Less about the world, more about me.

Month: January 2015

The privilege of free speech.

I’m still trying to process yesterday’s massacre. It’s difficult to put considered words to my emotions. Usually one wouldn’t have to be considered. When something as awful as the murder of 12 people happens one shouldn’t have to watch what one says. But when a few extremists, from a minority, perpetrate an outrage, the responsible thing to do is moderate one’s reaction.

Muslims are in a vulnerable position in Europe. In an ideal world, these newcomers would be seeking to fit in, rather than to blend in. Part of fitting in, rather than blending in, is looking different. Be it because of skin colour or religious dress, European Muslims do generally stand out. This difference is extenuated by Muslims not feeling obliged to forget who they are, just to make us natives feel more comfortable with change. I like that.

Unfortunately, not everyone does. Even in the best of times there are those whose identities are so fragile or malformed that difference and change feels threatening. It’s a phenomenon that’s made worse in times of economic strife. Europe has obviously been experiencing an economic crisis so the backlash is getting better organised and most worryingly, better dressed.

It becomes more complex when religion is conflated with race. It gets yet more complex when a liberal wants to criticise Islam and finds that the far-right is making similar criticisms and the far-left is acting as an apologist for religious extremism.

So how do I emote responsibly? How do I give words to this fear and rage without descending into the language of hate?

I didn’t feel like this when Anders Breivik murdered dozens of children. Of course no one suggested that those children shouldn’t have provoked a deranged extremist by being members of Norway’s Labour Party. He represented such an insignificant strand of psychotic extremism that I did not feel threatened by his actions. Nor did I have to hedge my condemnation, for he was white and Christian.

I want to be free to attack Islam. I regard it as being as ludicrous a lifestyle choice as Roman Catholicism, but how do I ridicule and other it, without using words that an Anders Breivik would nod approvingly at?

How do I point out the supernatural nonsense, the homophobia and the misogyny? When I criticise Roman Catholicism, no one in Ireland will be worried about their churches being attached, job opportunities lost, their citizenship being withdrawn or their children attacked on the streets. It’s easy being a liberal in Ireland with a bone to pick with the Catholics.

Having a go at a minority, sets off, or should set off, alarm bells in the mind of a liberal. Yes, I could say, but they attacked free speech. They attacked a value as dear to me, as many people hold religion to themselves.

The problem is that I don’t live in a country that takes free speech seriously. I live in a country with blasphemy laws and that bans atheists from certain high offices. What right do I have to feel so offended by an attack on free speech in France, when a satirical cartoon, in an Irish newspaper, depicting Roman Catholic Priests was pulled due to the ‘offence’ some Roman Catholics chose to take?

Should I wait for Ireland to get its house in order before commenting on religious attacks on free speech in other countries? It’s an argument that can be made.

I think I feel defeated. How do I, with every privilege, being born a straight, white man, in Western Europe has gifted me, argue the case for untrammelled free speech? How do I make the case to a gay adult, who has survived all the bigotry this country has thrown at them, that the next generation of gay people must also endure the witless homophobia of the Roman Catholic Church?

I can attempt to explain that if we empower the State to silence Catholic bigotry, we’ve then empowered the State to ban gay ‘propaganda’ as Russia has done. I can attempt to say that the responsibility of people, of good conscious, is to drown out the noise of institutional bigotry. That we must argue for and model behaviour that inspires minorities, that so inculcates them from the hate, that the words and deeds of the tiny minded, becomes wholly irrelevant. I have to argue that free speech is worth suffering for?

Saying those things makes me feel like I am a middle aged man in 1914, urging and cheering the young men off the war, safe in the knowledge that I will never be called upon to suffer their fate.

Do I condemn the cowardice of the Irish mainstream media for not printing any of the cartoons that so offended the extremists? I wouldn’t be the one courting a violent death.

I had hoped that writing this would help me process my feelings and give me a renewed sense of purpose. But it hasn’t. I’m left with the feeling that expending any time, effort or passion on an ideal such as free speech, is merely to display my privilege in garish colours.

Perhaps that’s the point. Free speech does remain a privilege. A privilege, but not a priority?

The Battle of the Five Armies (spoilerful review)

I chose to wait until I’d seen the movie twice before reviewing it. I’m glad I did as the review I’d have written after the first view would have been unremittingly negative. It’s not that I thought it a bad film, it’s that the entire experience was ruined by one early scene. Watching it a second time however allowed me to enjoy a great deal of the rest of it.

(And as I warned at the beginning, this is spoiler heavy)

I shall begin with the issue many people have referred to since The Hobbit project became a trilogy. Was a trilogy justified and did the three films succeed in dealing with any concerns expressed? I must admit to being unsure. I do not possess the ability to step outside my enduring love for Peter Jackson’s vision of Middle Earth. I would have gladly, enthusiastically and without hesitation embraced a ten film version of The Hobbit. Similarly, I’d have been overjoyed with a twenty film version of The Lord of the Rings. So I cannot offer a sensible appraisal of this trilogy’s merit.

I can suggest that Peter Jackson did succeed where Tolkien failed, turning The Hobbit into a fully fleshed out prequel to The Lord of the Rings. Though, it should never be forgotten, the good professor did provide all the necessary details for Jackson and his writing team to make that adaptation. So yes, it does work as a prequel in a way the original book did not (and was not initially meant to be).

But three films? This review can’t offer an answer. I would suggest however, that despite its mighty length, there were still pieces of the story that did not get resolved or were not given due attention e.g. the Arkenstone, Beorn, Gollum, the white jewels, Legolas’s mother, Thorin’s funeral and sundry other elements. All I know for certain is that I want more.

Another often mentioned controversy is Tauriel, a wholly invented Jackson character. Was she created just because a Hollywood Blockbuster needs a strong female character? I don’t care why she appeared, I just know I love her. From my earliest readings of the books, I was always struck by the power of the female characters in Middle Earth. They did not appear very often, but they had a wonderfully pervasive presence. Galadriel, Arwen and Éowyn are characters I adore. Tauriel is a worthy addition to that triumvirate.

I’m also an incurable romantic. I thought her always doomed relationship with Kili was beautiful. That it was transgressive only added to the romantic beauty of it all. And it was doomed. Tauriel did not have the option of choosing mortality as Arwen did, lacking her dual-heritage. I particularly enjoyed the scene where Thranduil reminds her that Kili will surely one day die. Who couldn’t be transported back to the time Elrond showed Arwen a vision of her future if she chose a mortal, Aragorn. An eternity of aimless grief. I’m a sucker for that kind of tragedy so Tuariel’s inclusion most certainly works for me.

As for The Battle of Five Armies itself? It did not have the emotional resonance of The Return of the King, which logically it could not have, being part three of six. But I still felt the disappointment as this is simultaneously, part six of six. A seventh may never be made. Though it is a strange criticism to make, make a film that’ll keep me going for the next few decades.

Before I continue I should explain what scene almost ruined the entire film for me. The confrontation on Dol Guldur between Galadriel and Sauron and the Nazgûl just didn’t make sense. At first Galadriel appears scared of the Nazgûl then she dismisses all nine and Sauron with seeming ease. It’s a scene that manages to both understate and overstate her power, with added rubbish special effects to boot. We know that Sauron was defeated at Dol Goldur and that Galadriel was the most powerful elf in Middle Earth, but surely there was a way of telling that story better. It continues to irk me in a way that no other scene in the six films ever has.

But that aside. I enjoyed it. The opening scene was near perfect. Though it worries how much regret I felt, when Smaug’s light was finally extinguished. I never felt that for the Balrog.

I was convinced by Thorin’s descent into paranoid madness and teary eyed by his eventual redemption.

Bard’s assumption of power was admirable. Thranduil’s lofty coldness, softened, was wonderful. The battle scenes were spectacular, if a little confusing. How Azog managed to establish his command post still escapes me. (I won’t mention the rock worms) I enjoyed the fact that while dwarves hate elves, they will at least treat with them, but show them an overwhelming force of orcs and they will charge them without pause for breath. I’d liked to have seen more of the Charge of the Women and again with the Eagles without any explanation. If I hadn’t read the books, I think I’d have lost my mind with the Eagles.

I really enjoyed the way the deaths of Kili and Fili were handled. The former without any heroism, the latter, his eyes trained on his love while he breathed his last.

Legolas got to do his circus tricks. You’re either going to love or hate that.

But in the end, The Hobbit is about Bilbo and I think he shone. He is a true adventurer. Bilbo has a charisma that Frodo never had. Be it dwarf, elf or man, Bilbo is always a force to be reckoned with. He has none of Frodo’s deference. And that he was already in thrall to the ring by the film’s end was made exquisitely apparent.

And now, the only thing left to do is wait for the extended version. And after that, back to the books and pray to Eru that the rights to The Silmarillion become available.

May the Star of Eärendil shine upon you.

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