A Journal of the Plague Year Day 81

Monday 8th June 2020

We moved to the UK when I was 5, coming from a nice middle class family, as is common with many immigrants who can afford the costs to emigrate. Dad told us that on the plane you could open the window and touch the clouds, which were like cotton wool. There’d be snow: I imagined digging myself out and tunneling my way to school. In retrospect he knew.

He’d studied here in London, law I hear, but blew it all, gave money to a friend in need, argued too much with the colonial professors. But left with a penchant to liberate his kids should he ever have any, to a more free life. Without the ethnic politics of Malaysia, where to this day we’d be barred from university choices and jobs due to our race. As ethnic Chinese, we were known as the ‘Jews of Asia’, for the way we monopolised wealth despite starting out as poor WWII refugees. In Indonesia, where affirmative action is non-existent Chinese made up only 7% of the population yet 90% of the wealth. When the Asian Financial Crisis hit in 1997, inflamed by multinational hedge funds, one of the side-effects was half a million children succumbing to malnutrition. Race riots took over by May of the next year, and almost 12,000 were killed, mostly ethnic Chinese, with 100,000 fleeing the country. In Malaysia the historic slanting of the Chinese after 600 years in business was balanced out when they introduced affirmative action for the varied ‘Bumiputra’ (sons of the soil) populations, mostly Malays, long indentured and an underclass in their own country. A rebalancing followed, opening up opportunity to many of the poor, whilst teaching racial harmony in the schools -but over the years the Chinese who made up nearly half the population at one stage, dwindled to 23%, as many moved abroad for better prospects.

Mum remembers the race riots during the Communist insurgency of the late 1960s, how as a young teacher they watched the fires crowd out the horizon, then had to try and shuttle the children home safely. Britain would be a better life.

Fast forward to 1980s Thatcherite Britain. I remember it cold, a sensation I’d never felt before, and grey. October. We moved from our tropical beach house into a little rent in Windsor, picked for the royal associations and guaranteeing a hallowed education just in name: Clewer Green, Trevelyan, The Windsor Boys’ School, The Windsor Girls’ School, The Berkshire School of Art. The flat was small but beautiful, opposite the library, where my sister R aged six, would sneak into the Adults section to get her books, and where I learned English stuttering over the long names in Asterix. They bought me a tiny desk, with little drawers -trumped up as a big reveal but remember thinking it a bit shit. There were no other kids, and the walk to school was crap, a mile and a half. Though in hindsight, we should’ve stayed there.

A few months later we bought a horrible house on a council estate -one of the few that were privately owned. Mum went from a departmental head at her high school to a cleaner, for which she gave up her pension. Dad, a landowner and academic but one without degrees, went straight into factory work and abject poverty for the rest of their lives. We were too poor to have furniture for a while. Unbeknownst the area was the most racially divided boroughs in the London area: Slough with the highest minority-majority wards in the country (97% Pakistani) to Windsor winningly White and native, an affluent tourist town surrounded by army estates. We’d landed right into one that later got notorious, including the odd riot.

On the first day at school, my sisters got straight into fights -a running meme for the rest of their tenure. R was a born tomboy, always loud, belligerent, brave, and climbing trees, building forts and taking anyone on. She’d tie her little anorak around her shoulders then zoom round the playground shouting ‘Supergirl!’ at the bullies, and generally doing Supergirl things, such as punching them in the face. They learned to stay away. But H, the eldest got it worst, where the kids were old enough to see the difference, and read into it. At first just as belligerent as R, as the years went on she started to quieten. I remember the first dark-skinned pupil joined by Class 3  -a Sri Lankan boy who’d moved house because the last place was too racist -subsequently the entire hundred+ school chasing him round the playground while the dinner ladies watched and the teachers pretended not to. It went on for days, at every break.

By middle school (Trevelyan) H was being badly bullied every day, not just the open insults -getting drinks poured down her, fights, punches, playgrounds throwing her into the air like giving the bumps, then letting her fall, and her name Chinky or Ching Chong day in day out. One gang of girls merciless. She used to stay behind class to avoid rec, much to the annoyance of the teachers just as complicit; when she finally told them she was being bullied, years later, they said ‘oh you’ll make friends soon’. One teacher, as a lesson, took her to the playground, and to demonstrate her small size, picked her up and stood her in a bin for the rest of the class to watch. By then H barely spoke. I think of these people now and want to rip their shitty little earrings out.

R continued to fight. Some of the boys in the neighbourhood wouldn’t believe she was a girl, so ready was she to take them all on and oblivious to any assault. Even when she was dragged out of a tree aged six, she stood up bleeding to the 14 year old skinheads. For it was a skinhead estate, we found out pretty soon. Every day for weeks the entire neighbourhood’s kids mobbing as a wall of flesh on the back gate to scream racist abuse, spit, throw projectiles, while their parents ushered them in every night and gave us evils from high windows. We couldn’t go out, and if we ever did we’d have to try and avoid Sean and his gang, and put up with everyone else, though one little girl, Dana, did start to play with us. They started calling her ‘nigger-lover’. Chrissakes folks, at least get it right.

Next door lived a teacher and her middle class family. A bit cold but civil, who would offer a lift to my sister occasionally (until she overheard the mother’s nickname for her). At some stage next door made their feelings more overt. One night their kids dancing idiotically in a ring and singing outside our house. Night after night we were getting new projectiles -no longer stones or sticks, but soggy clumps of tissue, that rarely made a noise but would dry like concrete; it didn’t take long to spot it was them, and know no one could be trusted.

Windsor, twee little Home Counties town full of tourist lace and Royal tradition, is the most odiously racist place I’ve ever been, permeating every level and class. It’s hard to forget even after so long the looks of sheer, screaming disgust, the hate, the friends that betray. Even when it’s not leaning out of cars to spit at you, or stare 180 as you walk by (to the point you think it normal behaviour for all pedestrians), or throwing bricks, spraying your walls and kicking you in the face in some carpark, it’s insidious even in the acceptably middle class assumptions. Little old ladies asking you to get your proximity away from their seat, tutting if you walked in front of them, always starting off: ‘in this country…’.

During A-Levels, my essays were held up as an example to other classes of a sign of plagiarism, too good was the writing. It happened again in art college, losing final marks because they concluded my lecture notes copied from books. My mate who’d done none and did in fact frantically copy some of mine on the last day, got a higher mark. I questioned the low score out of curiosity, my lecturer fumblingly embarrassed, admitted the accusation; and it would not be changed. This was the most left-wing, open environment you could think off, and an abrupt ending to the first illusion I’d ever entertained as being accepted. To this day if reminded I’m still pissed.

Growing up in Windsor one grows to hate everything that is different, such is the cultural norm, notably yourself. Everything about the way I looked, dressed, smelled was found wanting, even what I ate -after being mocked I would only wolf down packed lunch after getting home, locked in the bathroom. Yet everywhere you looked, you read, you watched and listened you couldn’t help but laugh, cry, fall in love with the White image, and know everything else unworthy. Just watch any 80s flick of the era or older, involving anywhere abroad, from Indiana Jones to Casablanca to Breakfast At Tiffany’s to James Bond. We are the background: bestial, stupid, laughable as foil to White saviours. This on top of the domestic dramas and trauma behind closed doors. No teacher ever asked about the bruises, black on white.

Being proud would never happen for decades. By then R, so headstrong at the start, was a shy and quiet young woman, so ahead of the class yet dropped out of school and jobless. H had become the opposite, up for any fight, strong and persevering; it was as if they’d swapped roles.

It was one night I was home visiting from uni, when another great big stick or brick or something came into the window, can’t quite remember. But that I went berserk, just saw red and chased them over the wall and into the warren of the garage block. Rounding back onto the street empty-handed, then began yelling at the houses like a madman, like come-out-and-fucking-stab-me mad. That for 15 years we’d put up with that shit, that after one generation grew up, another would replace them. That it was the complicit parents to blame, that my father sat dying for years while barricaded, watching them throw their missiles from a bygone age. I think I was out there for half an hour screaming at darkened windows, where in the end Mum and R came out too. It all stopped after that night, proof that bullies are thinly veiled cowards.

To this day there is a part that is still bitter, that will always be bitter so long as I see it, and the world around duplicitous. Racism changes lives, it kills, it denies you jobs and promotions and money and lifeplans we endure, even in subconscious bias. You sweat like a dog year in year out, while watching those hired after and promoted within a year. Leaving in disgust after 5 years of blocked applications. After chatting in common rooms full of cooing colleagues, walking out then overhearing their racist jokes about you. I’ll never fully trust sweet sounding OAPs after that, or anyone who’s ever worked in ‘the forces’.

That it takes 7 years in the next job of more of the same, the very last to leave the bottom payscale by dint of always being peripheral and every word unimportant.

I find it hard to randomly watch, hear, or hear about racism any more, it just ignites too much inside. That I see it underlying so much of media portrayals while the rest just accept, and we face every day. It’s just so fucking draining. One of the first openers to Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race retains the scenario that the complainant understands the argument, fully. They are not simply one-sided, they understand inverse racism is still racism, they know what ‘playing the race card’ is and are wary of it, and that not all White people are to blame, should pay for the sins of their fathers, or to be lumped as one and the same in the exact way racism categorises others. That strawman arguments of not being able to ‘say anything’ anymore or suffering White Mans Burden, or accusations of such, of being over-sensitive or reading too much into things is alien to them. That ethnic minorities can be racist too, and are no angelic civilisations. But all too often our cries beach themselves against the same, listed barrage, imbedded by the sense of authority in these matters despite never having experienced it, and by that constant sense of The Other.

I remember insomnia after five days, waking up dazed and confused. Thinking I had insects in my bed; asking Mum to tell me about her nonexistent childhood in Germany, then looking into the mirror in the dark, and realising I wasn’t White and British, but East Asian. Imagine if you woke up Chinese one day. How fucking alien all that embodies.

The same way ethnic minorities navel-gaze, look upon themselves as lesser, question themselves constantly, and battle their own media-driven assumptions, is the same way they think White people regard them. Even if it is without hate, we fear it is with prejudice. From the news to Hollywood to Netflix to the internet to the voting booths, it takes a toll. Think of someone that got bullied for being different in your school, we can look back on and agree was unjust and cruel. Then think about a society subsequently forming political parties that wanted everyone who looked like that person booted out of the country, and millions voting for it. That for the last 25 years it’s been the main priority for the majority of voters that we stop more of them arriving, regardless of what they stand for, who they are or what they can offer. What message does that publicly announce?

It’s so easy to hate on the White world, to try and wash yourself from everyone you imagine judges you every time they look or interact. To not even come into contact with the possibility, and disregard a society constantly betraying you yet demanding allegiance at every turn and story. That daily life outside is a tiresome, constant minefield of expectation, judgment, acting and giving a damn. But ignoring that is impossible. You work, you have friends, you watch TV and fall in step with the characters, allegiant to sports teams and even proud of your nation when the flag flies exultant, or some other nation tries to trash it. You fall in love, you marry and live your life with them, and will have kids like them.

I remember a British drama on the box, about a British Pakistani brother and sister. The young woman recruited into terrorism, whilst her twin accepted into the anti-terrorism force. They question him for his allegiance -he a former soldier, thankful to Britain for taking him and his family in, thankful to Britain for giving him the freedom of society and speech, proud of his adopted nation and very off-the-cuff about it all too. He’s hired on the spot. We, as ethnic minorities scoff at that portrayal, no doubt written with White assumption. How many native White people thank Britain? Actually take the time out, pause and thank the country for bringing them up, for taking them on, for accepting them against all the odds. The answer is they don’t -they are that country they love, that they do not have to prove themselves to, and not in a job interview either. Walk down the street after that charming interaction at the supermarket, and thank Britain for not kicking you out.

So here’s the secret: we are British. We do not look at it through the lens of us and them, we do not look at it as some foreign country that accepted us and continues to do so. We are this country in the same way any native White Briton feels, and who doesn’t question why they are standing in it, or having to thank some abstract ideal or the general White populace for being there. I close my eyes and I am British, more British than anyone under the age of 37. I’ve had more experience of living in this country, eating the food, living the lifestyle, reading the news, going to the same schools, pubs, clubs, restaurants, cinemas, supermarkets, and everywhere else, seeing from the same eyes as an idiot abroad, and I’m sure I’d take anyone ‘native’ on in knowing more of the history, language, customs or geography. Just I don’t look like it and will never, ever fit into the narrative. One colleague once mentioned, with a knowing glint in her eye: ‘the question is would you die for this country?’. She of course assumed we wouldn’t, that the question needn’t even be answered. I asked her back, why would I, even if I wanted to?

If that BBC drama knew in any way what they were even talking about, the police would have asked what they felt about allegiance and merited him on honesty, not which side he was on and if he ticked sufficiently their prerequisite boxes.

When we look at ‘White’ people and culture, no matter how one could try and extract themselves from the immersion, or hate back, we cannot but help to have been formulated in it, to have laughed and cried alongside every media portrayal from Pretty Woman to Titanic to Avatar to the fucking Little Mermaid. The same cannot be said from the other side. Whenever China gets bad news, sure plenty of people say they hate the regime not the Chinese people, but just look how quickly that translated to open racism during the pandemic. How many people have cried for Gong Li in Farewell My Concubine, or laughed with Sing from Kung Fu Hustle, fallen in love with Teacher Luo in Under the Hawthorn? Or ever even watched a documentary where Chinese actually talk amongst themselves, thus displaying more than one personality type? And that’s for China, the most out-there country right now emblazoned on many a headline for years -what about any given ‘shithole’ country? They are not just indentured refugees, poverty-mired underclass or corruption-riddled nouveau riches. They are like you and me, and just as multitudinous, just as understanding and ignorant in equal measure. A telling sign are the headlines. It’s not America that is imprisoning refugee kids, but Trump. Whilst it is China imprisoning Uighurs, not Xi.

In short we ask – no, we demand – the way one sees their own race, their own community or family or class as multitudinous, and not compatible with categorisation, has to extend that view to all others.

So what has become of Windsor? In the noughties people tried to convert part of the Windsor Dairy, which had been functioning as a makeshift mosque for the small, local community. Residents were so averse to ‘increasing the traffic’ they took up arms and assaulted anyone they deemed looked Muslim on their street, while worshippers barricaded the dairy. The mosque never did get consent due to ‘increasing the traffic’. The town’s since had a Black MP, though racist leaflets were distributed to every pub and local institution on the eve of his election, urging people that we couldn’t ever let this happen -the same betrayal across the river in Slough. Our street is now affably middle class, despite everything being ugly postwar terraces the property prices are legion. The town is staunchly Conservative and voted Brexit. I’m sure it’s nowhere as bad as it was before -notably a friend who was brought up after says there is little open hate anymore.

I always look back when I talk or write about racism with embarrassment, there’s always so much to say, too many incidents to recount from too bitter a well. I don’t think about race every day, as I’m sure most people don’t. But then reminded, and especially right now, when one sweeps it under a rug, and doesn’t learn from history, you’re doomed to repeat it. Our experiences, our histories need to stand testament, and publicly.

Sorry to have gone on for so much, but then again no, I’m not fucking sorry.

 

Yesterday

Tomorrow

 

Europe’s Greatest Weakness and Greatest Strengths

In short: it’s the borders, but not as you know it.

vienna

A continent loosely summed up as 750 million people in the more northern climes of the world, famous for its history, heritage and export of culture (and peoples).

But let’s look closer at the geography: the world’s sole ‘landmass’ delineated from the rest by physical barrier – mountain ranges and seas (do ignore the Indian ‘subcontinent’, China or Eastern Africa that could easily do the same) – with the Caucasus forming an adjunct against the Middle East at one end, and the more spurious boundary of the Urals at the other. Never mind that this range peters out uncharitably 600km from the Caspian coast, and is low and heavily gap-toothed anyway – infinitely porous for the peoples of the Steppe, and to which White Russia has long suffered and capitalised on, this is the boundary that claims itself a stopper against the rest of the Asian multitudes. That declares itself more than just a peninsular of Asia.

europe-map

The idea that all continents are defined by their physicality demonstrates European exceptionalism – insofar that the idea of Europe is in reality more based on ethnicity, thinly veiled. That what defined this continent has long been the triptych of pale skin, Caucasian race and Christian culture, all but glossed over in textbooks to this day and accepted as an unsaid, unquestioned norm. With this idea comes the attachments of history, a richly influential vein that runs through collective peoples who went on to annexe 3.5 continents other than their own (the two Americas, Australasia and Asia thanks to Russia/ Kazakhstan) as the greatest source of immigration the world has ever known and likely ever will. In short Europe is a sanctum alluding to the ‘old country’ for many hundreds of millions outside it still, and an idealistic narrative on governance  to even more – a cultural source code for successful nations if one may, yet often reduced to a sum of parts. Europe frequently gets boiled down to a list of these parts.

Ethnic map of the world by Haplogroup:

etn

This veneration is both the winning laurel and Damoclean sword. On one hand its historic urbanity, iconic motifs and exportable cuisines, languages, style and arts continue to draw visitors and investment by the billion, yet its exceptional storytelling can also jar with the demands of a globalised world, and demographic paths toward a more mutually reliant populace on the big spinner. As the per capita incomes of the Developed World and the Developing World (once known as the Third World) begin to converge the eyeliner so long denoting Europe as belle of the ball is increasingly consequential: attracting ever more suitors but also a more fragile sanctimoniousness.

FRANCE-BASTILLE-DAY

For example, Europe’s plinth-like status brings in 671 million visitors (2017, accounting for 57% of international travel), with $767 billion investment to local economies – by far the largest destination for tourism, immigration and FDI. New housing, continents removed, still delusionally aspire to Tuscan villas, Norfolk farmhouses and Berlin apartments whether they be in the sprawl of the Texan interior, embattled Israeli outposts or upmarket estates in China’s third tier cities. The English language/ suit has become the uniform for global professionals, and Greek democracy, Italian art, French enlightenment, English industrialisation, British and Russian economics, and Swiss modernism have been adopted as worldly norms – sold as templates for governance and modern culture. Looking back on this weight of far-reaching achievement pride becomes an easy reaction, despite cultural piggy-backing, technology transfer strictly limited between brothers-in-arms, and disparate achievements conveniently united by one race (a redrawing of boundaries as and when needed), cultivated under the umbrella term of Westernism – but subtly or not so subtly redolent of supremacism too. Not to mention a more painful eyeballing from history on an inheritance built on colonialism, slavery, incessant power struggles, foreign invasion and hierarchical inequality no different (or perhaps a little more avid) from the rest.

roma

But Europe today is also a region most angst-ridden about outside influence and historic navel-gazing (or utter lack of, via rose-tinted media portrayals), susceptible to modern day demagogues, where every major economy is now, for the first time in a century, either right wing or in coalition with the far right.

To start, one cannot possibly quantify 750 million people, 130 languages, 50 countries, 87 ethnic groups and myriad cultures and histories as one. Witness the past attempts to do so, whether through bloody world war or cultural hand-wringing when pacts such as NATO or the EU sacrificed imagined sovereignty for greater geopolitical win-win. The continent is still a disparate collection behind the flawless face, with infighting commonplace between countries, and regions within – not to mention many societal pitchforks readied for the stream of newcomers, whether they be from the continent or outside (and despite the welcome also laid out).

eue

Separatism within Europe:

terrorist_attacks_in_the_eu_by_affiliation

Yet should Europe give up on its institutionalised veneration on what it thinks it is to be European – rather than by dint of pure geography – it would find it can marry contemporary progressiveness with a rich past and continuation of traditions. Look at the record of the Nordic, Alpine and Benelux nations, world leaders in education, quality of life, social justice, economic performance and environmentalism coupled with a rich heritage of culture, architecture and the arts, all within the same breathless sentiment.

bruss

But contrast that with worrying support for Le Pen, Jobbik, the Freedom Party or Brexit, coupled with instances of hate crime, terrorism, media-fuelled xenophobia and a stout lack of charity for the current refugee crises (the vast majority of the worlds 68 million refugees fleeing to neighbours within the already embattled Middle East and Africa – some of which have become refugee-majority populations within the last decade – with ‘only’ 1 million of the richest affording the crossings to Europe).

ref

Also note how Austria and Denmark straddles both these perceptions – open progressiveness with reactionary populism, which lends to the fact no part can be summarised despite all intent. Should Eurocentrism take down its artificial borders both in mind and physicality it can limit the damage wrought by a generalised decline in birth rates and productivity, both demographically and culturally. When the ‘old country’ no longer negates the idea that all societies are new, and that they have always had to be in order to survive.

sorenga-oslo_katrinelunke_main

liss

sar

Europe is in short a wondrous, rich tapestry of histories and cultures; it does well to build on it. But it also does well to remember how porous its borders were in the age of empires, whether being invaded and influenced from outside (Egyptians, Phoenicians, Persians, Turkics, Huns, the Silk Routes, Moors, Mongols, Tatars, Ottomans) or doing the invading and influencing of the outside (Greek -Macedonian, Roman, Portuguese, Spanish, Dutch, British, French, Russian, German), that has so lent it the multitudinal aspects to build and importantly, trade on.

Les trentes glorieuses:

ind

This is not to overlook the genius of democracy, the Renaissance, the Enlightenment, the Industrial Revolution, but they were not entirely standalone as we have come to assume, and with often fore runners abroad, from China’s equivalent scaled Industrial Revolution in the Dark Ages (that was destroyed by Mongol politicking and climate change), to Mughal manufacturing that took a quarter of global GDP and Ming Dynasty navies that operated history’s largest pre-industrial ships, industries, and explorations. On an interesting sidenote these were also scuppered by Mongol threat when funds went into defence instead, with the fleet burned and a capital offence made of going to sea, plus an edict for SE Asians to reduce their vassal envoys to every 3 years.

s

s

ss

Oops, where was I in my breathless account? The first shoots of democracy in Iraq and India, alongside the worlds first cities, or the first modern warfare. Another sidenote: they were  fired up by the Mongol-Chinese who operated the first guns (‘fire-lances’), cannons, mines, sea mines, grenades and automated rapid-fire crossbows in the attempted invasions of Japan employing vast armadas of 5,200 ships – but who ultimately opted to bury the tech when society started going all Call of Duty among themselves. Japan, replete with developing the worlds most advances weaponry (and had just invaded and colonised Korea with their prototype arquebuses) even dumped the lot and went back to 300 years of strict isolationism and the beauty of the blade via a Samurai-Shogunate society. It’s a myth that the Chinese used gunpowder just for fireworks, and that the Europeans turned them into weapons.

 

mn

A lot has been said about the vast rape of the continents by the Mongols (who killed so many Chinese, Arabs, Indians, SE Asians and Eastern Europeans the carbon in the atmosphere fell, who destroyed over the centuries the world’s largest million+ cities of Baghdad, Gurganj, Beijing, Nanjing, Hangzhou, and who would attack countries with navies made up of up to 7,000 ships), but they were also a big buffer against historical domination if not a global one. A kill switch or at least barrier to further ambitions whenever an empire started getting too big for its boots such as the Song, the Burmese, the Japanese, the Delhi Sultanate, the Song Chinese, the Persians and Islamic Caliphates.

ss

chhh

Plus much iconography we think of as intrinsically European come from beyond, from the adoption of a Middle Eastern religion that is Christianity, to the International Style of modernism (clue’s in the name) sourced from medieval Morocco and Japan, that the early modernists such as Le Courbousier studied – the white wedding dress of the Ottomans, the Romanesque arch of Arabia, the Mongol onion dome, the Chinese naval tech, the Japonisme of impressionism and modern art, the African beat, the SE Asian spices, the Americas coffee, Chinese tea, the Himalayan gardens, the Indian manufacturing, the modern American/Japanese business frame, the knife and fork, the apple, the tulip, we could go on, and still do. The idea of Europe breaking down its barriers to speed into motion its coming extinction, as had been done in the continents it itself overran in the past, only ever happened when coupled with genocide, including viral. The way we see the world today should, in a very European tradition, be encompassing, outward-looking, clear -yet holding a subtle richness of history and nuance beyond the everyday.

kas

japan

Do you agree? Comment below:

The Rise of the Right

So what happened? Across the West we are seeing a wave of xenophobia and politicking that is fast becoming a ‘hyper-norm’ for hundreds of millions who remember a less volatile and divisive upbringing. Entire countries lurching towards the right after years of complicit media campaigns, with a resultant lurch to the left for its opposition parties. From Greece’s dalliance with Golden Dawn to Brexit, France’s Marine Le Pen to America’s Trump, the Netherlands’ tellingly named Party for Freedom to Hungary’s correctional Jobbik. Even Turkey, bastion of secularism in a sea of religiosity on either side of its continental spans, is undergoing transition back to its purported roots under Erdogan. There are of course the countries that have swerved against the momentum – Portugal, Romania and a trend-bucking Greece with their new left wing governments, and a Russia playing all sides from staging neo-Nazi rallies to funding anti-Nazi leagues with the self same sword. But overall the story is one of a steady quickstep to the right, in the manifold glow of patriotism, rhetoric and righteousness, offset by virulent pleas and increasingly angered remonstrations of a once apolitical youth. Indeed, what did happen to put us in this spin?

gib

To sum it up: regional destabilisation. If we were to try and pinpoint one episode that set it off we can look to Cheney’s puppeteered invasion of Iraq in 2003, that the CIA warned would unbalance the entire region. We could look further back to what led to that invasion – 911, Amerika’s final decade of oil independence, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, WWII, colonialism – but the latest boot up the arse that we can say pushed us off the collective edge would be Gulf War 2.0.

gw

Let’s try and put it in a sentence: Gulf War = legitimisation of Sunni/Shia conflict = destabilisation of the Middle East = Arab Spring = destabilisation of North Africa also = ISIS-Daesh = terrorism = more refugees = increasing destabilisation of Europe = destabilisation of the US. All to a backdrop of a media agenda in which the waves of right wing populism support the status quo of the global elite, notably a certain media baron that is the de-facto Head of State of several powerful nations.

rup

No it’s not all conspiracy theories, but we will have to wait a good few decades before it becomes textbook history, in which we’ll look back from afar and think: Gawd what fools, that could never happen in this day and age. But look at history; we never seem to learn. Give it approximately 75 years- in short the lifespan of the last possible survivors – and we repeat the same mistakes. Amber Rudd’s fiery 2016 speech in the Conservative Party Conference following Brexit (a year after the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII), calling on companies to submit lists of their foreign workers in a name-and-shame campaign, was highlighted as enacting chapter II of Hitler’s Mein Kampf. Some went on to suggest she should garner a task force called the Greater Europe Search, Transfer, And Prevent Operation, or GESTAPO.

amber

The similar rise of hate-speech and media portrayal of entire peoples following the grisly terrorist acts across Europe this year mirrored those following Zionist bombings and the burning down of the Reichstag in the 1930s. Not to mention the turning away of thousands of refugees, closing down of borders and an utter lack of empathy for the dispossessed finding parallels to the forgotten flotillas of Jews fleeing continental Europe, only to be turned back to a certain fate. Yet all these past lessons flow under a generalised, collective blinkerdom, behind an epic assault of the here and now with a swipe of the phone.

jewish

It’s enough to make writers and journos turn to their window and think of writing a lovely misty piece on autumnal colours instead. That is of course the head-burying stance of  much of today’s youth, enamoured by social media and Kim Kardashian’s abusive, powder keg relationships with diamonds and make up. There are infinitely more hits and cultural change attributed to shouty, always-late pop idols, or cool places to travel to, or American pranking on camera, or Russian dash-cam amazingness than any kind of socio-political legacy and their cronyist, bickering leaders of a certain vintage. As they say, politics is Hollywood for ugly people.

kim

Yawn, what were we talking about again? It’s the end of the West, the end of now, the end of thinking, as we scroll through memes and kitten gifs and blockbuster trailers, but can you blame us? Disillusionment is the name of the day, propelling the voting as well as the lack of. It’s so much more enticing being cozy and nosy, and loved and funny than wrestling with socio-political discourse each and every damn day. Yes, there are indeed the battalions of celebs and kittens decrying the fall of America or Europe to suburban fencing (and the lone, haunting tweets of Clint Eastwood and er, Kirsty Alley who celebrate it), but overall it’s gonna be a  long while before their PR teams realise the potential in actually getting arrested, and spray painting those picket fences with allegiant colours.

lily

Only a little more than a quarter of eligible voters were needed to see in the triumphant Trump to power, with 90 million abstaining or busy watching teevee, or just tired after the endless rounds of voting in the average US year, with more not having registered ,and the complications involved. Even in higher voter turn-outs, such as the Brexit referendum it still only took 26% of the population to win and direct the outcome for the remaining 74%. To add another layer of murkiness, voters have differing powers depending on where they live, and by default, even how much they earn, their age or their ethnic (read: ‘native’ or ‘non-native’) background. Hillary even won the ‘popular’ vote, with 2.9 million more voting for her than the questionable hair piece (more than the win for Kennedy), but by dint of regional representation in which seats are allocated to jurisdictional areas rather than equalised population catchments, rural, sparsely populated plots can have more voting power than teeming cities. If you read between the lines this is not democracy. This is another dimension to what fuels the disillusionment: the utter complexity, seriousness, and draining task ahead in taking on the rot in the system.

vote

It’s becoming increasingly evident democracy needs safeguards. On the one hand it needs to ensure it is a democracy in the first place, and not the kind of regional representation that leads to one or two party states, with an elitist slant to power of certain moneyed demographics as the UK and US are now experiencing. On the other hand, even if it is a bona fide democracy it needs to ensure it doesn’t vote to you know, kill the Jews or the Tutsis or the Gypsies. Or lock up the Syrians or the gays or the women, or the poor. Humans can’t really be trusted not to wreck each others lives, turn a blind eye and grab the money, even with the lessons of history. That’s why we have constitutions, and differing lines of political thought. To manage our base instincts of battling over the remaining resources, mammoth carcasses and available females, while instating hierarchies, power, control, and economic pyramid schemes.

eu

So let’s make this as snappy and invigorating as a giant herd of kittens taking over Kim and Justin’s bathtime. It’s like a reaallly cool story bro.

Back in 1950s time (think Marilyn Monroe and Elvis and milkshakes and lynching) Paris was the place to be for the coolcats. The youth were like, always asking questions after that really bad world war, and seeing in the commies on one side and coca cola on the other. So basically there were two sides: free to be free (coke), or forced to be free (commies), coz like people wouldn’t know otherwise ya know.

us

On the one side there was coke and water skiing and bikinis and the American dream of a pin-up housewife, giant car, meatloaf and a retro pad with perfect lawn and no Black folk to bother ya’ll. You were free to be free. To buy all these cool things and one day, one day… get a whole fucking hoover and even a tele-vision, that would make all universities obsolete within the decade as we’d all be learning from it and going to the moon and shit and not shooting each other. After you know, an initial period of gross inequality, crime, corruption, and greed depending on your looks or race or class or gender. Individualism would be something to nurture and flower, like a selfie with 10 million hits of fame, and anyone could be anything if you wanted it enough. This we can dub Negative Freedom.

wink

On the other side you were forced made to be free, where everyone agreed to share the goodness of the earth and their work and the profits, and bask in this playground of light and industry and light industry, after you know, an initial period of killing off reeducating the old elite into equally likeable, free spirits working for a greater good, no matter your background, gender, race and class – I mean, what’s class again? People can’t be trusted you know, they need to be guided, at least until one day when they can be free from the stricture of law and prejudice and even governing. With all this collectivised effort we’d be going to the moon and shit and not shooting each other. The meaning of your life was not to merely buy crap, but to go all worker’s paradise in family, friends, children, and forwarding the arts, society and culture for the progression of all, so everyone could be everything if you worked for it together. This we can dub Positive Freedom.

socia.jpg

china

So some of these students coming out of Parisian universities at the time took these ideas of positive freedom to the holiday homes that Europe had set up around the world, those places like Algeria. This extension block of France had the pesky problem called Algerians, who lived there, and didn’t much like not having you know, a vote, and getting rule and divide, generations of mis-education and their resources stripped. How annoying right!?

algeria

Anyhoo these students believed they had to force people to be free, so they started a civil war, but a really efficient one where they could plant a single bomb on some trendy cafe in Algiers and kill only a few people yet getting loads of attention and fear (almost as bad as accidentally clicking the Facebook Like button on porn). Plus undo the economy and stuff that would make things more expensive to police and fix than keep, a bit like iPhones. Rather than launch a badly thought out battle like you see in Zulu or cowboy movies, where loads and loads of savage darkies get mown down by the gazillion and quite a handful of handsome whities too, you could do the one selfie blow up and get a million hits overnight. No staging of overnight coups, picking battlefields or recalibrating satellites nosiree.

al

This was a really good way to win. They used hardly any arguing and resources compared to you know, Game of Thrones, although the killing turned out pretty bad when France went all Call of Duty on them and took out about 1.5 million Algies. But they still won, and the European holiday homes and farmsteads and mining operations and slave colonies around the world fell one by one following the same inordinately successful technique, in which some of the world’s poorest nations usurped many of the world’s richest, although at a cost of millions of lives. Most of these places switched after the initial war from positive freedom (forced to be free) straight into negative freedom (free to be free), as democratic, capitalist states (which means you watch teevee all day and buy stuff off TVC).

war

However the European nations they had freed themselves from would have charged them for the years and years of ‘looking after them’, for every brick built, rail laid and bullet shot in that time, as terms of independence, but kind of forgetting you know, the years of er, human and cultural genocide, plus nabbing the oil and gold and labour and crown jewels.

But hey, a few years of debt and astronomical interest rates on the mastercard is priceless for that sweet freedom right? We’ll have everything up and running again in no time – no matter the generations of miseducation, rule and divide and the fact we’re really made up of several countries and several hundred ethnic groups that won’t bicker a-Tall. Not once democracy sets in and the majority (group) get the final say. They won’t behave like the colonial powers they just booted out, no.

afr

So the result is these nations become instantly chavvy and start fighting among themselves. Places like Sudan, speaking 200 languages, launching into 6 simultaneous civil wars from day one that it’s still fighting today, and mirrored across much of Africa and all those places where the world holds its resources… but strangely also most of its poverty and wars. And those European powers? Well we can call them ‘multinationals’ now coz everyone rich from everywhere has jumped in on it too. For every $1 billion given in aid $8 billion is taken back in interest payments (not even debt repayment, which has already been paid back several times over), and most of the resources (like water, land) bought up again and sold back to the darkies at a million percent profit. But as we said, we can’t be trusted. Places like Philippines became one big shoe shop for the queenie there, while America went on funding baddies and wars all over the place to keep itself rich and pretending to be a goody. The negative freedom (coke) in these cases resulted in so much corruption, division and inequality we can see humans were free to be free, but also free to step all over each other into total fails, aka ‘Failed States’.

Mogadishu Tense As Islamists Reinforce Southern Positions

Meanwhile other places continued their revolutions even after winning, and becoming positive democracies, like Eye-Ran. The country, inspired by Harry Truman’s promise to defend and free the oppressed peoples of the world, had originally elected a president, Mohammed Mossadegh, who promised no religious or royalty crap and instead democracy and taking the oil out of the hands of the Brits, that even won him Time Magazine Man of the Year back in the 50s.

But then, oops. The Yanks got a new president, and in league with the Brits ousted Mossie-Dig from power, reinstating the King, and taking control AGAIN of all the oil with half now going to the USAians. So in the end the Eye-Ranians rose up AGAIN (ha!), but this time opting for the positive freedom package. Like SO predictable yeah.

mos moss

Where people were forced to be free, the new leader, Mr Ayatollah Khomeini (pronounced Iyatoller Hominee) had a masterstroke of combining religion with politics (usually one cancelled the other), a bit like finally setting up Ant with Dec as a duo, after Ant kept shitting over Dec’s mum for years. Mr Hominy said that religion had all these sayings which supported positive freedom, bits like where women were free from inequality, fear, attack, rape and upskirt phone-cams by dressing them up in black picnic blankets and taking them out of dangerous situations, such as rooms with men in them.

Iran Revolution 1978

When the big war with Eye-Rack next door finally loomed, backed by Western guns, Eye-Ran got surrounded with nowhere to turn. It was seemingly Game Over. But once again there was that masterstroke of having religion be the back up buddy when they ferried legions of voluntary teenagers into becoming martyrs, by marching them into minefields to form an escape route for the rest. So Eye-Ran was no longer running, but winning, in thanks to the fact it’s Shia Muslim, which kinda, possibly maybe, means you could sacrifice yourself in the name of your faith, like that adorable nutterdad in Independence Day who first zaps the alien destructo-laser. Shia Muslims have this thing they do like in their version of Christmas or something where instead of giving presents they beat themselves with chains and whips and fire walk in respect of the sacrifice someone or other made sometime in the Book, and they’re not meant to enjoy it or pay anyone to do it by the hour either.

ashur

This shocked the rest of the Sunni Muslim world, where suicide was considered a totally uncool thing to do, as only the Big Guy, peace be upon him, could decide where and when you popped your Nike-Airs. But it was a pretty rad idea and this cleric on the other side in Sunny-land Arabia said it was all a-okay and there was suddenly stuff about 72 virgins and all-you-can-eat ice cream thrown in, and everyone was like STILL NO, but some of them were like okaaaaay, lets see. So they did, and Ham Ass from Palestine went and started bombing Israelis, officially targeting citizens for the first time, in buses and cafes and beaches, much like in Algeria not so long ago, but all kamikaze style and justified, and starting a hero-worship culture.

72

Meanwhile there was this place nearby called Syria, led by this ruthless dude called Hafez al-Assad (pronouced Ass Ad), who looked a bit like Frankenstein but a bit nerdier. Even though he was a scary mutherhumper he had some great visions for the Arab (pronounced Ay-rab)  world, which could extricate itself from the predatory West, like some vast horrible octopus sitting on its left, starting wars and overturning ships and planes and nations with its sucking tentacles, covered in oil and blood over 500 million people.

Ass Ad was given all these promises and secret deals, and totes played by the West, only to be betrayed in the war against Israel they said they’d back him against but backed them instead. So he went all gloomy and hellbent on revenge, and started to fund suicide bombing against the Israelis and Americans in Lebanon (killing 270 in one barracks). Which shortly after led to the Americans pulling out, humiliated. Re-sult!

beirut-memorial

However the U.S of A had found a different fall guy, in the richest guy in the world, drum roll please… Mr Colonel Gaddafi. A bit of a weirdo who had been stationed in the UK, near a delightful little model village called Beaconskot, and who endured racist bullying from ex-colonial officers. As leader of his country he was mad as a bag of snakes, always going on about his ‘Third Way’ which was the dangerously upsetting alternative to negative and positive freedom, as bolstered by contemporaries such as Bill Clinton and Tony Blair. Gaddafi’s version of the Third Way united right wing economics ($$$) with left wing socialism (@@@), but this time from out of the yoke of Western imperialism and its motherfucking legolands.

beac

Except he wasn’t all that batshit crazy, what with setting up a state safety net giving out free education, healthcare, electricity, unemployment benefit equal to their professions, starter homes, starter cars, and child funds, and ensuring each person shared in the profits made from the voluminous amount of state oil. Anyhoo, they blamed the Lockerbie plane bombing on him (despite the CIA saying it had come from Eye-Ran, in retaliation for a similar jumbo jet lost to a US missile), and a Berlin nightclub bombing that killed three including American servicemen (most likely a Syrian bomb). They said he had weapons of mass destruction, then bombed the capital, and his gaudy palace, and reportedly his adopted 3 year old daughter out of existence, if she existed.

liby

So now we have quite a complicated picture, a bit like Bieber’s tour dates, causing grief and demonstrations across the globe. This vast squid thing has its tips inserted in pies so far in: Algeria, Eye-Ran, Eye-Rack, Libya, Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria (oh and Egypt, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Pakistan, Turkey, Yemen and Jordan too). Fast forward a few decades and through 11 Western backed wars and the suicidal/ positive freedom, once unleashed by Syria is now biting it on its own arse. This malignant beast we can now call Eye-Sis. A certain Monsieur Gaddaffi is suddenly of use again.

In a screeching u-turn the world leaders announce he’s one of the good guys all of a sudden. They shake hands in a blizzard of flashes, sign glitzy new trade deals, take in his family into their glittering celeb elites, and eye up the $200 billion the guy has in his South African bank accounts. He does of course, have to admit he will destroy his non-existent weapons of mass destruction, own up to the Lockerbie bombing and promise not to do anything batshit crazy again in order to get this rehabilitation, and a priceless platform for his Third Way. Despite the European and American intelligence agencies agreeing he did / owned none of these.

gha

But then came the Arab Spring. Like the Paris Spring of 1968, when all those positive freedom students finally took to the streets of the French capital protesting the old skool bling, it would come full circle again. A poor Tunisian dude called Mohamed Bouazizi (sod it, if you can’t pronounce it just try and remember that name), was publicly humiliated and left destitute one day at the start of 2011 by a police officer who took away his livelihood when she confiscated his unlicensed market stall, and slapped him in the face too, the fat bitch. This was not the first time. The poor guy went and stood outside the police station, and in his final act, set himself on fire, and straight into a culture changing force.

moa

Like FUCK! He really went up like a candle into history. The publicity started protests, already blazed up by a WikiLeaks special a coupla months earlier exposing the corruption of the Tunisian state, with its high inflation, unemployment and institutional grafting, and the demos getting bigger and bigger and setting off copycat movements across the Arab world. Powered by social media that could organise and reorganise people power with an instant tweet or status update, government after government fell, including Libya.

ta

It was all quite embarrassing really, here was people-power in action, long upheld by other democracies as the way to be and go. But these people were protesting the Western-backed regimes, that had so long kept them in the shitter. And they were demanding what the Arabs had wanted for so long – not religious righteousness, or historical rightings of wrongs, or land or resources or power. They wanted jobs, they wanted equal opportunities, they wanted an end to poverty and corruption and having to hustle up sex and drugs but no rock n roll for a living.

But in the end, the absence of any viable alternative saw religion step into the void to unite the  disparate voices. The Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, ISIS in Syria and Iraq. Ever more AWKWARD. Even the journos found it hard to report on the unsavoury aspects of people power, and what they fought against – notably us, the tyrannical ‘we’ in the West – despite it being the biggest wobbling of the world seen for generations to come. Here were heartfelt images of people all candle-lit in vigils and uniting for a common cause: for freedom after years of subjugation and that would change the world forever – but one against the regimes that we had kept propped in power, against the globalised culture we tried to sow.

th

This was highly fucked, like a selfie on your loo uploaded everywhere ever. Batshit Crazy Gaddafi had only just joined the cool kids at the table, now he was exposed as a tyrant and a dictator that they were all sharing lunch with, and everyone suddenly wanted to leave. And maybe chuck a grenade or three behind them, to pretend none of this ever happened, and that they weren’t just having a jolly with his handsome sons and daughters after inviting them out at prom. Gadaffi’s end came when a US drone bombed his convoy, then a beating and a shot fired by a rebel group as he hid in a service tunnel.

gh

So there we have it: one vast tentacle eating its way through several nations, then biting back on itself, and clawing a way out again. This happened again, on a much larger scale, involving several wandering, bloodthirsty limbs.

When the Americans invaded Eye-Rack a second time, it planned for the war, but not the ‘peace’. As seen in Africa, the onset of democracy meant the competition of those straining for representation, especially the minorities that would lose votes by dint of lower numbers, and thus their bling. Democracy in this case kind of means if you’re all sassy and hawt – but there’s only you – the bigger guys get to take your iphone and selfie stick and pearls to share. This means fight fight fight!

squid

Eye-Rack soon broke up into squabbles and bombings and massacres when the Americans instated a corrupt government that would  have automatically put the majority (70%) Shias in power, leading in turn to an insurgency that led to the real extreme kid on the block to rise, Eye-Sis, or Eye-Sill, or Daesh for short.

Of the myriad fighting groups in neighbouring Syria, now stricken by its much bloodier version of the Arab Spring and a new helmsman at the fore in the more-flattering-but-just-as-vicious, Basher al Ass Ad, Daesh proved to be the longest lasting kingpin to sway his power.

ira

This guy Dish was bad, real bad. And savvy. He knew the inherent weaknesses of every bully in the playground let alone every kid. He used their own social media against them to highlight their failings, and to bully them too – setting up horrific websites selling ransomed prisoners, shock scenes in their captured cities, mass executions – plus different websites, targeting schizos and those smelly people on buses that talk to themselves to blow people up, or run them over. Haunting things designed to disturb the comfy echelons that ruled from afar, as yet relatively divided from the horrors on the ground. So this of course leads to millions and millions of refugees, in turn fleeing a society gone mad and a war with an estimated 700 sides.

isi

The story so far: two tentacles have embarked on a path to positive freedom, war, and suicide bombing and see their return by bombing and terrorising their own body back in Syria and Europe. Now other arms are sending refugees by the million, across treacherous waters, through minefields, deserts, soldiers, bombs and predatory gangs. Organised crime spots the opportunity to recruit a wealth of sex workers, kidnap children and exploit the desperate dispossessed, while innocents drown in their thousands off Trip Advisor highlights.

Migrant boat accident in Turkey

Aylan Kurdi.

So the European population is 750 million, they can absorb a million or three more surely? Plus its ageing population and slowing economies are calling out for precisely this kind of youthful, independent boost that will be a demographic dividend for generations to come. Not likely. A wave of revulsion from the right wing press, the terrorised and the patriotic has made it a destabilising issue, as a path is forged to the voting booths across the region to keep them out, and any others. Europe, the late 20th Century and 21st Century destination of choice for the worlds’ migrants, is full they say. Many of its states, once the world’s most popular tourist destinations, are now finding themselves on the list of most dangerous places in the world to visit, due to a wave of horrific suicide attacks, and a traumatised public dealing with the fall out. Never mind that out of the 2,984 terrorist attacks in Europe over the last 7 years,  only 18 were Islamist (that’s 99.3% being committed by other nutters for other politics – mostly independence movements), the coverage was global, bloody and penetrating.

paris

syr

And look again at the stats. Of the world’s largest refugee hosting nations they are dominated by the Developing World, not the Developed, the poor guys not the rich, many of whom suffer their own internal conflicts and refugee movements.

  1. Jordan >4.5 million (70% of the population)
  2. Turkey, 3.1 million
  3. Lebanon 2 million ( a jump from the 69th largest refugee population in only 3 years, and now making up 45% of the population)
  4. Saudi Arabia 1.7million (not part of the UN agreement on refugees, but accepting them in all but name)
  5. Pakistan 1.6 million
  6. Iran >1 million
  7. Germany 1 million
  8. Ethiopia 700,000
  9. Uganda 700,000
  10. Kenya 600,000
  11. Chad 500,000
  12. Sudan 330,000 (likely to double this year).

For comparison the US comes in at 17th (267,000), less than China (300,000) or even those fleeing TO Iraq (300,000), a country already struggling with 4 million internally displaced refugees. UK is 30th with 117,000.

(Btw Iraq, despite, and perhaps because of its troubles, happens to be the worlds most charitable nation, with 70% of the population having helped out a stranger in the last week.)

re

So there you have it, it’s a big fuss over nothing, a drop in the ocean, but a big big something in the background. Never mind the million+ dead, the faces of the survivors, or the fates of those to await, now is a time as Adam Curtis puts it, to give up the complexities of the real world and indulge in the comforts of the fake one. The Hypernormalisation of the craziness, blood lust and intricacies of all that is around, but photo bombed by what we want, not what we need.

ref

If there is a lesson in all of this, we perhaps need to wrest the reins from the propaganda merchants for at least one last leg of the journey to the cliff, and not to lie willingly while our world and our judgments go the way of shit hitteth the fan. History has taught us, like a stuck record, skipping CD  corrupted download, to ignore it is to see it worsen, until it becomes that huge glowering thing of nightmares behind the bed nothing can swipe away. That the seeds our elected leaders sow do have consequences, no matter how much we brush it under the carpet, like a giant quivering mound of triffid smelling of wee and death.

And even if it really, really is just about us, it’s gonna take a chump out of our future, and in terms of self preservation, that’s not good. We can still try and feel safe, and loved with a future that beckons, where we will grow up to do great things and discover a life, but to ignore it is to tempt fate.

aylan

Aylan Kurdi.

And our journos may do well to respect the tradition of truth, even in a post-Truth world, where controversy and exposé do little to dent popularity based on our inbuilt chauvinism – even powers it, through the orators du jour that cater to what we want to hear not what we need to. Patriotism makes us feel warm, righteous and gives us meaning. It rekindles and celebrates our culture under the onslaught of constant change, it defends our proud history. It nurtures the kind of heroism reserved for fighting for others, and legitimised by a complicit media and millions of our kin. But beware what you bring into the room, it needs feeding.

far

Anyhoo, enough doom and gloom, in the great new journalistic tradition – less of Robot Wars and more of Strictly, so lets end on a high note. No article can be complete without a cat in it somewhere. We know this. May we all live long and prosper. Choose Life. Or something profound like that.

ki

http://www.warrenphotographic.co.uk/