Tuesday, January 13, 2015

The Looking Glass War.

There are days and times when one comes close to despair, when there seems to be nothing but ugliness and horror all around, when the news is bloated with stories of humanity's inhumanity. Such has it been over this past week. Whether it's the massacres in Paris, or the killing of thousands in Nigeria, or the ongoing unfolding horror that is Syria and Iraq, or little men full of nothing but their own importance preaching of their own virtues, it's enough to make one sick to the stomach. I could turn off the TV and the computer, put virtual fingers in my ears, cover my eyes and listen to nothing but the silence of my mind; or I could stumble around, quoting Yeats.
Neither, of course, would be an answer.
Then again, re-posting satirical cartoons that mock the weak and not the strong is also not really a suitable riposte.
I have heard an unbelievable amount of crap being talked over the past week, neatly summed up by Rupert Murdoch's idiotic demand that all Muslims should apologise for the Paris killings, Richard Dawkins' latest histrionic rant, and the Fox News 'Expert' who claimed that Birmingham was a no-go zone for non-muslims. It never ceases to amaze me how the 'experts' crawl out of the woodwork to make their opinions known, before scuttling back into the darkness of their mind caves.
Why is it that we need, bluntly, white middle-aged male 'experts' on Islam whenever there's an 'Islamic' atrocity, when we would be (quite rightly) offended if some bloke with a beard and a robe started inveighing against so-called Christian transgressions? Such as, for example, Amjad Choudary, who is pretty much the Islamist equivalent of Outraged of Tunbridge Wells. It strikes me that many of these religious experts are well-versed in the acts of mankind, but distinctly lack much knowledge of the God they profess to understand.
I am not going to pretend to be an expert on Islam: I can't pretend, for that matter, to be an expert on Christianity, or any other religion you may choose to nominate. However, at least I do not dissemble myself into that most Protean of things, an 'Expert'. The ones I've been watching seem largely to be people who've done just enough reading to confirm their prejudices.
I have, however, had the privilege of living in a truly wonderful country that happens to be majority Muslim (Turkey, as if you didn't know..). I have to say this: the image of Muslims and Islam that is time and again represented in the western media is totally, entirely and completely unlike the people I knew that happened to live in a country where Islam was the main religion. I now happen to live in a country where Christianity is the main religion.
Does this mean that my life is dominated by the rhythms, orders, injunctions, requirements and demands of the Church of England?
Er, no.
Except for, nominally, Christmas and Easter.
And that is pretty much the deal, from my own experience at least, for most Muslims - religion touches one's life, but does not dominate it. Most of the Turks I knew smoked and drank and rarely went to the mosque, except during Ramadan and at times such as weddings and funerals - in other words, their interaction with faith pretty much mirrored life back home.
And 'mirror' is an important word here.
It strikes me that the horror of ISIS, the butchery inflicted by Boko Haram, the killings by a pair of disadvantaged, alienated men who were nevertheless a product of France, all of them, are a gross, distorted mirror held up to the 'West'. They reflect back our own prejudices, fear and anger, and in turn a mirror is held up to them.
Going back twenty years, the mirrors of societies were more normative - life in the UK both resembled, and was a reflection of, life in Turkey, both the good and the bad. Yet in the last fourteen years, the mirrors we as societies have held up to each other have become increasingly distorted, unreal, surreal even. The haters on both sides resemble no-one more so than their opposite number, while the normal middle, the ordinary, decent people who just want to live their lives as well as they can are squeezed out of existence. The mirrors of the worlds have become like those you see in a circus, emphasising above all else all that is baleful and grotesque.
What can be done about such stupidity and ignorance? Be full of passionate intensity or lack all conviction and do nothing?
I won't pretend to have all the answers. All I know is that we, the average, the ordinary, the meek and unremarked of this Earth, all of us who just want to live, need to wrest the mirrors of the world from those who warp them, take them back and render them back into their true shape.

Friday, October 10, 2014

What's the beef with Turkey?

You'd think that a country that has a war literally on its doorstep might be doing something about it, but Turkey's seeming inaction over ISIS, Syria and Iraq is ominous.

As I write, IS are continuing their assaults on Kobane (or Ayn Al-Arab), refugees continue to pour over the border, Turkish Kurds are being prevented from crossing into Syria to help protect the city, and tens of people have been killed in protests in cities right across the country. Meanwhile, Turkey's Foreign Minister, in talks with the new head of NATO, has said that it is 'unrealistic' that Turkey should lead a ground assault, while demanding that his country be allowed to set up a buffer zone and no-fly zone inside the Syrian border.

So what's happening? Why has one of the world's largest standing armies not done anything so far except move its tanks to the border?

There are several explanations, some less charitable than others.

Let's start with the most benign interpretation. Turkey has been a vociferous opponent of Bashar Al-Assad's murderous regime over the past three years, and any attempt at involvement against ISIS will only bolster his rule. Also, as a NATO country, if it engages in Syria, it runs the risk of getting involved with a larger enemy: Russia, which is Syria's ally. Just to point out, in case it's been forgotten, that Vladimr Putin now has a highly effective Black Sea presence in Crimea, thanks to his annexation of the peninsula earlier this year. Turko-Russian wars, in the past, have not gone very well for the Turks. Not for the first time, Turkey is caught in a bit of a bind.

Extraopolating from this, what would happen if Turkey attacks ISIS? This may provoke a direct, large assault on Turkish soil. Now, this would admittedly be unlikely, as well as suicidal: As I said above, Turkey's military is enormous, well-funded, and far more of a threat than the Iraqi Army. However, an assault on any NATO member constitutes an attack on all members, leading to full engagement - and once again, we come back round to the risk of full-on war with Russia as a by product.

Moving on to a less generous interpretation, astonishing as it may seem, ISIS and Turkey, or rather the ruling AKP, and bonded by their religious outlook. The majority of Turks are Sunni Muslims, as opposed to the Syrian regime being Alawite muslim, and the Iraqi government's Shia majority. That's not to say the AKP (necessarily) share the off-the-loonbar-spectrum views of their ISIS co-religionists, but they have certainly demonstrated sympathy for them in the past. There are accounts of ISIS fighters being treated in hospitals, covert Jihadi training camps near the border and the tendency for authorities to turn a blind eye as people come and go from one country to the other. They also seem to be consistently supplying more and better weaponry to ISIS than any other resistance group. In April, I witnessed what was, as I later realised in retrospect, a large demonstration in support of ISIS, in the very heart of Istanbul.

The harshest interpretation is that Turkey is playing a murderous game of Silly Buggers with everyone concerned, in particular with the Kurds. Ankara has made no secret about its antipathy towards a de facto Kurdistan on its borders, while at the same time doling out the odd concession on language rights within the country. Quite simply, they are working along the lines of 'my enemy's enemy is my friend', and they will be perfectly happy to see the destruction of the Peshmerga throughout Syria and Iraq. The government's propaganda machine is currently in full flow, claiming that Turkish Kurds are sacking government buildings and damaging infrastructure throughout the southeast, hence the reason why the police and Jandarma are being so heavy handed. Looking at social media, one can see that feelings are running very high. Many Turks associate the Kurds solely with the PKK (the Kurdish Workers' Party), and blame them for the brutal civil war of the 80s and 90s. In addition, the PKK are seen as a terrorist organisation by both Turkey and the US, meaning that they would be seen as a 'legitimate' target in the event of Ankara ordering the tanks to roll over the border.

I cannot help but feel that this is an incredibly dangerous game to  be playing. The Kurds are, in effect, guarding the Turkish state, and are paying for it in blood from both sides. And history shows, time and again, that every state that has existed in the Anatolian Plateau ignores the people on its southeastern flank at its peril.

At the same time, I have a little sympathy with Ankara's plight. It faces a genuine threat to its territorial integrity, albeit one that is to some degree of its own making. At the same time, other NATO members are really not making life easy for them. The best bet, at present, would be to ensure an effective flow of weapons, training and tactical support to the Kurds. However, to do so would fly in the face of years of political antagonism, and the AKP would be wary of doing anything to reduce their share of the popular vote. Yes, Recep Tayyip Erdogan is quite happy to let blood flow rather than risk the anger of the electorate.

Unfortunately, whatever they try to do, the Turks are being pulled into the black hole of war by the sheer gravity of events, and that should concern us all greatly.

And who, ultimately, is to blame? Probably those behind an agreement made just after the first world war, one that has caused unforeseen and untold damage in the region since. But that's something to be described another time.

Monday, October 06, 2014

Loving the Alien.

So, here, I think, is the culmination of many of the past few weeks' posts. Perhaps you should start by watching this video, where Reza Aslan, a professor of religion and author of Zealot:The life and times of Jesus of Nazareth, rips apart some spectacularly poor journalism and the lazy, cheap comedy of Bill Maher. On the other hand, perhaps you'd like to wait until the end of this post. Either way, I recommend watching it.
There are fewer things in life more depressing to hear than lazy generalisations, especially from people who should know better. It's a vice which I have been guilty of in the past and one which I try to remain entirely on guard against. I rarely, if ever, take things on face value (again, see my posts on advertising regarding this), and I will question, probe, doubt and ask for evidence. So when I watch and hear some of the vile nonsense decked out as fact when it is little more than opinion, as it is in the video above, it brings me to the edge of despair. There's an old adage, well-beloved of demagogues everywhere: A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.

And right now, everywhere I look, I see lies sprinting hither and yon.

Another image comes to mind: a great circle of people, standing in the half light, whispering something to the person in front, he message becoming increasingly distorted as it goes around this infinitely large circle until it is little more than the meaningless sussuration of bees, meaningless yet freighted with the meaning that each whisperer within the circle confers upon it.

Some of you who read this will, I know, be saying 'Well, religion is a lie itself - are you going to defend that?' Others among you may be thinking 'Well, yes, [insert religion here] is a backward/barbaric/[insert any negative adjective of choice] worldview'.  Some of you may want to remonstrate - 'Let me tell you, I've read/seen/researched [insert subject here] and I find that it is [insert suitable epithets here]'.

So I ask you: What do you know?

Not what you think you know, but what do you actually, solidly, concretely KNOW?
Not what someone in a newspaper, or on TV, or in a magazine, or on Facebook or Twitter says they know, what do YOU know?

I know my own answer to this. More importantly, I hope that I am honest enough with myself to be able to accept the limits of my own little knowledge and accept the darkened seas of non-knowledge that lap the shores of my thought.

If now you are asking what my answer is, I refer you back to my question above.

Seeing as I have put this post in the context of the current soi-disant Clash of Civilisations, let me bring in a few examples, although I will fare badly against Mr Aslan's succinct summation of things. If you're a Christian, or possibly a 'Christian', or if you just happen to come from the 'West', and like a mince pie and a singsong at Christmas, or an Easter egg at, er, Easter, I want you to think of three or four things you associate with Islam.

Off you go, now. Don't censor your thoughts.


Odds on at least one thing on your list was pejorative. But why? What do you actually know?
OK, another question - what are the tenets of Islam, and what are the traditions of cultures that happen to have Islam as part of their culture?
In fact, there are only 5 things you need do to be a Muslim -
State that you believe that there is only one God (and Allah - Al-Ilah - literally translates as 'God' in the Judeo-Christian sense);
Pray five times a day (way down on the requirements of some of the more bampot versions of Christianity);
Give to charity (via a tax called Zakat - similiar to Tithes);
Fast during Ramadan;
Go on pilgrimage if you are healthy and wealthy enough to do so.
 - And that is that. Not a beard, a burqa, a niqab, a tesbih, or an aversion to booze in sight (although I know that there will be muslims who will disagree strongly with that statement). Follow the five pillars of Islam, and that's it - you are a Muslim.
Now, what kind of Muslim you are - that's a different matter entirely, and as Mr Aslan says, religion is essentially what people bring to it. And if what they bring is shadows and fear, then that religion, or that culture, or that political system, or that civilisation, will be one of shadows and fear.
Now, just to give a bit of balance to affairs, another question: What are the tenets of Christianity?
Well, just two really - That Jesus is God and the son of God, and Love Thy Neighbour. That's it. No hellfire, no Ten Commandments, definitely no Leviticus, and not a sign of Sandals and tofu bicycles.

Yet how many nominally Christian people, or perhaps I should say those who protest their faith a little too loudly, do you know whose grasp on faith is, shall we say, a trifle wobbly at best?
Tony Blair, for example. Or George W Bush.
Or....well, the list is compendious.

Moving the spotlight away from faith for a moment, we can see that this tendency to fall into the habit or relying on cliche is pervasive. It's there when people start blaming immigrants for a loss of housing, or jobs, or benefits; It's there in the way President Putin calls the Ukrainian Government 'fascists'; It's there when gays and lesbians are attacked,imprisoned and murdered in Nigeria and other countries where there are laws banning certain sexualities; It's there when someone says 'All [insert group of choice] are...'; It's there, even, when we come to believe of ourselves that we are useless, or worthless, or less than good because someone else has bullied us.

How do we not do this? How do we love or understand what we do not know? How do we respond to the easy whisper in the ear, that hasping sound so full of doubt? How do we love the alien?

By reading, by questioning, by doubting all - by looking, first, to know what is in ourselves, because, I think, we have to first love the alien within us before we love the alien without.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014

Enemy mine.

Once again, we find the UK taking military action in the Middle East, following the overwhelming vote in Parliament approving intervention. Once again, politicians have warily circled the issue, probed it, questioned it, some more avid for action than others, some urging utmost caution. Once again, we are presented an image of some demonic force that is a threat to our very existence, and of a situation that is very black and white, rather than the hideous grey smear of truth that it really is. The Middle East is on the verge of complete meltdown, and the reality is that no one really knows what to do, whose side they should be on, and in fact whether they should do anything anyway.

At least IS presents a good old Solid Target, even if they are being oversold as the Enemy du notre jours. They are, through the combination of serendipity and the Iraqi Army's complete lack of discipline in action, an extremely well-armed, tech-savvy, gang of murdering, smuggling, misanthropic, heretical brigands, not a state, and definitely not a Caliphate. But they're not the only group of people out there busy being misanthropic and beheading people. If our beef was just with that, then we should, by rights, be bombing Saudi Arabia, Iran, in fact pretty much everywhere in the region. Some argue that we should leave the whole place alone, and argue that this is really a war between which version of Islam should dominate - that this is the Semitic equivalent of the religious wars that convulsed all of Europe from the late Middle Ages onwards.  I think there is some merit in this argument, but one intrinsic flaw - who would you be happier doing business with when it comes to buying oil? The Saudis may be ultra-conservative Sunni muslims who'd chop off a hand at the drop of a head, but at least they're OUR ultra-conservative hand-chopping Sunni muslims.

Who is the enemy?

Ask an Israeli soldier: He'll say Hamas, or Iran, or possibly everyone outside Israel's immediate borders.
Ask President Erdogan of Turkey: He'll point the finger of blame at the whole world.
Ask an IS fighter, born and bred in the East End: He'll shout that it's all the Kaffirs.
Ask an American: He or she might explain it's the A-rabs.

Let's get closer to home. Who's the enemy?

Ask the SNP: it's the elite in Westminster.
Ask Nigel Farage: the same (especially considering they ruined the first day of his conference).
Ask the Conservatives: It's Labour.
Ask Labour: It's the Conservatives.

Huddle in even closer. Who's the enemy?
The guy who cut you up in his car this morning?
The boss?
That person who looked at you in a funny way in the supermarket, possibly because you had eleven items in your basket when you were in the 'Ten items or less' queue?
The person who wrote the sign for the aforementioned 'Ten items or less' queue, when it should be 'fewer', not less?

Where does the enemy begin?

Look in the mirror, and there it is.

The enemy, such as it is, begins where we are not - it is the Other, the thing that embodies, personifies, all the things that we believe we are not. The enemy is often just a projection of our own shadows, and the more intensely we are averse to our perceived opponent, the more intense they are in 'opposition' to us - and, in return, we are their shadows, too. So Israel and Hamas are each others' throats, and will remain so in perpetuity while their struggles persist; ISIS are the Shadow of the West, welling up through the sand because of the  mistakes and poor decisions that have plagued the entire region since at least the Sykes-Picot Agreement after the First World War; and indeed, wherever you look, sectarianism, religious intolerance and plain  old bigotry appear again and again wherever people are too scared to look into the mirror of their fears.

It doesn't have to be this way, of course. Whatever we may think of other people, they are still people, not baby-chomping, kitten-stabbing ogres, just as the face you look at in the mirror each morning is still you. It is being afraid that can make monsters of us, and just knowing that makes it easier not to be ruled by fear. The enemy does not have to start at the mirror, or across the road, or over the border, and this should be remembered, even in the hardest of times.

Friday, September 19, 2014


A last post about the Scottish Independence referendum. I have to admit I was surprised that the 'No' vote won it by 55% to 45% - I thought that it would be much, much closer. And now there are the celebrations and the hangovers, the reviews and the soul-searching, the triumphalism and the reflection, and of course the yards and yards of newsprint devoted to analysis and talking heads populating the screen.
So, did 'no' win? Did timidity win over temerity? Is it a case of Business as Usual?
I really, really hope not.
This campaign has demonstrated irrefutably that people can become engaged with politics, can engage with difficult issues, and do make a difference. This much the politicos have acknowledged, and so far have made a lot of noise about making changes, including what is in effect a Devo Max deal for Scotland. Yet what politicians such as David Cameron and Ed Miliband are good at is playing a long game - that is, they will carry on being involved in the politics once the media fuss has died down and the circus has moved on to the next spectacle. And, being the politicians they are, they will carry on doing what they do and quietly hoping that it will be very much Business As Usual.
If that happens, we will only have ourselves to blame, should it be the case that what we really want is a change to the way power and money are shared across the country, but we do nothing to effect that change.
Democracy is of the people, by the people and for the people, and is far too precious to be left to a chamber of technocrats and people who've known each other since they were at school or university together. It has taken this referendum to reawaken the debates that should have dominated the political process since at least 2008. Look at what happens if we slumber: We have MPs' scandals expenses that rumble on but don't really change; We elect a police commissioner who won't resign despite his clear failure to act during the Rotherham child abuse scandal; We have bankers' bonuses rising once more to obscene levels, and the wealth gap between the very richest and the rest of us rising to levels that have not been seen for more than a hundred years; And we have a government that seems to flail in every contrary wind.
For this awakening, we should be grateful to the people of Scotland. And if we lose our freedom, having been shown it, then shame on us.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Kids with guns

I'm writing this not long after the murder (not execution:that implies some form of judicial process, not arrant barbarity) of British aid worker David Haines at the hands of IS, and after an announcement of a coalition of nations to fight it. I can't help but feel that the members involved range from eager to barely lukewarm at best.

How do you stop such barbarity? Do you fight fire with fire? Do you, as Bishop Almaric allegedly said at the sack of Beziers, say 'Kill them all. God will know his own', as you destroy everything and all in your path, and leave nothing but cinders in your wake?
IS is a formidably well-armed, but also well-organised, system. Its brutality is not random and it has precedents in the past to which it supposedly looks with such warped reverence. Throughout history, people have been terrified of marauding armies and the atrocities they carry out, whether in truth or fiction. This current group just happen to be a lot more tech-savvy and know how to use social media to disseminate their message, and, to a  certain demographic, make it look like some kind of Boys Own-type adventure.

I think that the 'Boys' bit of that sentence is one of the more crucial parts to understanding how IS behave - that is, their front line grunts are largely teenagers and young men. Pretty much, in fact, like any army anywhere in the world. All armed services work in a similar way when it comes to training up raw recruits - essentially, kids are broken down and built back up in the interests of the system that needs them: They are made to feel that they are part of something bigger, stronger and better: They are given a community, a fraternal system of support - very often a surrogate family. It's no wonder that military life often attracts recruits from the poorer fringes of society, as it provides stability, sustenance and strength, along with adventure and excitement, something always attractive to young men.

That, however, is where all semblance ends. These particular kids with guns, it seems to me, have one thing that is generally erased from a rank and file soldier because it's ultimately detrimental - namely, a grievance. And that grievance is fed and nurtured by a cult-like act of programming that goes far beyond what most militaries do.What is apparent from the videos released by IS, in particular the one by British IS members, is that these are people who feel that they have never been listened to, that they have been marginalised, ignored, despised. They seem like people who felt their lives were going nowhere until the opportunity of glory in war appeared. Someone gives them a gun and it feels as if they have been empowered and liberated - and woe betide anyone who speaks in opposition. They dream of something incorruptible and perfect, yet seek to build it on the tottering fetid corpseflesh of war.

In fact, we have seen this same image again and again over the past decade or so - young men on grainy videos, berating distant people and governments, waving an admonishing finger in the air and exulting in the fact that the are being heard, being feared, being, in a perverse way, respected.
Yes, respect: Isn't that what a lot of gang culture is? Respect, face, maintaining a kind of strength. And having weapons makes it all the easier, because for such people, creating fear through the use of force is mistaken for being strong, for being respected.

So, how do we stop the kids with guns? I don't have any answers really. Kill them? Get ready to kill the next generation to come along afterwards, then. Ban them from coming back into the country after their foreign sojourns? Maybe, but I'm not sure what this would actually achieve. Imprison them? How and where do you hold them? How do you deprogramme them from their beliefs?

The problem, however, is not about to go away.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Credo! Credo! Get your Credo while it's hot!

Belief is a weird thing.

It doesn't matter if the truth is in front of you, stark, bare and ugly, if someone wishes to believe that what is in front of them is not true, then lo and behold, it is not true.

If I want to believe that a brown teapot revolves around the sun, and that on some planet far, far away and far, far ago live a race of unicorns that fart pink glitter, then who are you to disprove me, you bloody heretic?

Belief shouldn't really work, yet it does. Faith really does move mountains. Sometimes, these mountains might be heaped piles of heads, yet faith moves them.

Regular readers of this blog may recall my aversion to peas, my young encounter with an advert for said legume and the disastrous outcome of believing the hype. Ever since then, I have had a difficulty with belief and faith of any kind, but in particular with the following:

Anyone who says they have a 'passion' for something or other while wearing a suit.
Advertising and advertisers.
A certain kind of 'religious' person.

What do they all have in common? Well, they're all out to flog something or other to people, and in return relieve others of their money, or their vote, or their humanity, or their soul. I should know: I used to sell car number plates, a long, long time ago, and believe me on this, there are few jobs more soul-destroying than telesales, selling bloody car number plates. It was a relentless treadmill of drudgery, where a little electronic beep in my earpiece would induce a Pavlovian reaction as I put on my best smiley voice and soothingly sold a little dream in the form of a number plate to adorn the cars of Great Britain.

Strangely, for many callers (Yes! They actually called ME), this dream consisted of having a number plate that said something like A 5 HIT, or A 5 LAG, or K 11 NTS. Seriously. Even celebrities from TV were avid for the damn things - Jim Bowen was a regular punter, for example. I never understood the allure, but here's the thing: I was damn good at selling the bloody things. I could fill the most drab and tedious of numbers with a hidden allure, just by using my best telephone manner. I could make people believe in what they were buying. I sounded as if I believed, as if I had a passion for selling what was in reality something rather worthless, that I could imbue a few numbers and letters with a mystic power significant only to the person I was in communion with, and make them believe.

And, three minutes later, anything up to £500 poorer.

I know what belief sounds like, because I can make the noises myself, and so I am never very easily convinced by those who would have me believe that they have my best interests at heart, that their product will make my life tangibly better just by being in my possession, that their policies will be all the better for my vote, that my soul will shine all the brighter if I just follow them.

You might think, from all I've just said, that I'm an out-and-out atheist, but actually I'm agnostic - I cannot demonstrate that God, as a being beyond the known universe, doesn't exist - although I don't think the God that seems to have a surprisingly narrow moral and ethical agenda that looks suspiciously like the anthropocentric concerns of humanity is for real.
Blimey, that was a long sentence.
Anyway, I am generally agnostic on most issues, as you will have seen from my entries on the Scottish referendum. I largely remain to be convinced on a lot of things - I immediately want to know where the evidence is, or what research backs a statement up, or how such and such can be justified.
This is all very good for academic work, but it does tend to send my nearest and dearest up the wall when we talk, to put it mildly, as I can come over as wilfully contrarian.
Which I'm not.
Well, sometimes.
Having said all that, however, it has become inescapably evident to me over the years that we do need faith, we do need belief, we need hope and dreams, not just for ourselves, but in order to live, to cooperate, and to thrive in this world. It might be the invisible belief that things will just work when we need them to, or the faith that the bits of metal and paper we carry round in our pocket actually have a kind of value that can be used to buy things. It might be the beliefs we develop over a lifetime, that one political party is better and more likely to be on our side than the other, or that wearing ties makes you stupid (I'll explain this one in a later entry). Or indeed, the faith that beyond this waking world is another land of eternal bliss - or eternal punishment.
We need to believe in order to live, and the problem with this is that it's eminently exploitable, whether it is by the boss of a company saying he or she has a passion for, let's say, manufacturing wingnuts, or an advertisement for a fast car, or a politician saying he'll deliver on his promises for, let's say, national independence, or for the preacher who says he can shepherd your soul into the Maker's fold.
A lot of the time, faith and belief is a good thing: It's a cohesive device that binds families, communities, societies and nations, yet it is also so, so easily abused.
As we have seen through the entire Middle East, the cradle of the Three Faiths that dominate the Earth, belief can be a raven, from Tony Blair and George W Bush selling the world the myth of the 'weapons of Mass Destruction' in 2003, to the iron belief of Israeli prime ministers taht they can attack civilian populations with impunity, to the murderous, vile, apostate faith of IS in Iraq and Syria at present.

You don't catch many agnostics bombing the hell out of a nation, or beheading someone for their lack of agnosticism.

And yet, for all the ill that belief and faith can do, still we must have some kind of belief, have some kind of faith - not one that says 'I am right and they are wrong', but one that says that things can get better and that people can be, in essence, good.

Anyway, that is the faith I will hold: Given a choice of direction, people will generally opt for the good, and that it's everyone's job to help where they can.