Lovely story from a golden-hearted volunteer at NCAR rescue. Alfie seems such a lovely dog.
So, today (09th December 2016) I was back at North Clwyd Animal Rescue to go walking again, I dont usually walk the same dog twice but following on from my last visit when I walked Alfie, I was curious to see how he was getting on, so I asked for him again.
I’ve had a tough couple of weeks in between, Ive just got over a bad cold and havent been out of the house much and was getting a bit down, on my way here I had thought about whether to walk Alfie again, or ask for a different dog, I really wanted to be out in the fresh air, for my own benefit.
Anyway, out comes Alfie, bouncing along, and off we go. As expected he had a poo and a wee as soon as we hit grass, so he’s still clean in his kennel.
This is the…
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I am so looking forward to this conference! Dynastic loyalties is as relevant now as ever. Think about the IS caliphate in Syria and Iraq. My paper, Richard III: Loyalty binds me, is a study of this most controversial English monarch in terms of his perplexing motto, Loyaulté me lie (loyalty binds me). On 16th July this year, my theatre company, Heirs of Banquo, is staging a play about Richard at Theatr Clwyd in Wales, UK.
Set in a 21st Century Caliphate, where the blood of martyrs and traitors still boils after decades of civil war, This Glorious Son charts the rise to supreme power of rank-outsider, Richard, youngest brother of the dying King. Reportage and music wrap authentic excerpts of Shakespeare’s Richard III to tell how tyranny rises in failed states. Four centuries after his death, Shakespeare’s early play about the usurpation of an entire, war-torn land is as relevant as ever.
Jitske Jasperse shared her conference report with us on “Seals and Status 800-1700” at the British Museum from December 4th to 6th, 2015.
Have you also been to an interesting conference in the field of Royal Studies? Send us your conference report!
The conference Seals and Status 800-1700, held in London’s British Museum from 4-6 December 2016, was an engaging conference. This was largely due to the variety of topics addressed: from the well-known seals of kings and queens to those of the lower classes, from seal matrices from Anglo-Saxon England to Chinese seals on paintings and lead seals in Byzantium, and from saints and seals to the manufacturers of seals and their production process. In addition, the multidisciplinary approach, with speakers presenting material from different perspectives, certainly stimulated the exchange of ideas and was inspiring for those who would not label themselves sigillographers. While no justice…
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I am very much looking forward to the Clemson conference. Dynastic loyalties is as relevant today as everyMy paper “Richard III: Loyalty binds me” will be read there.
Elizabeth Carney and Caroline Dunn are the main organizers of the next Kings & Queens Conference, coming to you this April, 8th/9th at Clemson University in Greenville, SC, USA.
They are also both teaching and researching at this university; Elizabeth with a focus on the ancient world, especially on Greece and Macedonia as well as on Alexander the Great. Caroline is a scholar of medieval Europe, especially gender history in late medieval England.
We caught up with them to ask about their research and, of course, about what to expect at the next Kings & Queens Conference!
Cathleen: Hi Caroline and Beth! Thanks for doing this interview.
The Kings & Queens conference is leaving Europe, crossing the pond to Greenville, South Carolina and gathering at Clemson University. Could you tell us a bit more on how this happened?
Caroline & Beth: Several years ago, Beth, who works on queens in…
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A fascinating topic.
The Print Screen: Image and Text, Or Image as Text one-day conference will be held at the University of Westminster in central London on Thursday May 12, 2016.
Although all are welcome and encouraged to come and take part, the conference is mainly targeted at PhD researchers and Early Career Researchers and aims to offer a friendly, inter-disciplinary space for the dissemination of ideas amongst researchers with a shared interest.
Call for Papers
This conference centres upon the intersection between image and text; pictorial depiction in relation to the written word. This inter-disciplinary position allows for contributions from literary studies, visual and cultural studies, photography and fine arts.
The image/text relationship is perhaps one of the most significant fields of current academic study since constructions of the text and the image, the modes of reading and seeing dependent on these constructions and the relationships between each of them play…
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This is just excellent. Well done Sam Solecki! At last, someone else who does not feel guilty about not reading the inscrutable Kant and Finnegan’s Wake. I feel terribly guilty that I haven’t read War and Peace, although I honestly intend to; and Titus Andronicus, which I will probably not read – ever. Goethe’s Faust Part 1, which I picked up from Oxfam two months ago, is still sitting, accusing and unopened, on my shelf. Similarly to Prof Solecki here who has a sneaky read of Morse and Chandler, I would read Agatha Christie over Agamemnon any day of the week. My failure to finish anything that Nietzche has written (in my view he had a profound personality disorder plus hallucinations which interfered with his philosophising no end!) has niggled me for about 237 days now.
19 year old Jed Birch’s incisive socio-economic critique. Wow! Owen Jones watch out.
At the core of Uprizine lie three premises:
- We are governed by corporations,
- The world as we know it is a ticking bomb,
- It doesn’t have to be this way.
These claims are not new, but they are more pressing today than ever before. In our articles, we seek to prove and promulgate each one.
- We are governed by corporations
Corporations have become entities, amoral and anonymous, wielding more power than anything else in existence. A handful have virtually monopolised all industries. Blinded by profit, these monopolies operate by abusing virtues the vast majority of us stand for. Politics is not successfully regulating them. The result is wealth – and therefore power – concentrated in the hands of a corporate elite.
Evidence? Austerity: a tax on the poor for the crimes of the superrich. Bank bailouts such as those on Wall Street in 2008, opposed by over 60% of Americans. The looming
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(Big Tobacco’s Little People is an in-edit excerpt of a Big Tobacco feature running in Uprizine, a new politics, arts and style magazine launching autumn 2015. Uprizine founders and contributing editors are Charlotte Pickering & Jed Birch.)
Claire, who has never smoked, recently spoke to Uprizine’s Charlotte Pickering, days after coming out from Broadgreen Hospital, Liverpool, where she had been treated for pneumonia, pleurisy, pneumothorax (collapsed lung) and DIOS – distal intestinal obstructive syndrome:
Before I was 16, my breathing was OK. I was only in hospital twice with stomach problems related to the Cystic Fibrosis (CF). I was pretty active in school, taking part in sports – cross country races, even! I was in the primary school rounders team!
Around 16 years, I noticed that I would get out of breath when I was walking with my mates. Extra antibiotics were needed for infections – colds, flu. Around the age of sixteen my peers were experimenting with cigarettes, some of them still smoke. It never appealed it me at all, though.
MY LUNG PROBLEMS MEAN I CAN NEVER HAVE A CHILD
Since leaving school, my lungs have deteriorated, and lately, I can’t seem to get out of the Amanda Ward [the CF specialist unit in Broadgreen, Liverpool]. My breathing problems affect my whole life. For instance, I have been married for eleven years. I grew up knowing that having a baby was a no-no. But, medical advances in recent years meant having a baby was possible for CF women, provided you have lung function of over 60%. Lung function can drop significantly when you are pregnant, and although you can regain it after the birth, sometimes you don’t. My lung function has not been out of the 40%s for many years.
It didn’t bother me at first, but when my friend had a baby, it was very hard. There is a special bond between mother and child. I have talked myself around, but it is a heartache. Had it not been my lung disease, we would definitely have had children.
Since I turned 34, I don’t seem to be able to fight off the normal coughs and colds. They always impact my chest. This usually ends up with me being admitted to Broadgreen – Liverpool Heart and Chest Hospital with a specialised CF centre. So far this year I have only had four weeks out of hospital. I won’t be beaten by it though. For instance, I’ve got myself a personal trainer, but I haven’t yet seen the impact in my lung function that I was hoping for. Now I need oxygen overnight and when exercising with a personal trainer. I hope this will be temporary, and that I won’t need a lung transplant.
I agreed to talk to Uprizine because I thought it might help smokers by talking about the reality of chronic lung disease. I understand that smoking is an addiction. I have seen my mum trying to give up for years, and she has not managed yet. I hated my parents’ heavy smoking – I was embarrassed by it. All my clothes used to stink. My parents are now out in Spain, and my mum says she is going to stop. My Dad stopped recently after a stroke.
I want you to appreciate what it means to be born with a healthy pair of lungs. Unlike me, you can achieve things that I couldn’t – families, sports, choice – even if you smoke. But healthy lungs – there is no substitute. And I’m someone who may one day have to have a transplant!
Asked what she would give for a healthy pair of lungs, Claire pondered for a while, then said:
Everything I’ve got.
She thought some more, pathos tracing her forever-young face, and repeated, very precisely:
Everything I’ve got.
TRAGIC POST SCRIPT
Unfortunately, Claire’s symptoms did return and within two weeks of the interview, she wrote to me from
Broadgreen Hospital, where she had returned because of severe breathing problems. With profound sorrow, Claire informed Uprizine that she had just learned her mum, Sarah (67) has been diagnosed with lung, breast and brain cancer. The grim irony of the diagnosis, coming shortly after the interview for the Uprizine article about smoking, was not lost on either of us.
I can’t believe it, but on the other hand I’m not surprised. Over the years both my mum and dad tried innumerable times to quit smoking, but nothing lasted. Then about 18 years ago my dad suffered a mini stroke and this scared him enough to quit, which he did over night. We hoped that this would spur mum on to quit but, although she kept trying and talking about it, she could never stay stopped. When they retired to Spain a couple of years ago, mum always said she would stop smoking for good. But now it’s too late.
Selling up in the UK to buy a retirement home in Spain, during the property boom, has meant that Claire’s parents have now lost the little money they had with the collapse of the Spanish economy. Terminally ill Sarah cannot get insurance to fly home, and spend whatever time she has left with her family. Indeed, Sarah’s only chance of coming home is through the GoFundMe appeal Claire and her siblings have launched to collect £6k for a special ambulance to drive her back to the UK.
Meanwhile, Claire is too ill leave her Liverpool hospital ward, let alone fly out to her dying mother. Mother and daughter, both on the edge of life because of chronic lung disease, remain separated at this most desperate time by a few thousand pounds. The only hope now remaining is that the Bring Sarah Home campaign will reach target.
To donate, visit the Help us bring mum home
WARNING: this article makes uncomfortable reading.
I realise that some readers on either side of the Israel-Palestine barricade might not like me very much me as they read. I won’t take this personally.
The alarm clock always wins: you have to wake up to smash it against the wall.
ISRAEL – some facts.
“Israel just doesn’t want a just peace.”
Gideon Levy Israeli author & journalist
He almost lost the West Bank to peace in April 2014, and was still furious about the US recognition of the new Unity government in Gaza when, less than three months after its formation, outrageous fortune smiled on him.
The July kidnapping and murder of three Israeli boys was an event which he exploited and manipulated to stoke a furore of domestic outrage. With 95% of the Israeli public behind him, Netanyahu could, once again, mow the lawn in Gaza, and cut down those green shoots of peace.
Dubbed a Slaughter of the Innocents, Israel’s latest war has been viewed by many critics as a crime against humanity because of the high civilian death and casualty rate.
The Slaughter of the Innocents: The First Four
Sixteen year old Israeli boy, Naftali Fraenkel, and his two friends were kidnapped and shot dead in the West Bank on 12 June 2014. One of the boys, Gilad Shaer, phoned the police. After several hours, the police issued a Hannibal (i.e. kidnapping) alert. It is now widely accepted that the Israeli government withheld key facts:
- within hours of the SOS call, a torched car bearing the boys’ bloodstains, and Israeli license plates, was found by Palestinian police in Hebron.
- hours after the Hannibal alert the authorities knew three boys were already dead.
On 3rd July 2014, two days after the three Israeli boys were buried alongside each other, another sixteen year old boy was kidnapped in East Jerusalem. Although entirely unconnected with the killing of Naftali and his friends, Mohammed Abu Khdeir was beaten, doused in petrol – which was also poured down his throat – then burned alive. Four days later, the parents of Naftali Fraenkel and Mohammed Abu Khdeir comforted one another on the phone. Naftali’s mother said:
“The shedding of innocent blood is defiance of all morality, of the Torah. No mother or father should ever have to go through what we are going through, and we share the pain of Mohammed’s parents.”
Mother of 16 year of Naftali Fraenkel
The kidnappers and murderers of all four boys were extremists operating unilaterally, without the knowledge of the democratically elected representatives of their respective areas – Hamas (West Bank) and Likud (Israel). Despite the repeated assertions of Palestinian officials, including Hamas, that Hamas had no knowledge of the abduction and killing of Naftali and his friends, and that a rival splinter group in Hebron had carried out the crime, Israel’s democratically elected prime minister, Netanyahu, launched Operation Protective Edge on 8th July 2014. Since then, over 60 Israelis and 1800 Palestinians, of which 400 are children and the rest mainly civilians, have been killed.
GAZA – some facts.
Gaza, a tiny, densely populated, sea bound strip of land, which has been occupied since 1918. The British handed it to the Israelis in 1948. Since this date, the UN has been a permanent and necessary humanitarian presence there. The Oslo Agreement in 1994 forced Israel to accept Palestine rule in the area, whereupon Israel erected the Gaza Strip Barrier, effectively a prison wall cutting Gaza off from the wider land mass, and still in existence today. Several significant and terrible wars have been sparked by Israel’s refusal to demilitarise and open its Gazan borders. The Al-Aqsa Intifada raged for five years, with Israel only withdrawing its ground troops from Gaza in 2005. Following the election of Hamas in 2007, both Israel and Egypt imposed an absolute blockade of Gaza’s land sea and air. Imports and exports, and movement of people in and out of Gaza, all but stopped, prompting the Gaza War of 2008-9.
“No country and no people would live the way that Gazans have been made to live. The question of the morality of Israel’s action depends, in the first instance, on the question, couldn’t Israel be doing something [to prevent] this disaster that is playing out now, in terms of the destruction of human life? Couldn’t they have done something that did not require that cost? And the answer is, sure, they could have ended the occupation.”
Materials essential for the reconstruction of Gaza, following sustained and decimating Israeli military incursions there since 2007, cannot get through the blockade, with gravely deleterious consequences for the physical environment. The ongoing siege of Gaza, in which electricity and water is made available (by the Israelis) for as little as two hours a day, has generated abject desperation in the territory.
Israel has been the subject of more than 60 condemnatory UN resolutions since 1948 (and Palestine none). In 2013 alone, the U.N. General Assembly criticised Israel in 21 resolutions. Only 4 other resolutions were passed that year, concerning Iran, Burma, Iran and, of course, Syria (for killing 120,000 of its own people). Since its inception, Israel has, with complete impunity, annexed, arrested, blitzed and bled all that stood in the way of its Zionist aims. Israel’s latest offensive in Gaza, Operation Protective Edge, began in July ’14, and is essentially a continuation of the previous wars in the blighted territory.
Hamas is the consequence of Gaza’s despair.
HAMAS – some facts.
“If you strangle a people, deny them supply for years, extreme reaction is inevitable.”
Arabic meaning enthusiasm, and an acronym for Islamic Resistance Movement, Hamas was democratically elected into office in the Israeli-occupied Gaza strip in 2007, defeating the moderate Fatah affiliates of the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO). Unlike the PLO, which is recognised as a legitimate political force by the UN, Hamas is regarded as a terrorist organisation by the West, Israel and Egypt; but not by the rest of the Arab world, China and Russia. Hamas’ political objective is to free Palestine from Israeli occupation and establish an Islamic state. The latter aspiration has resulted in depressingly conservative lifestyle changes since 2007. Gazan women must wear the hijab. They must not dance, go to a male hair dresser, or run in marathons. Mixed bathing water parks and kids’ holiday camps have been closed; beauty parlours and internet cafes blown up. Hamas denies the Holocaust, bans folk tales and beats up lewd pop singers. Nonetheless, Israel’s devastating brutality in the 2008 and 2012 wars has served to maintain support for Hamas in the West Bank’s degraded and despairing populace.
Some military facts:
Puffed up with crusading righteousness and American money, Israel is world’s fourth most powerful military. By contrast, Gaza’s armoury comprises suicide bombers, kidnapping, homemade rockets and mortars, and boys throwing stones. In the days between Israel’s bombings of three UN Gaza schools – despite repeated and unequivocal UN communication that dozens of civilians, including children, were in refuge there – the US rushed through Congress $225m emergency additional funding for Israel’s fail-safe Iron Dome defence system. The US did not make any funding available to protect Gaza’s besieged population, including its 800 000 children, from Israel’s bombs.
Northern Ireland – an analogy.
The whys and wherefores of rockets and suicide bombers become irrelevant when you, your countrymen and your loved ones are their target. I can personally recall the decades of unease on the UK mainland following fatal IRA bombs in, for example, Hyde Park, Birmingham, Westminster, Chelsea Barracks, Harrods, Brighton, Deal Barracks, Bishopgate and Warrington. The situation was much worse again in Northern Ireland itself.
Armed by American money, militant Irish Republicanism was the serious threat to British national security, even though our military was vastly superior, and included nuclear capability. IRA bombs killed soldiers, and civilians, including children, in the UK mainland. Through systematic torture and murderous violence the IRA held their own communities to ransom, particularly in Belfast. To the British, the IRA and their affiliates were ruthless, unpredictable and irrational, resisting every effort to make peace, and deaf to the condemnation of, among others, two Popes.
Yet this is precisely what Israel is doing in Gaza.
And they are getting away with it because
“Unless you have been on the street facing Israeli troops in Gaza, or sleeping on the floor under an Israeli aerial assault, as I have several times while delivering aid in 1989, 2000, and 2009, it’s impossible to imagine the total disproportion of power in this conflict. “I saw boys who were merely running away shot in the back by Israeli soldiers with Uzi [submachine guns] and arrayed in body armour, and in 2009 and 2012 at Rafah witnessed Israel’s technological superiority in coordinating sophisticated computers, drones, and F-15s with devastating effect. “
Dr. James E. Jennings, president of Conscience International and executive director of US Academics for Peace.
Sifting the US and UK Orwellian newspeak on the subject of Israel, in particular the fantastical coverage of Fox News, yields a singular equation.
Anti-Israel = anti-Semitic.
Anyone who has the temerity to criticise Israel, even slightly, is likely to be deluged with deranged Zionist verbal abuse (I will be, as a result of this article). The corporate media, particularly in the US, present post-1948 Israel as the perennial victim, in particular by (quite rightly) humanising Israeli casualties – pictures, names and histories of the victims are provided. By contrast, Palestinian deaths, even of children, are collateral damage, and passed off with newspeak notions of IDF due care and diligence with regard to civilians, and Hamas’ calculated use women and children as human shields. (For the record, there is no substantive evidence that Hamas have used human shields. And even if they were, why shoot, given that Israel has its almost infallible Iron Dome? ) A more realistic (although similarly specious) equation is this one:
Pro-Israel = Anti-Muslim
This is because many people in the West, even if they don’t admit it, see Israel as the ONE spot in the wildly chaotic, corrupt and misogynistic Middle East with which they can identify. Understandably infused with collective guilt (see next section) about the Holocaust, the West is, in addition, or perhaps consequently, cognisant that Judaism is the cornerstone of Christianity, which underpins Western culture and law, and especially our justice system.
The West views with profound distaste Middle Eastern Sharia Law punishments such as stoning, decapitations and mutilations. It balks at low status of women across the region; and is baffled and horrified by acute Sunni-Shia violence raging between millions of people there. Unsurprisingly, these negative perceptions show the more culturally familiar Israel in an unduly positive light. It is not a giant logical leap from this notion of affinity with Israel to that of being supportive, or at least not hindering, of Israel’s efforts to defend itself, and therefore our Western values, against all of that.
In tandem with the compelling pro-Israel messages, are strong ones about Islamic extremism threatening to take over Christendom. Particularly in the non-intellectual press– Dailies Mail and Express, and, of course, the red tops – salacious delight is taken in Muslim-themed news items such as the Trojan Horse schools plot, veil-wearing mass immigration, or the building of yet another Mosque. A recent report into press standards last year noted
“a serious and systemic problem of racist, anti-Muslim reporting within sections of the British media”
Leveson Inquiry 2012
Appalling crimes such as the murder of Pte Lee Rigby, conspire with reports of flourishing al-Qaida cells and honour killings in Bradford and Birmingham etc, and British Muslim support for 7/7 and 9/11 , to create a very real and prevailing fear of Muslims, notwithstanding the condemnation of these crimes by Muslim authorities, e.g..
The murder of Drummer Lee Rigby was truly a barbaric act. Muslim communities then, as now, were united in their condemnation of this crime. This was a dishonourable act and no cause justifies cold-blooded murder.
Farooq Murad, Secretary General of the Muslim Council
The fact that Lee Rigby’s killers were clinically insane is less newsworthy than the fact they were Muslims. Exactly as in the case with Zionist murderers of Mohammed Abu Khdeir, it is profound mental disturbance, allied to a warped view of religion which is the problem. As can be seen in the Tony Blair article (above) increasingly, Muslim and Jihad have tended to be conflated in reportage. Misconception results. For example, the extent that a decade after 9/11 more than half of Fox News viewers were found to believe that American Muslims wished to establish Sharia law in the US. The massive death toll, including over 400 children, of (Muslim) Palestinians has elicited from US and UK leaders and media sporadic mumbling about Israel’s right to self-defence, and platitudes about civilian casualties. But for the main part, they are silent about the latest Gazan pogrom. We must be careful. There is a terrible precedent in recent history which tells us that
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.”
(German pastor and Resistance fighter executed 1945 for plotting to assassinate Adolf Hitler)
The Holocaust – you need to know that:
There is substantive evidence that the majority of ordinary Germans did know that local concentration camps were incarcerating and killing Jews en masse. It is not possible, given the scale of the pogrom on German soil, that ordinary citizens could not have known about it. Indeed, by the end of the war, large numbers of German people were working in death camps, including those with gas chambers, such as Mauthausen (Austria) ; Neuengamme (Hamburg): Ravensbruck and Sachsenhausen (both in Brandenburg); Natzweiler (Elsass); Stutthof (east of Danzig); and Dachau (Bavaria).
The Holocaust, unquestionably the most shameful crime against humanity in modern history, happened because of the resounding silence and complicity of almost everyone who could have stopped it. As well as being scared, the masses were reluctant to speak out because of their own negative perception of Jews. As is well documented, Hitler deluged his public with mass media propaganda, lies and fiction to paint Jews as money-obsessed, war-inciting, Christ-killing Devil’s spawn who were responsible for Germany’s humiliating WW1 defeat. He had very clearly outlined in Mein Kampf, published and widely available since 1926, and spent his whole political career advocating, that every last Jew be exterminated. And, while the world was silent, six million of them were.
“ 95% of Israelis support Operation Protective Edge.”
(Source, Vox Media accessed 010814. Israeli Arabs were not polled.)
It is very difficult to gauge the degree of dissent to Operation Protective Edge within Israel, but certainly most of Netanyahu’s press ganged populace believe that Israel is the injured party. Daily infusions of wholly slewed news are supplied to Israelis through their homeland press – e.g. The Jesrusalem Post and Ynet News, and US channels Fox “News” and, depressingly, even CNN and NBC. Emphasised, by means of omission or manipulation of key details, is the idea that the huge Palestinian death toll, along with the casualties and damage to private and municipal property in Gaza, is entirely justified collateral damage as the Israeli’s battle to defend themselves from terror in Gaza. Thanks to mass demonstrations on the streets and via social media, the real message is getting out: that Israel’s Gaza offensive is, in fact, collective punishment and that the huge number of civilian deaths cannot be passed off as collateral damage. Both inside and outside Israel, people have opposed the war, and condemned Israel. Many have showed extraordinary courage by breaking ranks with their pro-Israeli circles. There are so many of them, and only a few are named and depicted in this piece. They are the lamp bearers guiding us the way toward peace, the ones that history will remember as
The Schindlers of our Time
At enormous cost to their personal lives and careers, a growing number of politicians, academics, religious leaders, journalists and soldiers have come out publicly against Israel’s 2014 military incursion into Gaza.
Many of these dissenters endure horrible abuse and complete loss of status within their community because they are Jews who say Israel is in the wrong.
Each one of these conscientious objectors has catapulted the truth into the eye of Israel’s gigantic military and propaganda machine. They are the singular, most positive outcome of the abhorrent Gaza war. These Schindlers of our Time refuse to accept the mass slaughter of Gaza’s innocents as justified, and are helping the world find the courage to do likewise. It’s worth noting that Oskar Schindler was not especially clever or gifted. On the contrary, he was a rather unexceptional and flawed man. But his Krakow enamelware factory window gave out onto the dreadful spectacle of the burgeoning Nazi pogrom against the Jews. In 1939, Schindler chose to go to the window, and SEE what was really happening out there, in his midst.
The humanity we share enjoins us to go to the window as Schindler did. Our window is the computer or phone screen. There, if we wish, we will see for what has really happened in Gaza and why, and how it can be stopped.
The recent arrest (and release, four days later) of Gerry Adams in connection with the abduction, torture and murder of unarmed mother of ten , widow Jean McConville, triggers profoundly unpleasant memories of a past when the 1982 Falklands War was another, albeit huge, conflict in the continuum of war chronicled daily on our TV screens. Adams was regarded as a gangster then, and his voice was dubbed out on mainland TV newsreels. His resemblance to the Yorkshire Ripper further alienated him from the British public.
This article represents my own recollections of the Irish Troubles which, as a paradigm of endemic gang culture, I researched for my book Messiah of the Slums. In that book, set in the fictitious English sink estate of Shriveton, it is drugs and not religious sectarianism which wreak havoc with ordinary lives. But, like the IRA in the 70s and 80s, Shriveton’s Incubo drug gang is ruthlessly efficient, organised and amoral; like the IRA, the Incubo reigns supreme, is globally networked, preys on the poor and destitute, and proceeds largely unchallenged for years.
All religions have been made by man (Napoleon Bonaparte)
Religion is humanity’s attempt to grasp existential meaning, i.e. something that cannot ever be fully seen or understood, but must be intuited and interpreted, and which is crucial to our understanding of ourselves. Science does something similar when it describes reality in terms of models, diagrams and formulae. Of course, science has a rather better track record when it comes to assimilating into its existing abstractions the new discoveries made over time. The depiction and understanding of, for example, the atom, or indeed the cosmos, has changed over time.
By contrast, the main religions sometimes cling obstinately to tradition at the expense of enlightenment. Depressing and harmful institutional intransigence on issues such as the subordination of women, contraception and homosexuality has disenchanted generations. Nonetheless, for those of us who are not nearly clever enough to be New Atheists – I include myself here – religion in some form is an important means of mediating tough metaphysical questions such as Why do we exist? or What happens when we die? Only when one overlooks their egregious flaws do the major religions become a serviceable template for managing one’s life. When it comes to religion, the price of peace is a compromise.
There have always been religious fanatics . A tiny minority of these – like the Buddha or Jesus of Nazareth – become humankind’s luminaries. But most are in some way destructive, especially those suffering from the horrible delusion that their particular religion is the only right one. The infectious tribalism such religious hatred engenders is the root of global running sores such as: Syria, Somalia and Nigeria; and, as Gerry Adams’ recent arrest, and release reminded us, Northern Ireland.
The Troubles I’ve seen..
Tribalism is not the same as religion, which like football or nationality is an abstraction onto which fanaticism fastens. It is the deliberate separation from, and demonising and exclusion of, non-members, and it is characterised by blind, uncompromising certainty that everyone outside the tribe is an enemy. Because religion, unlike football or even nationality, is profoundly connected to our core sense of self, mortality and morality, the tribalism it can generate is the most deadly of all.
At the time of the Falklands War, an inspiring young Northern Irish school teacher introduced our class to the poetry of WB Yeats. Like a lot of teenagers, I tended to make myself the focus of most thoughts. So in the days when Adams was a rather terrifying, albeit voiceless, TV puppet, I wasn’t thinking much beyond the romantic notion that Yeats’ Easter 1916 rebels might be among the people left behind by my ancestors when they fled the famine ravaged shores of Ireland for Liverpool at the end of the nineteenth century.
The political dimension of Irish republicanism did not impact on me, but I do remember one day asking this Irish teacher what she thought about the IRA.
“These people haven’t been to chapel in years!” she growled.
This had not answered my question at all, I felt at the time.
Having recaptured the Falklands, the Tories went on to be re-elected, only to suffer 5 fatalities and 31 casualties in the 1984 Brighton IRA bomb. I was a student at St Andrews University at this time. Northern Ireland was something that happened on news reels until one day I invited a Northern Irish girl – let’s call her Lizzie – back for coffee to talk about an assignment we were doing. We had much in common, Lizzie and I, being of the same age and on the same course. Usually very relaxed and friendly, Lizzie, became acutely uncomfortable as we drew up to the front door of my accommodation, which was in the Catholic Chaplaincy of the university.
A purple clad Sister of the Assumption opened the door, greeted us cheerfully, and withdrew. Lizzie did not return the friendly welcome, although she followed me in, and perched gingerly on the bed in my small bedsit as I made coffee. To begin with, I filled in her silence with essay chatter but soon, recognising that it wasn’t my imagination, and that something was wrong, I asked her if she was OK.
“I didn’t realise you were Catholic,” she mumbled, and went on to say that although it wasn’t a problem, as a Protestant herself, she had never set foot in a Catholic place such as this. Her fear was amplifying despite my attempts to be hospitable, and hers to master it. Before finishing her coffee, she departed using some invented excuse, and never sought me out again.
That same year, I took a job in a newsagent alongside a Northern Irish Catholic girl – let’s call her Elaine – on the run from her family because she had fallen in love with a Scottish Protestant boy. Although he was prepared to turn (Catholic), her father had renounced him on the grounds that a turncoat is worse than a Proddy. One day Elaine didn’t turn into work, because, my boss informed me, her family had discovered her whereabouts, causing her and her boyfriend to flee.
Never before had I encountered religious polarity of this sort. It seemed so ludicrous as to be the product of self-dramatizing hysteria. Nobody in the modern world cared about the Catholic/Protestant thing, I thought? Along with virtually everyone I had met in my life until that point, I scarcely knew, and definitely didn’t care, what the difference was between the two religions! God’s not a Catholic one of my landlady nuns was fond of saying.
24493332 Lance Corporal Stephen Burrows
At the time Lizzie and Elaine and her fiancé went out of my life , my school friend Jane married a soldier, 24493332 Lance Corporal Stephen Burrows of 1st Battalion, King’s Regiment, which recruited from the Liverpool and Manchester area. He turned Catholic so they could marry in St Werburgh’s Church, Chester, where his high security funeral would be held, just four years later, as Sun reporters climbed trees to snap it. Not long after the wedding, their baby son was born, and Stephen was posted to Belfast. Jane and the baby went with him.
At midnight on 24th October 1990, eight IRA men broke into the Londonderry home of Patrick Gillespie, and put guns to the temples of his wife Kathleen and four children. Roman Catholic Patrick – selected because he worked (as a cook) for the British Army – was taken across the Irish border where he was chained to the driver’s seat on top of a 2,000lb bomb of a van. His IRA captors told him to drive it to the Buncrana Road permanent Vehicle Check Point (VCP). A detonator was attached to the door light just in case he decided to bail. Any failure to complete his mission would mean bullets in the brain for his wife and family.
The IRA was at its height: the most efficient and deadly terrorist organisation in the world. Patrick’s van was one of three vehicles – respectively headed for British Army targets in Newry, Omagh and Londonderry – driven by kidnapped drivers whose families were held at gunpoint .
“Patrick had no choice but to comply,” Jane said. “The IRA always carried through their threats.”
Stephen Burrows had promised to call his wife after the extra shift he took on that night to cover a friend who had gone down with malaria. It would be many hours before she learned he was at the VCP where Patrick Gillespie’s van was detonated at 04.12am by IRA operatives hiding in the vicinity. Afterwards, wreckage was found as far as four miles away.
Stephen Burrows, Patrick Gillespie and fellow Kingsmen Vinny Scott and Stephen Beacham were instantly obliterated, and identifiable afterwards only by name tags and personal effects. The bodies of their D Company comrades, Paul Worral and David Sweeney, were intact because they died as a result of the terrific vacuum caused by the explosion.
24 years on, nobody has been apprehended for the bombings, and Jane does not believe anyone will be.
“Did you know that the British Army was drafted in 1969 to look after the Catholics?” she said, by the by, as she showed me her huge file of newspaper cuttings and memorabilia. A handwritten poem in among the papers caught my eye. One line in particular struck me:
I have made my peace with the hatred in my soul. (Mark Burrows aged 9)
Jane and Stephen’s son, Mark, wrote it when he was nine, four years before the last 80 prisoners left the Maze Prison in Northern Ireland as part of the Northern Ireland peace process; and five years before planes went into the World Trade Centre in NYC, bisecting world history into Before and After 9/11. On that day in 2001, US diplomat Richard Haas was in Dublin, poised to meet with Republican Tsars Martin McGuinness and Gerry Adams, with a view to questioning them about reports that the IRA were training FARC, enemies of the US, in Columbia.
911 – the IRA money tree is cut down
Bush’s immediate denunciation of terrorism on the day of 9/11 caused Haas to alter his message to a blunt instruction for the IRA to lay down arms. American IRA financial supporters– most of whom are no more Irish than I am – suddenly woke up to the real consequences of terrorism when, for the first time in history, foreign bombs exploded on their own turf (that being, of course, American and not Irish soil, with which they have no real connection beyond the crude inventions of their own absurd sentimentalism). Starved of American money, the IRA had no choice but to decommission its weapons and embrace the peace process.
The primary imperative of the fragile peace which has held since 1998 is to look forward, not back. Much compromise has been required on each side of the Northern Ireland sectarian divide to forget the past. There is no better example of collective forgetting than Gerry Adams himself. His spectacular ascendancy, from gagged pariah to international statesman means he has been cordially received by, among others, Britain’s Queen, Nelson Mandela and President Clinton.
Every human benefit and enjoyment, every virtue, and every prudent act, is founded on compromise. (Edmund Burke)
The widow Jean McConville and her ten children lived a pitiable life in Belfast’s notorious Divis flats slum. A convert to Catholicism, she was rejected on both sides of the religious hatred divide. One can only imagine the hardship of her impoverished, lonely circumstances. Yet the IRA, that fraternity of fanatics and freaks which the Roman Catholic hierarchy have consistently condemned, had this poor woman down for a British Army agent. There is no evidence of any treachery beyond hearsay that on one occasion she gave a wounded British soldier a drink of water.
The notion that Sinn Fein supremo Gerry Adams had no knowledge of Jean McConville’s abduction, torture and murder is – for me, at least – wholly unbelievable. Adams has been snapped at various IRA paramilitary funerals in the role of volunteer. He has brokered deals on behalf of the IRA for decades, not least in the post 911 meetings with US envoy Hass.
Those who planned and carried out the murders of Stephen Burrows and Jean McConville remain free. Before I visited my school friend Jane to interview her for this article, the question, “Where’s the justice in all of this?” was dominating my thinking. Paradoxically, after listening to Jane’s desperately sad story about the human bomb that killed her husband, I realised I was wrong to believe that justice was needed… Just as I had been wrong about W B Yeats’ poetry all those years ago, with the Irishwoman who taught me English Literature, the same person who summed up the IRA with, These people haven’t been to chapel in years.
As the Falls Road wall in Belfast makes clear, tribalism remains. It seems strange and tragic that the religions on either side of that wall are almost identical variations of Christianity; that the terror done in their name is expressly prohibited in the core text they share, the New Testament, which preaches peace, love and forgiveness.
“Why should bringing murderers to justice upset the peace process?” Jane said, with a little sigh as she looked once again at an old wedding photograph, before putting it back into one of the bulging carrier bags of memorabilia she’d got out of the loft for me to see. She spoke without a trace of anger, or belief that her husband’s killer will ever be apprehended.
The NI peace has not been founded on truce, not a victory. Whereas, for example, Nazi Holocaust perpetrators could be pursued through the courts because the war was over – Germany had surrendered – this is not as straightforward in a truce, which usually requires heroic and sustained commitment to compromise. Perhaps this is what American civil rights lawyer, Clarence Darrow had in mind when he famously declared, “There is no such thing as justice — in or out of court.”
Compromise softens our psychological perimeters so that they become porous to the other ideas, experiences and people. It is vastly easier than forgiveness. Only exceptionally spiritual people are capable of forgiveness. Stephen Burrows’ little boy was one such: he made peace with the hatred in [his] soul when he was nine years old.
What happened in 1990 to Mark Burrows’ dad, and the others who died in the 1990 proxy bombs was, in the words Catholic Bishop Edward Daly, the work of Satan. The same is true for Jean McConville. Almost impossible as it might be to accept, those responsible for these and similar evils must continue to elude justice if the peace is to hold. As is evidenced by the Falls Road wall itself, and by the smug self-assurance of unrepentant principal players like Gerry Adams – a return to the Troubles could be just one wildcat bullet away.