Monday, August 07, 2006

Living History.

Me and SWMBO managed to figure that today was not the day to go cycling. It was p*****g down and sounded pretty dangerous out there for a while. Instead we took a trip to Auckland Museum.

To be honest the Viking Exhibition was thin on real artifacts, big on replicas, short on context and left me feeling a weeeee bit cheated; which is a shame because the rest of the museum is pretty good, in fact so good SWMBO prefers it to Te Papa. We had a good day, though I figure it would be a struggle to actually get in without making a donation. I think there should be some kind of way to recognise that this is Auckland’s Museum, paid for at least in parts out of Auckland Rates. Consequently there should be at least one or two days a year when JAFAS should be able to come and go from the museum with impunity. It’s not like asking for boxes at Eden Park or anything is it ?

My amblings drew me to an interesting place and some equally interesting thoughts after the Vikings. I do have very mixed thoughts about Holocaust Memorials in the context of contemporary society and history. I will happily defend my comments about Zionists hiding behind the Holocaust these days and therefore hiding behind dead people, which is in my opinion shameful. I also know that this is a lesson we cannot afford to forget and even that the logical progression of this was a Jewish Homeland. SWMBO is well briefed on my feelings and therefore it was with interest that she took me into the memorial section in Auckland museum. First thing to note was the strangeness I felt at reading about the internment of the children of a Jewish Father and a Gentile mother by the NAZI’s. My dad was right, I would probably have been burned with many others. This thought however did not supersede my grasp of a broader issue.

There are a lot of holocaust memorials but very few Genocide memorials. The Holocaust represents a unique and outrageous example of genocide. But genocide is indisputably what it is. To only recognize this instance of genocide(holocaust) is wrong and misleading. One might presume that such atrocities no longer occur, or indeed that they are unlikely to do so in the presence of such memories. Neither of these proposals makes any sense. In the first place as Rwanda proved the will if not the raw material exists and therefore such things continue; as does the potential for future atrocities of a large and small scale. The Balkans too has shown evidence of an alarming trend. Genocide is commonly perpetrated by one group against another ethnically distinct party (can someone look this up for me ?). This in turn begs a number of questions e.g. could Maori have suffered its own Holocaust in the 19th Century ? Worse still it invites speculation as to who might be next and this is where history can teach us a great deal. Genocide is not a unique occurrence tied to the holocaust. It is self defeating to isolate the holocaust as a unique and self serving example of this form of brutality. To me at least, it makes far more sense to treat it as a problem that could occur at any time therefore requiring vigilance at all times, at any location and in all eras. In this light education, history and society would be better served by holocaust memorials being placed within a timeline of the history of genocide. That is to say that the holocaust will probably always form the centre of knowledge and experience in this respect, but it should be set in a temporal context that underlines the need for contemporary vigilance. In failing to do this we may miss the real benefit and purpose of such monuments in a modern age.

Yes I know this is me, the anti Israeli loon but read this carefully and then shoot me. As it is, this is the sort of issue that needs reviving and discussing in a modern context.

Leaving the land of ……..

It seems more people than ever want to leave the UK; no surprises there then. What grabbed my interest was somebody prepared to take an interest in why……

Here are some of my reasons…..

My profession: Higher education teaching at a new university in the UK is no fun at all. In fact I would go so far as to say it is genuinely bad for your health. There are worse jobs in the UK, but most of them pay more. Secondary teaching is no fun either, but at least when you take on responsibility you are paid accordingly (and you don’t have 3 years of extra study debts as well). Twice a year my blood pressure used to hit unhealthy levels and I’d get headaches etcetera, clearly was suffering from stress related illness. It’s a wonder that I sustained any level of health at all and maintaining some kind of sport performance was an achievement of epic proportions. When it came time to leave, SWMBO (She Who Must Be Obeyed) asked why, I explained that to continue in the current post ran the risk of me ending up in pine overcoat. She got the message when I pointed out that three people had held the same post as me in a two year period and that the office of four that I shared, had turned over 7 staff in that space of time ! We re-named the office the departure lounge. The next issue was that I was unconvinced at the time that I would be better off anywhere else in the UK, so we moved…….Strangely enough to join four other ex-colleagues from the same institution at my new host employer. Mmmmm strange that…..

The cost: There comes a point at which the cost of living becomes soooo expensive that you realise you have been seriously ripped off ! At that point its time to go.

The edge: It became clear to me at different times just how fragile modern British life can be and just how far we can fall. I wouldn’t have enjoyed the ride. Nor it seems would these kids.

The non-culture; I know I was born in Bahrain and I know that I support Wales, it’s also true that I spent a lot of time as an ex-pat. But ! I was educated in Oxford and I sound like it. More importantly I absorbed unknowingly a great belief in a liberal pluralist ideas, which I still believe should be at the heart of Britain. Crickey, I was at one stage a member of the young internationalists debating the grievous nature of Reagan’s election to the post of US president. In the following years I protested and picketed with the best of them until I realised how utterly futile it was all becoming. The problem is that the tradition to which I refer has been quietly murdered. How else do you explain Iraq, ID cards, executive pay and Tony F*&^ng Blair. Blair is worse than Thatcher in many respects, at least she picked her own fights rather than piggy backing on to US stupidity. I always said that I would leave the UK when it became like the US, it has and I am not going back.

A growing sense of anomie; I began to feel alienated within the country I had called, until then, home. It hurt me to see that most of the people I met defined themselves in terms of what they drove, what they owned and what they earned. It made me feel ashamed to be part of a society so superficial.

I am rarely seduced by ex-pat nostalgia. If fact it bloody well annoys and embarrasses me in equal measure. I go to Browns Bay to get my hair cut and that’s it. I avoid the British Shop like the plague only entering to buy some Foxes Glacier Mints for an older guy who I’m sure would shrivel up and die without them. I do miss Europe, a literate tradition and years of irony, sarcasm and satire that have yet to grow amongst my generous hosts.

To my ever complaining ex-pat cousins I say; shut or pack up and piss off. I won’t miss you either.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Bittterness, Bile and Israel...........

I can’t really write about this without having a quick bit of bio. I describe my father as a lapsed Jew, I should perhaps point out that he is a British Jew and possibly illegitimate. He was in Bahrain serving in the British navy when I was born. We as a family returned to mainland Saudi Arabia some years later to work on the aircraft support group in Dhahran. On reflection the notion of a Jew working in Saudi seems absurd, but we managed this with ease by virtue of all signing affidavits to the effect that we were in fact Christians and having Anglican Clergy endorse them. The smell of damp sand and humidity is unavoidably the smell of home for me. The Arabs I spent time with varied widely; some simple, some smart, some educated and some bigoted. They were a culture apart by virtue of not having developed along the same path as the west or indeed America. They shared in a different and it appeared to me altogether more devout form of religion. I was informed that it was always the shia that caused trouble and the sunni that did best business. Within this the underlying politics of family and tribe were obvious. Arabic culture was once both advanced and virtuous for its time it has to my understanding always been tribal and really can only be understood from this point of view. It is no surprise then that Arabs have rarely been able to present a united front on any important issue much to their detriment and shame.

I also remember a rather sobering conversation with my father about anti-Semitism and the role of the Jews in world history. It ended in the usual punch and Judy farce commonly played out between us; with one chilling difference. Before he stormed off in a drunken fury my father chillingly reminded me that whilst I wasn’t Jewish, I was “Jewish enough to get burned…..”. That riposte shut me up for a long time and the memory of it still disturbs me. It should be noted that this conversation actually took place whilst were on Arabic soil.

Neither the encounter with my father nor the then rather amusing antics of the Israeli air force (they regularly used to buzz Dhahran Airport ) forced upon me a real point of view with respect to Israel and the related conflict. My readings revolved around Martin Luther King, Malcolm X, Ghandi, and Solzenytsyn (pretentious or what). No surprise then that my sympathies always came to rest with the little guy (and probably still do). But I was really quite ignorant of this issue. I was for the longest time pre-occupied by the end of the cold war. This all changed in 1989 when I went to the USA. After three months of learning that America was a nice place to visit but not a nice place for a guy like me to stay I was ready to leave. I caught the dog from the west to the east and opted to visit the seat of government in Washington on the way. It was here that I experienced something of an epiphany. There were a lot of guys clearly Arabs (I was later to learn Palestinians) protesting out side the Whitehouse. It was a bizarre thing to observe the protesters watching the CIA watching the protesters, cameras clicked and radios buzzed. In this context I began to realise that the protest wasn’t altogether benign. The placards displayed an array of grievances but it was a pamphlet protesting the Zionist control of American media that was actually shoved into my hand by a very nervous looking young man. On the bus to NY I read the pamphlet and I really made me think. Suffice to say in the 18 years that followed I have never turned from arguing and sometimes screaming my support for a free Palestinian state based on the 1967 borders and related UN resolution. I have learned much over time and been despondent, depressed and disappointed with all sides of the debate. I have however never changed my mind on this matter.

An important point to note here is that I dislike Israeli’s for the same reasons I despised my father, not because they are Jewish but because they are contemptible human beings. I have consistently accused Zionists and Israelis of being the lowest immoral cowards, these people have used and manipulated the suffering of the holocaust to defend the indefensible in the Middle East. They have consistently and selfishly devalued other instances of genocide the world over in order to achieve their goals. These people in effect have hidden behind their own dead. How low is that ? My love for America has gone, my love for certain Americans and indeed certain Jewish Americans has never wavered. It is a strange feeling to be tracked across the world by virtue of being born in the Middle East. It is both strange and tragic to stand in yet another line for a “random” airport search and be the only white face in a very brown looking queue. It is kind of funny seeing the look on those brown faces though (what’s whitey doing here ?).

For the most part I have avoided ranting about this issue in this blog preferring to voice my opinions elsewhere. It would though, be negligent of me to be completely silent on these matters for fear that this might be taken for an endorsement of the status quo. It is through silence and dubious ignorance that things have been allowed to get as bad as they are now. Though I should point out they would have some way to go before matching the atrocities of 1982. Nonetheless 750 dead in pursuit of two captured combatants seems pretty poor behavior to me. But here is what really bugs me: America has consistently blocked any collective effort at world level to bring an end to these problems (as usual). As such the present atrocities though well publicised are allowed to continue. There has been much wringing of hands and sympathetic writing, but in the end no actual action has been taken. This IMHO is truly sad and genuinely negligent. I don’t buy Israeli goods. I won’t entertain or endorse any Israeli activity that I encounter; I will not travel to America for the foreseeable future and avoid buying American goods. I have never met anyone in New Zealand with all its liberal traditions, including my wife, who is prepared to do the same. Whilst my actions may seem pathetic I believe they are better than nothing. I for one will not sit on my hands and just bloody well cry at the injustice of it all. Sorry folks can’t do it, this issue offends my deepest moral senses. Enjoy those out of season Oranges and if they come from Israel spare a thought for what they really cost.