more sober hetero/cis population!

A History of Safe Drinking Limits

1984 was a positive drinking utopia compared to now. That year saw the first guidance on gendered drinking produced in a pamphlet called That’s the Limit. Safe limits were defined as 18 “standard drinks” a week for men and 9 for women. At least we now have drinking equality! One standard drink was defined as one alcohol unit – a concept that would be introduced in the next edition. The pamphlet also defined “too much” alcohol as 56 standard drinks a week for men and 35 for women. 1987 saw these limits revised down to familiar 21 units a week for men and 14 for women, with “too much” defined as 36 units for men and 22 for women. That is until today where it has been revised down to zero units for safe drinking and 14 as a recommended maximum should you still feel the need.

BBC Booze Nationality Calculator

The BBC website has devoted public money to shaming us further with their online booze nationality calculator which clearly makes no allowance for sexuality as a factor.

French wine drinker - new alcohol guidelines
French wine drinker – new alcohol guidelines

You drink like you’re from France, which is the joint 18th heaviest-drinking country in the world…You are on course to drink about 20.7 litres of pure alcohol over the year, which is 25% more than the average for men in the United Kingdom, and 200% more than the average for women.”

It turns out either I’m French or a bisexual/lesbian British woman but not a gay man.

A Choice between Risk and Pleasure

Drinking more than 14 units *may* increase your risk of dying from an alcohol-related condition by about 1%. That compares to more risky behaviour like a bacon sandwich or watching television for an hour!

Professor Sir David Spiegelhalter, Winton Professor of the Public Understanding of Risk, University of Cambridge, said:

“These guidelines define ‘low-risk’ drinking as giving you less than a 1% chance of dying from an alcohol-related condition. So should we feel OK about risks of this level? An hour of TV watching a day, or a bacon sandwich a couple of times a week, is more dangerous to your long-term health. In contrast, an average driver faces much less than this lifetime risk from a car accident. It all seems to come down to what pleasure you get from moderate drinking.”

Another tempting pleasure might be the latest research from Harvard and the UEA  suggesting that a high intake of blackcurrants and a few glasses of red wine could be “sexual superfoods“.

Drinking and Cancer

If wine is so bad for you, presumably most of Europe is dying of cancer, as opposed to stress and anxiety and other smoking and eating habits contributing to poor health outcomes. Other studies into the flavonoids, resveratrol and polyphenols in red grapes have shown wine’s heart protective benefits.

Actually, the Danes and French (big smokers) do unenviously top the cancer league however Portugal (36th) and Spain (34th) who drink more than Britain (23rd) come lower down the table. My plan is to drink more Malbec as the Argentinians come 49th. Clearly, other lifestyle factors are at work.

For women breast cancer risk from all factors but including increased drinking does rise from 10.9% to 12.6% (up to 14 units/week) to 15.3% (14-35 units). Similarly, bowel cancer rises for men and women by around 30% to 7-8% risk once 14 units are exceeded.

Allegedly, there are still health benefits if you are a woman over 55, I’ve never looked forward to ageing so much before! New #alcoholguidelines suck! I need a drink!

Christian drinking, well with a vicar at Greenbelt
Christian drinking, well with a vicar at Greenbelt

Syria & Islamic State – To Bomb or Not to Bomb, is that the Question?

Bombing Syria & ISIL Perpetuates Terror

Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

Thousands continue to protest and take to the streets to oppose bombing Syria, seeing such a move as disastrous and more likely to endanger the lives of Syrian civilians, and further radicalise and foment future terrorism in Europe by Islamic State (IS/ISIS/ISIL/Daesh). Hundreds and thousands of sorties and bombs by over a dozen nations over months and years did not prevent the attacks in Paris last month.

Update: On 2 December the UK Parliament voted to extend the Iraq bombing campaign to Syria but with no ground soldiers commitment or thought to future outcomes, rebuilding, Assad etc. Admittedly Hilary Benn, did give an excellent, almost convincing speech, but too many questions remain unanswered, avenues unexplored… and the UK has already carried out questionable drone strikes killing two British ISIS fighters – predating and without Parliamentary mandate.

Indeed, a majority of the country probably oppose the action according to polls, and Benn was out of touch with the majority of Labour Party supporters who are against action. Polls in the Telegraph had 59% for, in the Independent 59% against. At least there’s no “dodgy dossier” this time, but could we, in ten years time, be facing a similar enquiry into why we went to war, or even why we may still be at war, given that Cameron has suggested this could be lengthy, even many years.

Many see a bombing campaign as the obvious response to the attacks in Paris two weeks ago – precision, of course, because it is not like we want the human and financial expense of “boots on the ground” who can minimise civilian “collateral” losses by checking who they are targeting first. Presidents Hollande and Obama have called for ISIL to be  destroyed. Many echo that reaction. But, it is just that, a reaction, not a strategic response.
Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

War on Terror only increases Terrorism

Others recognise that after 14 years of responding to Middle Eastern turmoil by declaring a “War on Terror” we have actually multiplied rather than diminished terror. The 3,000 killed on 9/11 are now a drop in the ocean compared to the tens and hundreds of thousands who have died in the Middle East or fleeing it.

“The military actions of Western nations recruit more people to the cause than they kill. Every bomb dropped is a recruitment poster for ISIS, a rallying point for the young, vulnerable and alienated. And every bomb dropped on Syrian cities drives yet more people to flee and seek refuge in safer countries.”The Quakers in Britain

Thirteen countries are already bombing Syria, Canada is considering pulling out, the UK of joining in. One more nation will not solve what a dozen have already failed to do.

Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

Bombing Syria and anywhere else, for that matter, only increases tension, radicalises countless more fighters. In barely a decade ISIL has grown from a few hundred to a 100,000 fighters on the back of Western intervention and against more moderate interpretations of Islam. “In the month after the bombing began, 8,000 joined Isis alone.”

“I know Isis fighters. Western bombs falling on Raqqa will fill them with joy” – Jürgen Todenhöfer

Terrorist acts on domestic soil need to be treated as criminal rather than military acts. Declaring them a war only intensifies the pseudo-legitimacy of their cause and identity, making them think that they are now a force to be reckoned with.

“One thing I have learnt is that this western intervention never helps, it only makes matters worse. So much worse. These interventions only pour petrol on the fires of Middle East unrest.” – John Prescott

Bombing Syria – A “failed strategy”

Lt General Mike Flynn was Obama’s senior JSOC intelligence officer and head of the Defense Intelligence Agency until last year. He has described dropping bombs from drones as causing more harm than good and a “failed strategy.”

“What we have is this continued investment in conflict… the more bombs we drop, that just… fuels the conflict. Some of that has to be done but I am looking for the other solutions… history will not be kind to the decisions that were made certainly in 2003… We definitely put fuel on a fire… Going into Iraq, definitely… was a strategic mistake.”- Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, former Director of the US Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA)

A mistake that the West seems to want to perpetuate, as Einstein may have never said, but Nick O’Brien, Chair of Norwich Stop the War, quoted in a rally on Saturday, “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.” Whilst the origin of this quote in clouded in mystery, another of Einstein’s may be even more apt, namely, that “No problem can be solved from the same level of consciousness that created it.” In other words, bombing the bombers won’t solve anything other than create more bombmakers. Every bomb casualty or innocent victim creates loss and anger among relatives leading to further rationale for joining ISIS.

“The US… has been bombing Syria for over a year. Since September, France has been involved alongside them, although other members of a coalition put together last year, including Canada, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Jordan, have effectively withdrawn from bombing. Yet now both Russia and France have experienced severe terrorist attacks. Are we saying they have no connection to the raids? Far from making us safe, as politicians contend, they are likely to make us more vulnerable.”  – Lindsey German, Stop the War

Bombing Syria, as with elsewhere in the Middle East is both a failed and inadequate strategy. Even those prepared to bomb Syria, admit it will not be enough and will require foot soldiers as well, something people are more reticent to commit to.

It is also dangerous and complex with more than two sides. There are factions within factions, militias, rebels, Assad’s forces, vested interests of Russia, Turkey and others, not to mention a dozen other Western allies and limited Middle Eastern nations already involved.

“Politically, it is a grave step. Britain is about to enter a confused battlefield on which Russia, the US, France, Turkey, Iran, assorted Arab states, ethnic foes and rival sects are all fighting for different causes while Syria and Iraq disintegrate.” – The Sunday Times

Anti-War Protests across the UK

London saw the largest no to bombing Syria, anti-war rally, with thousands blocking Whitewall. Dozens of other cities held rallies. BBC and Guardian/Independent journalist Joel Gunter posted this image of at the London protest:

On Sunday another threat to the planet – climate change, saw protests and marches around the world ahead of a climate summit in Paris on Monday. Except in the French capital where such a large gathering had been banned on security fears or pretexts after the Paris attacks. Instead, people donated thousands of empty pairs of shoes to stand where people otherwise would have.

Don’t Bomb Syria Rally in Norwich

Norwich on Saturday saw around 100 people show up on a bitingly cold day to hand out leaflets to the public and hear from half a dozen speakers including local Muslims, Quakers, Labour and Green Party activists. One leafleter spoke to four servicemen who were supportive of the protest. A heckler interrupted by saying “two wrongs don’t make a right”, and then everyone realised that he was actually agreeing with what was being said.

 Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

Speakers included Dr Ian Gibson – former Labour MP for Norwich North, Nick O’Brien – Chair of Norwich Stop the War, Lesley Graham – Quaker peace activist, Jan McLachlan – Norwich People’s Assembly, Adrian Holmes – Green Party, Muhammad Ameen Franklin – Muslims of Norwich.

Clive Lewis, Labour MP for Norwich South issued this statement on the possibility of bombing Syria. He is a former TA soldier who served in Afghanistan, and BBC journalist.

“I understand there are occasions when military force is necessary. Therefore, I will not rule out supporting the use of military force against ISIL. However, the use of such force must not be an end in itself.
If there is one thing the ‘war on terror’ has shown, it is that military force alone is rarely the answer. We’ve been engaged in this ‘war’ for 15 years with with no end in sight. It has cost millions of lives, trillions of dollars, destabilised an entire region and arguably spawned a series of global, jihadist terror networks.”Clive Lewis

A Muslim Voice

Muhammad Ameen Franklin speaking at Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
Muhammad Ameen Franklin speaking at Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

The speaker from the Ihsan Mosque in Norwich was warmly received and welcomed to applause. As with nearly 400 mosques and UK Muslim organisations who issued an unequivocal statement in the media on 18 November to “condemn the Paris attacks unreservedly”:

“The barbaric acts of Daesh (or ISIS, as they are sometimes known) have no sanction in the religion of Islam, which forbids terrorism and the targeting of innocents…. The aim of attacks like those inflicted on Paris and other cities across the world is to turn communities against each other. As Muslims, Britons and Europeans, we must stand together to make sure they do not succeed.”

The Norwich mosque also issued a statement on the atrocity in Paris, calling them “brutal murders”, not deaths or killings that might arise in a conventional war.

“we want to make absolutely clear not only our complete abhorrence of the outrages perpetrated in Paris, Beirut and elsewhere by this small group of well-organised and ruthless killers, but that the religion of Islam does not countenance such actions in any way whatsoever. Moreover, not only is their action a crime, but there is prima facie evidence of such serious flaws in their apprehension of Islam as to call into question whether they should even be considered Muslims.”

It isn’t about race, faith, or nation state. Any political, religious or nationalistic ideology can be taken to extremes. Treating other’s lives as collateral in any cause is the inhumanity in any ideology.

“It’s not about Islam, or indeed any religion – each has been there with its own extremisms, the Crusades, the Inquisition, Biblical Judaism, even Buddhism and Hinduism, and Sikhism. As John Lennon sang – “Imagine … no religion”. But then there’s the Hitlers, Stalins, Maos and Polpots, of this world. Roman pagans trying to wipe out Christianity, Communist extremism. It is the extremism they have in common, not faith or race.” – Katy Went, Imagine all the people, living life in peace

Each religion can be twisted to apparently justify slaughter, but that comes from man’s inhumanity to man, not faith per se.  Equally, most faiths can be quoted from to encourage love, mercy and kindness.

Backlash from Bombing and Terrorism

The important thing, now, is to avoid the backlash. If increased bombing of Syria goes ahead then there will be a backlash in terms of home grown and exported terrorism by those who see Britain’s involvement as Western interference, imperialism, and immorality. The other backlash is that against refugees and asylum seekers, particularly as one of the French terrorists was alleged to have gained access to Europe as a refugee. Thirdly, and an already happening reaction in the US, France, Britain and elsewhere is one that targets existing resident Muslims, those more or less happily already domiciled. Often, a kickback response to the visible presence of a mosque or headscarf, in total stereotyping ignorance of the variety of Islamic opinion and interpretations and indeed, the majority opinion in the UK, as expressed by the Muslim Council of Britain, that “almost all” Muslims “abhor terrorism”, though “even one person harbouring sympathy for the Daesh death cult is one too many”.

Don't Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015 photo by Katy Jon Went
“Refugees Welcome” Don’t Bomb Syria Rally, Norwich, 28 November 2015

Imagine all the people Living life in peace…Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Sharm

A Response to Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Sharm…

…And countless other cities, countries, rural Nigerian towns, American schools, where people take it upon themselves to gun down others in the name of, well in the name of their hurts, offense, injuries, desires, greed, whatever. It’s not about Islam, or indeed any religion – each has been there with its own extremisms, the Crusades, the Inquisition, Biblical Judaism, even Buddhism and Hinduism, and Sikhism. As John Lennon sang – “Imagine … no religion”. But then there’s the Hitlers, Stalins, Maos and Polpots, of this world. Roman pagans trying to wipe out Christianity, Communist extremism. It is the extremism they have in common, not faith or race. Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Sharm el Sheikh, or Ankara, a month ago, have also seen similar scales of atrocity, not just once, but some of them daily.

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace…

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope someday you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

#PrayForParis / #PrayForBeirut / #PrayFor…

France and Lebanon, Paris and Beirut, Peace
France and Lebanon, Paris and Beirut, Peace

…Or don’t pray at all. My thoughts are with ALL the victims of extremist ideologies (religious and non-religious ones). Whether you pray or don’t pray, do not use this as an opportunity to promote or condemn people of faith. As with Charlie Hebdo, Muslim policemen and security guards were among those trying to stop the terrorists. Nor is it the time to berate people for turning their Facebook profile pics French, although opportunities to easily do so in solidarity with Lebanon, Egypt, Syria, Turkey etc would be appreciated. I modified mine to include France and Lebanon, not either/or.

Reactionary responses will only lead to more radicalisation, terror, civilian deaths, in the wars of fanatical idealogues.

Now is not the time for shutting borders, scapegoating, retaliation – but, as with the reaction of Norway’s prime minister Jens Stoltenberg after the terror attack on Utøya Island by far right white  ‘Christian’ extremist Anders Breivik:

“Our response is more democracy, more openness, and more humanity…We will answer hatred with love.”

Brevik believed in a “monocultural Christian Europe” and was against “multiculturalism” and “Islamization”. Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) believes in a monocultural Islamic empire. Its attacks in Beirut were against the wrong kind of Muslims – Shia. Elsewhere in Paris, it was against the hedonism of the infidel West. The justifications need not be consistent or rational, but they are forms of tribalism and monoculturalism, the fear and despising of that which is other. Nature and the world need diversity and multiculturalism to survive and thrive.

Now is the time to embrace refugees and migrants, not point out that just one or two of them out of the countless tens of thousands entering Europe may have been ISIS cells. Indeed, the 99.9% peaceful migrants, some Muslim, some Christian, some agnostic, were fleeing Islamic State or other state sanctioned terrors themselves. They too are victims. Innocent bystanders very often in the West’s continued interference in the Middle East, whether past or present. Nobody has clean hands.

At a No to Hate vigil in Norwich – a city that has its own dark past with the Blood Libel, killing and expelling its Jewish population – last month, I spoke and ended with the words of Martin Luther King:

“Returning hate for hate multiplies hate, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

Whether John Lennon or Martin Luther King, I too am a dreamer and have a dream that one day we will all live as one, without hate, in an ideal world without the kind of idealism that kills your fellow human beings in the name of any belief – political, religious or nationalist.

Charlie Hebdo gets PEN award but did not pen Mediterranean migrants cartoon

Charlie Hebdo simultaneously attracts praise and criticism

Charlie Hebdo continues to inspire both writers’ rage and courage. It is to receive a PEN award for Freedom of Expression Courage and yet half-a-dozen writers are already staging a stay-away protest. It has also been condemned for an apparently migrant-bashing cartoon that it turns out was neither anti-Mediterranean migrant nor by the satirical magazine anyway. C’est la vie mais pas la vérité!

PEN Freedom of Expression Courage award

Je suis Charlie translations
Je suis Charlie translations

Following the terrorist attack on the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices in Paris in January this year, a social media and public protest campaign using the phrase “Je suis Charlie” went viral but also forced us to ask questions of whether satire always punches up or even gets it right at all.

A month ago PEN awarded the Charlie Hebdo magazine the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award, which is to be received in person by staff member Jean-Baptiste Thoret on 5 May in New York, who arrived to work late on January 7, “barely escaping the attack that killed eight of his co-workers and four others.”

“The Charlie Hebdo attacks dealt a blow to the bedrock principle that no act of expression, no matter how provocative or offensive, can justify violence”

Writers protest Charlie Hebdo PEN award

The double Booker Prize-winning novelist Peter Carey is one of a number of writers protesting the praise of Charlie Hebdo. In a New York Times interview he said the PEN award went beyond the organisation’s role of protecting freedom of expression against government oppression, saying:

“A hideous crime was committed, but was it a freedom-of-speech issue for PEN America to be self-righteous about? All this is complicated by PEN’s seeming blindness to the cultural arrogance of the French nation, which does not recognize its moral obligation to a large and disempowered segment of their population.”

The PEN International Charter states that:

  • Literature knows no frontiers and must remain common currency among people in spite of political or international upheavals.
  • In all circumstances, and particularly in time of war, works of art, the patrimony of humanity at large, should be left untouched by national or political passion.
  • Members of PEN should at all times use what influence they have in favour of good understanding and mutual respect between nations; they pledge themselves to do their utmost to dispel race, class and national hatreds, and to champion the ideal of one humanity living in peace in one world.

It is, perhaps, questionable whether Charlie Hebdo or indeed PEN are doing their “utmost to dispel race…and national hatreds” or increasing “good understanding”.

Teju Cole, another of the protesting writers, wrote in January, shortly after the magazine massacre, an opinion piece in The New Yorker magazine, ‘Unmournable Bodies‘, in which he drew attention to Charlie Hebdo’s willingness to satirise and insult all, yet increasingly Islam, and highlighted Western hypocrisy:

“The West is a variegated space, in which both freedom of thought and tightly regulated speech exist, and in which disavowals of deadly violence happen at the same time as clandestine torture.”

There was some excellent and varied commentary upon the New Yorker piece on their Facebook page from French citizens bemoaning the lack of understanding of French satire and cultural context.

PEN and Human Rights

PEN International American Center logoPEN International is one of the world’s oldest human rights organisations and the oldest international literary organsisation. The American Center is its largest regional body. PEN advocates on behalf of writers denied their human rights for writing, such as Raif Badawi.

PEN justify Charlie Hebdo award

The current PEN America president, Andrew Solomon, has acknowledged the offence felt by some at Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons, but has added that PEN believed strongly in the “appropriateness” of the award:

“It is undoubtedly true that in addition to provoking violent threats from extremists, the Hebdo cartoons offended some other Muslims, as their cartoons offended members of the many other groups they targeted, but, based on their own statements, we believe that Charlie Hebdo’s intent was not to ostracise or insult Muslims, but rather to reject forcefully the efforts of a small minority to place broad categories of speech off-limits, no matter the purpose, intent or import of the expression. We do not believe that any of us must endorse the contents of Charlie Hebdo’s cartoons in order to affirm the principles for which they stand, or applaud the staff’s bravery in holding fast to those values in the face of life and death threats.”

PEN Executive Director Suzanne Nossel said:

“It is the role of the satirists in any free society to challenge the powerful and the sacred, pushing boundaries in ways that make expression freer and more robust for us all…In paying the ultimate price for the exercise of their freedom, and then soldiering on amid devastating loss, Charlie Hebdo deserves to be recognized for its dauntlessness in the face of one of the most noxious assaults on expression in recent memory.”

Salman Rushdie, a former PEN president and someone with the experience of people coming after him for what he wrote, said:

“If PEN as a free speech organization can’t defend and celebrate people who have been murdered for drawing pictures, then frankly the organization is not worth the name”

Mediterranean Migrants Cartoon case of Mistaken Identity

Charlie Hebdo was also, last week, condemned for a cartoon depicting drowning migrants (“people” for those of us with a streak of humanity) in the Mediterranean, on that platform of accurate factchecking – Twitter. Except it wasn’t a Charlie Hebdo cartoon, just by one of their newer cartoonists and published elsewhere in a French-Algerian publication, Liberté. The gross caricaturing of African migrants in it seems to fail the “punching up” test and appears to mock a humanitarian tragedy at sea.

Ali Dilem, Liberté 'Regroupement familial' cartoon
Ali Dilem, Liberté “Regroupement familial” cartoon

The double irony, however, was that the cartoon, condemned for racism among other things, was drawn by an Algerian, Ali Dilem, who was satirising French immigration policy (“regroupement familial”) and condemning the losses at sea because of that policy. Not everything is what is seems before we jump to judge.

“Ironically, Charlie Hebdo has actually done a magazine cartoon which condemns Europe over their inaction over the thousands of African migrants dying in the Mediterranean monthly.”

Charlie Hebdo, Un Titanic par semaine, Mediterranean migrant deaths
Charlie Hebdo, Un Titanic par semaine, Mediterranean migrant deaths

Furthermore, Charlie Hebdo has actually critiqued the Mediterranean migrants issue in its own cover-image cartoon based around the idea that a tragedy of Titanic proportions is happening each fortnight in the Med. Last year some 3,500 of 350,000 people escaping North Africa died at sea – that’s a similar number to the deaths in Nepal due to the recent earthquake. This year we’ve reached half than number in barely months.

It is a whole other question – to which I don’t have an answer, of whether disaster and loss, tragedy and terrorism, should be satirically pilloried at all, and if they are, how.

Human Writes and Wrongs

The right to offend should never be taken lightly, nor honoured without a thought to the consequences of what it may encourage. That is not to say that PEN is right or wrong in its award, perhaps that there might have been better, or safer, recipients. Playing it safe, though, is not what freedom of expression is about. The right to offend, satirise, challenge, does not mean that we should always write it. Think it, yes, voice it perhaps, but disseminate it – that is a choice, not just a right. Rights come with responsibilities – though, none that would suggest the Charlie Hebdo attack was merited or justifiable.

The responsibility for PEN, Charlie Hebdo, Liberté, and us all, I would caution, is that we need to take account of the context, culture and consequences, of what we write – draw or say, of how we depict not just what we depict. Sometimes, the end may not justify the means. Not all freedoms are equally important. Respect, however, should be mutual and equally carries the responsibility of two-way tolerance. To caveat what Voltaire never said: “I may not agree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it and my right to critique the manner in which you said it, or whether it needed to be said at all.