Category Archives: Terror

GUILTY PLEASURE

A time-out from the cares of the world?

Monday morning I headed out to Frankfurt for an appointment made a couple of months previously. Thank God for my sat-nav which would guide me to the location in a city where I rarely drive. But even with that support, I felt up-tight about the trip which was actually to take me to a place to relax.

The moment the car was parked I sighed with relief. And the closer I got to the 18th floor of the Radisson Blu Hotel, I began to feel more at ease. Entering the Heaven Spa, I found the place empty but awash in the kind of all-world piano / flute music that sounds vaguely oriental and is meant to relax you immediately. It was working.

I don’t often allow myself this kind of decadent pleasure, but I’d received a gift certificate from my son D for my birthday. Or was it Christmas? Hard to say since they happen on the same day. At any rate, I had to take advantage of it before it expired and there I was, in a deserted spa, as if I were their only customer and they were only there to meet my needs.

I can’t deny finding that idea attractive. And yet, out in the world around me, hell had broken loose. Weeks before, Britain had decided to leave the EU for all the wrong reasons and was struggling to find a path forwards. The USA was in the grip of a divisive presidential election campaign that was pitting one megalomaniac against the first woman candidate who, unfortunately, has more than her fair share of detractors.

Not to mention that all over the place people were being murdered in the name of Allah, or by individuals feeling at odds with their world. Bullets were flying, bombs were going off, throats being slit, and trucks driven into crowds celebrating liberté, egalité and fraternité. How could I just let myself be pampered while across Europe people mourned their loved ones and faced shattered lives?

Good question. Nevertheless,  on that Monday morning I found myself in that enviable situation. The music started having its way with me and lured me into a separate place where a talented masseuse massaged away the cares of the world. Or tried to. And to an extent she succeeded. My eyelids closed, my limbs relaxed, my thoughts were set free for a blissful one and a half hours to think more pleasant thoughts than those I’d brought with me.

I started mentally composing a blog post – for me, that passes as relaxation. I pondered how I could write about the massage, of the physical release I feel when warm hands stretch and knead muscles. About what an ephemeral experience it was. The relaxation, I knew, would be fleeting. If I were lucky, I would benefit from it the rest of the day, until gradually all the nasty news bytes would catch up with me again. And heaven forbid, another tragedy could flash up as breaking news. After all, what right do I have to let the sorrows of the world go by without taking at least some notice?

Not that my thoughts will bring anyone back to life or ease the pain of those left behind. Nor will my single vote ensure that the American people do not destroy themselves in this election. However, I can’t help but think of one of my favorite poems and feel that in these perilous times, I mustn’t forget this message. Amazing, how timely it is.

No man is an island,
Entire of itself,
Every man is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thy friend’s
Or of thine own were:
Any man’s death diminishes me,
Because I am involved in mankind,
And therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls;
It tolls for thee.

John Donne, 1624

An excerpt from Meditation 17

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Filed under BREXIT, Disasters, Europe, Great Britain, Poetry, Terror

Freedom of Expression – The New Millennium’s Tightrope Act

…Carnival, Fastnacht or Fasching, whatever you call it, in German-speaking countries means a tradition of satire. And politics and religion are the favorite targets.

But this year, with the terrorist acts in Paris and now in Copenhagen so fresh in everyone’s thoughts, those responsible  in Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz had to perform a veritable tightrope act when designing the parade floats. Do we stand up and deride / denounce the terrorists for what they are – (mainly) young men dispossessed from our modern affluent society, claiming to murder to defend Allah’s honor? Or in doing so, would we provoke violent responses that endanger the crowds of people – including families with children – who come out for a day of jolly celebrations? What a monumental responsibility to carry!

The reaction of the carnival club in Cologne: self censorship. They canceled the first float they created that showed the pen mightier than the sword. The outcry was great. They were bending to the terrorists, some wrote; others defended them for taking seriously the danger to the public. On the day, they did come through with another float that proclaimed the same message. Mainz and Düsseldorf also showed backbone. In Braunschweig were concrete threats of attacks were received, the organizers canceled the parade. What else could they do?

Life is becoming, for all of us, a veritable balancing act. Does criticism offend others’ beliefs? Shouldn’t we respect their beliefs and opinions? I was speaking to a teacher friend of mine who said they try to teach the kids to respect the differences in others, whether religious or political or whatever. Then terrorists acts like those in Paris come along and everyone is defending the satirists who are often way past the borderline of respectful criticism. How do you draw a line between what is an acceptable critique and satire that’s gone over the top? We do, in our western democracies, have the freedom and the right to declare our opinions. We must be perfectly clear that the terrorist perpetrators consider every one of us to be infidels and they have absolutely no respect for our freedoms, rights and beliefs.

Sorry. Unfortunately, I don’t have a final answer to this dilemma. All I can say is that Kalashnikovs versus words and cartoons is overkill! No one forces anyone to look at the cartoons or read satirical magazines. If it offends you, turn away. But shooting down the authors in cold  blood is just not a commensurate response.

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Filed under civil rights, Europe, human rights, Terror, Traditions

Old Europe Ain’t What She Used to Be…

…Isn’t that a blessing?

 

This is not the first time that the movement of migrants into her parts is changing the character of the many diverse societies on the continent. It has been happening for millions of years. So why are some people pretending that the current status quo needs defending? Of course, there are elements that must be defended at all cost. Those include the rule of law and human rights which have been hard-won from the forces who would subject us. Some things are just not up for negotiation.

We have only to look at the two world wars in the 20th century to recognize what must be fought for and how precious peace is.

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On 27th January Holocaust Memorial Day was celebrated worldwide. For the uninformed, this year is the 70th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz by Soviet troops (1944). The truth about the heinous crimes Hitler’s Germany had been committing in murdering innocent Jews, Communists, homosexuals, Sinti and Roma and anyone else who opposed the regime became a fact that could no longer be ignored or denied. This crime was the culmination of what happens in a country where basic human rights are flaunted and the rule of law replaced with jack-boot justice. In coming years the world would also find out about the genocides committed by Stalin and co. One can debate at length which of the two dictators murdered more innocent people, but that question is academic.

The nature of authoritarianism has altered in the course of those 70 years. Rather than institutionalized terrorism from pseudo-elected governments, now terrorism is diffuse, existing in cells – some sleeping until woken for duty, and supported by internet recruitment of the next suicide bombers or IS warriors. It is impossible to combat effectively.

On 7th January the long automatic rifle of terrorists’ justice reached out to Paris and murdered 17 people – some random as in the Jewish supermarket, some targeted as the journalists at Charlie Hebdo. Do they really believe that we of this western civilization will surrender our freedoms just because they kill people they consider to be committing crimes against Allah and Mohammed?

Personally, I find it extremely difficult to understand why these Islamists think they have the right to terrorize the modern world and transport it back to the Middle Ages. For them, tolerance is an unkown concept. And quite honestly, they aren’t thinking this through. Were they to succeed in destroying the West, they would lose the internet tools that serve them so well. They would also have to give up their cell phones, their SUVs and all their modern weaponry. What if the source of their bankrolling (oil?) was no longer raking in the money to finance it all? They fail to recognise that these amenities exist only because of the freedom of ideas, speech, press and a lot of capitalism.

Of course, there have been positive side-effects from the Paris attacks. Mainstream Muslims are speaking out and disowning terrorism. And indeed, we must be very careful not to judge all Muslims by the actions of a few radicals. As they have said, those terrorists are not genuine Muslims. They are instumentalizing the religion for evil ends.

As a result of the attacks, tens of thousands – in France, millions of people – took to the streets to march and express their solidarity with the victims and their families. This all comes at a time when, in Germany, some groups have appeared on the scene to defend German culture from becoming inundated by foreign influences. The high number of foreigners is supposedly endangering the country as we know it. The largest center for this is the eastern city of Dresden, a city with a comparatively low percentage of people with migration background. Is this anxiety because of the 40 years during which east German society had little contact with the outside world?

Similar groups have sprung up across Germany, but their demonstrations are comparatively small and the turnout is totally outnumbered by the demos of those opposing them and marching for a “colorful” Germany. These anti-immigrant demos were reported in the foreign press . Unfortunately, they didn’t seem to consider it newsworthy to report on the opposing demos. That is disturbing!

However, I have been heartened in my belief that Germany and a large portion of its citizens are opening their arms to receive the refugees streaming in from such diverse places as Syria, Eritrea, Afghanistan and Serbia. Our newspapers are filled with articles on local private initiatives to find housing, furnishings and clothing for these people.  Private citizens organize get-togethers to welcome them into the communities. And for those who intend to settle, they are offering German courses. Everyone knows: language is the key to integration.

This help for the refugees is not just coming from one segment of society. Young and old are pitching in. In fact, many of the older generation who experienced being driven out of their homes in Poland or Czechoslovakia after the war and were forced to build a new life in western Germany, are especially open to helping. In the late 1940s and early 1950s they were in the same boat, arriving with nothing more than a few meager possessions. Now they are returning the favor – passing it forward, so to speak.

Europe is changing, developing. Nothing is perfect, to be sure, but to stand still would be fatal.

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Filed under civil rights, Europe, German History, Holocaust, human rights, Terror, World Wars

5 MILLION MARCH IN PARIS AND OTHER FRENCH CITIES

 

On Sunday unprecedented numbers of people were not afraid to show their solidarity with those murdered in Paris last week.

A sea of humanity ebbed and flowed on streets and squares across France and in other European capitals, demonstrating their solidarity with the families of the victims and defending liberty, equality and fraternity against the forces of terrorism.

People of all races, colors and religions, with 40 world leaders heading up the march, came together in the hope that this could be a tragedy that pulls all the disparate forces of society together to find a way forward in a country with Europe’s highest populations of Muslims and Jews. It was a remarkable sight after the carnage on Parisian streets last week. And we can only pray that other radical sections of society won’t seek revenge for these acts of terror.

I was especially moved by the Muslim voices that came forward in the media coverage, condemning the terrorists. Above all, Malek Merabet, the brother of the slain Muslim policeman, Ahmed Merabet. They were false Muslims, he said, for Islam is a religion of peace and love. The terrorists were disaffected people using Islam as an excuse for their crimes.

As moving as the occasion was, my thoughts cannot help but stray to the thereafter. It’s well and necessary to employ anti-terror measures and intelligence to try and prevent such travesties, but even though the perpetrators were known by the authorities, it didn’t avert their evil deeds.

In my opinion, the only solution is not an easy one, nor is it a speedy one. Only people who have a stake in mainstream society will live and act in a way to maintain that status quo. The rub is: there are far too many dispossessed immigrants living in France. Until they are educated and/or trained to do work that allows them to respect themselves – and others – and become part of the system, they will be vulnerable to demigods and hate mongers who are themselves products of their disjointed world.

Of course, this message cannot only be directed at France. Great Britain, Germany, Italy and other countries beyond Europe have many of the same problems to a varying extent, whether resulting from their past colonial transgressions or from the present humanitarian catastrophes currently convulsing the Middle East, Ukraine and great swathes of Africa. There is a lot of homework to be done and a lot of money that needs spending, and the less that is applied to weapons, the better.

But how can I as an individual make any difference in this terrible malaise?

  • By using my vote to elect leaders who understand that politicians are not there for their own aggrandizement but to work hard on behalf of their constituencies – including those who genuinely need help, to solve problems rather than causing more.
  • By being hands-on in welcoming new refugees to my community in any form required. Language classes, help with bureaucracy, finding accommodations…

The list is goes on.

We are all Charlie.

 

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Filed under Politics, Terror

JE SUIS CHARLIE!!

To those few Islamists who think they can blast modern civilization back to the Dark Ages with Kalashnikovs, I’d like to send the message that without our modern values of freedom of speech, thought and religion, you would have been burned at the stake by a still existing (un)Holy Inquisition.

Why are you so determined to sabotage your fellow moderate Muslim brothers in their quest to live peacefully with people of other religions, races and belief systems?

The cartoonists and journalists at Charlie Hebdo (and at other satirical publications) are indispensable voices in our society. They are people who point out to us how foolish we as human beings can be; they make us re-think, they make us laugh at our follies. We need them now more than ever, and we always will. My heart goes out to the families and friends of these courageous men who were murdered yesterday.

Tolerance means respecting the philosophies of others at all times. Tolerance means the right to criticize and satirize at will. It means never forbidding free thought. It means promoting good relations between yourself and those of different persuasion – and respecting their right to have other opinions. Above all it means:

LIVE AND LET LIVE

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Filed under civil rights, human rights, Terror, Tribute