Sunday, August 24, 2014

Ice Water and Seagulls

It would seem that the ALS icewater challenge, like the Hunger Games, has gone viral. Perhaps everyone is buying in to the Tribute mentality. I've been asked to do one, more than once - and thank you to the friends who were kind enough to include me. My instantaneous reaction was, 'Yeah, go ahead, why not?' But, then I gave it a little thought and as a result, I'm not going to, nor do I feel compelled to give whatereveritis to the nearest ALS foundation.
Just so as to be clear, I hate iced water on my head the same as the next man, but it's quite bearable. I know. I spent five years at public school and cold showers were often used as punishments.
I have two basic reasons why I'm not going to take part, both of which I think are compelling in themselves.
First, ALS research, due to the very nature of the disease, requires both adult and embryonic stem cells as biological raw material.  Embryonic cells are the harvest of abortions.  Go ahead, Sherlock. Join the dots. But, this is the weaker of the two reasons. Secondly, and more importantly,  the speed with which my gut agreed and screamed out 'go ahead' in itself gave me pause. Putting the bucket down for a few minutes,  I began to consider the effect that social media activism is having on our culture – and my/ourselves as actors and consequently participants in it. I've turned into a blogger with a slight political edge to me, consequently it's clear to me that this medium’s capacity for acting as a vehicle for good is beyond doubt, and yet the principle of instant, do-it-now connectivity has a flipside. Anyone who has ever commented on a social activism website sees how easy it is for a herd mentality to develop, where everybody is nodding in furious agreement and dissent is shouted down, often quite violently. This is, of course, absolutely OK, I suppose, so long as the herd is headed in the right direction and so we meekly trot along mooing and lowing with everybody else.

Peer pressure has a nasty habit of distorting perspective. We're all racing to belong without first pausing to think through all of the options before clicking “like”. How many, apart from Jonathan Livingston, have elected to fly against the wind because they don't like being just another seagull in the flock as well as stopping to investigate exactly how the money's being spent before emptying the ice cube trays? Exactly. I don't think anyone needs to beat themselves up over it - that's not the point. It's OK to feel a little excluded, even strange, and, perhaps more than a little prone towards caution and self-awareness in the future.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The Safety of Stories

I read something the other day. No, I mean, I "read" it. It didn't just pass me by, like a half-remembered byline, or someone on the street that I thought I recognised. Opinion is like steady, unremitting drizzle, never really pausing for long enough for the landscape through which it passes to be observed in any detail. It clusters in the corners of our minds, waiting, like Godot, for a time, or even a space within the freeway of our consciously streaming interaction with the world for our own small, underpowered vehicle to find a gap in the traffic. Within all of us, there is a still, small voice asking impossible questions, like, "where is justice" when all around us we hear static and half-made sentences through shattered and distorted media headphones, crying with every syllable that it has departed, leaving a sulphurous and unpleasant odour behind. Realities are labyrinthine, complex. We seek a stationary metaphor to hold ourselves morally upright, sometimes abandoning the struggle for reality and retreating behind the more secure emotional bulwarks of fiction. Harry Potter may have influenced the political motivations of a generation - now old enough to vote. There were certainties there. Exposure to the strange, gladiatorial political arenas in "Game of Thrones" with its quicksand of changing allegiances generates a consonance more real than we know. It shines lights into places where we don't want to go, where the monsters are, and justice is a flyaway, ephemeral leaf, blown who knows where by rapidly shifting winds of change. We transpose this into present realities as the black-clad flag-wavers emerge from the shadows, their blades red with innocent blood, coming for us.
Martin Amis' newest novel supposedly helps us to see the Nazis as they really were, and makes black comedy of the Holocaust. This could be seen to be quintessentially Jewish, but it isn't, particularly in light of the blackguardly parallel to Nazism being levelled at the Israelis by the wilfully ignorant and cognitively dissonant flag-waving media junkies.
I'm not a particular fan of his work. In previous novels, the prose sometimes reads as if someone originally wrote in something like Estonian then used Google Translate for the  final version.
Even in fiction, what we read shapes our values,  threatens our security,  gives form to our perceptions. The word becomes flesh and dwells among us.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

No Comment

Over the last month, there have been disturbances, let's say, in the Middle East. These disturbances are not small regional ripples, soon forgotten as the world finds other things to talk about.
As everyone knows, I have just returned from Jerusalem - in fact, about a week before I left - three boys were kidnapped. A  friend said that she thought they were dead. I didn't believe her and I was wrong. Shortly after, a deranged man murdered and set fire to an Arab boy, and Operation Protective Edge began.
A caliphate has been declared in what was eastern Syria and northern Iraq by an organisation whose thirst for blood and conquest outmatches anything the world has seen for a generation and is reminiscent of the early struggle for Islamic identity in the seventh century.
Millions of words have been written, hundreds of pundits have given us the benefit of their opinions on social media, blogs, TV and radio. Journalistic integrity has been compromised. Foreign politicians have thrown the weight of their country's moral outrage at either camp, for or against. What can I possibly add to an already overinflated debate?

For what it is worth, then, and in no particular order, this is what I have learned.

Rhetoric, both for and against, has been more savage and intemperate than at almost any time in my living memory. 

Many people believe that holding pro-Zionist opinions is tantamount to selling your soul to Beelzebub.

Anti-Semitism, defined as unreasoning hatred of Jews just because they are Jewish is alive and well, and the demonic forces that drive it are becoming bolder. Capitals all over the world saw and continue to see well-funded and well-organised "protests" which for the most part are thinly veiled excuses for fomenting anarchy and disorder as disparate and disaffected social groups find a common cause against which they can mobilise. If the protesters actually got what they wanted, Israel would cease to exist.

It is dangerous to be openly Jewish in some places in Europe. It is quite reasonable for Muslim enclaves in European towns and cities to fly the Palestinian flag, since offending Muslims cannot be tolerated under any circumstances.

History means whatever you want it to mean and nobody is bothering to read it. Hence, words like 'occupation' have gained undeserved currency, since manipulation of the masses isn't particularly difficult and the volume of opinion so fuelled lends the same distorted legitimacy that Goebbels used to such great effect in the 1930's regardless of right or wrong. "Let me control the media and I will turn any nation into a herd of pigs", he wrote.

Trading land for peace won't work. It didn't work in 2005 and the Israelis have long memories.

A belief in evil is a subjective matter. The entity known as Hamas is simply evil undiluted. As a political machine, it rides, rough-shod, over those who brought it to power. Its supporters use public money to build tunnels instead of roads, use public buildings to wage war and it deliberately places civilians in harm's way, using them as human shields, with no apparent regard for their safety, hiding behind a flawed interpretation of their holy book. They have told the world, loud and clear, that Gazan lives are cheap.

Israelis can and will continue to protect their population. This means that she will be charged with war crimes, the adjudication for which will be in the hands of those who wish her destruction.

Militant Islam suffers no bedfellows. It murders, tortures and sweeps from its path all those who dare to hold any opinion or practice any faith other than its own.

Th events of the last month or so have caused a profound paradigm shift in me, and I understand, in others. Please don't bother commenting - share your outrage elsewhere in places where it may be more widely read. 

This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But, perhaps it is the end of the beginning.