Friday, 22 July 2016

Important Conversations


22 February 2011. I set up a blog. When you set up a blog, no matter how you paint it, you have to have a certain level of conceit. You have to believe that people are interested in what you have to say. Therefore, what you have to say has to be interesting. That is why I set up a blog.

This is my final blog post on here. Over the five years I have been running it, I have covered quite a broad range of topics and I'd like to think I have tackled them in ways that most people haven't considered. All too often, I fall into the trap most people do. That trap is you hear a story, read the headline statements and lean on the immediate feeling. Stepping back and calmly understanding the situation is far more tricky and tends to expose uncomfortable truths. That is mainly what I wanted this blog to be, as well as a place to have some fun.

Hypocrisy was a big issue for me. I think it is the most prevalent flaw in our society and it is the least acknowledged. People were outraged at the rampant crime in the 2011 London riots but were okay downloading songs and films illegally. They were okay saying that the rich should contribute to the poor but are unwilling to make such sacrifices themselves. People are okay using hate as a method of stopping other forms of hate. I could go on. I felt it was time that those were things, along with plenty of other topics, that we discussed.


Conversations are important to have. Insights should be gathered at all times. I fear that the idea of open and free discussions is a dying art and it is off the back of such discussions that the world has come so far.

What Martin Luther King had to say on civil rights was incendiary when he said it. His words and actions came to cost him his life but it improved the lives of so many others. As uncomfortable as it is, it was important for Nick Griffin of the BNP be allowed to speak his mind. It halted his party's ascendancy, as their racist notions were fully exposed. Sunlight proved to be the best disinfectant. That moment wasn't that long ago but the notion of speaking our minds and sharing our ideas is already being attacked.

Certain agendas are being entertained, while others are being effectively erased. We are resorting to calling people racist, sexist or any other kind of hateful title as a way of shutting them up. If you think that is the best course of action, let me give you a practical example as to why that's wrong. Those people who have genuine concerns, ones that are not motivated by any hateful idea, got so sick of not being listened to that they determined to vote for someone bold enough to speak what they think. On such grounds came the political rise of Donald Trump. If you're part of that crowd who shouts down people for having an opinion, you are the soil in which the most prominent demagogue of our day grew. 

Stop shouting down conversations. Embrace other ideas and if you disagree with them, only do so with facts. Don't resort to suppressive speech or name calling. If their idea is nonsense or not in keeping with society, time will kill it. Dismiss it and it will grow in the dark as a deep rooted weed.


In 5 years or so, I've shared a lot of opinions on here. It has helped gain me a reputation of metaphorically dropping a grenade. Some of the reactions have been less than decent. Fortunately, I'm not a decent man, so it doesn't really wear me down. What I would say to anyone who wants to blog or share their opinions, you will need to be tough. Accept that if you have the right to share your insights, so do others.

We live in an era of unprecedented communication. Let's enjoy that and have those important conversations. They can be tweets, blogs, vlogs, stories, journals, opinion pieces or commentary articles. How they are had does not matter as much as the fact that we have them.

Add your mind to the conversation and, most of all, speak up.

Friday, 15 July 2016

It's Okay...


A lot of people will tell you to be different. In the 21st century, that's quite startling. Supposedly, we are in an era of unprecedented social progress. It's a lie. Certain agendas are being furthered, mostly off the back of anecdotal whining, while others continue to be dismissed. Mainly because they don't fit the narrative of those other agendas. Well, I am here to tell you that there are plenty of things people lie about when they say that they are not okay. They don't deviate from the truth out of malice. They just don't understand. They are not bad people; remember that.

It's okay to be sad. It means you're human. Amazingly, if you called it depression, they would show you respect and support you. Call it sadness and you need to get over yourself. The real sad thing is people can't see past that contradiction. They will tell you that you need to be happy. You need to be positive. No, you don't. Whatever gets you through the day is what you do. People can extol their way as better but that's like someone telling me Hawaiian pizza is the best. For some, yes. For me, no. Everyone is different. It's time we accepted that in every facet of life.

It's okay to be downbeat. Being upbeat purely to appease others is a lie. If they love you, they'll love you for who you are, not what you can pretend to be. If they can't accept that, they probably aren't the people you should have in your life. It's like a gay person keeping a homophobe for a friend.



It's okay to not have an opinion on something. That doesn't make you an enemy of a cause. The statement "If you're not with us, you're against us" takes many forms but it is a bullying, polarising tactic that is fundamentally hateful. Anything that forces you to do, say or think something is interested only in itself and not you.

It's okay to be in the minority. Sure, it means you don't get your way now but you might do one day. A minority used to read comic books. Now, a majority watch comic book films. A minority used to not read books. Now, a majority have read Harry Potter.

It's okay to not like something. No, that doesn't make you weird. There is no such thing as normal. To get what is supposedly normal, you take everything, everyone, and take an average. That means your weird is part of that normal.


It's okay to be who you are because God, nature, circumstance and choice made you that way.
It's okay to have your troubles because you can take them, even if that means asking those around you to help.
It's okay to see everyone else get what they want and you not get it. Such things happen to everyone. This means you're not alone but in the best company.
It's okay.
You can be you and you will get through this.

Wednesday, 6 July 2016

Why Did ISIL Attack Islam?


28 June 2016: Ataturk Airport in Istanbul endures bombings and shootings, exceeding the lethality of a similar incident at Brussels Airport.

3 July 2016: Baghdad endures a terrorist assault that makes the Paris attacks pale in comparison.

ISIL claimed responsibility for both. There can be no dispute. Islamic State is now in open war with Islamic nations. The question is why? Why did ISIL launch terrorist attacks against nations that, while not complicit, have the nearest links to their fundamentalist ideology? The answer didn't lie in the explosions, the bullets or the body count. It was in the reaction.


These two attacks mirrored incidents that had happened not long ago. Iraq's capital city was subject to a multi-faceted attack, akin to those witnessed in France's capital, Paris. An airport in a capital city is subject to a series of assaults; a fact that could easily be attached to Brussels and Istanbul. The difference between is how the West reacted. What was our reaction after Paris and Brussels?

We swarmed over social media to show our solidarity. We changed our profile pictures to have flag filters to offer our moral support. We put up posts to show we stood with the French and Belgian people. We sang their national anthem. We mourned with them. We were one with them.

What did we do for Iraq or Turkey? Minimal posts. No profile picture filters. Limited outrage or outpouring of grief. It got swept under the rug fairly quickly. The Baghdad attack doesn't feature on any of the top read stories on the BBC website. It has only been 3 days. The Paris attacks were still very strongly in public's consciousness 3 days later and beyond.



This proves a core belief that ISIL preaches: The West is hypocritical. It does not care about Muslim lives. It does not care about Islamic beliefs. It cares only about itself. When you look at it, the pathway from someone who is on the fringes of fundamentalism to a fully radicalised individual is easily traced.

Then it becomes clear. Once that individual is radicalised, they seek refuge and identity with those who match their anger, their hatred of the hypocritical Western regime. Baghdad and Ataturk weren't just terrorist attacks; they were recruitment drives. And we, the people, handed them the best advertising campaign with our relative apathy.



You can stray from the Paris & Brussels attack and choose something closer. The Orlando shootings. It resulted in the deaths of 49 people. The Baghdad attacks resulted in a body count of 250. From all forms of media, journalistic and social, the Orlando shootings picked a lot more coverage. The near radicalised individual would think that the West values the life of one gay American above five Iraqis. It's not true but it's not a long stretch to see how they might jump to that conclusion.

So why did ISIL attack Islam? To prove the evils of their enemy. To draw in more soldiers. To be the insidious force they have always been. And they will say that their victory wasn't won in bloodshed. It was won in the relative indifference we showed towards the loss of human life.

Sunday, 3 July 2016

The Death of Democracy



Robert M. Hutchins said "The death of democracy is not likely to be an assassination from ambush. It will be a slow extinction from apathy, indifference, and undernourishment." He was wrong. Democracy is in its final throes and it is dying in the most noisy and flailing of ways. It is being strangled by a minority that, somehow, is louder and more powerful than we care to admit. It is being euthanised under the banner of the 'greater good' and a 'better society'. Allow me to give you the post-mortem before the patient's inevitable demise.

How did democracy die? Symptoms started to show in the EU. In 1992, Denmark voted on the Maastricht Treaty. It said no. They were made to vote again. In 2001, Ireland voted on the Nice Treaty. It was rejected. The Irish Government made them go again. In 2005, an EU Constitution was put before the people of France and Netherlands. They did not accept it and by clear cut margins. The respective governments and the EU ignored them. Governments wilfully ignoring its citizens and either asking until they got their way or implementing measures against their will; there is a name for that: Dictatorship.



The disease spread in Greece. A democratically elected government, voted in on the platform of anti-austerity, walked into the EU Council and demanded that the will of its citizens be respected. A new deal had to be crafted. Austerity had to be eased. The EU, with every single commissioner, MEP and support staff do not get near the numbers that voted in the Greek elections. Yet, somehow, this supranational body had the power to shrug at those democratic demands and say "No" to them.

Who came running to defend the democratic will of the Greeks? No one. Tough. We were all okay with bullying one of the oldest nations on this planet into implementing the very program they had opposed. We were fine with their majority being ignored. The EU wasn't a tyranny, it was just politics. Social media stayed relatively quiet about it. We had no issue with the EU and the IMF threatening bankruptcy against a country that was already in deep poverty. We watched them crush their will and make them financially crawl, even to this day.



Maybe we thought it would stay in Greece, so it wasn't our problem. It didn't. We got to the 2015 elections and the result came in. The Conservative Party had won the most seats. In a Parliamentary First-Past-The-Post system, that was how governments were picked and had been for over a century. If people didn't like that, there was a chance to change the voting system in 2011. It was rejected overwhelmingly. 2015 gave us a government that a lot of people didn't like. So they protested in the streets, which is their right, if not a bit odd because it was protesting against a democratically elected government. It was a protest against people voting? Putting aside how stupid it looked, that wasn't the big problem.

It was that people felt like they couldn't admit that they voted Conservative. You could have had 101 reasons to vote any way you felt and plenty of them were valid. You could not, however, declare that. Irrespective of your rationale, people who did so were castigated. They were told that they were making the rich richer and the poor suffer. They hated people on benefits, apparently, because they assumed that they were feckless. They were considered hateful people and, perversely, they would be treated hatefully for voting that way. Because Project Fear is the wrong way to campaign but Project Hate is the way to change your mind.

Then the UK had the EU referendum. The outcome was Brexit. 52% voted to leave the EU. The minority didn't take it well. Protests were started, a petition demanding a second referendum be held was initiated. Democracy had a phantom margin of error and this was cemented by the minority stating that the vote had been won by racists, xenophobes, islamophobes and the uneducated. How dare these people drag us into the wrong answer, they would state. The idea being that politics involves the absolutes of right and wrong, rather than the reality of what is subjectively best. Legal experts look for loopholes, because a manipulation of language and scenarios are considered more democratic than the masses casting their vote.


Democracy is dead. Not through apathy. Not through indifference. Not through a lack of nourishment. Plenty were involved. It's rarely the big things in the body that kill it. No, it's the tiny little things that eat away at people. So to is it with democracy; the minority are killing it. Democracy is meant to be where the will of the majority is enacted. The last time we saw a democratic country actively enact the will of the minority, it was South Africa during Apartheid.

But we're okay with that. We didn't like the democracy we had. We strangled it with a refusal to accept its outcomes. We buried it under aggressive language and bullying. Then, on the tombstone, we wrote "It was for the greater good."

Friday, 24 June 2016

Brexit - The Ugly Fallout



23 June 2016. The United Kingdom votes to leave the European Union, ending a 43 year membership of the trading and political bloc. And the fallout begins...

The inevitable politic landscape shift has begun. The Prime Minister, David Cameron, has resigned. Calls for the Leader of the Opposition, Jeremy Corbyn, to stand down have been issued, due to the insipid campaign he ran. A motion of no confidence has been issued against him.

The economic and socio-political standing of the United Kingdom is unknown. Truth is it didn't matter which way the vote went. Economics and politics are always unpredictable. If you voted on that, either way, then you're a fool. That was a red herring that both sides were willing to use.

There is an immediate aftermath that needs addressing though.

THE OLDER VOTE



The above graphic isn't the only one to advocate the notion that the older people have dropped the younger generation in it. The Independent was broadcasting such statistics and implying that pensioners should not had the right to vote this way.

Let that sink in. We have a national newspaper comfortable sharing the idea that a section of society should have their democratic rights diminished. That would be the group who have been in it the longest, contributed to it the longest and have the most experience of living in the EU. What the actual hell?! Could you imagine if the graphic suggested black people had dropped white people in it? Or that women's votes should be less valid than men's votes? All because the outcome has not gone the way that you wanted it. Scandalous.

This is a one way ticket to fascism, which is a grand irony because a lot of Remain voters have accused some Leave voters of that very same sin. The UK is a democracy. One person, one vote. To preach anything else is an enemy of equality.

LIBELLOUS LABELLING OF LEAVE VOTERS



When I woke to find out the result of the EU referendum, my next stop was social media to see the reaction. It wasn't good. It was downright ugly. I am astounded at how comfortable people are to label those who voted Leave as xenophobes, racist or Islamophobic. There is no evidence to support this. All people who say this have is anecdotal evidence from social media. I'm amazed that I have to explain to them that you shouldn't believe everything you read on Facebook.

Xenophobes, racists and Islamophobes have a common trait. They are okay with saying hateful or disparaging things against a group of people without merit. If you are engaging in calling Leave voters these things, you are no better than them. A friend of mine put it better than I ever could. He said "The intolerance of the 'liberal' elite who preach tolerance has always amazed me."

Vicious name calling might be the freedom of speech, a democratic right, but it certainly doesn't uphold the sanctity of the right to vote. It is bullying. If you think that is how political arguments are won, then you are Project Fear & Hate personified.

THE BREAK UP OF THE UNITED KINGDOM



Scotland and Northern Ireland (and London, although that will be irrelevant in this section) voted overwhelmingly to Remain in the EU. The Brexit win has already led to calls for a second Scottish Independence Referendum, one that has been put "on the table" by Scottish First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon, already. There are some who are suggesting that people were foolish to vote Leave because now those nations will leave the UK.

Firstly, to vote one way in an effort to pander to one tenth of the UK population is the very antithesis of democracy. It is a completely fallacious argument.

Secondly, why is that a bad thing? Are we honestly against the idea of democratic self determination? If you voted Leave, surely you're fine with Scotland or Northern Ireland deciding whether it wants to be part of another union or not?


THE POUND


You may hear the scare stories of the value of pound sterling plummeting. It really doesn't make much difference, contrary to what most people believe. The pound will recover. In the mean time, a weaker pound is better for exports, which brings more money into the country. Sure, if you're planning to go abroad, foreign currency will cost more. In the grand scheme of things, it is another red herring monies gained and lost in swings and roundabouts fashion. It will fluctuate and it will stabilise. Don't let the City or the FTSE trick you into thinking it holds our way of life in its hands.

THE COLLAPSE OF THE EU



The Brexit success has led to a string of similar possibilities. France, The Netherlands, the Czech Republic and Austria are all pushing for their respective in-out referendum on the European Union. There are some who would shame the Leave voters with a 'look what you've done' attitude.

Let me put this very simply about the possibility of such referenda happening in other countries: It's not our problem and it is nothing to do with us!


I've branded a majority of these hideous reactions from Remain voters as the actions of 'sore losers' and I've been told that had Leave lost I would be a sore loser too. Maybe but I'd like to think that I would respect the vote, whichever way it had gone. I didn't vote Tory in the last General Election but I accepted the outcome. I certainly didn't label the people who did vote Conservative as hateful people, who were only invested in protecting their own interests.

You don't have to like it but you do have to accept that it is the democratic will of the people. It has not been skewed by a quirk in an electoral system. It was a straight shootout and Leave won. Do not try to twist democracy because it didn't suit you. Trying to set up a petition for a second referendum or trying to shame people for voting the way they did is a flat out assault on democracy.

The vote is done. The decision has been made. It's time to accept that, drop the hateful rhetoric in both directions and move on.

Wednesday, 15 June 2016

LGBT & Islam - The Test of Tolerance


When news of the Orlando shooting came, it shook the world. To put it into context, it was the 136th mass shooting incident in the USA in 2016, a fact that I worry we've become desensitised to. What made it stand out was the horrifying body count: 50 dead, 49 wounded. Add on top that it was targeting the LGBT community, a group that has made such leaps and bounds in acceptance and societal equity in the past decade, and it becomes a gaping wound in the efforts to make a tolerant and diverse civilisation.

This could be dismissed as a lone wolf incident, mainly because it is. This is, however, a reminder that, in Western society, we are trying to blend collectives that have very opposed ideologies and cultural roots. That causes friction. A tension found in people's habits, behaviours, beliefs and characters. Such things won't be easily harmonised.

We have recognised the manner in which LGBT people were treated was unfair and we're on the path to redressing that imbalance. As such, the LGBT community enjoy far more freedom and, with that, an increased presence, voice and visibility.


We have also recognised the plight of thousands of Muslim migrants and refugees. These people have been chased from their homes. Their countries have been ravaged by war. The West is the only place they can flee and we stand as the only people who can truly help them.

That means the West, a largely Christian/Atheist collective is due to get a huge influx of Islam into the mix. That doesn't mean we're inviting fundamentalists or radicals into our lands en masse. The extremist elements of ISIS et al have been dismissed as just that. To call all Muslims ISIS would be to call all Christians the KKK; a frankly ridiculous notion. Yet, Islam brings with it an uncomfortable reality in light of the Orlando shootings.



The fact is that homophobia and Islam are bedfellows. Tolerance is not part of that mix. Nine Islamic countries attach the death penalty to homosexuality. Those nine being Afghanistan, Brunei, Iran, Mauritania, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. In 57 Islamic countries, homosexuality is a crime in 37 of them.

To further illustrate the point, in 2013 the Pew Research Center conducted an investigation into opinions on whether homosexuality should be accepted among Islamic nations. The outcomes were pretty clear on where the consensus is. Taking one country in the study, Malaysian people over the age of 50 scored the highest, with 11% thinking that homosexuality should be accepted. When the same question was put to the 18-29 year olds of Malaysia that figure dropped to 7%. No Islamic country scored higher than that and the patterns suggested that attitudes did not necessarily improve with the younger generations.

Now we have a real test of tolerance in society. We are tearing down the barriers for LGBT people, while opening our doors to more and more Muslim migrants. Western society has prided itself on being progressive, bringing groups that stood in opposition together and finding some kind of harmony. It's certainly not perfect but, for example, relations between opposing genders and different races have improved from where they were a century ago. For those who say we have a long way to go, I'd remind them of how far we have come.


I say all this because I want to warn people. Orlando will not be the last time we see an assault on the LGBT community by an Islamic radical individual or fundamentalist group. People fear change and plenty are willing to kill in an effort to stop it. Lincoln was killed because he wanted to change slavery. Martin Luther King was killed because he wanted to end racial segregation and oppression. Every worthy cause has come at the cost of innocent blood.

Does that mean we should back down from the test? No. Absolutely not. Shoving every Muslim we can find back into Islamic nations would only breed extremism. We're certainly not going to tell gay people to dial it down. We've come too far to be taking backwards steps now.

What we have to do is show tolerance to all that keep the law. Islam may condemn homosexuality but they have the right to not like it, as long as they allow others to live it and love it. The two sides can have completely opposing views. That is the liberty and right of citizens in Western society. We can condemn with words and ideas, not bullets. We can support with love and compassion, not hate. If we can do that, one day, we might have a harmonised society.


The uncomfortable truth is such change can't be done by hashtags and memes. History has taught us that it will cost blood and tears. But every principle worth living for is also worth dying for. Hopefully, our children and children's children will look back in years to come and see how we stood firm with the LGBT and moderate, tolerant Muslim communities, saying to those who would use violence and death to polarise us that nothing unifies like a common enemy: the enemy of a tolerant society.

Friday, 13 May 2016

The Full Life Deception


Spend any time on social media and you will encounter a meme much like the one above. It encourages you to live a "full life" or something akin to that. It is designed to motivate you in finding what you love, embracing new experiences and being all that you can be. It is almost always married with a picture of natural beauty or awe inspiring environments. In the snappy quote and the powerful imagery, the deception that is taking place is brilliantly disguised. A lie that we have been sold so skilfully and we've bought at the cost of delusion and disappointment.

The lie is that life can be made full by a series of defined experiences, decreed by someone or something unidentified to this day. They tend to veer around locations to visit, passions to be pursued and vocations to be fulfilled. While all those things are worthwhile, it is an ugly and arrogant suggestion to say that anyone's life is not what it should be. Life should not be about bucket lists, ticking them off like they are achievements on a games console.


This is the deception we are being sold. It is the idea that what happens in someone's life somehow doesn't contribute to it, unless it is an Instagram friendly moment. Not everyone will travel to exotic locations. Being a glorified tourist does not mean you have a fuller life than the person who enjoys the close company of his family and friends. 

Not everyone will do an enviable job or even a profession that they enjoy. Being in a notable or noble vocation does not mean you have a fuller life than the person who knuckles down doing something crappy to pay the bills, putting a roof over their children's head, food in their stomachs and clothes on their backs.

Not everyone is naturally talented. Some have to rely on hard work to get to the point where they are able to survive comfortably. Their lives are not diminished by the lack of mental acuity they have. A full life is not the preserve of the bright, the brilliant, the rich, the risk takers and the reckless. It is had by all.


Life is a journey of experiences and every single one has value. Even the horrid ones. Because the full life idea is a lie; one I am completely sick of. It is not a full life that we should crave. It is a good life.

What defines a good life? It is not the miles we cover; it is not the certificates or accolades we collect. It is not the wealth we accumulate or the people we associate with. Ultimately, it will be the character we create in the cauldron of choices we call life that will determine whether our life was good. If it was good, our hearts will be full. Our lives will have felt rich. Vast monuments built by men and nature will pale in comparison to the joy felt in the warm glow of a friendly smile of a loved one.

Do not let the world tell you that you are not living a full life. You may suffer trials but the biggest shadows require the most wondrous mountains to cast them. They are not demons. They are not torture. They are your experiences. Own them. They will make you who you are and there is nothing in this world more special than that. You are the author of your life, the storyteller completing their first draft. Discover it. Embrace it. Live it.

And don't let anyone tell you that what you live is anything less than a full life. Just make it a good one.