There are not many rules left these days so it’s important to respect the few that remain; and when we say “leave no one behind”, that means no one.
You can feel the herd mentality which tries to stampede, you even as the illusion of herd immunity fails. You would think that the “education” that we see on never-ending war documentaries, history series, and the rotten, lousy news would forever vaccinate us against violence, hatred and war. However, it seems that such aversion therapy doesn’t work, as slogans replace thought and carry people away with a passion that we’ve all seen on the channels.
I dropped someone off at the recent Keir Starmer speech a fortnight ago, on my way out a few on the demo outside protesting in favour of Palestinian dignity shouted “Shame on You” before one of them said “Hello Bill”. For a moment, I’d been worried and I knew there was no point in “answering back”, and I didn’t blame those who wished for peace and maybe felt their passion lift them, but in a world of nuance, complexity and frail savage humanity blaming me seems a right waste of time.
War is the predominant theme in everything from the film channels to the repair shop, where old relics with the faintest of military provenance are given the lustre of heroic sacrifice, community cohesion and a lost realm of certainty where errant identities were smothered like hair under brylcreem.
A more hopeful era
I was brought up in an age of optimistic possibilities of the late 1960s and 1970s when the war we were worried about was going to be over in four minutes with The Bomb. I was a child when the first working class accents were heard in Close the Coalhouse Door, and getting a cardboard Geordie Passport, one of which my Uncle Michael took to his job in Persia fixing telecoms and got stamped at checkpoints. Larn Yessel Geordie and the Likely Lads showed that we were making progress, and my Mam took her class of schoolkids to the Theatre Royal with a certainty that The Royal Shakespeare Company was at home in Newcastle and the accent of Percy would be authentically northern.
There was a sense of progress that embraced education, sociability and higher disposable income would forever alter and improve society, women’s rights and the whole world, if only The Bomb didn’t land. That it was a race of enlightenment against extinction. Looking back, it’s possible that the period of 1964 -1979 was the only significant time of working class affluence, culture and improvement that we have had. The Thatcher reaction which reduced wages, opportunities, confidence and increased divisions under a deceptive cloak of Falklands army heroism which saved her, and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, which validated her and allowed her messianic madness to associate the struggle of miners for job security with an imaginary bolshevik threat.
Framing an argument, triangulating, media manipulation and the possible use of state resources for political advantage all look familiar when the most savage vandalism of the war memorials in 2023 is not the stupid kids performing for likes on the Artillery Monument but Braverman’s filthy associations as she took the Trumpian tactic of “Proud Boys; stand down and stand by” as Tommy Ten Names turns up with his texting teutons in Stone Island lumpy jumpers.
Remembrance Day 2023
I was 30 miles away at the time on 11 November; my mate’s birthday and his potential cancer diagnosis dictated our presence, unspoken concerns assuaged by his good news that all was clear(ish). Anyway the scene at the Barleylands Blues Club in Billericay, where we enjoyed the £3.50 pints, the £2 chips and protocol of walking into another man’s bar saw us chatting amiably to the West Ham old school lads who were hospitable, as we sought their approving advice about where best to sit down without trespassing on anyone’s normal seated territory.
However, later on in town with the younger (Spurs) element fizzing with drugs, bodybuilt, necking shots at 7pm watched over by four big black (the only black people I saw that day and night) security guards, with the barmaid telling me that it “is a terrible pub” and the sight of three “proper hooligans” returning from the Cenotaph with their fatboy swagger, casual arrogance and stare, returned as we didn’t seek their counsel or approval, showed the tender flesh of a grazed society.
It’s November and we haven’t had a summer, people are worn out by everything. You name it, there’s a problem and the only tactic our government has is to deflect. Homelessness is a lifestyle choice, refugees are illegal, benefits are to be cut to motivate the disabled to “pick up their beds and walk”, period pains will be solved by “talking therapy” and taxes relieved on millionaires so they can afford more servants, boats, holidays and pass their money to Generation Mwah.
Meanwhile there are people who are frightened of all of that and still getting attacked in the streets because of the news. A pal of mine who’s Bengali Geordie is beside himself with the horror of Gaza, the West Bank and Palestine in general, he feels the islamaphobia that’s assaulted him all his life despite his service, his decency and his Britishness vindicated by his grandfather’s heroism in the Royal Navy. A pal of mine who’s a Jewish Geordie is frightened in his home in Leeds that a nearby pizzeria is apparently seeking suggestions for “anti-Zionist pizza toppings”. After the despair of the conversation I said at least “both sides will agree that there shouldn’t be ham, but might disagree about pineapple…” He laughed a bit. He’s polite, but even though he’s a big man, with a position, a profession, a family and friends, he’s still frightened and he prays for peace.
The only homeopathic drug that really works is fear as it can replicate through generations despite endless dilutions. My gran was bombed once and was frightened forever by thunder. My grandfather got chased out of his village with his family and never really settled. I read about women who “never slept again” after their child was taken away in the night by armed men. Whether it’s Poland in 1941, or Israel or Hebron or Jenin in 2023/24 it means that we’ve got centuries of trauma to overcome and billions of people whose first instinct when they hear a noise in the night is terror.
A friend of mine remembers how Uday Hussain “took away” her classmate then killed her and the entire family, another friend remembers being detained by British soldiers at the roadside for hours in the 1980s because she said she lived in Derry and wouldn’t say “Londonderry”. There are women in bus stops all over town who travelled out of the Congo or away from Syria, who faced down ISIS and the brutalised corner-boy thugs emboldened by religious ideology that removes their obligations to humanity and guarantees them clean clothes, a cooked meal and cowed women. (Why, by the way, are they called “cowed”? It’s horrible.)
Politics – the middle east, Ireland and Rwanda
Humanity is attracted by simple slogans (“Lock her up” Build a Wall”, “Bread Peace and Land”). The Bible is full of them (“Love your enemies”) and, I presume the Torah and The Koran, although I haven’t read and don’t plan to.
If a group of politicians had stood on a manifesto that offers prosperity, dignity and happiness to all but instead delivered atrocity, poverty and insecurity alongside scandals, perversion, corruption and hypocrisy for 4,000 years…, they may well fail to convince the electorate that they are worthy of continued trust. Unfortunately, we’re a primitive race and rather than use our innate intelligence and experience we fall for the same old ghost stories. We let them put a silly hat on, wear weird old robes, wave a stick and then tell us how to run our lives; despite everything, these filthy old hypocrites are given an honoured place in society and even in government. Die for the Emperor or blow yourself up for Hamas. Torture, rape and release the live-streamed video; bomb the school for the IDF and say sorry, but you’re not sorry enough not to do it again. They will mock my naivety, they’ll say that “you don’t have to live here with them”, and I’ll despair.
One of the most mighty books of all time, Robert Fisk’s The Great War for Civilisation thunders through the history of the middle east with the journo’s ability to talk, both to passers-by and Secretaries of State, the middlemen, the victims, the perpetrators and their mothers. The same depressing situations, massacres which shock, then fade into context then fall out of living memory. Armenian skulls from 1915 lie in the Syrian desert as an Islamicist Turkish President hypocritically lectures a German Social Democrat about genocide guilt, but no one shouts “bollocks” at him because the victims are dead and it’s illegal to believe the truth.
The kids who have a multi-generational education in urban warfare, the torture techniques practised by Israel on Palestinians then copied by them to use on their own “dissidents”. The smiling assassins now elevated by politics into diplomatic immunity and respectability, the unspeakable menace, the constant fear and grim hatred where they can only honour and trust the dead, because the living will betray you. The cult of competing Remembrances with dead kids’ faces looking from advertising hoardings as competing atrocity exhibitions are waved at each other’s supporters. The whataboutery, so familiar to those of us who followed the Irish Troubles is magnified by exposure to billions, and the “broken clock theory of history” where being right twice a day qualifies you as an expert on CNN, AL –Jazera or the BBC.
The brilliance of Mo Mowlam in Ireland was her ability to talk to the peacemakers; they of course, weren’t the liberals who wanted a quiet life, they were the killers who’d been caught and sentenced to life; they were the ones who dolled themselves up in ceremonial regalia to celebrate victory on the 12th or covered themselves in cack to emphasise a point about prison uniform and deter beatings.
These were not amenable men, yet ultimately, they listened to the sounds of their opposite numbers down the landings or in Long Kesh and maybe felt that if they’d been born half a mile away it could have been them roaring with their enemies. That the insignificant speck of dust that makes up this planet in the great universal scheme of this universe is not worth lying in a shite-encrusted blanket whilst ordinary people eat their tea in front of the telly and see their kids grow up.
There was a way forward to peace that seems totally absent for the Palestinian people right now and it is the responsibility of Europe and the United States to provide this. Why? Because it’s our unfinished business and we need to help clear it up. In a book called The Secret War Against The Jews by John Loftus and Max Aarons, a volume that illuminates the business interests that collaborated with oil, money and power all the way from 1914 with no notion of any level of morality. It shows how no one wanted to save the Jewish people from the death camps in Poland by aiding the German Resistance to kill Hitler as they may cause a problem to the British in their Palestinian Mandate and the Yanks, with their racist laws didn’t fancy more Jewish immigrants, even when Treblinka was burning them in 1943!
They were sold out before there was even an Israel, as the oil lobby was and probably still is more powerful than any Jewish lobby; that the Balfour Declaration was more to do with a desperate British war effort pleading for US military assistance, and they thought in their ignorance that the (nonexistent) Jewish lobby in the American media would be influenced by this gesture. Still HMG was careful, it only promised “a Jewish home” not the Jewish home and HM civil servants are masters of linguistic precision. The Palestinians, the remnants of an Ottoman colony were regarded as the same sort of problematic population who could, like so many others from the Irish in Ulster to the former inhabitants of Diego Garcia be moved by a sweep of an imperial pen.
After the war, when the desperate remnants of the genocide were compelled to go there as their own homes in Slovakia, Poland and elsewhere had been given away and pogroms killed thousands the Nakba didn’t register so much. 750,000 people there, 12 million Germans being expelled from Breslau, Prussia, Silesia and the Sudetenland will have suffered more at the time and the millions who died in the Partition of India still echoes with the potential to doom us in nuclear war. One of our own, Miriam Stoppard, (then Miriam Stern age ten) was bullied in her West End Newcastle Catholic school as the news of the terrorism of the Stern Gang came through. I got some grief, not much but some, about the IRA blowing the Birmingham pubs up when I was ten, a kid called Azeem got grief on 9/11 and 7/7 and every day ever since; some little kids in a Jewish School in Gateshead are probably practising a security alert this very week. In Gateshead, right now.
Meanwhile deals done in the Bank of International Settlements, the Banco Vaticano the currency swaps with commodities, arms production and the gold, blood and iron are all validated by contracts whilst statements about saving human beings are regarded as only aspirational. The killers have power and the peaceniks are dead, hostages, betrayed or keeping quiet and queuing for bread and water.
Last week it seemed that there was no space to think with all the shouted slogans. The Tory Party blethering abject nonsense about Rwanda and the Labour Party being blamed for the absence of peace in Palestine. Neither party, if by a miracle it wished to engage all UK national effort could do much to solve either situation and the various washed up dreams of Empire from Darien to Delhi attest to the total waste of time it is to walk into someone else’s club and sit down where you want to.
If we look at the Palestinian situation, it’s related to the Rwanda nightmare in some ways, as all of humanity are linked to each other in more important ways than any differences. Anyway, in both places, genocide has been done, people don’t regard each other as valid human beings and ordinary civil society is plagued by violence, corruption and bad governance, if it ever exists. The dream of the average mother for her son will probably be that he emigrates to America and writes to her occasionally; that her inevitable resulting tears will be ones of loneliness rather than the despair of bereavement. There is no prospect of real happiness on her agenda.
Relearning lessons – and what needs to happen
Meanwhile we re-learn the lessons that if we can only influence our own neighbourhoods, we should do so first, families, friends and colleagues whose group includes people from Jewish and Palestinian identities and sympathies will do what we’re already doing now; looking out for each other, watching for signs of desperation and being ready to stop trouble before it starts. Secondly, we assure the international diplomatic community of bastards that the filth needs to stop here.
The Dirlewanger tactics of Hamas as they raped, tortured and killed on video are not the actions of men but of scum; they are a diseased group who require therapy and shame all who excuse or associate with them. Similarly, bombing people who justifiably hate you because of generations of parasitic prejudice and oppression will always only make things worse and increase the hatred to you, your families and whatever Israel was supposed to be. Allowing fanatics to kill in the West Bank shames Israel and invalidates its word.
Those who voted to put fascists in power in Israel and in Gaza chose war; because fascism means war. So the governments need to be removed and every single family who lost land or property in the Nakba of 1948 require proper compensation. This should include the victims of all such incursions of religious maniacs into the West Bank, including the predations onto the poor Armenians of Jerusalem – a community who should require profound respite, especially after their “Nakba” in the recent Nagorno-Karabach defeat to Azerbyjan. These options should include money for a home in a viable Palestinian state, or a European or American migrant visa with financial assistance.
Gaza requires an airport, a seaport and communications that allow trade, tourism and the incredible enterprise of their liberated people to grow in peace and security. Hopefully, they will grow to treasure the friendship of their Jewish neighbours after a suitable period of distance enforced by NATO forces with Irish, Palestinian and Israeli observers. It’ll cost a few quid but, compared to the cost of war, it’s trivial and the alternative where Houthi rebels in Yemen are sending drones 1700 miles to Israel is too terrible to contemplate as the entire region risks being engulfed in a missile war of bombardment and all trade and progress fails.
Finally, we need to do something about religion. I’m sure that the cults of naziism and bolshevism which offered comparable ritualistic graven images, uniforms, famine and death will be pointed out by my lovely religious friends but there is one inescapable fact. That there is no such thing as God. It is a construct of man trying to explain things he didn’t understand and since now we know that heaven isn’t up there and hell isn’t down there, all of the cornucopia of rabbis, imans, popes, vicars, evangelists and Aunty Mary’s cake stall can all suffer a 100% capital tax at the next budget.
Religion in the Holy Land is about as much use as dynamite on a barbecue and twice as lethal. Wherever you go, it has been at the forefront of oppression, the validation of fascism or the imprisonment or oppression of women. Look at Iran now, look at the heroic women dying because they want freedom to show their hair and know that no iman there enjoys any real respect in his home.
We don’t need much politics now, we’re sick of ideology and we don’t have many rules left but the first one is stop doing stupid things and life will get better. Go and have a cup of tea, tidy up, call your friends and wish them all the best. Look up at the stars and remember that we’re all a pinprick in the scheme of things, that nature will feast on your corpse soon enough and all of the churches, synagogues, mosques and tin chapels would be better as homes, schools, libraries and hospitals. They’d be better as social clubs. And if God wins the bingo, she’d probably smile, get the round in and say “Congratulations humanity, you’ve finally grown up.”