Tuesday 30 June 2015

UN Counter Terrorism Strategy needs the support of EU

Jean-Paul Laborde / European Parliament
Interview about the UN counter-terrorism strategy in 2012

Jean-Paul Laborde, Special Advisor for the UN spoke to New Europe about the counter terror strategy that brings in thirty agencies to co-ordinate efforts, not only to fight terrorism directly, but to also use soft power to dissuade people from using terror as a way of achieving political goals.

The UN counter Terrorism Implementation Task Force has four main pillars; to address conditions conducive to terrorism; to combat and prevent terrorism; to build capacity for member states and measures to ensure that human rights are respected. This also involves preventing and reducing conflicts and supporting people who have been victims of terrorism.

You bring in expertise from thirty agencies to counter terrorism, but have we got a definition of what terrorism is?

This is a very good question. But if I talk as a lawyer, I would say yes, but if I am talking about general policy, I would say no. We have 16 instruments against terrorism that cover 99% of the acts of terrorism, but these cover everything with the exception of snipers. If we talk about a general understanding of what terrorism is, that is very difficult because it becomes political. You could ask this question about other matters. We have no general definition of corruption, transnational crime, but we are never asked about these definitions. For terrorism it is raised because it is connected to political issues. The issue is not the definition of the acts, we know what they are, but the scope of application, which means, do you cover soldiers, liberation movements and so on? That is the issue.

When there is an act committed, international co-operation works on the basis of the current conventions. We need a full convention on international co-operation against terrorism. I don't say a comprehensive one, but a full one.

It is said that definitions don't matter, as one expert said, "I recognise it when I see it"

That is correct, but the point is that we have to resolve these issues through a definition, because co-operating between countries, we need to have a common recognition, for example so that extradition can happen.

There is a military tendency to fight the previous war. Because we're now almost exclusively focused on Islamic terrorism, are we prepared for what might be the next type of terrorism?

Without the strategy we won't be ready, but now that we have covered the area of education, development and so on and since we are linking the fight against terrorism in a multi-faceted way, then yes, we are prepared for the next war. If you answer from only the perspective of law enforcement and the military, they could be stuck in the last war. Force has to be used, or law enforcement has to catch the terrorists, but that is far from enough for a successful strategy.

We have used just law enforcement and force to fight terrorism. Has it worked? Yes, partially, but not as much as we want. We cannot resolve the problem in its entirety so we have to work on other aspects of the strategy. We should think and act on a multi faceted approach.

Can we find processes to bring people into talks to end prolonged conflicts? Is the UN in a good position to be an honest broker?

I think we are in a department that is in a very good position for this, the political affairs. We may not always be seen as impartial, but we do have a neutral attitude. We have to continue with that and we will have a role to play. This is why I am here, because we have launched a project, with the support of the EU, on conflict prevention. first we work on preventative diplomacy, secondly we involve civil society, much more than before. Thirdly work with the media. They are also part of conveying the message of peace. We should talk with people as long as we have the mandate.

You also work on counter extremism. what have you seen that is effective, what works?

First of all, the outreach is working. Secondly we have some working groups that are doing good work, like that on the use of the internet by terrorists. We have also worked on the technical aspects and now on a counter narrative. What also works well, is the support of the victims. We have established a global survivors network, so these are some actions that are well recognised and regarded.

We're reviewing the strategy in November and I want to go further, in engaging the countries, some of whom could understand more. We als them to look at our strategy and try to implement it in their policies. The EU can be a leader, to show them how the strategy can work.

There is concern in the EU that, with large cuts in public services in many countries and there could be a violent response, that may not be terrorism per se, but could affect ordinary citizens. What advice would you give to President Barroso?

Or Mr Rompuy! My advice, well, what do we do? do we cut and where? now we're cutting into the beef. What the EC could do is the question. The budget is still very significant. They should try to connect things and develop a comprehensive strategy. You need to look at where the most affected parts are and treat them, don't try to apply everything thinly, to everywhere.

There have also been some interesting developments with former extremists, how do you learn to?

It is very interesting to see. I have nothing to say to them as it is better for us to just listen and find out the best practices. The problem is that these guys should not be seen as the tools of anyone, but people will listen to them, rather than to me.

Politicans can't get the musical melody

More noise from empty vessels

Written after the UKIP calypso fiasco, but they're not the first to get it badly wrong

One of the odder moments in European politics happened last week when UKIP issued a song – a calypso no less – to raise funds. It is performed by one of the few former radio disc jockeys in the UK not currently residing in the sexual offenders unit of their local nick.

It is a truly dreadful song, released on the same day that UKIP resurrected their group thanks to a deal with a party led by a man who believes in beating up women, but not the holocaust. This deal was done so they could get their hands on millions of euros of taxpayers’ money, exactly the sort of thing they campaign against most vocally.

The sound, one hesitates to use a word like tune, shows that politics and music rarely mix well. For every Bob Dylan there’s a Boy ‘War is stupid and people are stupid’ George, who can bring things down to Russell Brand levels.

There’s also the fake protest, where U2’s earnest cry for peace ‘Sunday Bloody Sunday’ is about not wanting to go to church, rather than exploiting one of the most tragic incidents for monetary gain. But that’s Us for you, the Starbucks of protest.

The problem is that, well, people don’t listen to the lyrics that often. John Lennon’s Imagine was taken up after 9/11, and quickly dropped. People objected to the line ‘Nothing to kill or die for, And no religion too’ which, given the motivation of the hijackers, may have a relevance.

Another example is the Republicans love of Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA. The boss is having the last laugh, if you watch the flag waving video and listen to the lyrics, a sad snapshot of a veteran’s experiences after coming home from war, then you understand why so many over there have trouble recognising irony.

But America gave us the best political songs, coming from the worst of circumstances. Billy Holiday’s ‘Strange Fruit’ is as disturbing today as ever, yet Holiday’s humanity makes it just barely tolerable to listen to. It was written by a white, Jewish school teacher from New York, who had been pushed over the edge by a photograph of a lynching.

Sometimes a song can change attitudes. Tom Robinson’s Glad To Be Gay did just that and was a brave and challenging move in 1978, when public figures were referring to HIV as a divine punishment and some police forces were prosecuting homosexuals with a vigour that appeared to grow from self-repression and loathing.

There was courage and anger too from Elvis Costello, who wrote ‘Shipbuilding’ about the Falklands War, which also reserves recognition for Robert Wyatt’s version, which Costello prefers.

But perhaps the finest such song is both radical and establishment. If the dreary God Save the Queen ever stops being the anthem – and maybe that will be Camilla’s contribution to public life – it must surely be Jerusalem, the metaphorical city to be built, one of light and justice.

With lyrics from William Blake, it’s hard to beat and certainly the EU anthem is as stodgy, dated and obscure as Commissioners, but isn’t it time to ditch ‘Ode to Joy’?

If you don’t think so, go and find the lyrics. Yes there are some, otherwise we’d be left with just the soundtrack to one of Clockwork Orange’s more awful moments as the sonic representation of a continent.

If Blake’s not good enough, then let’s be led by the verbal dexterity and wisdom of that fine trans-European, Plastic Bertrand.

Ca Plane Pour Moi Jean-Claude!

Adulterous MEPs welcome end of roaming charges

Oh look, it's an honourable member
Why was the EU able to agree to end mobile phone roaming charges?

The announcement that mobile phone charges will be ended in 2017 was hailed as a victory for European consumers. The ban had widespread support and the notorious telecoms lobby was powerless to prevent the measures being adopted.

Behind the scenes, I can exclusively reveal that the initiative has been welcomed by adulterers in the EU institutions. "Thank God," one of them said, "I've got three girlfriends in two different countries and the phone charges were ridiculous."

Several MEPs also praised the initiative, but off the record. "This is going to make it so much cheaper to arrange a dirty weekend with the interns and assistants," said one deputy, "Seriously, I was spending up to 20 euros, just to arrange a quick shag in Strasbourg. It may not seem much, but it all adds up."

The stagieres were also pleased, some from Eastern Europe told us that, "It's really hard for us to keep in touch with our loved ones, especially when they're in their constituencies with their wives."

They also complained that, "When I'm in Brussels and he's off on a delegation to God knows where, the cost really mounts up. It's embarrassing as I can't afford to give him the phone sex he wants, I keep making excuses that my Grandmother has died and I'm at the funeral," adding, "that just encourages him, he finds it sexy. I don't find funerals sexy at all. Sometimes I think he is not very healthy in the mind."

One MEP said that the costs were significant as he needed a phone for work, one for his private calls and two for his mistresses, "When you add it all up, the costs are astronomical. I've blocked my wife, and that has helped, in many ways."

Monday 29 June 2015

EU Fact-Finding Mission Returns Empty Handed

And the gods did weep
It was bound to happen one day

The recent delegation from the European Parliament, on a fact finding mission to the Middle East, visited Israel, Palestine, Syria, Jordan and Egypt, are desperately trying to write a draft report on their findings, but the report may be indefinitely delayed.

A spokesperson said, "Basically, we couldn't find any facts at all. Not one. There's nothing to report". The problem lies with the hosts, according to the Delegation, one member explained, "Every time someone told us something, somebody else contradicted it, often with official sounding statistics."

The first issue the group discovered, when investigating the viability of a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict, occurred when they asked for basic facts about the Palestinian areas, but Hamas, based in the Gaza Strip gave a completely different set of figures to Fatah, who have control of the West Bank. "They couldn't even tell us the size of the state, as each claimed different parts were included."

Other details were also vague, "We asked about GDP and the currency exchange", said a delegation member, "but it turns out that there is so much smuggling nobody has any idea of income, tax revenue or anything at all. It's been very frustrating."

Business leaders were also less than helpful, the member added, "When we asked about what currency they used, they said it depended on the situation, and refused to elaborate. It was the same when we asked about prices and inflation, they just shrugged their shoulders and looked rather helpless.

We asked about exports and imports and they just tried to sell us large packets of Marlboros at five euros each."

The lawmakers are not being deterred, they plan putting an emergency motion before Parliament in the next session to have a fact making team sent out. These experts are to put in place as many facts on the ground as soon as possible.

One agency that is likely to be in the front line of the new initiative is Euro Barometer, who manufacture facts for the EU. An official was doubtful, saying that "It could be unlikely that our people would react with a great deal of enthusiasm for such a mission, but we will carry out a consultation exercise, if the motion was adopted."

When asked how long the consultation would say, the official responded with, "That could be very difficult to determine, it could take several years."

Silence of the lobbyists

Ground Zero for the EU lobby

Why PR people are so annoying

Phone rings, “Hello. I’m Shiny Person from mumble and we represent mumble.”

How the heart sinks because some useless idiot has decided to add their pointless nonsense to our lives. No decent human being has anything but contempt for PR people. If they had any worth or ability, or what used to be called, gumption, they would do something on their own terms.

Instead, they sell their bodies to tell lies, mistruths and the myriad of deceptions asked by their corporate clients whose combined intellect couldn’t match a reasonably stocked whelk stall. I return, they get to bask in the reflected glory and pretend they’re even slightly important.

It doesn’t last which is why these companies have a turnover faster than a Libyan people smuggler.

This is how it works and why it is so stupid. Company wants to be seen in Brussels so hires a PR firm, who get the job by over promising on everything. Company wants an event, PR firm organises. Then Chair – or increasingly President, decides the media need to hear the blessings of his golden mind and voice. The PR have promised X amounts of briefings with Y amount of journalists.

So the invites go out and clog up hacks inboxes, for a brief moment of life before they get deleted.
Faced with the fact that an understaffed and overloaded press corps is uninterested in an event (Say a global conference held on May election day for example, that level of incompetent organisation) that has nobody of any note talking about nothing of any import, there’s only one thing to do.

So, the PR underlings then start hitting the phones. Its funny how they always mumble who they are and work for, so we get them to enunciate and they move on to their question, the point of it all: ‘Did you receive our email?’

The honest answer is that nobody knows or cares. Faced with this disinterest the PR – either someone on the firm’s naughty step or the gimp of modern life, an intern – ploughs on regardless.

Sometimes they foolishly try to engage our enthusiasm, “There’s be some MEPs there, I can set you up with an interview” not realising that journalists can sort that out without bringing in a PR company, or there’s the “President of the European association of associations of European Whatsit producers” who is wafting their way towards the holy land of some hotel with two more stars than it deserves and a buffet that would benefit from the addition of soylent green.

So, because a common sense-challenged company was told a pile of rubbish by an overly-needy PR firm, the end result is to annoy as many journalists as possible in order to save their own jobs.

That’s the generous interpretation, the other is that they are so cosmically dense that light curves around them and believe that their event has such an obvious news value that journalists will cast bread and salt over them for alerting them to an unmissable event.

The kind thing to do is to help them all break out of this downward spiral of co-dependency and put the phone down.

Shooting them would be more humane though.

Friday 26 June 2015

Interview with punk legend, Vic Godard

Vic Goddard

Unique talent has kept his integrity and reputation

Vic Godard is regarded by many as the best British songwriter never to have had a hit, but the lack of chart success has not deterred him from producing great songs outside the traditional music industry and earning the respect of his peers.

Many people will not have heard of him, but he has been a key figure since the beginning of punk, when Malcolm McLaren, the Sex Pistols manager asked him to form a band to fill a support slot.
Godard, like many others, was exhilarated by punk because it offered an opportunity to be creative, “I was glad I was around in that era because I don’t think I would have got involved in music in any other era. Punk allowed people to be creative, a time when people found themselves.”

“We had a group of people at college that had a look that was different, and we got a group of four from them. One person owned an acoustic guitar, so he had to be in. Right at the start we had a make believe band with a name, Subway Sect, and I think that’s why Malcolm approached our guitarist and asked to see us practice and that’s what started it all off,” he explains.

But a group that had precious little expertise with their instruments, still had to meet the high standards of McLaren before being let loose on stage.

“McLaren came to see us and said we were awful, but he liked us, I think it was the band name, and he said if we worked hard for a week, he’d come and see if we’d improved. We practiced really hard for a week, we were all unemployed, apart from me, and I was doing a night shift as a washer up in a burger place, so we practiced all day, every day.”

He continues, “We had four songs, or the words to four. Even at the sound check the Sex Pistols came along and stopped us after 20 seconds, saying “you can’t play that”. Steve Jones (Sex Pistols guitarist) just looked confused because we were out of tune. He tuned the guitars, but it was still out of tune and Steve said “you’re playing the wrong notes”, but we ignored him and carried on anyway.”
After a beginning like this, the young Goddard was determined to improve the band’s musicianship and his own songwriting, moving in a different direction to other bands around.

Part of this was that they had wider influences than most, “That came from Television and Talking Heads. The others, like the Clash and Sex Pistols who did the more straightforward stuff were influenced by the Ramones, we saw them and liked them, but we didn’t want to be like them.”

But Godard wasn’t just looking West, having a more European sensibility, “Yeah, with Rob (guitarist), we were heavily into French new wave films and we used to go and see them in the late night cinemas after gigs. I’m also into stuff like Emil and the Detectives and a French one a Hundred Million Francs, Belle and Sebastian; we just latched onto anything European.

“I don’t know why. Perhaps it was because we weren’t that mad on America, all the other bands seemed to be into America, not so much the music, but the look, leather jackets, denim, and that was what we violently didn’t like so we were trying to go the opposite way.

That might have had something to so with it, but we liked the music, the Velvet Underground, Television and so on.”

For those not familiar with the late 70s music scene, punk was regarded as an explosive reaction against a time when Britain appeared to be falling apart and the stars of the time were living the jet set lifestyles, further and further away from their fans and their lives.

While some bands churned out punk thrash after thrash, it was getting very difficult to hear Vic Godard and the Subway Sect. There were few music stations on the radio and fewer who would play this music, the TV was trying to avoid the raucous musicians in favour of more business friendly fare.
This was the time when the single was king, but Godard found it very difficult to get a record deal, “That was down to management issues. Our manager also had The Clash, which were the number one thing, we were just an afterthought. We never had anything to do with contracts, because Bernie Rhodes did it all. He used to have meetings with the record companies without telling me!”

There were some good sides to this near invisibility. Godard became an enigma, often whispered that they were the best band you’ve never heard.

“We’ve always found ways to get round the record industry, in various ways. With me it’s becoming a postman,” the singer says, “Ever since 1986, I’ve always funded everything I’ve done myself, without going to any record labels.”

Although Subway Sect have continued playing, the music business doesn’t look too healthy to Godard, “It doesn’t exist. If you look at all the major labels, they have just faded away to a minute rump. In the 70s, they were the music business and Rough Trade and all the independent labels were on the periphery. Now they are the music business The EMIs have all got their drinks businesses, they’ve diversified into games. They’ve faded away, it’s a lot better now.”

As far as he is concerned, they have no future, “They’ll be gone in ten years, won’t they, your EMIs. Virgin will probably be doing a space shuttle, they’ll have diversified into something different.”
Godard does have a future, because of technology. What difference has that made to him?

“It’s everything, because of my wife, who does all the computer side of things, books the gigs, makes the records and so on. It’s a way of circumventing the work record labels used to do. Even the promoters do everything over the internet now, so you don’t even need an agent.”

That must put control back in the artist’s hands? “It does. It gives you total control. If we’d had all that back in the punk era, the world would be at our feet!” he exclaims.

Asking about the thorny issue of copyright leaves the singer looking unconcerned, “It doesn’t affect me, we don’t even put bar codes on our CDs! We are the pirates! We don’t do distribution deals, we sell everything ourselves. We don’t really sell in shops because the amount they pay you, it costs you more to make, than you get.”

Do you see ‘virtual labels’ taking off? “We’ve already got them! It’s what we do, look on our website and you’ll see. Vinyl is going down in price, dramatically. A couple of years ago it was too prohibitive, but now coasts are going down and in 5 years time there could be as much vinyl around as there are CDs”

But with his reputation and as a working musician, the ‘nostalia circuit’ beckoned.

“We got offered a thousand pounds for a punk festival in Blackpool and people really enjoyed it but we felt so out of place in there that I said to the band that if we keep doing this we might earn more money but in a few years we’d get fed up. It’s like a dead end street.

“There’s loads of groups that probably make a living out of it, but then it’s just a job and I’ve got a job with the Post Office, I don’t want another one! I do gigs because I like them and I wouldn’t want to play just our punk songs.”

That one performance also reminded him of something, “We weren’t really punk, when it comes down to it. We didn’t look like them, we didn’t look like them and we didn’t have words like them. We wanted to be different.”

Godard continues to be different, and working with a wide range of projects with different people, including Irvine Welsh and Edwyn Collins.

What is striking is that Godard has played the game his own way, doing whatever he needed to finance the next record or tour, and has stayed true to the initial punk philosophy, but has moved in many musical directions.

At the heart of his musical journey is hard work and a dedication to his craft. Although he may not have anything like the fame he deserves, he does have the respect of his peers, including Paul Cook, the former Sex Pistols drummer who has joined the band.

Godard’s story is also of a maverick who has made his own path outside the industry that has crushed so many talents in the past.

Remember, not repeat

Don McCullin, a lifetime covering war, war, war

Some felt very awkward at the Remembrance Day ceremonies last year, perhaps we should learn from the man who documented the worst or war

It is odd, that a union given to the use of soft power, that there is no unified decision to mark Remembrance Day, when the guns finally stopped and the wholesale slaughter was suspended for a few years.

It is said that the EU doesn’t mark this due to a fear of offending Germany, but this argument doesn’t really apply as few nations have faced their nightmares as well.

But Europe should remember, if only to understand one thing; war is the inevitable consequence of a breakdown in politics and European politics is at its most brittle since the 30s.

Of course, there has always been controversy over the day. Some feel the traditional red poppy is too militaristic, that the day has become a time to praise the dead and to ignore the pain under the comfortable clich├ęs of public life.

Inside the European Parliament a there was an event on Europe’s Cultural Heritage, a meeting that was switched to late morning, meaning that the many who join in the two minutes silence throughout the world were just disregarded by the brave new culture guardians. Apart from demonstrating the parliament’s tin ear, it also was curiously offensive, unless you appreciate true irony.

The public imagination in the UK was caught by a work of art, an installation of ceramic poppies, one for each of the fallen (Brits only) at Windsor Castle. Art can say something deeper and more resonant than today’s politicians, and it did.

The last of the poppies to be planted was done so by a 13 year old boy, a cadet in full military uniform. Perhaps no artist dare make such a provocative finale, in a world where many children are pressed into armies and militia it was disturbing, as a representative of the coming generation, to see him equipped for war was, well like he was being groomed by the spirit of death.

And then, and then, the sight of Tony Blair laying a wreath at the Cenotaph was the ultimate insult to all those who had lost loved ones. Nobody mentioned the dead civilians, the young Iraqis, the Afghan weddings that end in fire and splattered bodies.

It is a testament to the British stiff upper lip that a monster like him, whose fire he lit in the Middle East still burns, can attend a war memorial and not get lynched on the spot.

Better to watch a documentary that is almost too painful to bear, the life of war photographer Don McCullin, incidentally the only human to be banned from going to the Falklands conflict.

McCullin has covered almost every conflict since the 60s and it has marked him deeply and it has made him more human. You’ll know his pictures, the Vietnam Marine with the thousand yard stare, the albino child in Biafra and and many other human made hellholes.

Partway through the film he tells of an incident that is the worst story you’ll ever hear of suffering in war. It’s heartwrenching and so sickening it makes you despair for humanity and how any witness could retain any sanity.

Ten minutes later he tells another story that’s even worse. Even the depths of Hell have a basement. He finishes by just saying with a conviction that burns, “I just felt ashamed for all of humanity.”
He also makes one observation, “It’s always the poorest that get it in the neck in war.”

So, ignore the pomp and circumstance, the stiffly formal official ceremonies and watch Don McCullin and weep.

Thursday 25 June 2015

Farewell to Stewart Hulse, pioneer of mountain rescue

Stewart Hulse

Former leader of Britain's busiest rescue team fought for better tools, training. I wrote this after learning of his passing.

The news was a little like hearing that Scafell no longer had its pike or that the Napes no longer had the Needle. Stewart Hulse, founder of the Langdale/Ambleside Mountain Rescue Team had passed away at 78.
Anyone who has ever set foot on a mountain in Britain, and further afield owes him a few moments of their time as Hulse pushed through major changes to what was a pretty roughshod and improvised set of small mountain rescue teams, who often recruited in passing pubs on their way to an accident.
After Hulse, rescue teams were professional in treatment, equipment and experience, but retained the old spirit of climber helping climber.
He did this with a mixture of personality, persuasion, listening, compassion, and if all that failed, then by sheer tenacity. He also had charm, modesty and a considerable ability to laugh at himself.
His victories include re-organising teams to respond to events, bullying BT and Vodaphone into setting up a pager, and then mobile coverage in Cumbria. 
Other reforms seem minor, such as making rescuers ‘Coroners Officers,’ But this little thing meant that, if a body had been found, the rescue teams could deal with the situation, rather than having a poor uniformed copper standing on a rainy hillside for hours.
Others, such as pioneering technology, such as a mobile fax in the 90s, that could take print outs from monitors and send to the hospitals where the casualty was likely to be treated. He pushed for paramedic training and by the time he was done, his rescue team, the busiest in Britain was financially sound and had better equipment than an ambulance.
With 42 years of service, Hulse was a practitioner also. He had what was called a great ‘cragside manner’ – the ability to put the often disorientated and injured casualty at ease, although not always as he planned.
With his warm Bury accent, he was attending a young lady of Asian descent who had injured her leg and was in some pain. “Now don’t you worry petal, we’ll soon sort you out petal” he reassured her time after time. “Now petal, take a breath of this, it’ll help you petal,” he said offering some entenox gas for pain relief.
The girl looked amazed and asked, “How do you know my name?” He was awarded an MBE in 2001, which proves that if nothing else, the Duke of Edinburgh is a tolerant man. In trying to persuade the Duke’s outdoor scheme for youths to have proper equipment, including maps, Hulse had some pretty choice words to describe the Queen’s consort.
His biggest battle was over VAT. He wanted teams to be exempted from it, on the grounds that their service was saving the hospitals and police a fortune. He also argued that people didn’t donate to mountain rescue teams – all voluntarily funded in the UK – in order for their money to go to the Treasury.
He was meat by mealy mouthed politicians, far removed from reality as they were from the fells. Told it was impossible because… they might have to consider giving the same exemptions to hospices, drug treatment centres and so on   Hulse’s frustration came out in a report, “This reminded us of when we had a meeting with Angela Eagle MP. She compared and aligned mountain rescue to the Cats Defence League, again a worthy cause, but not exactly a like-for-like life saving service in which human life can be at stake.”
That’s what it was about for Hulse, allowing people to enjoy the great outdoors.

The seven stages of attending the European Parliament

The thrills, the tension. Photo Greens/NFA

Those who have spent a fair amount of time in the European Parliament go through several stages, rather similar to the seven stages of grief:

1. Shock or disbelief - wondering why these tedious people are not really saying anything much at all.

2. Denial - those are not MEPs surely, they would ask smarter questions than this.

3. Anger - If this is the standard of parliamentary accountability, no wonder Europe is being flushed down the toilet of history.

4. Bargaining - Perhaps I could have a quiet word and explain how badly they're coming across?

5.  Guilt - I really am wasting my life here, must have a re-evaluation of myself and my life.

6. Depression - This is where most people are right now, the one comfort is that not only are you not alone, you're surrounded by fellow sufferers.

7. Acceptance and Hope - What's the plat du jour at The Grapevine?

This is spelled out because of a small incident in the parliament. during yet another dull session, where a group of people nobody knows from equally obscure outfits were addressing the parliament (boring the audience) that a small voice spoke up.

It was from the headsets as one of the Interpreters had accidentally left their microphone on when the speaker was using the same language. Those listening to that channel were treated to a little gossip, some minor intrigue and the candid admission;

"I have no idea who any of these people are or why they are here."

It is understood the audience listening to this particular language channel could be easily identified as there was an outbreak of spontaneous nodding at the comment.

I don't want to bring trouble to the interpreters, for they are Europe's bravest soldiers having to actually listen to a lifetime of hot air, self-righteousness and gobbledygook from the inhabitants of the institutions, they just can't be over paid for that.

The Spirit of the Fells - a solution to mountain safety

The new Wainwright
Written after a rather silly BBC news story on mountain safety

The sad truth is that journalists are unable to write about mountain rescue without causing harsh, mocking laughter from the misty heights. The rule seems to be that you write best about what you know, a lazy lie spread to discourage critical thinking or the acquisition of new knowledge by those new to the trade.

With reporting increasingly based in the capitals, a few hacks have any understanding about life at the other end of the country and those that do fall into the hubristic superiority of the metropolitan line.

With churnalism becoming the foundation of reporting in a digital age, hacks have to turn out quick stories at an increasing rate and the days when an inquiring mind was a basic requirement are long gone.

Not that the readers are any better, wanting a quick tale reduced ad idiotum, closing the circle of ignorance.

Increasingly stories are basically troll bait, where the end result is to ‘engage the reader’ or make them respond instantly, thoughtlessly to the online story, spreading a link, making a comment and boosting the advertising revenue.

And so, the BBC published a story after a fatality on Striding Edge, a sharp ridge ascending Helvellyn, a beautiful place but one where a little caution is needed.

The story was headlined ‘Helvellyn deaths spark safety calls’. I’m not going into the concept of wildness, personal responsibility and the acceptance and avoidance of risk.

I’m going to talk about the call - singular - by one person, who had lost a friend on the mountain to an accident, quoted in the article. Linda Howard-Bates was quoted as saying “It’s beautiful, it’s enticing, but nature can be vicious and cruel, and you just have to put that in the foreground.”

She added, “It should be possible to enforce some sort of guide system.”

This lady could have provided a much better service, to her friend and others. Digging around, one learns that Ms H-B is a self-proclaimed ‘Clairvoyant and Medium’.

As the mountain rescue teams have pointed out that the idea of a guide is impractical, let us consider that they and the BBC completely failed to understand our astral ascender’s idea.
She’s clearly talking about spirit guides. This is a more practical proposition. Spiritualists and clairvoyants could easily be placed strategically in Lakeland, where they could examine each passing rambler for any likelihood of stepping off the fells and onto the astral plane on their ramble.

The Ramblers Association and the British Mountaineering Council should introduce a compulsory course on clairvoyance, but would this be enough? I would suggest not. There are obvious advantages of training guides, walking clubs, climbers and more on Astral projection, considered the most reliable way of encountering your own spirit guide.

This sort of activity would also grant the fell walker with a detailed look at the topography of the day, a Google Maps for the soul.

Indeed, it could encourage a spirit-led fell walk, which would enable walkers and their ethereal companions to glide over the fells, leaving behind no litter, no erosion and no footprints. They’d probably stay dry, although poltergeists could be a problem, many are likely to emanate from university climbing clubs, one suspects.

It also follows that mountain rescuers could pack away their boots and enjoy their evenings in bed, rather than staggering up the fells carrying heavy stretchers.

The only problem is the RAF, whose blisteringly quick training flights through the Lakes could cause some turbulence for our astral ramblers, but hey, nothing’s entirely without risk.

It should be noted that Aleister Crowley was a keen mountaineer, perhaps he can be enrolled to provide a little discipline for our astral adventurers.

Tuesday 23 June 2015

Indiana Jones and the mystery by mail

This belongs in a museum

Bespoke puzzles by post

All good mysteries start with something simple, commonplace and so does this tale, for Christmas is also the time for presents and wonder.
The weeks before Christmas are the busiest times for shops, but also for the University of Chicago’s Admissions Department as thousands of young people jostle to get a place in this famed institution, sending in their applications, documents and requests for help.
But this year, something very different came in the post, the admissions office explained, “Yesterday we received a package addressed to “Henry Walton Jones, Jr.”. We sort-of shrugged it off and put it in our bin of mail for student workers to sort and deliver to the right faculty member— we get the wrong mail a lot.”
Thankfully, one of the students recognized the recipient as Indiana Jones, the university’s famous yet fictional professor and the package was opened, revealing an extraordinarily detailed notebook, containing notes on the location and history of the Ark of the Covenant and many other pieces of ephemera, a replica of “University of Chicago Professor” Abner Ravenwood’s journal from the film, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark.
When opened, the mystery deepened. |UChicago Admissions
The university was baffled, asking “If you’re an applicant and sent this to us: Why? How? Did you make it? Why so awesome?” They continued, “Any hints, ideas, thoughts, or explanations are appreciated. We’ve been completely baffled as to why this was sent to us, in mostly a good way.”
Many fans of the Spielberg adventure films replied by quoting one of the movies famous lines, “This belongs in a museum!”
The mystery has been solved. The package was made by an eBay seller, Ravenbar, who posted it inside another envelope, to the buyer in Italy. While in transit, the package got separated from the original and the postal service delivered the inner package to the university.
Ravenbar also felt it belonged in a museum and has allowed the university to put it on display in their Oriental Institute and will make another for the Italian purchaser.
Fan-tastic Parcels
There are several people making replica props, but some of the Indy admirers go beyond a re-creation. Machty, from the Netherlands explained, “Grail diary makers are usually fans, who are so immersed in the whole Indiana Jones universe that they start collecting everything they can on it and eventually, when certain items are non- existent, they end up making them themselves.”
He enjoys making such memorabilia, “The process of making them is more or less like a journey in itself and allows the fan to fully ' lose' themselves in this wondrous world of adventure and mystery.” Machty continues, “The diaries are in fact more than just replica's. They use the movieprop as a basis and have added pages, details, events etc. based on the whole Indiana Jones universe. So not just the books, but also events that take place in the various books and even the videogames that came out in recent years.”
It’s also a demanding hobby, “Some only make one, but there are some, amongst which myself, who are almost posessed by the idea that it can be done even better the next time, thus starting the build over and over again, each time trying to make minute details even better.”
Mystery Mail
If this tale of mysterious mail intrigues, it’s easier than you may imagine arranging a mystery of your own, thanks to The Mysterious Package Company. This team, led by the enigmatic ‘Curator’ will design and create unusual and intriguing surprises and post them off.
Timothy Sullivan, The Mechanic for the company explained what they do, “The artifacts from The Mysterious Package Company are steeped in lore and adventure; an experience that becomes part of the recipients life story. It is almost more about how the items are presented than the items themselves.”
The packages are a team effort, stresses Sullivan, “The work is spread among myself, The Mechanic, who takes care of the online pieces (the web store, as well as custom websites we generate for storylines), The Artisan, who crafts items from scratch, forges documents, ages artifacts and generally adds the spice to the story, and The Professor, who crafts the stories and puzzles, making sure that every package is coherent in its message.”
Each of their packages is custom made, ranging in cost from $250 to over $1,000. “For a single-crate experience, where everything comes together at once and it's from our existing inventory of offerings, it generally takes 8 to 14 hours to create. For bespoke experiences, with custom artifacts and a unique storyline it could easily take 40 hours or more. This is why we limit the number of packages we send per month, with members getting preferred access,” says Sullivan.
In keeping with the mystery, the company “cannot confirm or deny our involvement in any specific packages.”
But one person who ordered a package told New Europe a little about why they chose such an unusual gift, “What I find gratifying is that people want to believe. The first item we received was a letter and people who found out about it just wanted to know more and more, to read and reread the letter. People have aggressively googled different "clues", like the postmark on the envelope that the letter came in. Although the mailings are so cool to receive, it's pretty clear that people SURROUNDING the giftee get something from this process too. This isn't just a break from life being predictable for the giftee, it puts a spark in the lives of everyone who follows along.”
We could all do with a little mystery in our lives and thanks to these imaginative people, it’s not too difficult or expensive to arrange.

Monday 22 June 2015

Young director challenges homophobia in Lithuania

Romas Zabarauskas interviewed by Andy Carling

Being gay is dangerous in many parts of Europe

The acceptance of homosexuality is a continuing challenge to many European nations. Although some have taken up equality, some still have views that will shock many people. It takes courage to take a stand and one young Lithuanian has turned to cinema as a tool in the fight for acceptance.
At just 23, Romas Zabarauskas is not only a young film director, but a brave man. His film, Porno Melodrama, filmed in 2011, has been shown in the European Parliament. “This was the first film to show a gay relationship. I also came out as gay at the time,” he says.
Noting that Lithuania passed a law that many saw as restricting homosexuality, under the guise of protecting minors, he adds “It’s ironic, because we are all shocked by Russia passing a similar law, but we did it first in 2011!”
He said that he made the film to test the law, “I was being openly provocative because I think its important to show that you’re not afraid because that’s what they want us to be.”
The film wasn’t banned and has been shown internationally. “This year, the law was used and the national television had an advert for Gay Pride by Lithuanian TV, even though it was nothing, not offensive.” This is not the end of the troubles, “We have many new homophobic initiatives that we don’t have time to react to everything.”
Is it hard to come out as gay in such a small country? “Yes! We are 3 million and it is hard and we don’t have many gay politicians or personalities, but recently it is getting better and we do have more and more celebrities supporting gay rights, and even that is brave in Lithuania.”
He praises his family, saying that their broadmindedness helped him. He says, “You create your own reality, so I surrounded myself with open minded people. Myself, I am strongly for people coming out, even when it is dangerous.”
Many European countries have been down a long road to acceptance of homosexuality, does he think that Lithuania will eventually follow? “Yes, of course. It’s encouraging what has changed” and he praises the LGBT activists before him “who have shown how to fight for rights, but still there are a lot of challenges.”
Optimism is a resilient ally for the film maker, “In Lithuania we were always thinking it was getting better and it was a matter of time, but I don’t feel that.”
He continues, “Paradoxically, we were progressing before we joined the EU because all the politicians were saying how open minded they were, but once we got there, they just didn’t care and they were as populist, cynical and homophobic as they wanted.”
He says that legislation changed, but he says listening to how people talk, “nothing has changed.”
Is he seeing support from outside Lithuania? “Of course there are different processes going on at the same time. As politicians get more hysterical, there are also positive signs as well, like the LGBT community is organising and things like You Tube are helping get the message out.”
He also welcomes increasing support from celebrities, who can provide a symbol and hope, for people who often feel very alone and isolated. “I think it’s very important. If you can change the public perception the politicians will follow.”
He elaborates, “They are not leaders, they are followers doing a very bad job.”
As a film director, how is this affecting him? “I receive a lot of homophobic reactions that have no relation to my films at all, but I also receive a lot of support as well. 
But it inspires him. “I’m in a strange situation because my passion is making films. But I also want to be socially aware and sometimes I’m caught between being an activist and an artist, but that’s OK. I believe art should be political too.”
His films are involved with many issues, such as identity, sexuality, racism and corruption. “I would add that my films are not educational, they are provocative and eal with these subjects in crazy ways as their titles suggest!”
He is not just a gay director, but he says, “I’m not afraid to be defined by my sexuality. I’m grateful that I have experienced that I have had. There are some artists who deal with these subjects but try to backtrack away from sexual identities. I wouldn’t do that because it’s part of who I am. Everything I have experienced has been difficult but it made me.”
Making film commercially must be difficult in a small country? “That’s true. I got funding for both of my films from our Culture Ministry, which shows that not all of our country is homophobic. I also did crowd funding campaigns; that’s how I did it.”
It’s difficult, but I’m doing things independently. I’ve got a script for a bigger film and one for another small film, depending on how funding goes!” And Lithuania, “I am proud of our culture and our little country, especially when I go abroad.”

Karen Armstrong: The case for compassion

Karen Armstrong

One of the foremost writers on theology and spirituality, Armstrong has been called "arguably the most lucid, wide-ranging and consistently interesting religion writer today".

Karen Armstrong is known and admired for her best-selling books, which include a history of the Bible and a biography of the Prophet Mohammed. She has studied the sacred texts of the world as well as philosophy, anthropology and history and recently wrote a response to atheists, The Case For God.

Her latest project is the Charter for Compassion. For Armstrong, compassion is a deep empathy with others, not a feeling of pity or concern.

She visited Brussels to speak at a debate on the role of religion in modern society, organized by the Centre for European Studies and spoke to New Europe in an exclusive interview.

Your view of compassion is based on empathy

It is at the heart of every spiritual, moral and ethical idea, religious or not. It’s based on the golden rule; treat others as you would want to be treated. Basically, that’s the heart of morality, but now it is an urgent necessity, because if we don’t treat all peoples as we would wish to be treated, we’re not going to have a viable world.

How would a compassionate European Union treat migrants?

Very often these immigrants have come to fuel our economy and haven’t come of their own free will. Both sides have some work to do. The immigrants have to remember what it was like when the Europeans colonized their countries and changed them forever. Remember the pain that caused, the pain that is still reverberating today and is the cause of many of our international problems worldwide.

Europeans have to remember that these people, who they have invited here to do cheap work are to be treated with dignity.

We’re going to have to learn to put yourself in the place of another and ask, “Do I like to hear my sacred traditions being trashed, be those of a religious, political or moral nature.” There are certain values that we have, such as free speech, which is seen as sacred and inviolable. What we are seeing is clashes of the sacred. Two people with different ideas and these have to be negotiated with greater maturity.

The Muslims have to stop being enraged, and falling into the trap, that, very often extreme people on the other side are trying to lure them into. If Europe fails this test, it is going to go right back to the 1930’s and 40’s.

There is a debate on has multiculturalism failed?

It will fail unless we can negotiate these differences in a mature manner. If we say we’re committed to liberal values and democracy, that means everybody’s voice has to be heard.

There is, unfortunately, also a secular radicalism, which doesn’t represent the majority. During the Denmark cartoons controversy, there was a poll of Muslim youth and 97% said that, while they were horrified by the cartoons, they were also horrified by those Muslims who were attacking and burning down embassies.

At the same time they did a survey among Danes, who said that yes, they believed in free speech but also were upset that those cartoons had given offence. That middle voice doesn’t get heard. It’s not exciting, but it shows the situation has become distorted.

What happens then is that both sides show themselves in the worst light. The West comes over as arrogant, racist, insulting and Islamphobic and the Muslims come over as atavistic, violent. That is not the whole of the reality; the middle ground has been erased. At the end of the crisis we both fulfill the others expectations of ourselves and the prejudices go a little deeper.

We’re more aware of ‘the other’ now, how are we adapting to that?

Not well, but we have got to adapt. Whether we like it or not, the other is there. If a market goes down in one part of the world, there’s a domino effect. We are interconnected. We’re no longer living in a ‘Belgium for the Belgians’ or ‘Britain for the British’.  That’s gone because we’ve created this global market. It’s not some terrible plague that’s come along.

But our perceptions haven’t caught up with reality and unless we do that, we will be irrational. It’s irrational to think these people will go away.

This change is going to need politics.

I don’t hold much hope for politics. The people who have come to help me with the charter have, universally, been businessmen. Leading business, because they know you need peace and the big push for the charter is from business.

So far, politicians haven’t come up to help with the charter, it’s companies like Microsoft, Google, Starbucks. They say it makes business sense to treat your employees respectfully.

What is the aim of the Charter and the compassionate cities project?

We’re building an international network of cities dedicated to the pursuit of compassion, but it has to be practical, and when it is endorsed my Mayors and so on. Before they can qualify they need to produce a practical program, based on the needs of their locality, their problems and so on. Seattle has signed up and Chicago, Philadelphia and New Delhi are joining.

Atheists such as Richard Dawkins make a lot of criticisms that could be seen my some as valid on church structure

I don’t think they know very much about church structure or dogma. They just think it’s a set of beliefs. They don’t seem to know much about religion. What I think they do well, is to remind us that all religions could be held to have been guilty of intolerance and violence.

I just wish they would do it without falling into the trap of intolerance and bigotry themselves. It’s very important for religious people to have a dialogue with atheists and it has taken place in the past and been fruitful for both sides.

Is this a continuation of the old science versus religion debate?

It’s not that old. Science and religion have two different jobs to do. Any scientist can tell you what happens, but he can’t give meaning. The religions are at their worst when they try to give explanations about the origins of the universe, which are scientific. Even Calvin, of all people, said the Bible is not about astronomy. If you want to find out about that, go elsewhere. That sense has been lost.

Religion is helping us deal with problems with which there are no answers, such as sorrow, grief, mortality, cruelty and despair.

How do we get in touch with the Divine?

I wish I knew. Religions have developed ways and practices that help us to leave the self, to put the ego aside. Some of these are rituals, some are moral or ethical. This is where compassion comes in. If you’re going to be compassionate towards people, “all day and every day,” as Confucius put it, you have to put aside the clamorous ego, that can’t see outside its own perspective. Yoga is about getting rid of the I from your thinking. If you can do that, you can see the divine.

There’s a new age movement, with a new view towards spirituality

They can be self indulgent. They can be all about me and getting a nice warm glow. But religions should compel us towards compassion. There’s something wrong with your religion if it doesn’t.

How would you like to see your ideas develop?

It will be different in all parts of the world. We’re working in Pakistan and that will be difficult for young people because they’ve been distorted by a Wahabi ethos that was imposed on them in the 1980’s, but the charter is being taught in independent schools and it will remind them of the compassionate aside of Islam. There’s huge energy coming from there.

I want to twin cities and universities and get students to email each other, that starts to break down the patterns of ignorance, but it will be 10 years before we make any difference. This is long, slow work.

Lets ban the burqa of the boulevards

Could contain terrorists or Jeremy Clarkeson
If we follow the 'logic' of the Islamophobes, this must happen

Britain is the latest country to make moves to ban the traditional Islamic clothing, that veils a woman’s face. This is from a solitary British Conservative MP and unlikely to make any progress, but it does show how the issue is spreading throughout the continent.

The reasons for the ban usually include security concerns, questions over integration and so on.

I have to say that I’m not concerned about the activities of a handful of women who wear this dress in public. There is a much greater worry, and if it’s reasonable to prohibit a bit of cloth over the face, we should be concentrating on a much larger danger.

I refer, obviously, to tinted windows on cars.

Vehicles provide a much greater potential danger than pedestrians, just compare the number of fatalities caused by cars to those caused by people walking on the pavements. A damning indictment.

When it comes to terrorism and violence, cars are clearly an increased risk. There’s only so much Semtex you can shove inside a burqa, whereas a car bomb can hold much more. If you don’t have access to high quality explosives, imagine the difficulty of carrying around a fertiliser and weedkiller mixture under the veil. So much easier in a car or pick-up, especially under the Summer sun.

Concealing weapons is also much easier in a vehicle with tinted windows.

There are also more mundane dangers, that may not be as dramatic, but in numerical terms, are more significant. Take booze.

A drunk woman staggering down the street in a burqa would be easily spotted and it would be straightforward to take evasive action. But if a car full of people were drinking, you wouldn’t even know if they were taking slugs of vodka or had optics on the steering wheel if they could hide behind tinted windows.

Then there’s drugs. Drivers could be chain smoking foot long spliffs and nobody would be the wiser, hidden in their darkness.
The wrongdoers and criminals are the only people who benefit from the tinted windows. Imagine if you saw a crime, committed by one of their number, from a murder to a hit and run. It would be impossible to give a description to the police, or even say how many people were involved.

The treated windows do let in less light, sometimes blocking 30% of light, and this does affect driving, especially at dusk or night.

Police will tell you that one of the most potentially dangerous activities is in stopping cars. When a policeman approaches a car with darkened windows, he has no idea what dangers await him or her. Let’s support law enforcement officers by making their jobs safer by removing hiding places for criminals.

As car crime increases and terrorists look to exploit weaknesses in security, there can be no argument that tinted windows must be banned. There can be no doubt that banning the burqa of the boulevard is a priority.

An honest citizen has no reason to hide.

I have noticed that Brussels is ahead of the game. The most serious crooks and criminals, who insist on travelling with their homeys, in a procession of vehicles with tinted windows, usually painted as black as their consciences are often seen in Brussels with a police escort, who have their sirens on at full volume, to warn the people of the approach of such dubious people.

This is a good first step, but it is not enough.

Sunday 21 June 2015

Knight of nothing

This article, in response to the Breivik killings has come to mind after the Dylann Roof murders, yet another insecure white male, full of hate and a penchant for murdering the defenseless, to start a racial war.

I’ve got a little advice this week, if that doesn’t sound too presumptive, but here we go: If you’re thinking of doing anything specific on the grounds that it will trigger off a ‘race war’ or something similar, just stop right now and forget about it and visit a doctor.

There’s a reason for this; it doesn’t work and you’re a nutter. From Charles Manson to bin Laden to batty Breivik the dangerously deluded believed that topping a few people would lead to an inevitable clash between Gods chosen few and Johnny Foreigner.

I thought I should mention this, on the off chance, because there’s going to be more Breiviks. Not because of some Holy immutable law, but because the language, symbolism and world view of the Norwegian killer is all too common, even in the European Parliament. There is a frighteningly large number of MEPs who use exactly the same imagery and even praise the killer, like Mario Borghezio.

What is deeply scary, is that many of these deluded deputies were about to get up to a million euros a year for forming two right of sanity pan-european political parties, thanks to the generosity of the Parliament Bureau.

Just imagine watching the Breivik trial, knowing that taxpayer’s money was being given to the defendant’s ideological buddies..

Anyway, the narcissistic Norwegian proceeded to bore the court rigid with a prolonged nonsensical ramble, this time limited to half an hour.  I read his previous missive, some 15,000 words of utter drivel. It was a glimpse into an utterly tedious mind, a dull, repetitive one, but the savior of the white race wasn’t just a  bore, but a lazy one. Most of the manifesto wasn’t so much the product of extensive research and study, but an over excited use of copy and paste.

Yet, in his head, he had become a member of the Knights Templar, seeing himself as a noble knight of old, upholding the purest values. Of course, he had to make his own uniform, with the assistance of e-Bay and photoshop.

Then our brave heart went off and killed a lot of unarmed children who were trapped on an island, having chosen the target because it was a youth camp for ‘multiculturists’ and, going that step beyond sanity, the camp was also just like the Hitler Youth.

I might be wrong in this, but I don’t recall that organization fully embracing multiculturalism.

However, his claim to be the world’s most boring man was given credibility as he gave his account of his actions, because the audience in the court, who were relatives of the deceased and survivors of the murders, couldn’t stop yawning.

There’s nothing to fear in his manifestos or other utterances, no cause that is going to attract anyone but the losers and wasters who want to blame others for their failings, indeed, the prosecutors are demolishing his beliefs and actions, piece by piece, revealing a man made from lies.

But we should fear those who share Breivik’s world view, those who parrot the same rubbish, the same lies. Some of them are nonentities, who may go rogue, some are high level politicians on the election trail.

These are the ones we should be worrying about.

Saturday 20 June 2015

Multiculturalism and shared values

Sajjad Karim MEP
After David Cameron spoke at the Munich Security Conference in 2011, I interviewed leading Conservative MEP, Sajjad Karim. His remarks are as timely today as then.

British Premier, David Cameron recently gave a speech to the Munich Security Conference on countering extremism. Much of the reporting on it seems sensational, compared to the text of the address, but he does discuss moving to shared values and identity. New Europe spoke to Conservative MEP, Sajjad Karim, who represents the North West constituency, home to a large immigrant population about community relations and the wider lessons for Europe.

David Cameron’s speech seemed to say that we need to develop more of an identity, to be more inclusive than multiculturalism

For me, the whole issue of identity has centered around what it means to be British, as a concept. One subtle but important point in David Cameron’s speech is that he made it in Germany and the German view of what it means to be German is very different to the British view.

The concept of Britishness has always been very open, quite simply because of British history, all encompassing and open to a huge array of cultures, languages, people and it has become very rich as a result of that.

Within being British, you have many different layers of identity as well as the legally recognised ability to have more than one nationality. You can be British and Pakistani. What I do take exception to, and it has developed in recent years, post 911, is the term British Muslim to identify people like myself. This is where I think David Cameron got it completely right in his speech, is that what we need to do, is to invest and redevelop Britishness as our identity.

It should be British full stop. There should be no qualification to that, based upon one’s religion. As soon as you start doing that, based upon multicultural lines, that’s where you start to weaken the concept of shared values underneath identity. That’s something we need to roll back from.

I heard an interview with a woman from the North West, who said that she believed in multiculturalism because she was nothing like someone from the South West. This shows that there are many cultures within Britain and we often hear words about religion, but the subject does seem to be race

She makes a very valid point. When I speak about my identity, I always say that I was born a Lancastrian and that is very different to being from many other places. That’s another layer of identity, but it comes withing what it means to be British. You can also ask about what it means to be European.

The point about using religion to identify somebody, I find to be wrong, after great consideration. It’s not just about people who are immigrants, but you’re also talking about second or third generation British or people who have converted.

I am finding it increasingly troublesome to see people being identified as British Muslims. We don’t find people with people of other faiths, but when it comes to Muslim’s there seems to be a need to do that. By doing that, we’re qualifying their Britishness with a sub category. It can be a sub layer of your identity, but not nationality.

Identity is connected with history, but the diversity of that is not always recognised

I think there is a need for everybody to gain the knowledge and understanding of all the peoples who have made Britain what it is today. The contribution of Indian soldiers, defending Britain with their lives, and we’re simply not informed, and because people are not aware of that, people don’t feel part of the history of Britain and if they were, you’d have far less alienation and people from the wider communities had that recognition, you wouldn’t have the rise of the far right that we are seeing.

When I look at the English Defence League, I don’t recognise their version of Englishness

It’s very worrying foe me. It’s not that long ago when we saw these sorts of movements and we know where that got us. It’s not just the EDL in England, it’s also happening in many other places. The extremely worrying thing is that all of these groupings are not attaching themselves to ethnicity or race, they’re concentrating on a particular religion as being the threat and that is Islam.

What worries me is the overall is the atmosphere in the media, including the printed press, where you can speak about Muslims and Islam in a way that you wouldn’t dare speak about a particular race or any other religion. You’re allowed to concentrate on the actions of a small minority of extremists who cloak themselves with that religion, and say that they are representative of Muslims.

I wonder how most English people would feel, if all of a sudden, the actions of the EDL were said to be representative of them, as a whole.

I’m old enough to remember the influx of Asians in the 70’s and they got on by hard work. Do we recognise the contributions of people who have moved to the UK?

We don’t make the case enough,m that there are so many success stories out there, that don’t get told. These are British success stories. There are so many examples, and I describe myself as a British success story.

All to often the immigrant story, is one of an immigrant coming to our country to take. If you look at the reality, you’d be hard pushed to find an immigrant to arrived in the UK and taken more than he or she has contributed.

Immigration has been the bedrock of building the UK and it has been a very positive experience for them and for the UK. Our history is diversity and Britain has been at its strongest, not when it has been navel gazing, but when it has been looking outwards and reaching outwards.

We tend to ask, how do we see the world? We don’t ask enough, is how does the world see us? We need to start asking that because the world has changed significantly, from when we were about to ask what we thought about a particular country without having to think for a second about what do they think of us.

Thursday 18 June 2015

Pablo Escobar's son: Choose Peace

'To forgive is an act of liberation, it is a healing act.'
I interviewed Sebastian Marroquin in one of the most remarkable encounters I've had as a journalist. He spoke about his father's motivation, crimes and loving such a man. There are many insights in the interview.

Even with a $1 million contract on his head from drug lords, Sebastian Marroquin is not afraid to stand up for peace and reconciliation.

When did you notice that your life was different to other people’s?

In 1984, when the Minister of Justice died, on the order of my father, my life changed overnight. I was living a normal life and the next day I woke up in Panama, exiled for my father’s crimes.

Did you have friends? What was it like growing up in your family?

I never lacked love from my parents, but I had few opportunities to make friends. I never had the chance to establish myself, not even in a school and many of my friends ended up dead. I can count them with one hand and have fingers to spare.

I was raised around the most dangerous bandits in the world. That made me aware that violence only generates more violence.

This is a man who you love, but went from being a young student to a trafficker, what changes did you notice in him?

I think he started in the drug dealing business after two attempts to enter university in Columbia, but the education system was not designed to receive everybody. I wonder what his life would have been like if he had received an education, and how he could have used his intelligence for good causes.

I think drug dealing, thanks to prohibition, is a way to a path of violence. My father, although he had good intentions to help those who were needy. He build 4,000 houses for people who literally lived in rubbish dumps, he built schools and hospitals and sport centres. But, finally, the violence that was generated by drug dealing really trapped him.

He went mad with violence, especially when a car bomb exploded in front of our house. When he saw the photo of the damage, one single bomb against his family was enough for him to order over 200 bomb attacks, that’s why the violence started growing.

There was one other thing that escalated the violence. The Columbian state also used violence to combat him so he felt that the state’s action delegitimised human rights and my sister and I were in prison. I was 7 and my sister was 2 years old. We were imprisoned because of my father’s crimes. So, increasingly ,he found excuses to be violent.

You said he was trapped.

You die young. They are aware of that and they don’t care. Each drug dealer believes that he will be the only one that will survive. But reason and history say that after my father’s death, the person who was responsible for 80% of the cocaine market, the Cali cartel took over. Six months later they were destroyed. New cartels started. No matter how many you jail or execute, the business will never stop. There will always be demand.

Prohibition makes it a profitable business, The only result it has produced is more widows and orphans. I’m sure that the policies we apply now are the same as applied 30 years ago. You can announce that you have won battles, but the war is lost.

I was born in the centre of the drug dealing, surrounded by drugs, but I was never tempted to try them, thanks to the education from my father. That’s why I think education is the most powerful tool.

What did your father say to you about drugs?

When I was 8 or 9 years old, when he called me and said, “let’s talk about drugs.” He explained to me about each one, what they did and the differences. He showed me how to identify each one of them. He confessed that he had tried them all, apart from heroin, because he felt that had a point of no return.

He said that he only used marijuana and all other drugs were poison and if I was ever curious about trying any of them, not to do it with my friends but to call him and we would try them together. I don’t know what effect it had on me, but my curiosity disappeared.

With information campaigns to youngsters, you can have an effect, because no drug dealer puts a gun to your head, it’s a personal choice to take drugs.

Is this why you weren’t tempted to continue the family business?

Exactly. Because I know how the story started and how it ended. It would have been the simplest way, for me to continue my father’s business, but I always disagreed with the violence that he generated. I realised that to continue would be to go against my own principles and those things I asked him not to do.

Your father gave a lot to the poor, was this out of conviction or to buy support?

My father was once as poor as they were and he knew about their needs and suffering. He never forgot where he came from. It’s cheaper to buy votes than to give houses as presents.

There is a story that illustrates that money from drugs is useless. When we were in hiding we had $2 million in cash but we were literally starving because we couldn’t go across the street to the supermarket. That’s when I understood that drug money had no sense.

When your father first offered to go into prison he said he was acting in the interest of his wife and “my pacifist son”.

I used to tell him that there was no valid excuse for the violence he was making. Sometimes he had many answers and made me shut up. We had many arguments.

For example, I told him I didn’t agree with the bombs, that they were indiscriminate. He said that I should remember that the first one was against me and my sister, that he didn’t start that madness.

But still I think there is no valid excuse for violence. It requires more courage to be a pacifist than to be a bad guy, to destroy is easy, to build more difficult.

Your father was also trying to take over the state

There are many ways to control. There is corruption. You have unlimited supplies of money and bribes can be hard to refuse, because he said “You either take this money or I’ll kill you”. My father was the first civilian to declare a war against the state. I remember that he said  “I will make the Medellin police disappear.” Within a month, more than 500 died.

You don’t hide from your father’s crimes and say that he was a loving father, but after his life of crime, what did he leave you with?

I received a lot of love from him, despite of his attitude to life that negatively affected his family. When he called me last, he broke his golden rule and stayed on the phone.

He was trying to save us because we would have been next. After he died, we asked for help to the Vatican, the Red Cross and UN. We just wanted somewhere to live, not money or protection. We were part of the trap for our father. The President admitted that.

Now you are living openly, how does that feel?

We were detained in Argentina in 1999 which let people discover our new identity, so it seemed to be right to share our story to the world. I’m searching, trying to do what is correct. You can choose violence or peace. I choose peace. My country needs peace. I hope my experience is useful for the young, to remain away from the drug dealing.

But your story raises uncomfortable issues for the country, about their past. There were many that were involved at one level or another

I feel sadness that this peace message has been buried by the establishment. They are not interested in talking about Pablo Escobar, because to talk about him is to talk about themselves. About how a civilian could get so far, thanks to corruption from the state, business leaders and others. Many were accomplices.

My father could not be manipulated, he was the big manipulator.

The society was co-responsible. We don’t want to accuse anyone, we don’t name anyone.

Do you have the names?

Many. But one has to rebuild the country to make sure the past is not repeated. I believe in divine justice because you can evade Earth’s justice.

You are threatening to expose people?

Absolutely not. I’ve received a number of offers to abuse the position I have, to destroy democracy and I never abused that to damage anyone.

I’m here to build not to destroy. I would shut up all my life, if they leave me in peace.

I have met many more victims of my father. They are ready for reconciliation, to forgive. To forgive is an act of liberation, it is a healing act.

This is what my country needs to get out of the cycle of violence. The Columbian establishment should not be afraid of peace and reconciliation.

Postscript: Here are my thoughts after the interview