Something haunting….

January 18, 2015

moon

There is something haunting in the light of the moon; it has all the dispassionateness of a disembodied soul, and something of its inconceivable mystery.

Joseph Conrad

Foreplay

January 18, 2015

face

Pillow man was a soft and happy place
that made me feel something tingly
when I wrapped tiny legs around him,
playing a new game, pressing and rolling,
not really knowing why, but keeping
him secret and dragging him out from
the dark covers if mummy came to check
on me, of course then making out he
was just a pillow under my head
and sleeping, not touching me down there.

Pebble man was not one but many
mouths on shingle beaches in summer,
when I lay down on my stomach
and found that better than sun-bathing
I could kiss you all, shamelessly,
without preferring one above another,
just something to practise on, and afterwards
all you might see was a young girl
throwing away a stone, never thinking
she had learned the art of using.

Book man lived in the dirty passages
of my grandfather’s paperbacks next
to the coupons he raped from newspapers,
he was a real man who looked just like
Richard Gere and knew what to do and say
at the same time, not like the first boy man,
no better than stones, who bit me when
he kissed me and tried after clumsy
tongues to be a pillow and go down there,
making me close my eyes and pretend.

Raised among books

January 18, 2015

Books

“I was raised among books, making invisible friends in pages that seemed cast from dust and whose smell I carry on my hands to this day”.

Carlos Ruiz Zafon
The Shadow Of The Wind

eye

I’ve heard so much crap about freedom and freedom of speech over the past couple of weeks. It does my head in, it really does. The root cause for the latest outpourings is satire and its uses: in particular the satirising of Gods, their disciples, prophets and what-have-yous, because satirising them will cause offence to their myriad followers and we can’t have that, can we?

The holy father himself, Pope Francis defended freedom of expression (following the attack on Charlie Hebdo) but stressed there must be limits. Religions, he suggested (and he is God’s representative here on Earth, after all said and done), should be treated with respect. Faith should not be insulted or ridiculed.

Francis, aboard the papal plane, said: “If my good friend Dr. Gasbarri says a curse word against my mother, he can expect a punch.” The pontiff threw a mock blow to emphasise his point. “It’s normal. You cannot provoke. You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot make fun of the faith of others.”

Ummmm.

Now, as an aside, it’s always been my belief that Jesus Christ instructed his followers to “Turn the other cheek.” It’s one of the very few direct instructions he gives in the Holy Bible, that along with “love your enemies and pray for your persecutors.” He says surprisingly little on the subject of face-punching. Although I seem to recall he suggested whipping the money lenders (Bankers) out of the temple.

So what is satire?

The word is a Latin derivative from satura (full of variety), and satura in time became satira. The father of satire was probably Archilochos of Paros C. 680 – 645 BC, a Greek lyric poet whose cutting satirical verses were said by his contemporaries to have driven his fiancée and her father to suicide (a story that is almost certainly a load of old bollocks, but what the hell, it’s worth repeating here for effect)! Ultimately, like it or not, satire is nothing less than sarcasm, but refined into an art form. Usually it is humorous, comical, taking the piss out of someone or something. But satire is also, on occasion, as serious as its subject matter, for example Orwell’s 1984.

As another aside, the Charlie Hebdo magazine has been around a long time. Pre the attack it had a sale of a few hundred thousand declining, and was allegedly almost bust financially. A couple more months and it would have closed down, victim of marketplace forces – unless a wealthy backer came forward to pour cash into it, a highly unlikely scenario. Now, the magazine’s future has more or less been “guaranteed” by the French president, courtesy of the French taxpayers, and all in the name of freedom of speech. The latest edition of the magazine, post attack, sold a million copies in two hours, leading Mr Hollande to declare Charlie Hebdo “reborn”.

Ummmm.

So what the hell use is satire? Well, it’s been used to highlight foolishness or vice in individuals or organisations, including government. Throughout history it’s pissed people off big time, and many satirists have been martyred by the societies they ridiculed. Despite this satire has led to societal changes on occasion, and to improvements / adjustments of peoples attitude to a variety of issues – including women’s rights, gay rights, the poor (who will always be with us, Amen), government policy, etc. etc.

Some examples of satire (yeah, yeah, another aside):

“Kim Jong-un Wins Trip To China
(ACPA-Pyongyang) North Koreans are glowing with pride following yesterday’s announcement that supreme leader Kim Jong-un has won a trip to China after being awarded ‘Haircut of the Year’ by North Korean Barber magazine.

“Winning ‘Haircut of the Year’ is widely viewed as a tremendous honour with previous recipients including Kim Jong-il, Mao Tse-tung, and a younger Vladimir Putin, who still cherishes the award as a reminder of his once flowing locks. This year’s prize consists of an extended vacation in beautiful Hangzhou and leader Kim is reported to be giving serious consideration to the trip.”

Another example from the pen of Stephen Colbert:

“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus was just as selfish as we are, or we’ve got to acknowledge that He commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition and then admit that we just don’t want to do it…”

Okay, so that last example takes the piss out of Christians. Why? Because it exposes a basic truth: few Christians in reality “turn the other cheek”, fewer still in these times of great “austerity” declare their unconditional love, and hence their support of the poor and the needy.

Yeah, satire often exposes our own hypocrisy. And usually we don’t like it.

And of course satire isn’t confined to the written word. Benjamin Franklin is credited with creating and printing the first political cartoon in America. Many of his cartoons were satirical in nature. The political cartoonist Thomas Nast greatly influenced the American public during the Civil War, and is best remembered for his satirical cartoon attack against political corruption in New York City.

No less an intellectual giant (and satirist) than Will Self (William Woodard Self) has braved an opinion recently on the uses of Satire (obviously post Charlie Hebdo), suggesting it should only be used against “those in power”. This from a man who in an earlier interview claimed:

“What excites me is to disturb the reader’s fundamental assumptions. I want to make them feel that certain categories within which they are used to perceiving the world are unstable.”

And:

“I definitely was interested in satirising and taking on psychoanalysis, psychotherapy and psychiatry – the ‘psy’ professions – and the body of theory that lay behind them.”

Which is exactly what he did in his work “The Quantity Theory of Insanity”.

So what the feck does he mean by “those in power?” Surely, ultimate power must by definition rest in the hands of the deity? Almighty God.

Salman Rushdie suggests:

“I stand with Charlie Hebdo, as we all must, to defend the art of satire, which has always been a force for liberty and against tyranny, dishonesty and stupidity. ‘Respect for religion’ has become a code phrase meaning ‘fear of religion.’ Religions, like all other ideas, deserve criticism, satire, and, yes, our fearless disrespect.”

So no poncing about, middle-of-the-road, namby-pamby liberal attitudes from Mr Rushdie. He’s all about get in amongst it and get the boot in. But what about the rest of the Muslim world? There is of course that famous ninth-century literary figure known as al-Jahiz. “He poked fun at contemporaries, at his co-religionists, at anybody who seemed to him to have too great a sense of self-importance, whatever their station in life.”

Accordingly, Mr Self might be surprised to learn that satirising yourself and your society is a tradition in Muslim literature and arts — as is mocking people in power. “Political satirists are among the boldest people in the Arab and the Muslim world,” according to Bruce Lawrence, professor of Religion at Duke University. He suggests there’s also “a strong tradition of political cartoonists in the Muslim world — cartoonists like Syria’s Ali Farzat, whose hands were broken in retaliation for cartoons that mocked President Bashar Assad. Afterward, according to Lawrence, Farzat “did a cartoon of himself in a hospital bed showing that even with his hands bandaged he could still manage to say some things against the regime.”

So much for satire. We can talk about freedom of speech, one of the great shibboleths of the modern industrialized world. But where does it exist? I mean really? Where?

Try standing in Red Square in Moscow with a big sign saying “I support Pussy Riot and their message” and see what happens to you next. Three members of Pussy Riot you may remember were arrested and accused of showing a lack of respect for the rules of the Orthodox Church. In fact there biggest fault was in singing “Mother Mary, please drive Putin away.” But what can one expect from a nation that in 2013 made the “promoting of non-traditional lifestyles” illegal. Homosexuality, for example, is considered “non-traditional”.

Francois Hollande vowed to protect the message of freedom post the Charlie Hebdo attack in a televised address to the French nation. “It was,” he said, “an attack on the Republic” and that freedom of speech must be protected as something special and precious to us all.

And yet…and yet since then, 54 people have been detained and several jailed in France for a variety of remarks, shouted out in the street or posted on social media, and France’s judiciary has been lampooned for what appear to be terrible and indefensible double standards! In Toulouse alone, for example, three men in their early twenties have been jailed, two of them for 10 months, for shouting obscenities at police officers.

Ummm.

In 2011, Elisabeth Sabaditsch-Wolf, a prominent Austrian critic of Islam was convicted of “denigration of religious beliefs” for stating the prophet Mohammed “had a thing for little girls”. The judge felt that the prophet’s sexual contact with nine year old Aisha could not be considered pedophilia because his marriage to her continued until his death.

Also in Austria, one Helmut Griese was found guilty of the same offence because of his yodeling whilst his Muslim neighbour was praying.

In the United Kingdom, Harry Taylor, 59, of Salford, who left caricatures of the Pope, Mohammed and Jesus in a prayer room in John Lennon Airport was similarly convicted and sentenced to six months imprisonment (though the sentence was suspended), he also received a five-year Anti-social Behaviour Order (Asbo) at Liverpool Crown Court. Mr Taylor told jurors he had been badly sexually abused by Catholic priests as a youngster, and was trying to convert everyone to atheism (presumably to protect them from a sore bottom?).

Judge James presiding over the trial said: “Not only have you shown no remorse for what you did (drawing cartoons), but even now you continue to maintain that you have done nothing wrong and say that whenever you feel like it you intend to do the same thing again in the future.”

A TV personality’s (Katie Hopkins) disparaging social media comments about Scotland and Scots recently prompted Scottish police to tweet that it would “thoroughly investigate any reports of offensive or criminal behaviour online and anyone found to be responsible will be robustly dealt with”.

And this boys & girls just goes on and feckin’ on.

In 2010, a Muslim group claiming to expose free speech double standards in the aftermath of the Danish cartoon controversy was convicted by a Dutch court after publishing a cartoon suggesting that Jews had made up the Holocaust. The court claimed the cartoon was “unnecessarily hurtful”.

British Home Secretary Theresa May unveiled plans that would ban “non-violent extremists” from using television and social media. Yeah, right, non-violent…

Oh, well.

So much for freedom of feckin speech, yeah.

BANG!

These non-exhaustive, but simple examples serve to demonstrate contemporary Europe’s approach to freedom of expression. It’s far more complicated and far less principled than the statements made by its leading politicians in recent days suggest.

And by the way, I’m not suggesting they’re all a pack of lying c**ts. No not at all.

Their approach to freedom of expression is based on the premise that social peace in increasingly multicultural societies requires restrictions on freedom of expression. This in order to avoid offending ethnic and religious groups whatever their persuasion. Thus in 2004, when Dutch film maker Theo Van Gogh was murdered by an Islamist offended by Van Gogh’s controversial and anti-Islamic film “Submission”, the Dutch minister of justice proposed to revive the country’s blasphemy law, which had been disused since 1968. He argued that “if opinions have a potentially damaging effect on society, the government must act … It is not about religion specifically, but any harmful comments in general.”

Ummmm.

Such sentiments might appeal to pragmatists in the wake of the tragedy in France. But there is little reason to believe that restricting freedom of expression fosters tolerance and social cohesion.

Europe is increasingly divided along ethnic and religious lines. Here anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance is on the increase. In fact such laws, designed to protect minorities or religious groupings, instead seem to fuel those feeling of separateness experienced by modern Europeans… by legally protecting group identities against offence, we seem to exacerbate an already serious problem; when instead we should be fostering an identity rooted in common citizenship! While minorities may be offended by disparaging comments, insisting that freedom of expression be limited to protect them from racism and offence, it is a very dangerous game at a time where far-right movements with questionable commitment to liberal democracy are on the rise.

In this context it should not be forgotten that Dutch politician Geert Wilders once proposed banning the Quran and that the leader of Front National Marine Le Pen wants to ban religious head wear, including the Jewish kippah. The freedoms that (sometimes) allow bigots to bait minorities are also the very same freedoms that allow Muslims and Jews to practice their faiths freely.

By the further erosion of these freedoms, no one is more than a political majority away from being the target rather than the beneficiary of laws against hatred and offence. Only by reaffirming a genuine and principled defense of freedom of thought, expression and religion can Europe hope to create a society built on real tolerance and respect for diversity, and where cartoonists neither have to fear gunmen nor jail, but only the moral judgment of their fellow citizens.

And having expressed that thought, Peedeel can only say, it ain’t going to happen boys & girls. Freedom of speech, freedom of expression rests beside the feckin’ Dodo…

Amen