Monday, May 30, 2016

occupied territories...

This is the name of a book* written by Garth Hewitt (the founder of the Amos Trust: “a small, creative Christian human rights agency that works with vibrant grassroots partners around the world”). I briefly acted as one of its volunteers at Greenbelt perhaps 10 years ago and again met Garth and his wife Gill on Iona in 2012 when they attended a conference to discuss the division of the West Bank, the encroachment of Israeli settlements and the impact on the lives of Palestinians.
It's a powerful, profound, thought-provoking book and one that I think deserves to be read by anyone who cares about peace, dignity and justice in this brutal, greedy world we live in.
Again and again, I found myself underlining passages from the book (frequently quotes from prominent academics, politicians or church leaders), so I’ve collected just SOME of them together – as a reminder for me and, perhaps, to provide others with food for thought. In no particular order (I hope Garth doesn't mind me quoting from his book - believe me there are LOTS more extracts I could have included!):

“If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor”.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

“We need to create a new reality in the Holy land, a new structure where every person that lives here – that was born here, Israeli, Palestinian, Jew, Christian and Muslim, is honoured for who they are so their history and their past is respected”.
Sami Awad, executive director of Holy Land Trust, 2013.

“But this is the frontline. The wall and its offspring road are here and growing, the beautiful valley is being ripped in two. And then there is the ‘tunnel house’. A family has the ‘right’ papers to prove they belong to this land but they (the Israeli army) put them on the ‘wrong side of the line’. The ‘solution’ is to literally wall them in to their own private prison at a cost of $1million. It is obscene. It is obscene that these people in this village are being brutally shown by the wall, the settlements, the demolition orders, the soldiers and the bottomless budget that we want what is yours but we do not want you. We will dehumanise and humiliate you and make simple things so difficult. We will make your life so intolerable that you will leave… How can the world stand by and let this happen?”
Nive Hall, Amos Trust’s operations Manager at the Cremisan monastery.

“It involves difficult decisions and tough choices. However, the choice is not the support for Palestine against Isael or vice versa. Rather:
·         It is a choice for justice, against oppression; for human and political rights, against dispossession.
·         It is a choice for freedom, against an occupation that denies freedom.
·         It is a choice for equal human dignity, against racism and discrimination.
·         It is a choice for non-violent resistance, against the violence that perpetuates a cycle of hatred and recrimination”
“Time for Action”, Kairos Britain – following “The Iona Call” conference, 2012.

“I wonder… if having financial services and arms manufacturing at the core of your country… corrupts you morally?”
Alexei Sayle, The Metro, April 2013.

“As I write this, the richest people in the world are meeting in Davos, Switzerland. Of this meeting Aditya Chakrabortty says ‘More than 2,500 business executives and bankers will converge on the highest town in Europe for the annual World Economic Forum. For the next five days Davos will, it is safe to say, boast more millionaires per square foot than anywhere else on the planet’. He points out there is a basic membership and entrance price tag of £45,000 (approx. $74,000), but then adds: ‘The real business lies in private sessions with industry peers and amenable politicians and access to those start at around £98,500 ($161,600). And this is what makes Davos so fascinating: it is the most perfect case study of how practitioners of free market, globalised capitalism give the public one explanation for what they are doing and why, while privately pursuing the complete opposite. On the one hand there is an event attended by Sharon Stone, Bono and a slew of tame academics (14 Nobel laureates this week alone) the message being, “we are open to anyone”. On the other hand, there are those secret meetings off limits to anyone not in the £100K club… From its inception, the whole point of Davos has been to promulgate the gospel of free market fundamentalism. Earlier generations would have known what to call Davos set of wealth extractors and rip-off merchants’”.
Garth Hewitt, “Occupied Territories”. Aditya Chakrabortty: “An Action-Packed Thriller Is About To Unfold In Davos, Switzerland”, The Guardian, 21 January 2013.

“The greatest threat to world peace is not from nuclear weapons and their possible proliferation, it is from drones and their certain proliferation… Drones are now sweeping the global arms market. There are some 10,000 said to be in service, of which a thousand are armed and mostly American. Some reports say they have killed more non-combatant civilians than died in 9/11. I have not read one independent study of the current drone wars in Afghanistan, Pakistan and the Horn of Africa to suggest these weapons serve any strategic purpose. Their ‘success’ is expressed solely in body count, the number of so-called ‘al-Qaeda linked commanders’ killed… Neither the legality nor the ethics of drone attacks bear examination… It is hard to imagine a greater danger to world peace”.
Simon Jenkins, “Drones Are Fool’s Gold: They Prolong Wars we Can’t Win”, The Guardian, 10 January 2013. 

“The world must urgently set goals to tackle extreme inequality and extreme wealth. It is now widely accepted that rapidly growing extreme wealth and inequality are harmful to human progress, and that something needs to be done. Already we hear the World Economic Forum’s Global Risk Report rated inequality as one of the top global risks of 2013. The IMF and The Economist agree. Around the world, the Occupy protest demonstrated the increasing public anger and feeling that inequality has gone too far.
In the last decade, the focus has been exclusively on one half of the inequality equation – ending extreme poverty. Inequality and the extreme wealth that contributes to it were seen as either not relevant, or a prerequisite for the growth that would help the poorest, as the wealth created trickled down to benefit everyone. There has been great progress in the fight against extreme poverty… (But) we cannot end poverty unless we end inequality rapidly.
That is why we are calling for a new global goal, to end extreme wealth by 2025 and reverse the rapid increase in inequality seen in the majority of countries in the last twenty years”.
Oxfam: “The Cost Of Inequality: How Wealth And Income Extremes Hurt Us All”, 18 January 2013

“Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed. The world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its labourers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children… This is not a way of life at all, in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron”.
US President Dwight D Eisenhower: “The Chance For Peace” speech, 16 April 1953.
Note*: “Occupied Territories” (Garth Hewitt), published by IVP Books, 2013.
Photo: part of the wall surrounding Bethlehem.

Friday, May 27, 2016


Moira and I went along to the Watershed yesterday afternoon to see Deniz Gamze Erguven’s film “Mustang”… set in a remote Turkish coastal village. When five orphaned sisters are spotted harmlessly playing with boys on the beach, such "scandalous" behaviour is reported to their grandmother and uncle… who begin a tyrannical regime of imprisonment (to “safeguard their marriage prospects”)… the house ends up becoming a “wife factory”… you get the general idea!
It’s a film which underlines the male dominance of Turkish society… where men seem to feel that have a “right” to pursue women for sex but, at the same time, insist on only marrying a virgin.
A very sad state of affairs.
The Watershed programme contained an extract of an interview with director Erguven in which she was critical of the “constant and hideous sexualisation of women” in Turkey. In it, she also expresses her concern about the increasing censorship in Turkey.
It’s a stark, powerful film – which thankfully includes a fair amount of humour as well as the harsh treatment of the five girls. I’ve seen a number of critics comparing the film to “The Virgin Suicides” and that’s probably appropriate… but I think that, for me, it’s the robust depiction of sisterhood that comes across most strongly.
Definitely worth seeing…

Thursday, May 26, 2016

may 2016 books…

More book stuff:
Daddy’s Gone A-Hunting (Penelope Mortimer): First of all, this was one of Moira’s (very) small collection of beautiful Persephone books. Not only are they are wonderful to look at, but they’re also an absolute pleasure to use (they “feel” very good to hold while you read… look, just get one yourself and try it out!). First published in 1958, this is a novel about a time when expectations of most women were to be home-makers and mothers, who stayed out of the workplace to raise their children. It’s about a middle-class woman who lives in a large house (probably in the Home Counties), whose husband works in London and who, for convenience, has a flat to enable him to work longer hours (and for the convenience of his various mistresses), whose daughter is away studying at Oxford, and whose two younger sons spend all but 16 weeks a year at Boarding School. The woman is lonely, depressed and living a life without purpose. Thanks to an excellent preface (by Valerie Grove), I’m now aware that Mortimer’s writing is invariably indivisible from her personal life (she married divorce lawyer/writer/playwright John Mortimer in 1949 and you can discern exactly what stage the Mortimers’ marriage had reached in this book). It’s a poignant, compelling story and a beautifully written, impressive book.
Quiet (Susan Cain): This is a brilliant book, written by an introvert. The front cover sums up its gist: “The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking”. Moira had read it and had enthusiastically endorsed it. But why would I want to read a book about introverts? On a personal level, I suspect that most of my family and friends would categorise me as being more extravert than introvert but, interestingly (for me anyway!), I scored 13 out 20 on the book’s self-assessment survey – which rates me more introvert than extravert(?!). Cain argues persuasively about a world that, she maintains, “excessively and misguidedly respects extroverts”. Again and again, I found myself being reminded about situations in our own family and in my own career. Cain talks about the need, for example, for artists and designers (amongst others) to have “extra quiet and privacy in order to do their best work”; she talks about schools (and corporations) where being a “team player” is seen as the only path to “success”; she even refers to research that points to “forceful extroverts” being responsible for the global financial crash! She talks about Harvard Business School where socialising is "an extreme sport". Cain had to persuade a publisher she could conquer her stage fright and promote herself at book festivals before they agreed to take her on. In America, extroverted parents have been known to send their introverted children to psychiatrists to have their introversion "treated" out of them. We admire extroverts because they're charismatic, chatty and self-assured, but Cain maintains we're committing a grave error structuring our society around based on such a premise. She also helpfully (for me) and frequently made her points by relating stories of “real people” and their situations. If I do have a criticism, it’s the huge of number of psychologists she cites in conveying her arguments, but hey! It’s a fascinating and thought-provoking book and a surprising and rewarding one too.
If you haven’t got time to read the book for yourself(!), then please check out this 20 minute TED talk to get a flavour.
My Brilliant Friend (Elena Ferrante): This is our Book Group’s next book. It’s the first of four novels that make up “The Neapolitan Novels”. The book’s narrator, Elena Graco, recalls her childhood and early adolescence in Naples in the late 1950s, where she meets her “brilliant friend”, Lila Cerullo, at school. They both come from relatively impoverished households, they are both clever, but very different (James Wood in The New Yorker describes Lila as “feral, quick, unafraid, vicious in word and deed” while Elena remains on the academic straight and narrow). It’s a powerful, impressive book about Sicilian poverty and deprivation, hopes and ambition, violence and honour - where men dominate society and family feuds are commonplace. The two main characters are wonderfully portrayed. An enthralling, intense book.
The Squire (Enid Bagnold): Another beautiful Persephone book (this relates to the book as an object, rather than the quality of the novel!)... again, I borrowed Moira’s copy. It was first published 1938 and, according to the book’s jacket, Bagnold herself “led a sociable, comfortable, servanted life” and this novel very much encapsulates a similar middle class existence. “The Squire” is in fact a reference to the wife (her husband spends 3 months of the year in India on business) who heads the family of five children – including one by the name of Boniface(!) - and runs a household of seven staff. The wife is in her mid-forties and, in many ways, is a reflection of Bagnold’s own life and attitudes towards middle age with respect to sex and the family (the author herself had four children). Men are essentially eliminated from the book altogether – the butler being the one occasional exception. I found the references to non-family members (staff and Caroline, the squire’s more attractive, aristocratic friend and neighbour… who is “pursued by men”!) slightly more interesting than the squire or her children but, overall, I found myself constantly reacting against the privileged, upper middle-class way of life the book portrayed.
A Song Flung Up To Heaven (Maya Angelou): I’ve been a big fan of Maya Angelou over the years… and have especially loved listening to her voice. I read “I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings” (the first volume of her autobiography) several years ago, but hadn’t read (until now) any of the others – this is the sixth out seven. It recalls the time she returned to America, after a few years living in Ghana, at the height of the civil rights movement. She was returning to work with Malcolm X – who had created a foundation called the Organisation of African-American Unity… and intended to approach the UN world council to intercede on the part of beleaguered blacks. Within days of her return, Malcolm X had been shot dead. The book describes her life at a time of an extraordinarily exciting and tragic political period – including her acquaintance with Martin Luther King and ‘Jimmy’ Baldwin. Despite the cruelty, discrimination and poverty she experienced in her life, the book is full of her compassion, wisdom and wit. I’ll no doubt be reading the other volumes in due course.

Monday, May 23, 2016


The long-awaited Chilcott Report (it’s taken nearly SEVEN years to produce!) is due to be published on 6 July 2016 - a fortnight after the EU Referendum. According to today’s Independent newspaper, Tony Blair (and other government officials, including Jack Straw) is set to be savaged in an “absolutely brutal” verdict on the failings of the occupation.
Like so many UK citizens, I opposed the war and, like hundreds of thousands, joined the London anti-war protest march on 15 February 2003.

I’ve just re-read my letter dated 25 January 2003 sent to Prime Minister Blair (he must have received thousands along similar lines), his Cabinet, the Leader of the Opposition (Iain Duncan Smith), the Leader of the Liberal Democrats (Charles Kennedy) and my MP at the time, Boris Johnson. It’s a sickening reminder of politics of power (I was tempted to write “egotistical political legacies”!) and the devastating implications of war. This is what I wrote:
Dear Mr Blair
I am writing to express my very deep concern at your Government's apparent commitment to go to war with Iraq.  A sceptical view would suggest that a decision had already been taken to invade Iraq - irrespective of public opinion in this country or support from the UN Security Council - and that the Government was merely "going through the motions" of securing evidence and justification to do so while the UK/USA forces take up their positions. 
As a committed Christian (and as someone who has voted for the Labour Party over the past twenty years or so, and who wholehearted celebrated the arrival of the Labour Government in 1997!), I feel a real sense of unease at recent developments and your Governments' handling of the situation.  I would seriously question the morality and legality of war against Iraq at the present time and would urge that force should be considered only as a last resort - and, crucially, ONLY with UN support.
Whilst there seems little doubt about the evil nature of Saddam's regime, I feel it is essential that any action against it should only be taken if it can be proved that Iraq is in breach of the UN resolution and, at this stage, we still await evidence from the UN weapon inspectors.  When the decision was taken to send the inspectors back into Iraq, there was a sense of "now we'll be able to show the world that Iraq holds weapons of mass destruction"; only weeks later, the UK/USA Administrations are saying that weapons inspections "could not continue for unlimited time".  Condemning Iraq for failing to prove a negative would hardly appear to count as justification for war.
Whilst I can obviously see the justification of ridding the world of any weapons of mass destruction, I am far from convinced that the consequences of any invasion have been properly thought through.  To my mind, a war will almost certainly result in unpredictable and unintended consequences - high numbers of civilian casualties; the death of many servicemen and women; more instability and violent chain reactions in the already volatile Middle East; more anti-American and British sentiment around the world; and, almost certainly, even more terrorism.
Regardless of your exhortations, public opinion in this country has remained stubbornly sceptical about the need for war with Iraq - people are not convinced that the threat from Saddam is great enough to justify war; people are suspicious of US President George Bush.  There is wide-spread opposition to war from church leaders - throughout the world.
You have predicted that the public would eventually back a war against Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq if other means of disarming him failed.  You said this week that we had not reached the circumstances where you told the British people we were in conflict with Iraq but that "when and if that time came, people would find the reasons acceptable and satisfactory because there is no other route available to us".  The time needed to persuade us (or not) could be very limited; there is speculation that, irrespective of any support from the UN, war could start by the end of February.  Unless convincing evidence is produced within this time, it would appear that this country could be at war with Iraq without the support of the British people - an alarming prospect in a democratic society, with potentially devastating consequences for the future of this country and the world.
Yours sincerely
Steven Broadway
cc            all members of The Cabinet
cc            Mr Iain Duncan Smith MP, Leader of the Opposition
cc            Mr Charles Kennedy MP, Liberal Democrat Leader
cc            Mr Boris Johnson MP (Henley Constituency)

Blair opened a debate in parliament on 18 March 2003 (click here to read his full speech). On 20 March, starting with an air strike on the presidential palace in Baghdad, a combined force of troops from The United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, Spain and Poland invaded Iraq…
The invasion consisted of 21 days of “major combat operations”.
At no time did the United Nations Security Council support a resolution backing the war.
At a cost of $1billion, 1,625 UN and US inspectors had spent two years searching for weapons of mass destruction.
None were ever found.
It’s absolutely scandalous that the Chilcott Report has taken so long to be published. All the key players have long since disappeared from the main political stage… but their shameful legacy remains.
Photo: from The Huffington Post

Thursday, May 05, 2016

tom robinson…

I went along to St George’s last night to hear Tom Robinson.
The venue is usually full but, last night, as I sat upstairs in the gallery before the concert started, the place was barely one-third full. Not a very good omen, I thought…
Well, how wrong can you be!
With only a brief break, Robinson talked and sang for over two-and-a-hours… about his musical journey, but also about his fight for gay rights, his fight against fascism… together with some of the stories behind his songs, the people he met over the years and his appalling treatment by the Sunday People newspaper.
It proved to be an intimate, entertaining, funny and poignant evening… Robinson is an excellent communicator (and a very good musician!). I love the fact that, despite getting banned by the BBC for being “Glad to be Gay” in 1976, he’s subsequently presented programmes on all seven of the corporation’s national radio networks! He made a number of references to his age during the evening… which made me feel a little ancient (he’s a year younger than me!).
It was a great evening – the audience was completely captivated by Robinson from the start (at times, it was almost as if he was sitting in the corner of a bar talking to friends and playing his guitar).
He’s touring the show around the country over the course of May; this was the first evening of the tour… if you get a chance to see him, then I highly recommend that you do so.