Jun 252019
 

I don’t think I’d like to live in Iran. In fact I’m sure I wouldn’t. I can’t stand religious single-mindedness, which in my eyes is tantamount to intellectual self-mutilation. However, maybe I am underestimating the country. Though scripture is one of the subjects taught in Iranian schools, a description on the British Council’s website gives a sympathetic impression of education in Iran.

Iran was brutally converted to Shia Islam by a powerful Shah in the 16th century. He had compelling political reasons for doing so – mainly the need to give his fractured country a single and distinctive national identity; indeed, Persia under his rule did become very great. The last Shah, hated though he was, was a Shia Muslim, too, as was almost everybody else even before the revolution in 1979. Shia Islam is appears to be ingrained in Iranian national identity.

You might argue that in 1979, most people in my own country, for instance, had been practising protestant Christians for 400 years. Scripture was taught in schools here too, yet we have become more broad-minded since then. But I have not had my country manhandled by a superpower, so I don’t know what sort of mind-set such abuse would have instilled in me. When you strike at a country, its population tends to rally around it – defending its identity. (The US orchestrated the coup d’état against Mossadeq in 1953 and supported the vain and profligate last Shah, whose autocratic government was probably no less repressive than the current one. And of course, the sanctions have been hitting all Iranians hard.) A Bloomberg headline dated 11/5/2018 reads: “It’s No Wonder Iranians Hate America”. And the subtitle goes: “When will the U.S. stop reminding them how legitimate their grievances are?”

Much as I dislike religious bigotry, I can sleep at night even if my neighbour is a devout Iranian. As a matter of fact, many of my neighbours are devout Muslims, and they are generally very good neighbours. Fortunately, none of them wear niqabs, which give me the jitters. But then again, niqabs are a Salafi thing – nothing to do with Iran. All the more to do with Saudi Arabia, actually, one of Emperor Trump’s favourite countries.

Speaking of which, I am finding it ever harder to sleep at night with the US stampeding all over the place, hurling its weight around, breaking every rule in the rule-book, giving just about everybody the jitters.

Frankly, I think it’s high time we all sat down and faced one momentous fact: The US is a major security threat in every way, perhaps the greatest security threat in the world today. We have to figure out how to disentangle ourselves from an extremely dangerous and ethically questionable “friendship”. In much of the world, almost all internet and mobile phone traffic can be intercepted (i.e. “spied on”) by US intelligence services. The US can probably paralyse our infra-structure. Our chipsets are made by the US. Our commerce is oriented towards the US, and last but not least, the US dollar is almost universally used for commerce outside the EU (SEPA area). Hence the US can and does dictate much of our foreign policies. It is currently bullying us into turning our backs on Iran and to rejecting Huawei as our 5G supplier. Look up the word suzerainty, and you get the picture.

Mind you, the source I just linked to about “suzerainty” refrains from mentioning US unofficial suzerainty over NATO members and other nations over which it has the financial and/or commercial upper hand. We all know about it, but do not call it by its right name.

Even in the US, US foreign policy is taking its toll: Just imagine how Google feels about being ordered to deny Android access to Huawei! (I have just ordered a Huawei computer out of pure spite, even though I don’t need a new computer now.)

Characteristically, the only direct answers I was able to find for my question “why can the US force us to impose sanctions on other countries” were on the US site Quora. The US has everything, and we all look to the US.

Future generations will – if they survive the consequences of irresponsible US policies and the aftermath of all the impending climatic disasters humanity is generating at full speed – look back upon our current governments and know what to think about them.

On the brighter side, I suggest we start watching a few Iranian films. There are some very good ones! There are also some very good Latin American films, Lebanese films, even Icelandic films … In short, some very good films are made almost all over the world, but we don’t hear about them. Why, do you think?

May 102019
 

I assume we have all heard exclamations such as “He treats her like an animal!”. I have even read somewhere that Amazon treats its workers “like animals”. However, more and more often, I find that this sort of juxtaposition of animals and humans is not quite to the point. I suggest substituting the word “animal” with “cockroach”. After all, we live in the age of “animal rights” and treating a person like an animal may not be such a bad thing.

Personally, I am all for “animal rights”. I believe that the expression usually refers to merciful treatment and humane living conditions, as it were, for – well yes, for animals. The expression “human rights”, however, basically means the right to vote, for those of us who believe that voting makes a difference, and the right to publicly state one’s opinions (admittedly a right I am making use of at this very moment).

True, in many countries, beating people is a crime, except when the police or soldiers are the ones doing the beating. Besides, in some countries, you are allowed to beat children or women, while in others this is, strictly speaking, not allowed, though the authorities turn a blind eye on such practices.

Animal rights movements, however, unequivically condemn the beating of animals. I doubt that animal rights also extend to cockroaches, which is why I made the suggestion in the first paragraph. They do not extend to humans either.

Spain is a country where not one of the executioners or torturers of the Franco administration has ever been brought to justice, and the Franco administration’s post-war heinous crimes are ignored by members of the population that have not had a parent or other relative tortured and/or killed by Franco’s henchmen. In Spain an average of 4 women a month were killed by their partners or X-partners in 2018. Yet, in Spain, the beating of dogs is no longer tolerated. If you strike your dog in a public place, you will surely be rebuked or at least frowned at by whoever sees you doing so.

Spanish cockroaches, however, are furiously stamped upon. I therefore draw the conclusion that in Spain, women enjoy a lower standing than men and dogs, while their situation compares favourably to that of cockroaches. I shall not for the present dwell upon the status of separatist Catalonians who, I fear, might ere long find themselves in the gutter, figuratively speaking, of course.

And take Israel. Animal rights enjoy a higher status there than just about anywhere else in the world. According to a monthly, conservative, Zionist magazine devoted to Middle-East issues, “a nation-wide ban on possession of fur is even moving through the Knesset—such a law would be the first of its kind in the world.” Yes, that was possession, not farming. The same article explains in detail and with references to ancient texts, that animal welfare is rooted in Jewish law.

This might to some extent explain the ultra-post-modern attitude of the best-selling Israeli author Yuval Noah Harari, who questions the moral supremacy of man over animals. Moreover, he questions the value of ranking animals as good or bad (e.g. we like elephants but not cockroaches).

A brief look at Times of Israel reveals that animal rights is a popular and beloved topic. Animal rights activists obviously enjoy a different status in Israel than do human rights activists.

According to the British site VEGANLife, “Israel has one of the biggest vegan populations in the world with an estimated five percent of the population (about 400,000) following a plant-based diet and/or advocating veganism. The Israeli Tourism Ministry has started to promote Israel as a Vegan Nation,”

However, for inmates of Israel’s concentration camp in Gaza, life does not compare favourably even to that of cockoaches:

To be brief let me quote the UN OCHA fact sheet

The Gaza blockade (through the land, air and sea) is a denial of basic human rights in contravention of international law and amounts to collective punishment. It severely restricts imports and exports, as well as the movement of people in and out of Gaza, and access to agricultural land and fishing waters. Gazans are unable to provide for their families and the quality of infrastructure and vital services has deteriorated.

  • The average wage declined by over 20% in the past six years.
  • 54% of Gazans are food insecure and over 75% are aid recipients.
  • 35% of Gaza’s farmland and 85% of its fishing waters are totally or partially inaccessible due to Israeli military measures.
  • 50-80 million litres of partially treated sewage are dumped in the sea each day.
  • Over 90% of the water from the Gaza aquifer is undrinkable.
  • 85% of schools in Gaza run on double shifts.
  • About one-third of the items in the essential drug list are out of stock.

How would you feel if you lived in a place like that?

Let me be clear: Outside Israel, Israeli treatment of Palestinian human beings – I repeat: human beings, not cockroaches – is condoned and applauded not by non-Israeli Jews, but by crackpot evangelicals and alt-right fundamentalists all over the world including in my own country.

SHAME

Feb 022019
 

Norway is campaigning for a seat on the UN Security Council. However, the country has a problem in that respect: the nature of its relations with Israel. Israel and Palestine have been locked in a conflict that has been at the crux of the unrest in the Middle East ever since Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, but not Palestine, gained independence in the 1940s.

After WWII, Norway had to face up to the fact that 773 Norwegian Jews “had been deported” to Germany during the war. Please note the passive form here: “had been deported”. To this day, it hardly bears thinking about that Norwegians actually helped deport them, cf. the outcry in response to the recently published book Hva visste hjemmefronten.

In its shame, Norway was one of the first countries to embrace the establishment of the Jewish state and still officially considers itself one of Israel’s “best friends”.

In Norway as elsewhere there are those who maintain that Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians must not be judged on the grounds of man-made laws but according to the words of the Bible’s Old Testament. Although they mostly stay out of harm’s way, people who hold such views, reminiscent of Sharia Law, have powerful friends, including the Norwegian finance minister. I shall not tire you with references – they are innumerable – though it is quite mind-boggling, in our day and age, to come across sites such as Bibelfellesskapet.net.

I doubt that Norwegian evangelicals hold anywhere near the power they wield in USA, but their influence added to the “shame” I mentioned above may go a long way to explain, together with the country’s servility to USA, why Norway has abstained in almost all UN General Assembly votes from condemning Israel’s crimes against humanity.

To be fair, the head of mission of TIPH (an observer mission in Hebron) was, until the entire TIPH was thrown out by Netanyahu earlier this week, a government-appointed Norwegian. And the mission did perform its work conscientiously, which was presumably why it was thrown out. Israel does not want witnesses, and that in itself should serve as grounds for alarm and sharp criticism. The Norwegian government’s reaction to the expulsion is merely one of polite regret.

Norway’s foreign ministers keep reiterating that the country is staunchly “neutral” with respect to Israel and Palestine. But what, I ask, does neutrality mean? If you see an 18-year-old beating a 6-year-old, and yes, the 6-year-old fights back as hard as he can, kicking and biting, what would your judgment be? Would it be: Both parties have behaved badly and none should be scolded more than the other? Is that neutrality? That is Norway’s stand in Palestine.

What if Congolese soldiers rape defenceless women, some of whom kick and bite as hard as they can to defend themselves? Both parties have behaved badly and none should be scolded more than the other? No. That is not Norway’s stand. Human rights defenders from Congo have just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

But Israel’s crimes against humanity have found a vulnerability in the Norwegian conscience. Hence, Norway does not qualify in questions of the Middle East. Since the Middle East still is the most explosive part of the world, Norway should not be on the Security Council.

Jan 052019
 

Nothing I can say or write, nothing anybody can say or write, can hold a candle to what the Lebanese film director Nadine Labaki has managed to record in Capernaum, which received a long standing ovation and the Jury Prize when it was shown at Cannes this year.

I am certain that no kid, not even a Lebanese street urchin, is as wise as the film’s tiny protagonist Zain (played by the Syrian refugee Zain Al Rafeea), who eventually, through sheer grief and with nothing whatsoever to lose, beats the system. If there were such a kid, there would also be supremely wise adults, which evidently is not the case. Nobody is beating the system. I suppose Nadine Labaki is about as close to doing so as anyone ever was, because those of us who see that film will never be the same.

As far as I can make out, Ms Labaki has two good reasons for allowing the film’s protagonist to beat the system and for suggesting from the very start of the film that he may be able to do so. One of them is that the public would never otherwise be willing to endure witnessing so much injustice and so much pain, knowing – oh yes, and without a shadow of doubt – that what the restless camera reveals to us is the Lord’s truth.

The film is spiked with humorous incidents, and we laugh, relieved at each break from the sordid documentary reality we don’t really want to know about. Laughing and pleased by our hero’s resourcefulness, we are dragged to the next scene of humiliation and hopelessness, during which we gasp and shiver until somebody’s kind smile, or a charming remark, again alleviates our discomfort.

The three heroes are fabulously alive, though only on the screen; without ID documents, they would none of them be missed if they vanished: a tiny Lebanese street urchin, an “illegal” Ethiopian immigrant, and her lovely toddler.

Thanks to Nadine Labaki, they won’t ever vanish. To really make her point, she has apparently chosen her actors for the film from among the sort of people she is portraying.

The second of the two reasons for allowing the film’s protagonist to beat the system is to try to prod us into doing likewise. “If a street urchin can do it, so can you, ” she seems to be saying.

Nadine Labaki, I take my hat off, I bow to you.

In November 2018, director Nadine Labaki reported Al Rafeea’s situation had changed:
Finally, he has a Norwegian passport. He’s resettled in Norway. He’s been there for the past three, four months. He’s going to school for the first time in his life. He’s learning how to read and write. He’s regained his childhood. He’s playing in a garden; he’s not playing anymore with knives and in garbage.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zain_Al_Rafeea (as per 05.01.2019)

Aug 072018
 

The Gaza Strip is populated by nearly two million people and is often referred to as a “prison”, as it has been subjected to a brutal Israeli blockade for 12 years. The blockade is in contravention of international law.

The humanitarian situation for the inhabitants of Gaza is nothing if not desperate. I know of no source that can better convey a picture of it than Al Jazeera. After all, their journalists are there on a day-to-day basis, risking their lives to cover the news there and elsewhere in Middle Eastern infernos. The rest of us including American evangelists, Prins Salman and US presidents past and present are not.

Moreover, NATO states (not least my own country) are so pusillanimous versus USA, that there is total impunity for Israeli crimes against humanity in Palestine which, in my view, include the crime of genocide.

So every once in a while, people from various countries (including my own) try to express their deep-felt concern and sympathy for the long-suffering people of Palestine. Recently a Norwegian fishing vessel, manned by sympathisers and carrying medical supplies, sailed to Gaza, or attempted to do so. The vessel was intercepted by the Israeli authorities 54 nautical miles off the coast and its crew and passengers were subsequently brutally arrested and incarcerated. True, they have since been released.

In today’s Klassekampen , the ship’s engineer writes that what the Israeli Embassy in Oslo has told the press about the incident has prompted a sense of outrage “in those of us who were on-board”. The following is my translation:

First of all, our purpose was to bring medical equipment to Gaza. The [Israelis] hijacked the ship 40 nautical miles off the coast of Egypt, in international waters. Hijacking a civilian ship engaged in a civilian mission in international waters is obviously in flagrant contravention of anything that has to do with maritime law. If Israeli authorities maintain they have a right to do so, they should provide documentation to the effect.

Furthermore, Israel maintains that unnecessary violence was not exerted. Briefly narrated, the incident occurred in the following manner: When the vessel was boarded by soldiers, an attempt was made to stand between them and the wheel house. Using their electroshock weapons,  beating and kicking, they broke through into the wheel house, so the captain stopped the machine. At the time, I was down in the engine room. When I clambered up, I was forced into the wheel house by two gun-toting soldiers. One of them demanded my wrist watch and put it into his pocket.

Several soldiers were with the captain in the wheel house. The atmosphere was charged. They were ordering the captain to start the engine again, but that was something he could not do from there. One of the soldiers struck me in the face (I’m 70 years old) and told me to go down and restart the engine. However, I only take orders from my captain. Then one of the soldiers shouted (verbatim) “If you do not start that fucking engine your captain will suffer a lot.” So I got the engine going. Nonetheless, the captain was subjected to considerable violence. They also threatened they could  “turn him into a martyr as they did with Palestinians”. A soldier went to the mast, tore down the Norwegian flag (vessels are, as we all know, required to carry the national flag – it was not hanging there for decorative purposes), hurled it onto the deck and stamped on it.

When we were ordered to go ashore, we were told that our luggage would be returned to us when we left. It turned out that the watch episode was not an isolated one: When we were released, we received basically empty pieces of luggage. Mobile phones, cameras, tablets, wallets, money, satellite phones, clothes, watches … everything, worth hundreds of thousands of NOK, was gone. Obviously we were incensed, but the guards just laughed at us. One of them sniggered, dangling one of my two remaining (soiled) underpants in front of me.

What is the ambassador’s view on this? I also direct this question to my government. They have asked for an “explanation” from the Israeli authorities. Our Foreign Ministry should invite us who were on board to thoroughly walk through the entire incident with them, but we have not heard from them.”

So much for Israeli observance of international codes of conduct. As for my own government… I say no more.

May 042018
 

Norway is a country that claims to be peace-loving, humanitarian and certainly not racist. While Hungary is being hounded by other EU nations due to its animosity to refugees, and Poland is being hounded for its disrespect of the justice system, Norway is not hounded by anybody.

However, in all practical terms, Norway has virtually closed its borders to refugees, and today an interesting decision reached by Norway’s Immigration Appeals Board was made known to the press.

It’s a symbolic case, you might say. An Afghan family came to Norway in 2011 and was allowed to live in the small town Dokka, in the forbidding central mountain massive. The current government is, however, adamantly opposed to immigration, probably no less so than Victor Orban’s government, and the family was subsequently ordered to leave the country.

Meanwhile, the town they lived in appeared to have adopted the family that had landed on its doorstep, not least the little girl Farida, and took the case to court. And won. The Immigration Appeals Board appealed. And lost. The matter has been considered by three court instances, and even the Supreme Court upheld the decision to allow the family to live in Norway.

So much for court rulings.

The Immigration Appeals Board’s grounds for flouting the Supreme Court is, apparently, that the situation in Afghanistan is now “stable” (whatever that means!) if not in the part of the country the family came from, at least in Kabul.

Now I have not previously paid any attention to the so-called “Farida Case”. But in the back of my mind I have been wondering how many of the Afghan returnees from sanctimonious Norway have been hit by the rising number of bomb blasts in Afghanistan over the past months. Hardly a week passes without brief news reports from Afghanistan, of a new horrible blood bath, more often than not caused by IS, rather than the Taliban. This is exactly as expected: As IS was being driven out of Mosul and Raqqa, it was clear that they would step up operations in fragile Afghanistan.

I am including a list of incidents gleaned mostly from Reuters (with a filter of “Kabul” + “past month”). The reason I concentrated on Kabul was that this city was specifically referred to as “stable” in the decision to flout the Supreme Court.

30/4/2018 (Reuters about Kabul): In all, 26 people died in the two blasts, which were claimed by Islamic State.
22/4/2018 KABUL (Reuters) – The death toll from Sunday’s blast in the Afghan capital Kabul rose to 48, with 112 others wounded, a public health officer said. Islamic State claimed responsibility for the blast set off by a suicide bomber outside a voter registration center.
12/4/2018 KABUL (Reuters) – The number of civilians killed and wounded by suicide bombings and “complex attacks” in Afghanistan has more than doubled so far this year, the United Nations said on Thursday.

Suicide bombings and attacks by militant groups killed or maimed 751 people from January through March, one-third of total civilian cases, the U.N. Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) said. Attacks are considered “complex” when the assailants employ a variety of means.

One suicide attack in January carried out in vehicles disguised as ambulances, killed more than 100 people in Kabul.

Overall, UNAMA recorded 763 civilian deaths and 1,495 injuries in the first quarter, similar to the same period in each of the past two years. Fighting on the ground was the second-leading cause of civilian deaths and injuries.

Cases attributed to anti-government forces, mainly the Taliban and Islamic State, increased 6 percent year-on-year to 1,500.

In addition:

(Wikipedia on the War in Afghanistan): The UN estimates that 1,662 civilians were killed from January through June 2017.

4/5 /2018 (Reuters): In terms of districts, the government controls or influences 56.3 percent of the country, the second lowest level since at least 2015, the latest report from the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan, a U.S. congressional watchdog, shows.

Apr 142018
 

Crime fiction never seems to go out of fashion, as opposed to just about everything else, so we all know that to find the culprit we have to examine who had the means, the motive and no alibi. Whether or not he or she confesses is neither here nor there, as we all know, so when the Russians dismiss the accusations of being behind the nerve gas incident in Salisbury, there is absolutely no reason to believe them. After all, Clinton never had sex with …. etc., etc., and etc. Likewise, when Assad says the accusation about his use of chemical weapons is “madness”, there is no reason to believe him either.

I do not doubt that the Russians and Assad had and have the means to do what they are being accused of and goodness knows what else, as well, but I most definitely wonder what their motives for such acts would have been.

Unless the perpetrator is psychotic, his or her motives for committing the crime in question tend to be recognisable, the most notable being on the one hand jealousy, revenge and/or ideology and, on the other, a lust for money, sex and/or power, or so we are given to understand.

As for the motives of international players, they may ostensibly be more complex, but no matter how misguided the players’ moves are, you can always see the motive, the driving force: They want the upper hand, i.e. power.

For some decades now we have seen any number of international conventions, agreements and treaties according to which all signatories agree to follow certain rules of the game, such as that of not using chemical weapons.

Twice in the course of a very short period of time, this rule has apparently been deliberately and insolently flouted. Now why on earth would Russia and then Syria want to tell the world that “we don’t give a damn about international conventions”? What on earth is won by such a tactic? If the Russians wanted to kill their former agent in Salisbury, there would have been any number of ways of doing so more or less discreetly. As for Syria, the war is basically won for Assad. A chemical attack is unbelievably redundant. (True enough, so were the bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki.) Why would Assad, on the threshold of winning his ugly war, risk having all eyes of the world turned on him in outrage?

There are, however, players out there who most definitely would benefit from ‘framing’, as it were, Russia and Assad.

I cannot possibly know who done it (though I know very well where my suspicions lie). However, it is pretty clear that while the US and the EU have been busy isolating Russia, Iran, Turkey and of course Syria, these countries have drawn closer together and are forming some sort of informal alliance. With Mr Trump at the helm in the US, China, too, may well find itself in league with them.

Consider, then, an alliance between Russia, Iran, Turkey ( a NATO member, no less) and possibly China. That’s pretty heavy stuff. Consider, also, what such an alliance would mean for NATO, for Israel, for the EU and US, and for Saudi Arabia… I say no more.

Dec 062017
 

The website of El Pais had an unusual headline this morning, one that seemed to suggest an alliance between the Pope and Iran: “El Papa e Irán se unen al intento de evitar que Trump lleve la Embajada a Jerusalén“. Later in the day, El País changed the headline, but the fact remains that Iran and the Pope agree on one score, at least.

This is a memorable day. Not only did the Pope and Iran appear to join forces, if only for a brief moment, but Finland is celebrating the centenary of its independence, and Trump ended, presumably once and for all, any US pretence of being an honest broker in the affairs of the Middle East. Trump’s announcement today, when he declared that henceforward the US embassy in Israel will be in Jerusalem, paved the way for a great leap in terms of Russian and Chinese hegemony, something you may or may not welcome.

For my part I doubt there is less injustice and poverty in Russia and China than in the US. Moreover, much as I criticise the US, this much must be said for the country: I am absolutely sure that it treats political opponents far more leniently than Russia and China.

However, outside the country, the record of disastrous US interventions all over the world knows no parallel. I put to you that accumulated US crimes against humanity, or complicity in such crimes, outnumber even those of WWII Germany.

Moreover, there is every indication that human impact on the climate will see dramatic consequences within a very short space of time. The US has turned its back on the Paris accord, whereas China seems determined to make a tremendous effort to help save the climate, and that may perhaps be worth more than political freedom. We shall see. All indicators appear to suggest that saving the climate may be worth considerable sacrifice.

Back to Jerusalem: The speech held today by the Emperor could have been written by one of Netanyahu’s script writers. It was not so much about America and American interests as about Israel, which it lauded at length as a successful democracy.

Now I assume that what is usually implied when we speak of “democracies” is not merely the right to drop a piece of paper in a ballot box. I have never been to Israel, so I must ask: Is Israel a democracy?

In Israel, are all permanent residents, regardless of race, gender or religion,

  • equal in every way before the law?
  • equally allowed to purchase and keep property and to keep inherited property?
  • equally entitled to education, health care, employment and social services?
  • equally entitled to the protection of the courts and law enforcement?

If the answer to all of these question is “yes”, well, then Israel has made, unbeknownst to me, a very good start and merely faces the challenge of upholding the law. There are some other industrialised  countries that also find this difficult, most notably the USA, where blacks need to remind the public that “black lives matter”. Racism is not theoretically condoned in the USA, so I suspect that discrimination of blacks is also a consequence of a political  system that systematically favours the wealthy and chastises the poor.

But if the answer to any of these questions is “no”, the country is not a democracy, but something rather more systemically antediluvian, governed by rules that are alien to the industrialised world, though still, perhaps common in some primitive societies.

If the answer to any of these questions is “no”, I repeat, Israel is pursuing a path that is alien to the common good, I’m afraid,  one that is similar to and as ignoble as that of systemic anti-Semitism.

 

Oct 222017
 

There are at least two interesting aspects of Naomi Alderman’s what-if novel The Power. One is that if women, somehow or other, miraculously gain the upper hand and get used to calling the shots, they will be no better, though possibly not much worse, than men are now.

The other is that this novel is generally referred to as a “speculative fiction dystopia”. But, as the author writes in a Guardian article  “Nothing happens to men in the novel – I explain carefully to interviewers – that is not happening to a woman in our world today. So is it dystopian? Well. Only if you’re a man.”

In other words: since it is currently happening to women, we are living in a dystopia.

True, it does not happen to all women, and obviously it does not happen to Stephen Pinker. But it does happen to many more women than we care to think of. Moreover, it happens to children. In fact, it happens to just about everyone who happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. If I want a certain tract of land, and you just happen to have been living there since you were born, but I am rich and/or powerful, whereas you are just somebody’s lost cause, you’d better scuttle away as fast as you can.

Lost causes are scattered over the landscape like the innumerable heaps of dead bodies we see on the news. Even if Stephen Pinker appears undeterred in his faith in humanity and progress, the number of displaced persons is the highest ever recorded and rising, according to the UN. Being displaced means, more often than not, living in a squalid desert refugee camp, courtesy of some recalcitrant donor. Mind you: Living there for years. No hope.

Personally, I suspect that Mr Pinker must have been suffering from attacks of temporary insanity when he wrote his feel-good nonsense. His line of thinking has annoyed me immensely over the years and has caused no end of harm, I believe. As a psychologist, he is of course entitled to try to help his clients feel better, but that is no excuse for telling the general public that there is no need to worry. Just sit back, relax, be happy.

Yes, I am very familiar with the statistics of the UNDP, according to which “absolute poverty” has declined dramatically, as has infant mortality. Please note, however, that the UNDP term “absolute poverty” is defined as roughly < 1 USD. I ask you: try to live on 10 USD a day or even 20 USD a day, and see what you think of it.

Back to the bag of lost causes, which Mr Pinker seems to have forgotten: In it, we find most of the population of Yemen, most of the population of Afghanistan, most of the population of Syria, the entire population of Palestine, both Sudans, most of the people still trying to eke out a living in Chad and Mali which are becoming increasingly uninhabitable, … I could go on, of course, interminably. But out of respect for the author of The Power, I wish to specifically mention the countless women in India and elsewhere who are subjected to acid attacks or gang rape.

The thought of such senseless cruelty to defenseless women lights up my very worst visceral instincts and reminds me that if I had power, the kind of power possessed by the women in Naomi Alderman’s novel, I would indeed use and abuse it.

That is what happens when you hand out weapons to a flock of tattered, dejected rebels. They will use and abuse them. Here, there or anywhere, inflamed and outraged by the injustice they and their people have been subjected to, they will suddenly feel, like a rush of adrenalin, like divine intervention, a surge of power in their veins. And they will kill without remorse. As would I, if I were where they are.

But I am not. I am safe and sound, far away from it all. But even people like me or like Stephen Pinker, sometimes cross the line: The leaders of ISIS (now defeated, or so they say) were once wealthy, educated and basically law-abiding men. What hit them was rage against the injustice of it all. With money and financial contacts, they could purchase arms and that, alone, gave them immense power.

In addition to those who abuse power because they have a just, lost cause to pursue, there are a lot of psychopaths, so, Mr Pinker, I see no reason to just relax and be happy.

Jun 282017
 

You may have heard – and then again, you may not have – that Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt have issued an ultimatum against Qatar, the 13 so-called “demands” the country must meet within ten days, “or else”.

If Qatar meets the demands, it will have ceased to be a state: It will merely be a vassal of Saudi Arabia, since what is demanded is in reality that the country surrenders its sovereignty.

It all started with an economic and diplomatic blockade launched in the wake of the US emperor’s visit to Saudi Arabia, and since the Saudis evidently feel confident about US support, goodness knows where it will end. For that very same reason – i.e. US support – nobody even mentions this issue around here. In Europe you don’t talk back to the US! Not in this country, not in any European country, least of all in the UK.

Now I was brought up with the BBC. I feel warmth and gratitude to the BBC. I know the names of many of their foreign correspondents. I download BBC podcasts and listen to them. But let us not delude ourselves: BBC is a British broadcasting company, and Britain is very cosy with the USA. As for the USA, well, need I remind you …? No, I won’t remind you, because that would require not a website but many tomes of modern history. However, take a look at Reporters without borders. If you click the map you will see that the USA ranks no higher than 43 out of 180 states as far as freedom of the press is concerned.

My country is also uncomfortably cosy with the USA, if not quite as cosy as the UK, but certainly cosy enough for its national broadcasting company to refrain from ever quoting Al Jazeera. Yet, I suspect that all good foreign correspondents – be they from my country or from the BBC – consult Al Jazeera more than almost any other outlet, at least about Middle East issues. Why? Because Al Jazeera is good, very good! And they are not bound by the US Patriot Act.

One of the 13 “demands” is that Qatar close down Al Jazeera. Now I don’t know whether you watch Al Jazeera, but what I do know is that whether you do or don’t, the news outlet will have considerable impact on what is revealed to you about world affairs. If it were not for Al Jazeera, the US and the UK could tell their side of the story, and nobody would know the difference.

I wish to quote another Guardian article of today (also quoted, by the way, by Al Jazeera):  Asked whether the closure of al-Jazeera was a reasonable demand, the UAE envoy said:

We do not claim to have press freedom. We do not promote the idea of press freedom. What we talk about is responsibility in speech.

I ask you, could any quote be clearer?