Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Meanwhile, on the other channel...

Farewell from this blog.
The Joy of Raki has now become a teenager, and therefore unruly, unreliable, prone to sulk and liable to stomp off to its own room, slam the door and write bad poetry. It also vigorously believes that You Don't Understand Me And You'll Never Feel Like I Feel, Ever. And, like the father of a teenager, I am torn between allowing it its independence, locking it in its room forever, or just strangling the bugger.
I'll leave that one to your imagination.
However, all is not yet over in the writing stakes - I have two new blogs to follow:
The Nth Columnist, which is all the political and weird stuff, and
Chien Anadolu, which is all the Turkish, er, political and weird stuff.
I hope that you'll find them as entertaining, or barely tolerable, as my output here.
See you on the other side!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Let it go, let it gooo...!

Ugh,  I bloody HATE that song.
It's the overcommercialised, sacharrine fueled kind of crap that really gets my goat. The only current song that comes aywhere near is that 'I've got bills/ I've gotta pay/ So I'm gonna work work work night and day' one, with it's relentlessly upbeat tempo - a paean to being a witless, jolly slave, just as the former is sung by people with formidable bingo wings as they pour their dreams, and their money, into Mickey Mouse's lap.
So why use it as a title?
More because of the Buddhst message that's in it -  and relating to this venerable old blog of mine.
You can't help noticing how little activity it's seen over the past year and a half - I really haven't been givng it my full attention. I have to say, frankly, that it really is time to take this to whatever the Blogosphere equivalent of a vet is and put it out of its misery.
That, or whack it over the head with a spade or a brick and  bury it in the woods.
There comes a time when we have to let go of certain things, and I think I've reached it with this particular thing.
That does not, however, mean that I'm done with blogging. No siree. Instead, I'll be directing whatever blogging energies I have into two distinct areas - one specific to my original plan with this blog, and one more suited to my obvious interests in politics and other shenanigans.
I had originally thought that The Joy of Raki would be all about all things Turkish, but it hasn't quite turned out that way, as you may have noticed. And that, I think, has been to its detriment: I enjoy writing here, but there's no focus per se, and that is, it seems, somewhat anathema to your average blog reader.
So the plan is to retire this blog and come roaring back with two tighter, more focused things.
Whether or not they end up being given scant attention by yours truly remains to be seen.
For those of you who have read this blog, and I am assured that there are some of you out there, thank you for persevering with me this long. If you can bear it, wait for some new, exciting stuff coming from me soon!

Wednesday, December 02, 2015

Insert Title Here.

OK, it's been a long time. There's been stuff on my mind.

Then again, this is really a continuation of my last post, sadly enough.
As I write, the UK Parliament is just about an hour and a half away from voting on whether to start bombing in Syria or not.
The situation there, to be frank, is one massive clusterfuck: It's as if a world war is being waged in a very small piece of land. Actually, scratch the 'as if' - that's exactly what's going on.
Pay attention to history: we've been here many, many times before, but what this most precisely reminds me of is the Spanish Civil War, in particular the clear deployment of new weaponry and techniques in an experimental theatre of war.
Guernica, anyone?

The big difference is that Guernica happened once: In Syria, it's being enacted every day. Just as technology has accelerated the pace of life, so the dark arts of war have accelerated the pace of death, and the numerous ways in which to die.
And it seems that nations large and small are dying to die. Forget the fact that DAESH are a death cult - I can't see a reason why we can't level the same phrase at those who have jumped into this war zone. What else is it, to unleash hell hither and yon?
Bearing this in mind, I cannot see how a bombing campaign from this country can possibly help, except in the very narrowest of senses, by allowing certain politicians to appear on the top table of politics. We should also factor in the financial aspects,  by the way: There's always a lot of money to be made from the suffering of others: for example, the alleged fact that Israel has already given oil prospecting rights on Syrian soil to a company owned by Rupert Murdoch.
Are we so in love with money that we are thus in thrall to death?
I cannot see the ethical or moral case for bombing. I cannot see the political case for bombing. I cannot see the economic case for bombing.
I can see the opportunistic case, however. I can see the mendacious case. I can see the cynical case.
More than that, I see the case made by those too lazy to think or feel.
Should DAESH be stopped? Utterly, totally undoubtedly. But bombs are dumb - we need smart responses, not hard ones.
It is up to all people of good will to do what they can to prevent malice and fear and hate. Maybe I can't do much in a physical sense, but I will use what is available to me: My mind and my ability with words - let these be my sole weapons in a world swimming with blood.

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.