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 262016

Under a grey sky, I made my way up the steep hill – more like a cliff – to the local Bronze Age cairns. A small sign, planted by a representative of the Directorate of Cultural Heritage, explains that the cairns are about 3000 years old and that most Bronze Age cairns in this country are far from where their builders lived. They are in high, out-of-reach places overlooking the sea.

I clamber up this barely visible track a few times every year, for the view of the river delta below and the mountains beyond followed in the distance by more blue mountains.

What on earth could have induced Bronze Age farmers – for apparently people had turned to farming by then – to lug the dead body of their chieftain up such a steep incline? According to the sign, his body would have been incinerated, placed in a stone cask and covered with stones, most so large that no single man could carry them.

Evolution has not changed us much in 3000 years, I am told. New-born babies today probably look exactly as they did back then, aside from being bigger. Those men – who knows if women followed them up the hill – would have felt awed, as I do every time I get to the top. Maybe they thought that from his sheltered stony bed, the dead man would see what they could not see from down in the valley, and would somehow warn them of impending threats.

At the graveside of somebody who died 3000 years ago, with an entirely different outlook than was his, I gaze at the great river and the tremendous expanses before me, and feel that here and now, I understand everything.

Even under a grey sky, I am bathed in light up here. I realise at last my mistake: It is not so much the ignorance of the Trump-voters that should worry us, as the legitimacy of their anger. True, there is no doubt that Donald Trump is terrifyingly ignorant and reckless. He’s the sort of man who shouldn’t be given a driving licence. But he speaks for a very large number of people, so large a number, that perhaps we should sit back and listen. What are they saying? Why are they so angry?

Moreover, I think he’s right about his opponent’s being an international liability; not more so, albeit, than were previous US presidents.

Trump’s voters claim they have been disinherited. The American dream is no longer theirs. Trump blames immigrants, Obama, women… whatever have you, and the rest of us are appalled. But at the end of the day, the facts are clear: Hillary will not even begin to address the claims of America’s countless dispossessed. She will not redress her country’s past wrongdoings against Latin America, not to mention the Middle East, for which the US of all configurations has so many crimes against humanity to answer for that there will never be forgiveness. She will continue as her predecessors, making havoc of the Middle East and raising the number of dispossessed people in her own country.

Let’s face it: The US is a mess. The country is doing well again, financially, but a large segment of its population is not benefiting from its recovery after the meltdown.

Trump’s voters love him because of his outspoken anger. Finally, somebody dares swear and curse at the establishment. People who have not lost out in the shift from factory to Silicon Valley find him repulsive.

I myself find him repulsive, but I tell myself now: Beware: He is a rebel. Can’t you see his similarity to James Dean?

At this point of my analysis, I am cautiously descending the incline, golden leaves falling slowly around me like great big snow flakes. The birch trees, guarded by stern, unaffected pine sentinels with drooping branches, are preparing for the long winter night, trembling already, discarding their lace underwear.

Pines are like the people who used to inhabit these parts: Unsentimental, unsmiling and unforgiving, like Trump’s voters.