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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.

Financial Implications of Brexit, Currency Crash, Stock Markets Tumble

Osborne & Carney try to stabilise markets … and fail, at first

Pound v Dollar lowest in 31 years
Pound v Dollar lowest in 31 years

As George Osborne, David Cameron, Boris Johnson, and the Bank of England’s Mark Carney rush to reassure the financial markets – the Pound, the FTSE, and the UK’s sovereign credit rating all dive. Sterling has been battered and remains at a 31-year low, the FTSE 250 has witnessed in as many days two of its top-five one-day losses, and S&P have trashed our credit outlook by two-notches, increasing borrowing for the Government and businesses. A second BoE reassurance on Tuesday 5 July caused the FTSE 250 and Pound to dive further.

Former Governor of the Bank of England, Mervyn King essentially said “Keep Calm, Don’t Panic”:

“Markets move up, markets move down. We don’t yet know where they will find their level…What we need is a bit of calm now, there’s no reason for any of us to panic.”

Was this just a two-day shock? We haven’t seen all out financial Armageddon, but just what are we getting, and for how long?

As of Tuesday 28 June morning, adventurous investors were buying into the flatlined market and the FTSE 100 was up 2% and FTSE 250 up 3.3%, although within the hour the gains had fallen back to 2.6-2.8% – still 11% down since the Referendum. At the close it was 3.5% up, restoring a quarter of its Brexit losses. To quote the Financial Times, Markets Live blog:

“It’s still a bloody mess, even if markets have steadied.” FT, 11am Tuesday 28 June

In the first hour of Tuesday’s trading the Pound was up just 1%, barely 1.5c higher after its 18c fall, but by 10.30am had lost half that gain already, only to regain it after lunch and lost most of it by 5pm. There has been no recovery against the € Euro.

Perhaps, this was on hopes of a second referendum, called for by millions including Tory Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, and Sir Richard Branson, despite being ruled out by the outgoing PM, David Cameron.

By Wednesday 29 June midday, the FTSE 100 had recovered all of its losses, whilst the FTSE 250 remained 10% down.

It could be, too, that the market is recovering on the news that nothing will happen in the short term, that Brexit reality is delayed, and won’t kick-in properly till after Article 50 is actioned and up to 2 years later Exit terms agreed and then years worth, but some counts 5-10 years, of negotiating new trading terms with the EU and some 50 agreements with the rest of the world that were based on our membership of and access to the European Single Market.

Thursday 30 June saw previous day gains restore the FTSE 100 to parity and by the close it was 2% above 23 June’s high. Whilst the more British based companies index, the FTSE 250, remains 7% down despite two more days of gains. It has gained 8.5% or 1300pts up on 14,967 since its low point on Monday. The Pound:Dollar exchange rate added 2%, lost 1% overnight, then made it back by lunch but after Mark Carney said financial easing might be required and Boris Johnson ruled himself out of the Conservative leadership, the Pound lost all the week’s gains, falling another 1.5% and remains 12% down.

In a Radio 4 interview early this week, George Osborne repeated his claim that Brexit “would make Britain poorer” and lead to “an economic downturn”.

Mark Carney had been accused of breaching the Bank of England‘s (BoE) independence by commenting quite forcefully pre-Referendum that Brexit might trigger recession. So, for him to say we are “resilient” now, is a little “flip-flop” but he did say that in the long term growth would be slower and the Bank could only “mitigate” against negative effects rather than resolve them. Mitigation includes the possible injection of £250bn.

Currency Markets

Currency Markets GBP Pound Crash against USDollar
Currency Markets GBP Pound Crash against USDollar

The £ Pound on Monday did not rally against the $ Dollar, instead, it continued its slide to around $1.31, nearly 13% off its 2016 peak to which it had risen on the short term belief that the UK would Remain. Instead, it has settled at its lowest level for 31 years, despite a 1% recovery on Tuesday morning. A week later, and by Wed 6 July Sterling dropped as low as $1.28 and is now hovering at $1.29, a 15% devaluation.

Sterling is predicted to fall further to around $1.15-$1.25, a 20-25% devaluation. This could add 15-20p to a gallon/3-5p a litre to the price of petrol within the month, as oil is priced in Dollars. There could be an 8% rise in food and drink prices imported from Europe since at €1.17 the Pound is 23% off its Euro peak and nearly 9% down since Thursday.

Global Stocks and UK Shares

FTSE 250 drops 11.4%, worst drop ever
FTSE 250 drops 11.4%, worst drop ever

Some $2.5 trillion was wiped off global markets in hours after the Referendum result – between 100-400 years worth of the nobody-can-agree-on-the-actual-figure of UK contributions to the European Union. Seeing £100bn wiped off leading FTSE companies in 2 days is way more than the £350m a week (less than £10bn/year after rebates) supposed EU savings, i.e., equivalent to more than a decade’s worth of EU contributions. So no new money for the NHS then!

Stock markets in the poor-performing economies of Europe, e.g., Greece, Italy and Spain, tumbled 12-15% on Friday, other world markets fell 3-8%.

Italy announced a €40bn rescue of its banks after they lost a third of their value post-Brexit vote, despite a 5% bounceback they remain over 25% down since Thursday, June 23.

FTSE 250 as UK Financial Indicator

FTSE 250 Share Index Crash
FTSE 250 Share Index sees record one-day fall

A far better indicator than the FTSE 100, which has ‘only’ seen 2-3% daily falls since Brexit and a 2% recovery on Tuesday, is the FTSE 250. It is made up of more mid-size predominantly British companies with 50-70% UK-based trade – the powerhouse of employment in the UK. Some 75% of Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) voted Remain.

The FTSE 250 has lost over 14% since Thursday’s vote, reaching 7% late-afternoon, continuing its near-8% slide last Friday when, at its worst, it dropped 14% in hours – its “worst drop ever”. It’s nearly 20% off its peak due to Brexit uncertainty over the last few months, its worst crash since 1987. During the 2008 crash, over a number of months, it lost nearly half its value leading to lay-offs. recession and austerity.

As to the financial market reaction not being as bad as 2008, that is not yet evident. The FTSE 100 is insulated by its international makeup but the FTSE 250 is more British. Back in October 2008’s crash it suffered a one-day fall of around 6.5% amounting to nearly 40% over 3-4 months. After the Referendum, it’s lost 8% and 7% across 2 days. It’s fourth and fifth biggest one-day falls ever from Sep/Oct 2008 have been eclipsed by Brexit day 1 and day 2, so far. This is the worst FTSE 250 crash since 1987, although Brexit days 3 and 4 are looking brighter, having recovered over a third of the losses, yet it remains 10% down, despite 1.9% gains Wednesday morning. A week later and by Wed 6 July, the FTSE 250 was down again drifting towards an 11% loss, eradicating any intervening recovery,

The FTSE 350 lost £140bn in a day, recovered, lost it all again by 4.30pm Monday but has now recovered 5% from its 7% loss.

Banking Sector

Banks (domestic and foreign) in Britain have been told by EU members France and Netherlands that they will not be able to use the European financial ‘single passport’ access to unhindered trading resulting in additional banking costs and a reduced incentive for US and Asian banks to be based in the UK – Dublin, Frankfurt and Paris, are suddenly more attractive and expected to gain financial jobs from the City of London. Barclays and Royal Bank of Scotland (RBS) have lost 35% in value since Thursday and had their shares temporarily suspended on Monday. On Tuesday there was around a 5% recovery.

Whilst many 99%-ers on the Left might celebrate another banking collapse, those businesses that employ millions depend upon a stable lending banking system to finance their growth and pay wages.

Inflation Risk

The costs of imported raw materials, food, wine, petrol etc could rise 10% because of the Pound’s fall alone. If British businesses selling at home want to keep prices the same, they will have to cut back office costs and jobs instead. Yes, we will recover, but book a “one-way ticket”, to quote George Osborne, for more austerity, unemployment and inflation pain first.

Housing Market

House prices may fall in the short term according to Savills but so will affordability, mortgages, and lending criteria stress tests may rise. International buyers may take advantage of a cheaper Pound to buy here, whilst locals are priced out of the mid-market. House builders have seen significant share price falls and the FTSE triggered its ‘circuit-breaker’ to suspend trading in all house builders temporarily. For instance, Taylor Wimpey fell 16% (40% since Thursday), Persimmon 17.4% (38% in 2 days) and Barratt Developments fell almost 20.7% (38.4% in 2 days), Bovis Homes 33% in 2 day etc. In addition, with the credit rating trashing they will find it harder to fund new building developments, further intensifying our domestic housing crisis.

Radio 4’s You and Yours is reporting people seeing immediate 5% drops in house sale prices due to Brexit – ‘Brexundering’.

We could eventually see a quadruple-whammy of wage restraint, credit crunch, inflation and interest rate rises, affecting house buyers and stifling the pressured renting sector too.


It has been reported that particularly those living abroad may lose UK annual increases with inflation to their pensions, but also those at home might lose the “triple lock” guarantee. Pension funds held privately on the stock market will obviously go up and down with the fortunes of the FTSE, currently down. Of course, Leave leader, Boris Johnson said pensions would be unaffected, he also said the NHS would get £350m a week and that among many pseudo-promises has already been pulled.

Credit Rating and Economic Outlook

After the Brexit vote, Moody’s changed the UK credit outlook to “negative” from stable. Fitch see it likewise and downgraded it to AA negative. Today, Standard & Poor (S&P) have followed suit and downgraded our last remaining Triple-A national credit rating two-notches from AAA to AA:

“In the nationwide referendum on the U.K.’s membership of the European Union (EU), the majority of the electorate voted to leave the EU. In our opinion, this outcome is a seminal event, and will lead to a less predictable, stable, and effective policy framework in the U.K. … The vote for “remain” in Scotland and Northern Ireland also creates wider constitutional issues for the country as a whole. Consequently, we are lowering our long-term sovereign credit ratings on the U.K. by two notches to ‘AA’ from ‘AAA’.” – S&P

“Fitch has revised down its forecast for real GDP growth to 1.6% in 2016 (from 1.9%), 0.9% in 2017 and 0.9% in 2018 (both from 2.0% respectively), leaving the level of real GDP a cumulative 2.3% lower in 2018 than in its prior ‘Remain’ base case.” – Fitch

“S&P maintained its negative outlook on the UK, which means there is a one-in-three chance of another downgrade in the next two years. The UK is now deemed less credit worthy than the US and EU by S&P, and the decsion marks its exit from an elite club of countries such as Switzerland and Australia that stil have a AAA rating.” – Daily Telegraph

A survey of 1,000 directors at the weekend reveals that roughly 20% are expecting to issue redundancies, over 20% are freezing recruitment, and 20% considering moving some operations to Europe.

Worst Economic Crisis since WWII

A former Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) economist has warned that the UK faces its worst economic crisis since the Second World War. It is certainly on track to challenge 2008’s banking crisis and 1987’s Black Monday crashes which saw £63bn wiped out. Other crises include  the 1974 General Election which saw one-day losses of 7.1%. Back in 1929 the Dow Jones witnessed a 22.5% drop in a single day.

Always Look on the Bright Side …

Yes, we will weather it, and in the long term it may make little difference, but the short-medium term is going to be harder. We still have to pay into the EU budget, but will begin to be shut out of meetings and decisions, we will still have freedom of movement and migration for EU citizens for at least 2 years, if not beyond if we follow the likely Norway or Swiss models. It is highly unlikely the EU will allow us the Canadian model, indeed Angela Merkel said today that the UK would have to accept freedom of movement. The EU do not want to encourage other exits. Many are trying to find legal ways to vote out of the Referendum result.


Olympic Games, Spirit & Ideal Reborn in Athens 1896, 120 years ago today

First Modern Olympic Games, Greece 1896

Olympiad 1896 First Modern Olympics, Athens report cover
Olympiad 1896 First Modern Olympics, Athens report cover

On April 6, 120 years ago, the Olympic Games, its spirit, and modern ideals, were reborn in Athens, Greece. They were not the first attempt, nor born overnight, and came some 1600 years after the last ancient Greek games which had run for nearly 1200 years every 4th year or olympiad. In 394 AD the Roman Christian emperor Theodosius banned all pagan festivals including the Olympics, despite New Testament metaphors drawing inspiration from athletics. It took a Frenchman, inspired by the traditions of several English towns and cities, in combination with the philanthropy of two Greek brothers – who rebuilt an all-marble sports facility on the site of an ancient Athenian stadium, to restore the Olympic Games that we know today.

History of pre-Modern Olympics Games

Several attempts to bring back the Olympic Games were made during the nineteenth century and earlier. Some were local and just used the Olympic name. These included the Cotswold Olimpick Games, near Chipping Campden in England, first organised by Robert Dover between 1612 and 1642.

220 years ago, revolutionary France launched L’Olympiade de la République, between 1796 and 1798 in front of 300,000 spectators in Paris. These games included a chariot race and were dedicated to la paix et à la fécondité – “peace and fertility”. The 1798 Games introduced metric distances and measurements for the first time.

Google Doodle 120th anniversary of first modern olympic games
Google Doodle for the 120th anniversary of first modern olympic games

In 1850 Dr William Penny Brookes founded an Olympic event at Much Wenlock, Shropshire, which, in 1859, became known as the Wenlock Olympian Games. Still continuing to this day, its aim was:

“to promote the moral, physical and intellectual improvement of the inhabitants of the town and neighbourhood of Wenlock, and especially of the working classes, by the encouragement of outdoor recreation and by the award of a prize…”

Not to be left out, Liverpool held an annual Grand Olympic Festival between 1862 and 1867, including events in Llandudno 1965-1966. They were founded by John Hulley and Charles Melly, and were open to all local and international ‘gentlemen amateurs’, although the first truly national Olympic Games were held at Crystal Palace Park Cricket Ground and on the River Thames at Teddington, 31 July 1866. In 1869, Hulley also organised Britain’s first velocipede and bicycle races, at which the UK now excels.

Leicester, in 1866, also held a Grand Olympic Festival, on the site of the current University of Leicester, Fielding Johnson Building, but which was formerly the Leicestershire and Rutland Lunatic Asylum.

The forerunner to the British Olympic Association was the Liverpool-founded National Olympian Association, in 1865, which went on to inspire the International Olympic Charter. The OC outlines the “fundamental principles of Olympism” and rules of the International Olympic Committee (IOC).

Olympic Games, Athens

Spiridon Louis entering the Athens Olympic stadium at the end of the 1896 marathon
Spiridon Louis entering the Athens Olympic stadium at the end of the 1896 marathon

The 1820s and 30s had seen interest in a revival of the Olympic Games gathering momentum. In 1856 the sponsorship of Evangelos and Konstantinos Zappas was accepted by the Greek king to fund the restoration of the Panathenaiko Stadio, or “Panathenaic Stadium“, in Athens. This was not, in fact, the original ancient Games location, since the older panhellenic Games were held at Olympia, but instead, part of the Athenian Games tradition.  1859, 1870 and 1875, then saw the first modern Greek Olympics held.

In 1890, Frenchman Baron Pierre de Coubertin, was inspired to found the International Olympic Committee after visiting the Wenlock Olympian Games. This led to the first international Games, of 1896, also at Athens. The top prize was actually a Silver Medal, rather than Gold.

1896 Olympic marathon
1896 Olympic marathon

There were just 9 sports and 43 events over 10 days, but, significantly, the marathon, actually run from Marathon, was won by Greek athlete Spyridon “Spyro” Louis in front of 100,000 spectators.

Women’s Olympic Games

Although Athens, was not dissimilar to the Games of Liverpool and Wenlock, it was still unlike our truly modern Games, in that women were excluded from their late-nineteenth century revivals.

De Coubertin was opposed to women competing, although in 1900 they were allowed to enter tennis and gold, and London in 1908 added the Figure Skating event for women, gradually women became involved. This was not fast enough for another French national, and rower, Alice Milliat, who founded the independent Women’s Olympics in Paris in 1922, continuing through to 1934, owing to the refusal of the IOC to allow women to enter track and field events. The IOC forced a name change in 1928 to the Women’s World Games, in exchange for grudgingly admitting more events for women at the Olympics.

Even in ancient Olympics, although separate, there were some female Games, such as those of Hera at Olympia which included a separate racing competition for women. Spartan women used to take part in sports and exercises, semi-clothed – with one breast exposed, like Amazon archers, leading to a “remarkable conjunction of homosexuality, feminism, and athletics” at Sparta. Plutarch suggests that younger Spartan girls and boys would compete and exercise in the nude alongside each other.

Ancient Olympic Traditions

Most of the ancient Olympics were competed in, naked – and only by Greek-speaking freemen. For a while, women were able to enter chariot horse teams, but not enter themselves. Furthermore, they could not spectate if they were married women. Stories tell of one chariot team owner being caught crossdressing as a man to enter the trainers area and watch her team which led to even trainers having to be in the nude. Even the word ‘gymnasium’, comes from the Greek gymnos, “naked”.

“The modern Olympic ideal is completely alien to the spirit of the Greek original, which despised women, slaves and foreigners and celebrated sectarian religion, nudity, pain and winning at any cost.” – Christopher Howse, Daily Telegraph, Athens 2004

Early-on, loincloths were outlawed among the competitors and the only thing allowed was a kunodesme, “putting the dog on the lead”, penis-strap, to stop it getting in the way. Many events involved the athletes covering themselves in olive oil – the mind boggles at the wrestling events!

“The attempt to link modern athletes and ancient athletes inevitably runs up against major cultural differences…we must never lose sight of the popular savagery of the pankration. Even in more conventional events, antiquity showed a tolerance, or perhaps a taste, that is utterly alien to the modern world.” – New Republic, 2004

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, 2016

The ancient Games included sacrifices to the gods, the effective wearing of knuckle-dusters in the boxing, and opportunities for music and the arts alongside the body-worship and savagery. The next Games in Rio, this summer, may omit the sacrifices and savagery, and the nudity, but will still put athletic bodies centre-stage. The modern Olympic ideal of the taking part being more important than the winning, is long gone. Instead, we have doping and bribery scandals, not to mention long-running issues over the place of intersex athletes and how to include and ‘define’ them, given that the Games now includes women in most of its events rather than the original’s men-only events. The IOC can’t make up its mind on the definition of male and female athletes (like Caster Semenya and Dutee Chand), leaving many intersex athletes out in the cold, censured, or even facing compulsory surgeries to conform to standardised sex ideals.

The mission of Olympic Spirit is to:

“build a peaceful and better world in the Olympic Spirit which requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play – Olympic Spirit strives to inspire and motivate the youth of the world to be the best they can be through educational and entertaining interactive challenges. Olympic Spirit seeks to instill and develop the values and ideals of Olympism in those who visit and to promote tolerance and understanding in these increasingly troubled times in which we live, to make our world a more peaceful place.”



JeSuisBrussels, Iskandariya, Lahore, SickOfThisShit, Everyday Terrorism

Everyday Terrorism & its Global Reach

First Brussels, now Iskandariya and Lahore, no wait, where are they? Iraq and Pakistan, so not Europe, well that’s okay then! It shouldn’t be normal to be unaffected by terror so long as it’s not in our back yard. The suicide bombs in a football match crowd south of Baghdad on Good Friday, killing 29, and on Easter Sunday in Gulshan-i-Iqbal Park, maiming hundreds and leaving at least 70 dead including 29 children, show that terrorism respects no religion nor nationality, sex, age or combatant status, since along with the bombs in Belgium, the victims were all civilians, women and children included. Whilst the Islamic State-supportive Taliban splinter group Jamaat-ul-Ahrar claimed responsibility and that the target had been male Christians, the bombs did not discriminate.

“Christians were not the specific target of this attack because the majority of the dead are Muslims, everybody goes to this park.” AFP report

Pakistan’s experience of Terrorism

Pakistan sits unenviously 4th on the Global Terrorism Index, having suffered some 27,500 deaths to terrorist attacks since 2003. Three-quarters of those, over 21,000, were civilians. In December 2014, the Taliban parent group (TTP) killed over a 130 children in a Peshawar school, in Pakistan’s worst terror attack.

Increasing Terrorism?

Everyday terrorism in Iraq flag
Everyday terrorism in Iraq, over 200 dead in a dozen attacks so far this year

We’ve witnessed nearly 2,000 deaths to terrorism in the first three months of 2016, over half were innocent civilians. One index suggests that there is one casualty from terrorism every 15 minutes – you are still 36x more likely to die in a car accident.

2014 saw a 172% increase in civilian deaths as well as an 80% rise in overall deaths from terrorism compared to 2013. Since 2000, deaths have risen nearly ten-fold from 3,329 to 32,685 in 2014, almost entirely accounted for by attacks in these 5 nations: Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, and Syria, where 78% of all attacks take place. Over 20% of the attacks were accounted for by Boko Haram alone.

Fewer than1% of all attacks occur in peaceful, democratic nations, around 0.5% in western nations – and of that, just 20%, i.e., 0.1% of the world total, is down to Islamic extremism in the West.

So far, in 2016, 14 attacks were of similar or worse scale to Brussels, especially in Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan, Syria, and Turkey. How many profile pictures campaigns or social media check-in options were there for nations outside of Europe? Actually, having friends in Turkey and Pakistan, in each case Facebook did activate the “marked safe” check-in feature for those atrocities. Syria, Iraq, Nigeria, and others, experience terrorist incidents like Brussels on an almost daily basis, for them it is already sickeningly normal.

Is Terrorism the new Normal?

Peter Neumann, director of the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisationsays that “we [Europe] will have to get used to a constant terror threat”. He blames the easy recruitment of disaffected peoples by extremists on “migrant ghettoes” and their economic and social abandonment by the state:

“the more profound failure was to basically allow this situation to grow in the first place: to not engage with parts of the Belgian population that clearly were being abandoned. You essentially allowed a vacuum to rise in your own country. And that’s the root cause of the problem: Where you have a vacuum, that vacuum will be filled.

If you have a vacuum that consists of alienated, marginalized people from migrant backgrounds who are socially and economically deprived, then it is only a question of time. Of when extremists go into that, take advantage, and push their narrative — which is basically that society is against you, and you need to engage in war.” – Peter Neumann, Vox interview

The Washington Post, which also cites Neumann, is wrong on two counts suggesting thatterrorism [might] become the new normal in Europe“. Firstly, this is nothing new, the 70s and 80s were far from bloodless, even before the rise of Al Qaeda (1988), the Taliban (1994), Boko Haram (2002), Islamic State (1999/2014) and others. Secondly, the focus should not be on Europe alone, that only exacerbates our imperialistic western, first world, detachment from what happens elsewhere.

Tragedy World Map

Tragedy World Map - Mapamundi Tragico, Eduardo Salles
Tragedy World Map – Mapamundi Tragico, Eduardo Salles

The Mapamundi Tragico or “Tragedy World Map” was first created by Mexican designer Eduardo Salles, in April 2015, but epitomises the way we feel about terror in nations distant from our own. We are disengaged from anything but either the closest western victims or stray white holidaymakers killed abroad. Black lives, African lives, Syrian or Iraqi lives, just don’t matter.

By way of example, the Daily Telegraph report of twice as many people as Brussels killed in Lahore, was relegated to page 13 of a bank holiday edition of its paper.

Eurocentric (dis)ease

The very luxury of our European contentment -peace since 1945, and living a version of the American dream, is some of what has simultaneously attracted mass migration and extremist condemnation of the alleged ungodliness of enlightenment modernism.

Globalisation of Terror

France, Belgium terror, what about Turkey
Terrorism sympathy from France for Belgium. What about Ankara and Istanbul in Turkey? Or Syria, Iraq, Nigeria etc?

Less than a century ago we were still redrawing maps with colonial carte blanche or war-victor spoils, with total disregard for the ethnic and religious civil wars that might later ensue. The new normal is that terror knows no borders, Europe referendum or not. The ease with which ISIL has been able to declare a so-called caliphate and Islamic state that transcends recognised national boundaries, attracting alliances in North and East Africa across more than 11 countries, shows us that we cannot fight ISIS/Daesh in traditional ways. We have to step away from national concerns and be more international.

Hydra and Terrorism’s Evolution

Terrorism is like a cure-resistant mutating virus or a multi-headed myth and Marvel-like ‘Hydra’, where decapitating one head only leads to another more brutal rising up in its place. History shows that terror has been around for as long as we have had ideologies, religions, and, nationalistic expansion, civil wars or battles for independence.

“The tyranny of Isis terrorism will not always be with us. But history shows that a new militant threat will emerge” – Jason Burke, The Guardian

The Irish Easter Rising

This year is 100 years since the Irish Easter Rising when 320 civilian casualties out of 465 dead put a temporary hold on Irish independence/self-rule. Whilst Harry’s Game (1975) may have first espoused “one man’s terrorist is another man’s freedom fighter” the issue and pseudo-distinction has been around since time immemorial. Janet Daley writes today that:

“These terrorists aren’t religious radicals – they’re criminals with psychotic aims” – Janet Daley,The Telegraph

For me, the degree of civilian casualties is one of the markers of terrorism versus freedom fighter. The so-called collateral damage on ‘soft targets’ has sadly become more the norm, as innocents become the primary targets of extreme actions leading to state over-reactions and public states of fear. Fear that is incendiary to semi-closeted racism and Islamophobia, or that leads to a Brussels ‘March against fear’ being cancelled because of, well, safety fears.

Je Suis Sick of this Shit!

JeSuisLahore, Sick of this shit, Pakistan flag
JeSuisLahore, “Sick of this shit”, Iqbal Town, Pakistan

I wonder how many will notice or care about the innocent victims of the Iraq football match bomb on Friday or the Pakistan public park explosions today. It has become all too commonplace to be JeSuisCharlie and JeSuisEveryman on an almost daily basis. I am indeed JeSuisBruxelles, but also Ankara, Baghdad, Baidoa, Bodo, Dalori, Dikwa, Damascus, Homs, Istanbul, Kabul, Kouyape, Lahore, Meme, Mogadishu, Ouagadougou, Paris, and many more towns and cities. Today, I continue to be both Je Suis tout le monde and very much sick of this shit.



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.