DAY 244: The black flag

April 9th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink


I ‘ve been thinking quite a bit these last few days about law and morality and how you tell the difference. These thoughts were prompted not by idle academic speculation, but by the Israeli rights organisation B’Tselem’s condemnation of the State-promoted massacre of demonstrators in Gaza. With that condemnation went a clear call to Israeli soldiers to refuse to obey orders to fire on unarmed demonstrators – which forcefully quoted Judge Halevy’s ruling in the trial of soldiers involved in the 1956 Kafr Qasim massacre An order that permits live gunfire at unarmed civilians is blatantly unlawful, B’Tselem claims: ‘The hallmark of manifest illegality is that it must wave like a black flag over the given order, a warning that says: “forbidden!” Not formal illegality, obscure or partially obscure, not illegality that can be discerned only by legal scholars, is important here, but rather, the clear and obvious violation of law …. Illegality

Screen Shot 2018-04-09 at 08.44.32

Murdered villagers from Kafr Qasim

that pierces the eye and revolts the heart, if the eye is not blind and the heart is not impenetrable or corrupt—this is the measure of manifest illegality needed to override the soldier’s duty to obey and to impose on him criminal liability for his action.’

Well, as a result of Judge Halevy’s eloquence, eight IDF soldiers were convicted of murder; they had shot dead about forty  villagers, me, women and children, who had violated a curfew (which most of them didn’t know about). It should be said of the eight soldiers all were free in three years. All the same, clearly the event and the phrase have stuck in the minds of Israeli rights activists, who are prepare to insist that it’s still wrong to obey ‘manifestly illegal’ orders; and who accordingly try to persuade the soldiers to disobey. I haven’t seen reports that any of them have. As for any chance that any of the soldiers involved in the ongoing massacres in Gaza would face trial, it seems unimaginable.

In fact, when we think about it, we can recognise that there are cases where the law is a matter of convention and isn’t about ethics (parking tickets for example); and others where you can be seriously sucked without incurring any legal penalty, like cheating at cards. The two areas are separate, and fine people with fine minds earn a living distinguishing them. I recommend to you (I found it by random googling, as I usually do) Howard Zinn’s ‘Law, Justice and Disobedience’. Zion is a worthwhile read, as he served his term being disobedient on the Vietnam war etc, a friend of Daniel Berrigan and Nom Chomsky and an enemy of Plato. And he agrees with the rest of us that you can and should disobey laws when it’s the right thing to do; that ethics trump law. But the soldier’s blind obedience is untrumpable.

In other news Yarl’s Wood hunger strikers Florence and Opelo Kgali, who were due to be on a detention flight from Heathrow tonight (second attempt) have once again been saved at the last minute. Will there be a third attempt?

Detention poem
The World Beyond
A peep through my window
Makes me feel like a widow,
Grief-stricken to the toe, Like a King Fish being
pursued by a foe;
Cribbed, cabined and confined,
Without a nose to smell then world around.
Over the twenty-feet fence
And towards the horizon,
Nature opens up its beauty.
Aircrafts that cross my view, birds that flap by
in joy,
The landscape gardening that is new,
Thanking the spring message.
But while I stare and peep
My life seeps sorrowfully in a deep.
Wrapped up in despair and confusion,
Like at the confluence of White and Black Volta,
I see a future that is bleak,
And a dream that is meek,
Oh fate, why hast my destiny slipped?!
From a hunger striker at Campsfield, 11 April 1994
-Twenty-four years ago -and already, they had hunger strikes at Campsfield! What will it take to make a change?
In the world of music, if you’re in the UK, you should be looking forward to the double bill of Lekhfa (Egyptian alternatives) and Tamer Nafar (Palestinian rapper), They’re passing through London on the 27th (Rich Mix) and other venues which I can’t be bothered listing. If you want to impress your friends with your knowledge of the Egyptian scene, try Lekhfa’s Kent Rayeh




DAY 243: The interview

March 28th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

So  where did it all go wrong?
We all have different memories. Izzy Tomico Ellis and Niamh Keady-Tabbal have picked on the 2016 EU-Turkey deal as a peg on which to hang a two years’ catalogue of betrayal and disaster; well researched, thoughtful and graphic, describing the devastating results for refugees, in particular  in Europe, for the Syrians. I, like many others, learned of the ‘refugee crisis’ in the summer of 2015 – September was a particularly active month, seeing in  the brief moment when the image of Alan Kurdi’s dead body on a Turkish beach brought home to the West (even to readers of the Sun) the price they would have to pay to suppress the coming misery and suffering. From then on, one must suppose, there were many in Europe who were even so determined to enforce the boundaries by whatever means  - even if it included mass drowning; while on the other side there were many who felt that Europe had to change, and to become a place of welcome and sanctuary.

Will it, can it happen? I’m not really so much interested in an imagined future of ease and luxury for all; as in a future where no one is sleeping in the snow and being beaten by the police. Or subjected to asylum interviews such as iIve been reading for the past few days, beginning: ‘I conducted a status interview under caution with the subject with the aid of HO interpreter. The subject confirmed she was fit and well and understood both the interpreter and the caution. The subject’s account is as follows though I will state that I believe the majority of it to be false.’ Reading this (it continues in much the same vein, and I’d have to redact it like mad to give you the gist of it), naturally drove me into a state of extreme rage. Have we always been a society in which the traumatised arrivers are automatically disbelieved – because, make no mistake, however many walls we put up, there are going to be more. How did it come about that Othello, who arrived in Venice with a similarly dubious story, was not only believed but promoted to general



I ran it through, even from my boyish days
To th’ very moment that he bade me tell it.
Wherein I spoke of most diastrous chances,
Of moving accidents by flood and field;

Of hairbreadth scapes i’ the’ imminent deadly breach;
Of being taken by the insolent foe
And sold to slavery; of my redemption thence
And portance in my travels’ history;
Wherein of anters vast and deserts idle,
Rough quarries, rocks, and hills whose heads touch heaven,
It was my hint to speak — such was the process;
And of the Cannibals that each other eat,
The Anthropophagi, and men whose heads
Do grow beneath their shoulders. This to hear
Would Desdemona seriously incline;
But still the house affairs would draw her thence;
Which ever she could with haste dispatch,
She’d come again, and with a greedy ear
Devour up my discourse.

Ok, Othello’s (and Desdemona’s) end could – if you have a mind to it – be taken as a warning against believing the story of the migrant. (Who had had a bad time in Aleppo, too.) But Othello perhaps didn’t know he was being promoted, and invited to dinner, in a society like ours where endemic structural racism could lead to jealousy, madness, and death. He’d have been better off staying with the Anthropophagi.

Invention of Tradition Department

Since when has Wednesday in Holy Week been caked ‘Spy Wednesday’? It seems to be suddenly a generally accepted festival which commemorates the woman using a pot of very precious ointment (Oil of Olay? Clarins?) to wipe Jesus’ feet, leading to a dialogue in which two sensible opposing points were made:


The disciples: This is a waste, this ointment could have been sold for a lot of denarii and the proceeds given to the refugees.

Jesus: The refugees you have always with you, me not.

Discuss. But what has this to do with spies (much in the news these days); or with the service of Tenebrae which I just managed, belting though the rain and traffic jams, to catch the second half of (at St James’ Piccadilly)? (By the way, Lucy Winkett who sang the soprano in Couperin’s Trois Leçons de Tenèbres, is completely wasted as a liberation theology vicar, when she could certainly win more souls by singing sacred motets. But I think I digress.)

I won’t post the Couperin – it’s too long, and I have a nasty feeling that I’ve done it before, and I’m certainly not going to scroll back and see if I have. Instead I offer you a very different piece I discovered in the past week, Bettina Schroeder on brushes and electric ukulele.

And, as a final treat on an already long (if overdue), here’s a poem which has been the rounds on Facebook and wowed a number of my friends, none of whom I’m afraid are heavy hitters in the poetry prize nomination world..


Ahmed is messaging me, stressing about his phone credit

And I’m stressing too, frying eggs and aubergine

At the same time.

Ahmed’s in Cosenza, good for him

His documents are OK, I’ve got his location

And number, but from his photo

It looks like he’s in a safe house. Can you show me a picture

Of where you sleep? Of your door? Of the outside? Keep an eye

On that slice of aubergine, it’ll burn. The admins don’t like the pic

though the house isn’t safe to Ahmed

How long since he got fished up in Catania? and got his papers…

The NGO threw him out a week ago, now he stays with a friend

On the floor of a room (with a door). Coffee’s ready, drink it quickly.


If you go to Bethany you’ll find a colt

Say the lord has need of him. (Bethany, al-Azariya

Where they shot the girl Abir four years ago at a bus stop)

Take the colt and bring it I’ll ride to Jerusalem

Never mind the checkpoint, the people will shout

And the admins say.

Ahmed’s borderline but just this time OK. Hosanna! Oh Sir thankyou please please

Can it be quick

I need to call my mother in Syria.


Lucky Marko the Eritrean he’s in La Spezia

Escaped across the desert, tortured in Libya, washed up in Lampedusa

Requested protection

A minor, Dublin, can I translate his documents?

Blessed is he who comes in the name of the lord

His sister’s in France, his guardian’s done the paperwork

He can catch the plane. But the Turkish army

Are planning to enter Sinjar, God’s gone west again

Three quarters destroyed already, two doctors left. Millennia ago

Those people worshipped peacocks.

You can bet the story’s nowhere near its end of endless

Heroes and heroines and butchers


So we listen and. watch, and share the human lives and deaths

As they cycle mindlessly for ever.

Do you believe? In what?







DAY 242: Love and lawyers

March 10th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

More years ago than I care to think – actually, before I was born if not long before – you may remember that a high-profile royal got entangled, if that’s the right word, with an American divorcée. wallisHis name, at the time, was the Prince of Wales (ring a bell?), hers was Wallis Simpson. There was no end of a hoo-ha,which culminated in The Abdication Crisis which compared to many subsequent crises from Munich to the current refugee ‘crisis’ seems to have been rather a storm in a teacup: but which pitted the Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin and the then Archbishop of Canterbury (the baddies) against fascist sympathiser Edward Prince of Wales, many of the masses backed by the Daily Worker, and a motley crowd of non-establishment figures (the goodies).

Interestingly today when a somewhat analogous situation has arisen the C of E has hastened to say that Meghan Markle’s divorce bothers them not a whit. In fact, the Royal Family (if they’ve said anything) and the Church seem to be pretty cool about


Harry’s fiancée. However, as my confrère ‘Free movement’ points out, in an article  which I’ve already plagiarised on Facebook, it is as you might imagine her immigration status which risks putting a spanner in the works of an impending national jollification. The obstacles in the way of a non-EEA national who wants to get wed to a Brit and settle here are, as you can imagine, almost insuperable given the State’s fear that she (let’s suppose it’s a she) might end up as a burden on the taxpayer, living off handouts and what she can pick up in the bins outside Harrod’s. Will she need to call on the NHS? What if she gets disabled and tries to fiddle a claim for benefits?

Indeed, before the whole royal wedding bonanza kicks off and we start worrying about what we, the taxpayers, are paying for Meghan (who seems able to look after herself atm), the Home Office ask for a substantial guarantee upfront in terms of the couple’s income. I’ll spare you the details (you can find them at the source I’ve cited); but it means that with no children to support yet, the couple would have to demonstrate that Prince Harry has an income of £18,600 a year or savings equivalent to £16,000 plus 2.5 times the shortfall. Where there is no eligible income, the savings necessary will be £62,500, but this must be held in a cash account for a minimum period of 6 months.

That is not all. As well as consulting Appendix FM the couple, or their lawyers, will need to examine carefully a separate appendix, Appendix FM-SE. This sets out additional requirements not immediately obvious to the unwary. The income must be earned income and proof must be provided on exactly the right format of documents. Online bank statements, for example, have to be “accompanied by a letter from the bank on its headed stationery confirming that the documents are authentic or which bear the official stamp of the issuing bank on every page”. Many banks refuse to do this, leading to a situation of evidential impossibility. Any omission is punished with refusal and forfeiture of the application fee.

Oh Meghan! We can only wish you the best of British luck and a good immigration lawyer (Leigh Day, Duncan Lewis or the Islington Law Centre come to mind, and they could probably use the money. as well as charging substantially less than their competitors in your neighbourhood. Furthermore, you’ll recall that Meghan herself has quite a list of legal roles – in Suits, I believe – behind her). And if Harry, like his predecessor Henry VIII, turns out to be given to changing his mind and divorcing or beheading his wives, you can’t necessarily count on the rough frontier justice that you’re used to where the NRA rules to call in your friends to settle accounts.

In other reruns of the thirties, the fascists seem on the way to gaining power in


Italy, and ‘42nd Street‘ is, my sister tells me, a smash hit in the West End.I seem to be constantly harping on the negative, although I share this tendency with many of my best friends. Let’s instead recall the three little birds and their message to Bob Marley: don’t worry, every little thing’s gonna be all right. Particularly if you’re heading for a royal wedding.




DAY 241: Truth

February 24th, 2018 § 2 comments § permalink

We all of us have our problems with it, being constantly required in everyday life to tell it, the whole of it, and nothing but it, so help us God; and while reference to Pilate and jests, or the post-truth era may get us some mileage, there are situations where the existence of only two alternatives (truth and lies) seems unnecessarily
simplistic. (And I don’t want to get caught up in the sixteen alternative theories of what truth is which, according to Wikipedia, the philosophers have to offer – I’m sure that every one of them is too simplistic, and not naked enough.) Here is one of the most hilarious ones I came


The Naked Truth  (Klimt)

across recently, in which one Robert Mugabe (remember him?) and Amber Rudd – her again, I fear – find themselves on opposite sides of the truth-question. I refer to the recent SSHD v JM (Zimbabwe) [2017] EWCA Civ 1669. Mr Mugabe has had a pretty bad press for as long as I can remember; but one of his good points, I feel, was that he wouldn’t let the Brits deport people to his homeland unless they wanted to go. How many other rulers in his position have allowed the deportation to go ahead, the better to imprison or torture the deportees! Not so Mugabe; and the Home Office is naturally waiting to see if now he’s out of the way they can start deporting thousands of Zimbabweans against their will.

Which brings me to J.M., a man who has little in common with Mugabe except a belief  that you shouldn’t be deported if you don’t want to. This was unfortunate, since once the Home Office had decided it had enough of J.M. (his AIDS, his destitution, his dealing in Class A and B drugs), they tried to send him back ‘home’ asap. Annoyingly, the Zimbabwean authorities wouldn’t accept him unless he signed a statement that he wanted to go. This he refused to do. He was interviewed by immigration officers on 1 October 2014 who recorded him as being “polite and courteous throughout” but he explained that he did not want to return to Zimbabwe. The Home Office therefore faced an unusual ethical prublem: they needed to require J.M. to say something (‘I want to return’) which was untrue.

At this point, is there any wriggle-room? Ms Anderson (counsel for the Home Office) submitted that, even on the judge’s construction of the section, he had misdirected himself in concluding that the Secretary of State was requiring JM to lie to an Embassy official. She submitted that, as the two section 35 Notices indicated, the Secretary of State was seeking consent or agreement and was not seeking to dictate that JM should use any particular wording to Zimbabwean officials. She said it was not the Secretary of State’s position that JM had to lie. Furthermore, when the Court put to Ms Anderson that it could be said that by saying: “I don’t want to return, but I will if I have to”, JM was giving his consent or agreement, she was constrained to accept that the Court could well interpret what he said as sufficient. The trouble is that while J.M. would sign the truthful statement  ”I
don’t want to return, but I will if I have to”, the Zimbabwean authorities wouldn’t admit him if that grudging admission was the best he could do. What to do? Oh what a tangled web we weave, when first we practise to deceive! In the outcome, the court decided that ‘the Secretary of State cannot lawfully require JM to tell Zimbabwean officials that he agrees to return voluntarily because that is seeking to use the general power in subsection (1) in a manner which is inconsistent with and contradicts the specific limitation in subsection (2) (g), under which JM can only be required to answer questions in interview accurately and completely’ (Got it?) And he even got damages for unlawful detention – which we could think of as a happy end except that he never should have been detained in the first place.

What do we deduce? Fist, as you might suspect, that the Government will stop at nothing, including forcing people to lie, in the hopes of getting rid of them. Second, that they can’t always get away with it – that given a nice judge on a good day, you might end up with a decision which has something to do with morality. But I wouldn’t count on it. Morality? Speaking truth to power? Among many examples recently, I suppose the one that comes to mind most strongly is high school shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez telling a packed rally how much President Trump gets from his friends in the NRA.

The opposite of truth (or one opposite) is fiction; and fiction is what the minions of the Home Office usually think we are constructing when, traumatised and tempest-tossed, we get around to telling them our life-stories. Surely Dido

Screen Shot 2018-02-24 at 22.36.38

was more tolerant with Aeneas – to whom she had given asylum, despite his not being an obvious victim of persecution – when she (and everyone else, we’re told) listened raptly to his story:

Conticuere omnes intentique ora tenebant.
Inde toro pater Aeneas sic orsus ab alto:

Infandum, regina, iubes renovare dolorem,
Troianas ut opes et lamentabile regnum

eruerint Danai, quaeque ipse miserrima vidi               5
et quorum pars magna fui.

and so on. Did she find him credible? The horse? Laocoon? I doubt if they’d get past even a novice in assessing asylum claims.

So I suppose we have to go on remembering that, alternative facts or not,as the Ink Spots remind us it’s a sin to tell a lie.



DAY 240: The snow

February 16th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

Or have I referred to snow before, in these divagations? At least three winters have passed, I think, (2015-2017) since this journal started; and it would be surprising if at some point I hadn’t commented on its presence in a facile way, either as a news item because refugees were (as they are now) freezing to death in it in the streets of Paris while the state’s hirelings shut the doors of its shelters and rip their tents; or because I have used it as a metaphor for something (whiteness, blanketing, cold, stillness, it’s an easy game). [128 names of unaccompanied minors were listed as in danger in Paris by a group of concerned lawyers a week ago as temperatures plummeted. And of course the same is happening across Europe. Who gets to read about it?]

What does this social disintegration signify? I was reminded the other day that Jorie Graham, who I refer to perhaps too rarely, was notoriously caught in a snowstorm when bringing her daughter’s forgotten leotard, and saw a huge flockimages-2 of starlings, then tried to grasp the problem of unity in multiplicity:

Then I heard it, inside the swarm, the single cry

of the crow. One syllable – one – inside the screeching and the skittering’

inside the constant repatterning of a thing not nervous yet not ever still – but not uncertain – without obedience -

yet not without law – one syllable – black shiny, twining on its single stem,

rooting, one foot on the earth,

twisting and twisting -
I could go on, and as you will remember, Jorie does, in ways which I couldn’t begin to quote or analyse thank God. (Indeed, flicking through her writings she seems to draw on snow quite a lot, which leads me to think that she ‘s a denizen of the northern United States.) What I hadn’t realised, being pretty ignorant about poetry among other things (e.g. the classification of click-consonants or the structure of the tobacco mosaic virus or how to fix a leaky tap) is that Ms Graham in an earlier poem had touched on some of my own obsessions (not snow) viz. tear gas and the CRS. Yes! Writing about Paris in 1968 – you’ll remember – in a reminiscent mode in ‘The Hiding Place’ from ‘Region of Unlikeness’ – how much of it can I get in?

Marches, sit-ins, helicopters, gas

They stopped you at gunpoint asking for papers.,,,

and torn sheets (for tear gas) thrown down from shuttered windows

and bread; and blankets, stolen from the firehouse.

The CRS (the government police) would swarm in around dawn

in small blue vans and round us up.

Read it all! Particularly the man who started beating the girl in her eighth month.

In my own small way I’ve been having a similar problem with how you unify experience- haven’t we all? The weather (oh don’t let’s go back to that), refugees, buses, gigs in Islington, ballet, what’s on Netflix, getting phone credit for people in tents -yes I could write a good few lines on that. How can we be convinced that these multiple experiences are unified simply by the fact that one person is having them? I should go back to Husserl who probably thought either that they were or that they weren’t; but I lost my copy of Ideas I ten years ago, and I didn’t understand it too clearly even then. This person worries quite a lot about all his experiences and their seemingly amazing diversity. Is there any meaning to being part of so many different frames of reference? I could for example give you the benefit of my recent information about the long-running battle of our old friend the SSHD with a seemingly endless sequence of Sri Lankans, who are arrested, beaten up, and so have a not unreasonable fear of persecution, but can’t (of course) get asylum in the U.K. because they can’t produce the documentary evidence that they had the experience which led to the fear, indeed that they were even in court; notoriously, the British legal system currently operates on the assumption that all refugees’ stories are made up, and in particular that documents from Sri Lanka are probably forgeries and acquired for a few rupees in a not-unreasonable-fear document shop. (See for example P.J. (Sri Lanka) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2014] EWCA Civ 1011.) But why should I do that – it would probably needlessly distress you when there are so many other problems in the world? Did their persecution actually happen?

To change the subject if only slightly, Stand For Humanity, an outfit run by


Yasmin Autwal, a friend of mine, has produced an 18-minute talk on themes which run on roughly parallel lines to some of my own usual ones – Calais, not being apathetic, connecting with your fellow humans and that; about halfway through the talk an impressively wise old 78-year-old geezer tells her that yes indeed things are now worse than they have ever been. (And, like Jorie Graham, he was around in 1968.) But how does he know – say about the time of the barbarian invasions, or the conquistadors? Was it snowing then – not to mention on the retreat from Moscow, on which I’ve quoted Victor Hugo’s snow-filled lines a couple of years back)

And, whatever the 78-year-old may say, there’s always (as Edgar says in King Lear), worse to come:

The worst is not

So long as we can say, This is the worst.

It’s easy, as Billie Holiday reminds us, to blame the weather when what is really responsible for the whole débâcle is neoliberalism; and that isn’t going to go away unless we give it a pretty good push.







DAY 239: The box of all boxes

January 31st, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

I’ve been thinking, as I expect you often do late at night when there are no phone calls to Lebanon to keep you awake, about Russell’s paradox – you know, the one about sets which are not members of themselves. With which, year after year, I’ve had the third year mathematicians in stitches. It’s the usual problem of going round in circles which afflicts us all, and I met it in a particularly acute form when I was looking for the files which another volunteer (call her Zenobia) had placed in a secure place called ‘Dropbox’ and posted me the link to. A brilliant idea, and I had great fun with the files until I realised that I’d only been given access to a part of a much larger whole, and there were fascinating documents that I couldn’t reach. Why? I’ve hinted at it in another place: but the essential idea is that there is (in our huge system which interests me not at all) a folder called ‘Dropbox’ which contains everything interesting. The reader will surely understand what I mean.  crivelli
[A picture by Carlo Crivelli which has nothing particularly to do with what I've
been saying but fills up a bit of the page.]

The point, if I can ever get to it, is that the folder called ‘Dropbox’ which I was sent (are you still with me, reader? Good) is part of a much larger folder called confusingly ‘Dropbox’. The latter had loads of amazingly cool stuff (don’t expect me to tell you what that was) and I hadn’t been given the link to that! I am, of course, too old and daft to grasp these smart lawyers’ tricks, so it’s taken me some time to work out a strategy for evading what’s being done here; I think that, following Russell, I’d have to make a copy of the big dropbox inside the small dropbox and then construct a new box of all boxes which… Could I avoid an infinite regress which would make the laptop explode? I’d certainly then be

Chinese box

breaking some law, and not just a logical one.

You may remember (probably not) Malvina Reynolds’ ‘Little Boxes‘, a hugely popular song when I was quite a lot younger, involving boxes and doctors and universities and, of course, lawyers. It has the same elements of regress, and the same inevitability. I’d dearly love to be given the key (the dropkey?) to this conundrum.

[Since I am not an intellectual property lawyer, more’s the pity, I’m unable to pronounce on the popular and dangerous TickBox add-ons for streaming loads of stuff through your TV for free. Very profitable lawsuits, in which I can only play a spectator role are on the way.

DAY 238: Palestinian weddings

January 21st, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

I’m not as you expect going to go all political about this; my thoughts are naturally prompted by the fact that at St Pancras and a lot of churches up and down the

1082-the-marriage-at-cana-drawing-from-codex-5-a-15th-c-illuminated-bp26gmcountry Anglicans (and maybe others) have been commemmorating the real downer of a wedding which took place quite a while back at a place called Qana; where in 1996


the Israelis under one Naftali Bennett shelled the UN compound killing 108 civilians; but a) it’s not clear if among half a dozen places called Qana this is the site of the original wedding, b) I said I’d keep off politics. Anyway, this couple from Galilee turn up and the mum (I assume she was called Om Isa) is pretty rude as she points out that they’ve run out of wine – after all it’s not the hosts’ fault, it’s the guests. Her son Isa when she tells him is even worse, as he’s equally rude to Om Isa (‘Woman, what have I to do with thee?’). Om Isa ignores this unfilial behaviour and takes over the place, telling the servants to do whatever this boorish Wedding-at-CanaIsa tells them to do. Amazingly they do it and he produces some cheap Lebanese conjuring trick which results in gallons of high-quality Bekaa vino on the spot; the guests presumably are soon legless, the wedding is legendary.

Luckily a few hundred years later another prophet, Muhammad, comes along and, realising that this drinking at weddings is pretty irrelevant to the business of getting to heaven, bans it. Since when they’ve become a lot drier at Qana, although that hasn’t saved them from being bombed – but let’s not go back there.

What’s nice about this story, although the St Pancras folk didn’t seem to cotton on to it, is that it’s pretty useless going to the Bible for a guide to how to run weddings, or anything else; that’s not what it’s there for. Aside from not being, as Gershwin reminded us, necessarily reliable, that’s not the point. What the point is, if any, I leave you to work out for yourself. Here’s a little help from James Joyce.

The Ballad of Joking Jesus

I’m the queerest young fellow that ever you heard.
My mother’s a jew, my father’s a bird.
With Joseph the joiner I cannot agree.
So here’s to disciples and Calvary.

If anyone thinks that I amn’t divine
He’ll get no free drinks when I’m making the wine
But have to drink water and wish it were plain
That I make when the wine becomes water again.

Goodbye, now, goodbye! Write down all I said
And tell Tom, Dick and Harry I rose from the dead.
What’s bred in the bone cannot fail me to fly
And Olivet’s breezy — Goodbye, now, goodbye!

Jesus is known to have attended a baptism (his own), a wedding (the Qana affair) and, one has to assume, his own funeral though it would take someone more knowledgeable than me to answer the question of what he was doing during his funeral. (Harrowing hell?). Here, since we’ve ventured on the James Joyce trail, is the Dubliners’ recording of ‘Finnegan’s Wake’, which has a great deal to do with drink if nothing really with weddings.

DAY 237: Where am I from?

January 18th, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

Screen Shot 2018-01-13 at 19.47.40
This was beginning to be a thoughtful summing up of my ideas about borders, gleaned  from my experience (not much), and musings. I share the same ideas as many of you, I expect, about the pointlessness of borders and border controls, and I was trying to set it all down , pointing out that the question of what you’re from is constantly shifting in its meaning. According to who’s asking, for example, I had some pretty good examples.


Gauguin: Where are we from? What are we? Where are we heading?

And then I found that François Crépeau, formerly of the OHCHR, has done what I wanted to do, much better, and at much greater length. I refer you to his CBC broadcast, which I’ve been promoting here and there. He makes all the points which I and other right-thinking people have been making all along; admittedly over ten pages which various self-imposed rules stop me from copying and pasting. But – OK, the scale of migration at present is something quite new. But essentially, the migrants are the future. They are the hope of their families; they can achieve something for them, they keep the family’s hopes alive.

I urge you to read the whole of his piece. The arguments may simply agree with what you believe already. But it’s so worth while to read an honest, humane and realistic setting out of what we can expect, and what we, and others, can do.

I quote on the sheer scale of legal and illegal migration:

‘Two separate examples. In the 50s, 60s, and early 70s, millions of Africans and Turks entered Europe. No one died. There was very little smuggling, because everyone could buy a ferry ticket, and you could enter Europe with either a visa that you could obtain at the consulate or without visa. People came, looked for a job, got a job, and then went to the préfecture in France, asked for a work permit, obtained it within 24 hours and started working. It was a very simple system which was governed by the Department of Labour.

Second example — In 2012, I was in Djibouti. The 30 nautical miles between Djibouti and Yemen is called Bab-el-Mandeb and

images-1it’s a passageway from eastern Africa to the Middle East. It was estimated at the time that approximately 100,000 people were crossing every year irregularly into Yemen, and then going essentially to Saudi Arabia to become undocumented gardeners, maids, waitresses, etc. 100,000 people crossed every year, and it was estimated that about 10 percent died. We don’t have proper statistics – the Mediterranean, everyone knows, because since it’s European it’s considered global. I was on that beach next to someone who was working for the International Organization for Migration (IOM). I suggested that maybe they could buy ferries from Norway and operate a ferry service with two or three ferries per day going back and forth. The response by the IOM person was, “I don’t think the member countries of IOM would approve of such a plan.” I’m not blaming her at all. I’m just saying that states — and I’ll say bluntly: states are ready to accept that their policies will kill a number of people in order to prevent others from attempting to come. The problem I see with that is, first of all, the human cost — but also the fact that it doesn’t prevent or deter anyone. You still have thousands and thousands of people trying their luck. In 2014, Britain stopped taking part in rescue missions in the Mediterranean, and the argument was saving refugees from drowning just encourages people.

At the time you characterized Britain’s position as a ‘let them die’ policy.

Yes. [laughs] I got a lot of flak for that. A quarter of all migrants worldwide are children.’

It must have been around the middle of 2016, I suppose,  (perhaps a bit late) that it dawned on me as I suppose it dawned earlier on Crépeau that it simply didn’t matter what measures the authorities in Calais (or elsewhere) took to stop refugees from coming – they’d come anyway. As they have, and they will. There are still refugees in the woods around Calais, freezing, gassed, they keep coming. And they’ll go on, for the many good reasons that Crépeau sets out. How mush better to make a world in which we and they can live together. Indeed, (and this too is one of Crépeau’s strong points): it isn’t even a question of ethics, though it is that – it’s a question of realism. What’s the point of spending vast resources trying, at vast human cost, to prevent something which is going to happen anyway? King Canute’s refutation of his courtiers comes to mind.


The more I think about the history of the 20th century (don’t start that now), the stranger it is. The powers of Western Europe were involved in two horrendous wars, creating vast numbers of refugees. They saw that this was unwise, and that they should be outsourcing conflict by creating (e.g.) unviable entities like Yugoslavia and the Sykes-Picot agreement; and (oddly) the 1951 refugee convention which stated that if the conflicts born of their unviable boundary definitions created refugees, they would  be decently treated. But the said refugees would, and did, inevitably come flooding to the countries which were responsible for their existence in the first place. Who are now trying pointlessly to keep them out. Is not this a mad world? As the Sufi poet Rumi says

This drunkenness began in some other tavern.
When I get back around to that place,
I’ll be completely sober. Meanwhile,
I’m like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary.
The day is coming when I fly off,
but who is it now who hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth?

Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?

I cannot stop asking.

If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way.
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home

And here are some Kurdish musicians playing near the Macedonian border. (I don’t know when – but it’s the kind of thing which is going to go on happening.)



DAY 236: 2017

January 1st, 2018 § 0 comments § permalink

Oh 2017! Who at can I say about you and remain coherent? I’ve recently been told off for, unintentionally I’m sure, insulting a bunch of my friends merely because they wouldn’t answer me on messenger – [which seems to be a particularly badly designed means of communication since
e in my experience you're always finding that your friends have left the virtual room and hung up in mid-conversation without so much as a phrase of excuse like 'Gosh is that the time? Must rush, it's been great catching up with you' -  but that's another story.] I suppose to be fair, though I can’t see why I should be, 2017 has basically not introduced dramatically nastier aspects to the global scene than its two disastrous predecessors called, if you remember, 2015 and 2016; the first bringing us first the so-called refugee crisis and second, the Trump-Brexit turn in politics.

Crisis? What crisis? The use of such language suggests that in 2015 we arrived

Screen Shot 2017-12-30 at 19.11.01

Children in Calais, with RYS

at something we’d have to solve and move beyond. Aside from the fact that ‘we’ (our governments) have made pathetically, ridiculously small attempts  to come to terms with the needs of refugees – that Lebanon, Jordan and Uganda have been shining examples of at least making an effort to act with humanity - the whole language of ‘crisis’ neglects the glaringly obvious fact that the pressure on Europe from its outsiders has settled in and is here to stay.  Given the sheer size of the change, given the depth of Europe’s involvement in exploiting its outsiders over centuries, I predict that it will be a very long time before the inevitable takes place, and it becomes accepted that this continent has no specialprivileges, and that the refugees – who will continue to come




Libyan detention centre

 as long as we go on visiting wars upon them – become a natural and accepted part of our culture. This is no crisis, this is our continuing condition; and the more we accept that, the nearer we will come to a reasonable and decent state of affairs.

Given this, you only need to watch the news every week to see what new depths of misery will arrive. One such in 2017 was surely the attempt to institutionalise Libya, where the violent exploitation of migrants is open and


well-known, as a dumping-ground for Europe’s lost and unwanted, via agreements between the Italian authorities and the Libyan coastguards, ongoing through the summer and still under discussion despite being denounced by all human rights organisations.

It seems a sensible (what does that mean?) place to return to Marlow’s reminder in the Polish migrant Conrad’s story Heart of Darkness that Britain (or Western Europe) does not have its comforts by right, hasn’t long had them, and -by implication – may lose them:

“And this also,” said Marlow suddenly, “has been one of the dark places of the earth…I was thinking of very old times, when the Romans first came here, nineteen hundred years ago–the other day. . . . Light came out of this river since–you say Knights? Yes; but it is like a running blaze on a plain, like a flash of lightning in the clouds. We live in the flicker–may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday. Imagine the feelings of a commander of a fine–what d’ye call `em?–trireme in the Mediterranean, ordered suddenly to the north; run overland across the Gauls in a hurry; put in charge of one of these craft the legionaries,–a wonderful lot of handy men they must have been too–used to build, apparently by the hundred, in a month oHr two, if we may believe what we read. Imagine him here– the very end apocalypse‘Heart of Darkness’, the movie, aka ‘Apocalypse Now’

of the world, a sea the color of lead, a sky the color of smoke, a kind of ship about as rigid as a concertina– and going up this river with stores, or orders, or what you like. Sandbanks, marshes, forests, savages,–precious little to eat fit for a civilized man, nothing but Thames water to drink. No Falernian wine here, no going ashore. Here and there a military camp lost in a wilderness, like a needle in a bundle of hay–cold, fog, tempests, disease, exile, and death,– death skulking in the air, in the water, in the bush. They must have been dying like flies here.’

As we see Palmyra and Aleppo (beautiful and cultured cities) and Calais (a handy place to pick up twenty litres of Beaujolais) sinking into the chaos of violent misrule and what Agamben – him again – calls the state of exception, we might reflect on a) the fact that nothing – not even the Zionist rule in Israel – lasts for ever, and b) that our aim is both to survive the injustices and to confront them. This gets us some way towards dealing with the horror (which the Polish migrant Conrad described, which Chinua Achebe condemned as a colonialist narrative, and Edward Said praised – for what?); but only marginally towards facing up to the challenges of 2018.  But did I say I was going to help with that?

 O for a time when the enlightened Muslim rulers may, as in Mozart’s immortal Die Entfuhrung, set everything straight, replacing torture by love!

DAY 235: Happy?

December 24th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

I suppose very year everywhere in the past, there have been people who resented the enforced happiness of Christmas – when they had no reason to be happy. Whether because they were lonely or impoverished; or had lost someone they loved, or they were in hospital or a war zone.. the list is unending. In 1972, Nixon ordered the notorious ‘Christmas bombing’ of North Vietnam:

In just one night, more than 2,000 homes were destroyed around Kham Thien, a busy shopping street in Hanoi. About 280 people were killed and at least as many again injured. Ha Mi  who was 10 years old at the time and remembers sheltering under the stairs of her family home with her sister, listening to the bombers overhead). had a friend, whose house was hit.


“There were a few houses still standing, but most of it was just rubble, flattened on the ground – or even just a big hole. Houses were just gone, it was horrible. I remember seeing people just standing there looking at it – but there was nothing there. Everything was just gone.”

This year, I’d like you to turn your thoughts, however briefly, to the Tamimi family, many of whom will be in jail:

[From Al Jazeera] Bethlehem, occupied West Bank - Ahed Tamimi,


a prominent 16-year-old Palestinian activist, has been detained during a pre-dawn raid on her home by the Israeli army and border police in the occupied West Bank. Ahed’s mother, Nariman, was also arrested on Tuesday afternoon during a visit to Ahed at an Israeli police station.

What other examples could I come up with? The misery goes on from year to year – and it’s so various. How do we have the nerve to speak of good cheer, and listen – not by choice of course –  to Bing Crosby and Bono as we fight our way through Tesco’s searching for Christmas wrapping paper and (for God’s sake) Christmas sellotape. How many this Christmas will be homeless or in danger of losing their homes? (One in 25 people in the London Borough of Newham is homeless – the highest in Britain  That’s 13,607 people. And, as you might expect, you don’t count as homeless just by not having a home, you have to fill in forms at the town hall. And they’ll check on your immigration status. The best thing you can hope for is company in your misery. No, we have to accept a glaring disconnect between a number of things:

1) the birth of a child in an impoverished one-parent family (sort of) in occupied Palestine 2000 years ago

2) a church and (by association) state holiday which is therefore naturally

3) an excuse for a great deal of eating and drinking together with

4) an ideology which identifies all this with peace and goodwill

5) stockings

6) presents

It’s all a bit much to take on board.


The word humbug is hovering on the edge of my keyboard.

I hope you have a great time.