Less about the world, more about me.

Month: January 2016

That Charlie Hebdo Cartoon

What can I say about that latest controversy provoked by the French satirical magazine, Charlie Hebdo? Further comment seems futile. So many have spoken on the topic already. Nothing new or exceptional has been said. It has been a case of the usual suspects saying the usual things. Every ideologue has made their case entirely in keeping with their ideology.

I will not deviate from that pattern. I am (despite a recent wobble) a free-speech absolutist so I maintain the ideologue’s belief in Charlie Hebdo’s right to say whatever it wishes about whomever it wishes. I am not however in any position to say if that particular cartoon was racist or not. I’m a straight, white, European male. The only privilege I don’t have is the right to say if something is racist or not.

I did have a visceral reaction to the cartoon. I thought it brilliant, searing and piercing. Perhaps some context. I first saw the cartoon (with a translation) a few days after I had listened to Brenda Power speak on the radio about the threat to women’s rights that may be posed by the influx of so many refugees (Muslim men to be precise) from the Middle East.

The interview made me uncomfortable because I felt some sympathy for her argument. It’s a discomfort caused by a clash of principles. I am happy (well not happy, more prepared) to pay extra taxes to allow however many millions of refugees need asylum in Europe, to be allowed in. (And if you notice, in the previous paragraph I said influx. I cringe at it, being in a country that will only accept a pathetic few thousand refugees.) I justify this stance because I regard it as common human decency, to save the life of another.

Taking in five or ten million refugees should be our first action. Then we deal with all the problems that this will entail. And those troubles should not be downplayed. It will cause social tension, it will inspire a rise in the far-right, there will be incidents. This is inevitable. But lives will have been saved and in time, Europe will be all the richer for the experience.

Germany has taken in about a million refugees. It is now dealing with the consequences. If it mismanages this opportunity, then whatever remaining enthusiasm there exists in Europe for welcoming refugees will disappear entirely. And that is where the cartoon comes in.

European public opinion is disgustingly fickle. By purest chance, I was vaguely aware of the tragedy unfolding in the Mediterranean a few years ago. A particular blog I read, mentioned it, but it piqued my interest only peripherally. Then Pope Francis visited Lampedusa, a landing spot for many refugees and where the bodies of many of those who died on the trip are brought ashore. He managed to generate some publicity, but few people were moved. The walls of Fortress Europe remained standing, with the wholehearted support and/or indifference of public opinion. Then that little boy’s body washed ashore just where a camera was conveniently present. Everything changed. The wall was breached and we (some of us) cheered the refugees in.

Syrian passports were discovered on some of the men who perpetuated the Paris massacre. On New Year’s Eve, in Cologne, several women were sexually assaulted.

I love that cartoon because in a single image, with a tiny amount of text, it perfectly encapsulates European public opinion. Thousands of people dying doesn’t matter. A pope pointing at the dying doesn’t matter. A good picture of a dead child, ooh let’s help. Oh no it’s complicated, fuck them.

And that’s probably the saddest thing about the cartoon. Those who are its target, people very much like me, mostly don’t realise they are its target. As brutal and accurate as the cartoon is, it has failed to penetrate the armour of ignorance most Europeans wear. I care not one jot for those who have chosen to be offended by the cartoon. I care only that the lumpen masses whose dimwitted opinions and feelings can be so easily manipulated are too stupid to realise they are being mocked.

And Ireland is patting itself on the back for taking a paltry few thousand people. I despair.

My Ambitions For 2016

It is already a bit late to be writing an ‘end of year-looking forward to the next year’ post but I can’t help it. I had convinced myself I didn’t need to bother but I am about to go back to work and the urge to mark the passage of time, is irresistible. Due to the weird hours I work, my Christmas was about a week after everyone else’s and my return to work similarly so. Today feels very much like the beginning of 2016, thus this belated post.

2015 was very much a mixed year for me. I self published my first novel. It went nowhere. And while that stung a bit, I did appreciate the positive feedback and all the learning involved. Unfortunately since then I have been stuck. I could not focus on a new project. To that end I jumped into the namowrimo experience. It was brilliant and gave me 24000 words of a new novel but I couldn’t get beyond those 24000 words. I also completed 25000 words of another novel. I like this novel, though I fear I may be entertaining myself and no one else with it. Combining rural living, hurling and science fiction may be pushing the envelope a tad too far. These two incomplete projects will however form the basis for my most fervent ambition for 2016 i.e. completing two new novels. If I fail, (and by fail I mean not complete them rather than commercial and critical acclaim) then 2016 will have been a bit of a disaster for me.

My blogging fell off a cliff in 2015. I can use the excuse that I was busy failing to write other things, but blogging, for all its self-indulgence, is where I first found myself. I owe a great deal to blogging. It is through blogging, much more so than in my creative writing, that I discover what I think. In 2015 I didn’t get take the opportunity to reflect and as a result, I now feel uncomfortable in my own skin. Ideologically I am aware I’ve shifted to the left. For the first time in my life I could possibly be described as left of centre in the political spectrum. That is rather momentous for me but I haven’t explored it, put words to it and owned it. I determined a few months ago to leave Fine Gael, but I’ve dithered as I don’t know how to describe what and where I am.

My second ambition for 2016 (early February(ish)) is to begin a new blog. I intend beginning afresh (well, I’ll be importing some older blog posts, but still pretty afresh) and being more systematic in my blogging. It will be part commentary on my own politics (which is where I think my real strength is), part commentary on the world of politics, part update on my noveling, the odd nerd post and finally links to things I have read that week that I found insightful or just interesting.

2015 was also the year I discovered I am now actually middle aged. I hate it. I really hates it. My third ambition in 2016 is start looking after my ageing, slowing and increasingly cantankerous body. That means losing a lot of weight and eating a lot of stuff that never breathed. Ick.

I have to mention what was wonderful about 2015. I got married. Last March, about 20 friends and family witnessed my marriage to Paula, in a registry office in Dublin. Nearly half the guests were people we’d met on Twitter. Appropriate considering my wife and I also met on Twitter (Possible fourth ambition, be on Twitter less). I can safely say that it was the happiest day of my life and an amazingly stress free experience. I would do it again in a heartbeat. Can’t believe it has been almost a year.

The second thing I have to mention about 2015 was the Marriage Equality referendum. The result was glorious, that everywhere I canvassed voted yes, was the cherry on top, but I am still holding onto a knot of anger about the lack of support and/or numbers we had down here. Anger too that people had to go door to door begging for equality. Fifth ambition will be to get over it. All that matters is that it passed and that it passed with the overwhelming support of voters. I really need to let it go.

That referendum leads me to my sixth and final ambition for 2016, repealing the Eighth Amendment. I don’t know how involved I will be in that campaign in Kerry, but I know I have to be. Though I mostly just want to stick my head in the sand and let other people face the hate, and worse, the lack of interest, at the doors of strangers.

So that’s it. Have a great, productive and active 2016.

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