Wednesday, 31 December 2014

Tragedy, avoidance and the 'why'

An out-of-control bin lorry crashes through a crowded Glasgow street, snuffing out unsuspecting lives. Christmas shoppers, everyday folk, lost in a cruel instant. We shudder at the thought, witnesses, helpful and helpless, now trying to allay the shocking images from their minds. And, as the background stories and personal testaments emerge, people gather in silent displays of sadness and respect.

It's always touching to see the very natural process of communal grief and kindly remembrance, an assuring reminder of the essential compassions we hold deeply as human beings.

We simply identify, showing intuitive empathy for the victims, imagining their families' ordeal.

Some have suggested a particular 'Glaswegian pulling together'. Perhaps. But the essential inclination of people to help and care in such situations is surely universal. 

And yet the 'where', 'when' and 'why' questions still perplex.

How, we ask, could such a thing happen here, of all places? A seemingly safe environment. That's always a relative notion, of course: more people, more vehicles, more activity, more likelihood of tragic incidents.  Even after the helicopter which crashed through the roof of a Glasgow pub last year, there's still little cause to think that such seemingly bizarre things will occur in our apparently 'ordered' locale. Yet, how complacent might we be, at large, to such realities? 

Though a terrible event, the bin truck tragedy was treated as a 'standard road accident' by the emergency services. Many others occur daily, often with similar multiple fatalities. That kind of news seems almost dismally routine by comparison, our  responses, in turn, seemingly more 'accepting'. We appear almost inured to such reports, regarding even major motorway pile-ups as an 'inevitable' consequence of modern living, rather than a global epidemic.

The 'where' of fatality and tragedy thus suggests wider issues of emotional closeness and distance. It's perhaps natural that we grieve more painfully for a close relative or loved one than a stranger in a distant place, affected as we are by immediate familial feelings and proximate relationships.

Thus could those far from the devastating Boxing Day tsunami ten years ago still comprehend the horror, feel deep empathy, still show generous support, while always comfortably knowing that it didn't happen 'here'. As the search continues for victims of the appalling AirAsia plane crash off the Indonesian coast, we might presently be feeling that same basic human, if still distanced, empathy.

Yet what of our responses to conflict in 'other' places? Although capable of similar human concern, we often seem relatively less shocked and affected over killing in war-torn locations, most often where 'our' leaders unleash so much large-scale suffering. Again, it seems like 'just more dreary news' of death and destruction. But is our consciousness of the 'where' in this case shaped more by routine presentation of 'benign intervention' and 'necessary militarism'?  

The latest mass slaughter of innocents in Gaza this year saw an outpouring of global empathy for suffering civilians. But it still seemed like a qualified emotion, ever-conditioned by loaded media narratives of another 'faraway' and 'intractable' conflict involving 'two warring sides', rather than an occupying state ruthlessly pulverising a besieged people.

There's also the sad timing of tragedy, the 'when' question, and how the sense of loss, as in the Glasgow accident, is seemingly greater around an occasion like Christmas.

Again, it's that very instinctive human empathy in thinking how we would feel losing loved ones at a special festival time when we're supposed to share an extra closeness.

Yet, while invoking the spirit and celebrations of Bethlehem, what acknowledgement of the daily misery going on behind its afflicted, apartheid wall?    

Or what reaction, say, to the 5-year-old child in East Jerusalem shot in the face by an Israeli soldier on Christmas eve? Very little, given that, like so much other anonymous Palestinian suffering, it was never actually deemed newsworthy 'here and now'.

How naturally and sincerely we can feel for others, wherever and whenever they suffer. But, again, so much of that empathy is measured and mediated by how much of the where and when we're actually told. 

And then there's the 'why' question, that more metaphysical point of reflection. The 'why' is often just a form of rhetorical exasperation, a comfort, a useful palliative, requiring no particular answer. But it's still, in our religious-conditioned society, adopted as plaintive enquiry: why, in the 'great scheme' of things, would any God or Grand Designer allow such cruel pain and suffering?

Flowers and candles, prayers and other mitigating spiritual words, provide solace for some. Yet, others ask, isn't it just enough to accept that such events are random? What actual need of the 'why' when the 'laws' of cause and effect suggest a better rationalising exercise? Or is that in itself just another comforting rationale?

There's always scope for more preventative action over public safety, as in recognising the silent crisis of death on the roads, and the corporate influences fuelling it. We may also think and act more carefully as individuals at festive and holiday times when one's guard may be easily down. Yet, for all that, isn't much of life still a game of chance? How fragile and contingent is our very existence?

While things might be done, say, to improve the safer operating of bin lorries in public places, the possibility of general error or other human calamity in life remains. But many other decisions, policies and directives leading to tragic loss could be more readily prevented.

So, beyond the ponderous and the abstract, what more useful employment of the 'why'? How might we better utilise that perennial question, even with spiritual intent?

Here's one thought process: why are situations of suffering that are actually more avoidable the ones that usually result in most tragedy and mayhem?

Consider, in this regard, how serious disincentives to car use - with all its attendant problems of global pollution - could enhance public safety. Thus a more practical rumination: why do commercial interests and the road lobby enjoy such powerful influence over pedestrian interests, better public transport and general social health?

We might usefully posit many other such 'whys'. Just think, for example, how the removal of guns from American streets would sharply improve the potential for safer, more prolonged and happier life. The logical, persistent question to power: why are guns actually allowed on those streets?

Imagine, likewise, if police in that conflicted country stopped 'detaining' black people with such brutal force. Key question: why such state propensity to unwarranted and provocative violence?

Or consider, more broadly, the potential for longer life and greater happiness if elites re-focused their voracious capacity for armed violence towards meaningful forms of peace-seeking diplomacy. Thus: why do we rarely ask why war is wielded so eagerly by 'our' states and their corporate clients?

And, invoking the greatest issue of avoidance and concern: why are corporations being allowed to drive life on our planet to the point of extinction?

This may all seem far removed from the simple act of respect and grieving. Loss through accidents surely differs in context from loss through war and conflict. Yet, in all such cases, the usual 'why' often negates more substantive use of that question in better serving to respect, safeguard and enhance life.

All loss of life, all pain, is to be acknowledged, and, to the fullest possible extent, avoided. Yet it's also helpful to realise the ubiquitous presence and likelihood of human suffering.

I personally incline towards some loose Buddhist perspective on suffering and tragedy as an inevitable part of existence, coupled with a responsive mindfulness which seeks to act, as well as meditate, on practical ways of relieving and minimising it. That's meant more as humble reflection than grand advocacy. But it helps, I think, to move beyond the more futile, if, for some, still comforting use of the 'why'.

At this year's end, we can but show our deepest compassion to all those devastated families, from Gaza to Glasgow and elsewhere, helping us remember both the preciousness of life and the imperative task of trying to best protect it for all.

And in that universal, humanist endeavour, with assuredly more avoidably tragic events to come, may we continue to ask many more of those vital 'why' questions.

Friday, 5 December 2014

Firing of Nafeez Ahmed incriminates Jonathan Freedland and further exposes the Guardian

A dark storm is gathering around allegations of censorship and Zionist-favoured gatekeeping at the Guardian.

Nafeez Ahmed was fired by the Guardian's environment editor after he published a Guardian blog piece entitled: IDF's Gaza assault is to control Palestinian gas, avert Israeli energy crisis.

The article laid out an insightful assembly of facts and analysis on the environmental and geopolitical issues surrounding Gaza's offshore gas reserves. It discussed the complex questions of energy politics in the region, set around the collaborative efforts of Israel and the West to appropriate and manipulate this crucial wealth base.

Evidently touching raw nerves, Nafeez was duly sacked, his editor claiming in feeble mitigation that Nafeez had 'strayed' from his agreed 'remit' of producing environmental stories.

In response, Nafeez wrote 'Palestine is not an environment story', a detailed account of the sacking, and damning indictment of the deep process of censorship at the Guardian. He also provided corroborating accounts of how Jonathan Freedland, in particular, carries out a vital gatekeeping role in determining stories and reportage pertaining to Israel-Palestine.

Prompted to explain his position, Freedland issued a TwitLonger statement to Nafeez and others stating that he had no part in his firing, nor any knowledge of his writings:
@NafeezAhmed Your piece for Medium implies I was involved in the end of your arrangement with the Guardian. I don't wish to be rude, but I had literally not heard of you or your work till seeing that Medium piece, via Twitter, a few hours ago. (The Guardian environment website, where you wrote, is edited separately from the Guardian's Comment is Free site, which I now oversee.) I had no idea you wrote for the Guardian, no idea that arrangement had been terminated and not the slightest knowledge of your piece on Gaza's gas until a few hours ago. What's more, I was abroad - on vacation - on the days in July you describe. To put it starkly, my involvement in your case was precisely zero. I hope that as a matter of your own journalistic integrity, you'll want to alter the Medium piece to reflect these facts. Perhaps you'll also share this on Twitter as widely as you shared the Medium piece yesterday.
This was rejected in a TwitLonger response from Nafeez:
Your reading of my Medium piece is incorrect. I am not implying that you were involved in the end of my Guardian tenure. I have no clue about that, and to be sure, I did not make any such claim. My Medium piece has been amended to ensure that your response is mentioned in full, and to clarify that I am not implying your specific involvement in the termination of my contract - a matter about which I have no knowledge thanks to the abrupt, unethical and unlawful way in which I was dropped.

What I did do is speak to several journalists about my experience who told me that it was not unprecedented, and mentioned you by name. According to these journalists, including a former Guardian ed who has spoken on the record, my experience of egregious Guardian censorship over the Gaza gas story  - which I'm sad to see doesn't seem to bother you very much given your concerns about 'journalistic integrity' - has a long and little-known context, suggesting that rather than my experience being a mere bizarre and accidental aberration, it is part of an entrenched, wider culture across the paper. These journalists who spoke to me on condition of anonymity claim that you have played a key role in fostering this culture, and that you have quashed legitimate stories critical of Israel without meaningful journalistic justification. I have merely relayed their allegations.
It was also, as can be plainly seen, a brazen evasion of the main charges laid out by Nafeez about censorship and Freedland's central control over output.

All of which draws closer attention to the power and influence of Freedland.

Alongside, and complementary to, his position as "Executive Editor of the Guardian", Freedland carries out an important tempering role at the Jewish Chronicle, using his regular postings and status as a 'moderating' voice and warning platform for anything that seriously threatens to undermine the character and legitimacy of Israel.

In a recent piece, Israel's crumbling pillars, he warns, for example, of how the proposed Knesset legislation to formally declare Israel a Jewish state could seriously undermine its principal status as a 'democracy'.

Of course, nothing Freedland says here remotely touches upon Israel's institutional suppression of democracy as an ethnocratic, occupying and apartheid state.

Peruse other pieces here, like War is not always the answer, on Israel's 'difficult standing' after bombing Gaza, and you'll see more of this 'identity counselling', as Freedland tries to guide and protect Israel:
Blame Hamas if you like for firing from populated areas, but when Israel pulls the trigger it shares in the moral responsibility.
Not principal responsibility for decades of murderous occupation and oppression, just that Israel should "share" in that "moral responsibility". As with much framing at the Guardian, so runs the vital power-supporting narrative of 'two sides' and 'misguided Israel'.

One might think it remarkable that Freedland, carrying such influence at the Guardian, also occupies such a presitgious platform at the JC.

This is the all-important context within which to understand the key allegations raised by Nafeez Ahmed about Freedland as principal Guardian gatekeeper on sensitive issues relating to Israel.

Jonathan Cook, another ex-Guardian writer, has offered similar valuable insights and backing of Nafeez Ahmed's claims.

What critical response might we now see from key Guardian columnists George Monbiot, Seumas Milne and Owen Jones?

Will they help illuminate the culture of censorship and control laid out by Nafeez Ahmed and Jonathan Cook - a culture of rooted conservatism also recently exposed by ex-Guardian staffer Guilio Sica?

Will they help specify the particular influence exerted by Freedland in these affairs, and pursue their own extensive investigations of such interventions at the Guardian?

Might they even come to support Nafeez Ahmed's new project for a truly independent citizen journalism completely free from corporate control and establishment interests?

From Rusbridger to Freedland, the Guardian plays a crucial function in filtering stories, pitching moderate narratives and ensuring the 'right type' of writers.  A few 'alternative' voices are permitted, providing just enough 'dissenting' thought to maintain that niche position of 'sensibe-left reformer'.   

Just imagine if those same people were writing much the same content from outside those contrived confines. Just think what else they'd be able to say about the kind of stultifying, posturing organisation which employs them.   

Instead, their presence lends the whole enterprise a crucial legitimacy in rationalising power, stemming dissent, castigating radical 'upstarts' and patrolling the permissible limits of debate.

How rightly, yet easily, we castigate the Sun, Mail, Daily Record and other populist 'rags', without ever casting a truly critical eye over what pretentiously and disingenuously styles itself as an upmarket, labelled 'garment'.

From supporting Western aggressions to shielding Israel, from hosting war criminals like Blair and Brown to hypocritical greenwashing, isn't it high time that so many of those who comprise an effective left and liberal establishment really thought about their supportive roles, and about calling-out this authority-upholding pretender for what it is?

Update: Guardian reply. 
Statement in response to a blog post by Nafeez Ahmed
A Guardian News & Media spokesperson said: “Nafeez Ahmed is a freelance journalist who self-published blog posts on our environment blogging network for just over a year as a regular contributor. He has never been on the staff of the Guardian. His Guardian blog - Earth Insight - was about the link between the environment and geopolitics, but we took the decision to end the blog when a number of his posts on a range of subjects strayed too far from this brief. For the record, Jonathan Freedland played absolutely no part in this decision, as he has already confirmed.
“Any suggestion of censorship is unfounded: all of Nafeez Ahmed’s blog posts remain on our website to this day. He is welcome to continue to pitch story ideas to us in the normal way.”

Nafeez Ahmed's tweeted response:
This is .@guardian's seriously hilarious official response that just confirms wot I already said #priceless

Tuesday, 2 December 2014

Prince Harry feels no shame, but still keeps hush on the Royal Scam

So, the big 'confession' is finally out.

As part of his AIDS-awareness campaign, Prince Harry has just divulged his very own #FeelNoShame truth: he gets "incredibly anxious" before speaking in public.

A fairly human admission, if hardly devastating revelation.

Maybe we were expecting some kind of esoteric secret about the royal lineage, outpouring on the establishment's treatment of his mother, or Harry's own penchant for fascist attire.

Some might even have anticipated a certain shameful remorse for his particular part in the murderous calamity of Afghanistan. Or an expression of rebellious shame over his family's mass wealth while so many others sacrifice their dignity in succumbing to food banks.

Still, doesn't this kind of selfless act just confirm the deep-down-decency of our good-cause-patronising royals?

Shouldn't we undeserving subjects just grovel in gratitude at the humble transparency of our modernist princes?

And what all-encompassing fun as those royal-friendly celebs join in the great 'bare-a-secret'.

In lieu of any more enticing beans being spilled about Liz, Phil, Charlie, Andy, Harry and their extensive circle of privilege, here's a #FeelNoShame truth that will never see the media light of day or get mentioned in BBC royal correspondent Nick Robinson's gushing gaze: that the Windsor outfit is really a conniving consortium, continuously and covertly engaged in, to borrow that fine Steely Dan song title, a quite brilliant Royal Scam.

I recall reading, some years ago, a bunch of underworld gangsters talking candidly about how much they admired the Royals for managing to pull off this enormous confidence trick. Fine palaces, rolling estates, civil lists (elite payrolls), royal yachts, tax exemptions, junkets to hang out with Middle East dictators, the adulating masses swaying in dutiful appreciation over their weddings, anniversaries and newly-arrived offspring.

It's also sobering to think how the media get the populace to vent their hatred upon 'benefit scroungers' while our feudal few live shamelessly in the lap of luxury for doing nothing socially useful.

What a fix. Just how do they manage to carry it all off? Relentless BBC fawning certainly helps.

And Harry's latest charity-promoting 'admission' seems to add even more perfect populist cover to the sting.

Sometimes you really have to applaud the sheer scale of the con, wonder whether they'll one day get rumbled, hold their hands up to the racket or ever come to #FeelSomeRealShame. As likely, I'd say, as Prince Charles ever admitting to his eco-hypocrisy.

To invoke the Dan's great lyrics:

See the glory,
See the glory
Of the Royal Scam