DAY 206: Birds

February 25th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

As you can imagine, there’s a lot more in the pipeline, with new aggressions against refugees across the north of France, and in Italy and repressive measures in place everywhere including, of course, on the U.S.-Mexican border. But before I get on to these pressing matters, there may be time for a moral story.

My sister Liz, to whom I’ve referred before in these pages, is currently obliged to do the footnotes for a work on the place of animals in late Abbasid literature. We all have  our chores. As a result (she said), she naturally had to deal with the twelfth century Sufi Farid al-din Attar’s poem Mantiq al-tayr (‘The speech of birds’). Gosh! (or

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 something like that) I exclaimed, is that work related to Chaucer’s The Parlement of Foules? It turned ou that Liz didn’t know about the Chaucer text, any more than I knew about Mantiq al-tayr. So there was an immediate gain. But much better, a quick google revealed that there was indeed a connection – as revealed in an article: ‘The Influence of Farid al-Din Attar’s Mantiq al-Tayr (The Conference of the Birds) on Western Writers: from Chaucer to Peter Brook’ by feminist Islamic scholar Nor Faridah Abdul Manaf .

Nor Faridah Abdul Manaf

As you can imagine, the intellectual exercise involved in working out all these connections was a pleasure in itself, and took our minds off  the latest horrific acts committed by the authorities in France, Italy, Greece, Britain and all the


Bedsit thought suitable for a refugee family by G4S in Leicester

other places I mentioned at the outset; the children housed by G4S in appalling conditions; the rocks placed by the Paris  Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 14.53.57

authorities to prevent asylum-seekers from sleeping at all, or to block the actions of subversive organisations like Secours Catholique. And as we research the poetry and the painting of these different people (I mean the medieval ones who write about birds) we have time to think about what we share with our fellow humans and indeed birds, and what we owe to them. I won’t say more for now.

But I can for once add a relevant poem; since it seems that Nor Faridah Abdul Manaf, referred to earlier in relation to birds, has written some, of which this is one:

It’s just a piece of cloth

It rocks the world

It shapes a civilisation

A civilisation misread

It’s trapping, says the untutored

It’s oppressing, echoes the unlearned

The veil is my body

The veil is also my mind

The veil defines my cultural identity

The veil is who I am

Your slurs and instructions

That I rip it off my head

Is a rape of my body

An invasion of my land

It’s just a piece of cloth

But after Palestine, Iraq, Afghanistan, Maluku, Kosovo

This is all I have.


Having been, in my own terms, relatively generous on the poetry front, I’m going to try to get away with an Iranian recording of the nightingale, or bulbul. I hope that will satisfy my demanding readers.

DAY 205: Normal for Norfolk

February 18th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

I return regretfully to the theme of my mother Dorothy, which I thought I’d covered pretty completely in post 39 (‘I’m not a witch at all, I’m Dorothy’); the reflections being prompted by a proposal of which I’ve heard for a statue of her to be erected in the Market Square of Beccles, the modest Suffolk town in whose neighbourhood she lived as a teenager and where she went to school.

(To be factual, and in this post-factual era, I do my best, Dorothy was born in Cairo; but spent most of her childhood in Norfolk in a small village called Geldeston, where musician Brian Eno (‘Trump is a complete disaster’) currently hangs out; and where I was born, more years ago than it’s comfortable to think about. I was born in Geldeston, on the banks of the Waveney, as Onegin if you recall was born on the banks of the the colder and more spectacular Neva; but I only stayed a couple of months, returning occasionally during my childhood. A pity, because a quick search reminds me that Norfolk was home to Nelson (more of the statue theme), Einstein – at one point in his peripatetic life – and of course the early feminist mystic julian-3Julian ‘All manner of thing shall be well’ of Norwich. Oh gosh, I still have a parenthesis open, I’d better close it.)

Anyway, any of my readers who are familiar with my preoccupations will have guessed that the suggestion that the city fathers and mothers of Beccles were planning to raise a statue to Dorothy at a time when refugees were freezing in Calais and Lesvos, and schools and hospitals were having their budgets cut all over Norfolk and elsewhere had me incandescent; and before doing any research (a common failing of mine) I dashed off an angry tweet and, that being well too short, an angrier Facebook post accusing the aforesaid dignitaries of neglecting their duty to the poor, the sick and the needy in favour of showy expenditure on their town’s famous children. Luckily, I don’t think that my posts make it to those parts of East Anglia, so I haven’t been pulled up for rudeness, or corrected. And indeed, Beccles is indeed involved in organising collections of goods for refugees Screen Shot 2017-02-18 at 11.40.00– the usual kind, even if I haven’t seen any news of Afghan families being accommodated in the area. Of course, voluntary – the cash-strapped councils can raise the money for statues, but can’t find a few pennies for the needs of refugees, or indeed hospitals.

My sister who has gifts of diplomacy which I lack, having spent years trying to get the likes of Peres, Rabin, Sharon and Netanyahu to stop shooting and torturing Palestinians without abandoning Amnesty’s strict objectivity and neutrality, got me to moderate my approach. So I a) thanked Beccles for their generous thought and b) pointed out that c) Dorothy didn’t much like any of the existing statues of her, being more into works favouring peace and suchlike so that d) a more fitting memorial would be a fund (named after Dorothy) which made it possible to bring over – to Beccles and district – a number of refugee children every year. (I say children because everyone does – I don’t give a toss about whether they’re children and Freud, Einstein and Hannah Arendt were by no means children at the time they were given refugee status.) I await their response. My fallback position, if you have to have a memorial, would be a model of the penicillin molecule which when you walked past it on a windy day played some characteristic piece of African music (‘Water no get enemy’ by Fela Kuti comes to mind). My skills with WordPress aren’t up to producing this effect for you, but I’m sure Mr. Eno could do it in his coffee break. I look forward to hearing from the Beccles folk.

Rape victims

And while I’m on about the subject of refugees or immigration – it is, I hope, not yet too late to save Ugandan Erioth   Mwesigwa. To quote the statement of Women Against Rape: ‘Last Friday she stopped her removal by refusing to go with the Yarl’s Wood guards when they came to take her to the airport. But the guards warned her that “next time” she would be physically forced onto the plane back to Uganda.

Ms Mwesigwa has been told that if she wants to appeal she has to do it from Uganda. This is both cruel and absurd. She won’t even have anywhere to live or means to feed herself, let alone access to lawyers and other support to pursue a legal case.

Ms Mwesigwa is still in great danger and needs your help to demand the Home Secretary allows her the right to an appeal in the UK. Ms Mwesigwa is a dedicated member of the All African Women’s Group which has organized a protest this Monday outside the Home Office. Ms Mwesigwa called to say:

“I do not understand why the Home Office gave refugee status to my ex-husband, who thankfully was able to escape with our children before anything terrible happened, yet refuses it to me when I was the one unable to get out in time and so suffered the terrible consequences. It took many years for me to escape from Uganda after the imprisonment and rapes. I lived those years in constant fear; hiding from place to place, rarely leaving the house and only in darkness. I had lost all hope, self-confidence, and nearly my mind. Finally I was found and ordered to make my husband come back to Uganda. My friends told me that I would be killed and organized my escape to the UK. It is here that I have found people who love and care for me. The men who abused me in Uganda are still in positions of authority. I can never go back and be safe.”

On Friday a High Court judge refused to grant an injunction stopping any further attempts to send Ms Mwesigwa back to Uganda.

WAR is writing in support of Ms Mwesigwa application for the High Court to get an oral hearing to investigate her case. We say her case has been dealt with unjustly:
• Ms Mwesigwa was imprisoned and raped because the President suspected her husband of being his political opponent. Ms Mwesigwa was told by the Home Office that she could go back to Uganda while her husband was given refugee status in the UK.

• The Home Office said Ms Mwesigwa has not shown “lack of state protection in Uganda”, that is she should have reported to the police that she was raped by soldiers. The UK Home Office is willfully ignoring the masses of evidence that show that rape survivors generally in Uganda can’t get protection from the police, let alone if your attackers are soldiers.
• Evidence of the ongoing and devastating impact of rape on Ms Mwesigwa has been ignored because she has not been able to get the resources and help needed to recover.
• No account has been taken of the terrible situation she would face if returned to Uganda.
• Her “enforceable right” as a victim of torture (accepted by the Home Office) under the UN Convention Against Torture to the “means for as full rehabilitation as possible” has been completely ignored. Instead she faces being sent back to Uganda where she has no-one to turn to for help, where she would be destitute and fears further rape and other violence.
• Ms Mwesigwa was accused by the judge of deliberately delaying her legal action to the last minute. But the delay was entirely the fault of Ms Mwesigwa’s previous lawyer at ROCK Solicitors. Despite taking £300 off her to pursue a Judicial Review, he failed to even return her calls for two months let alone do anything on her legal case.

Please write to Amber Rudd MP, the Home Secretary, to demand:
• That Ms Mwesigwa is given the right to an appeal in the UK.
• That government guidelines preventing the detention of vulnerable women are implemented and that Ms Mwesigwa, as a rape survivor, is released.

If you have written to the Home Secretary and not received a reply write again and protest to your own MP asking her/him to contact the Home Secretary on your behalf. Both the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister are women. What is the point of having women in high places if they pursue the same callous, sexist, racist policies as their male counterpart?

Please send your letter to:
Rt. Honourable Amber Rudd
Home Secretary
Home Office
2 Marsham Street, London, SW1P 4DF
Tel: 020 7035 4848

I know that every day people are being refused asylum or unjustly deported, and this is just one. But please help with this.


Can I really not have posted any songs in Tigrinya? Here is ‘Megesha’ by Faytinga from Eritrea; it’s described as a love song, but I can’t find out anything else about it. Enjoy!


DAY 204: Hope and flowers

February 14th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

Continuing the discussion – what to do when you can’t do anything. That is – you can do your best to rescue those who governments and police are trying to condemn to death through hypothermia, refugees in Lesvos or children hiding out in the woods of Calais pursued by police etc etc; but it’s pitiful. Why bother? An old post (‘tear gas canisters into flower pots’) from Telva Jenkins had an inventive suggestion.

‘Hi everyone. I would like to realise an idea I have had to transform the police violence and opression into flowers of hope. I picked up a couple of teargas cans whilst in Calais in December doing lantern workshops with Amia Wolfe, and I knew there was a project in them! I would like to collect as many as possible and grow things in them with a view to a public display and/or sell them to raise money for the kitchens. I know it can be hard to find a pen (esp. Permanent marker) in the jungle but if people (refugees and volunteers) want to write a message or wish on them that would be even more amazing (i will send pens out!). I have arranged with Ian Wood of Ashram kitchen to bring them to me on his return journeys. So if people can collect them and encourage others to do so I would love and appreciate that. Wish I could be there in person to help but am not able to due to my health so this is my alternative. Xx ps if anyone knows any other good groups on fb that you could share this too please do. Thanks’

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Chiara Lauvergnac as you can imagine was sarcastic about the effectiveness of this. So let’s drop effectiveness as a criterion. In a more spiritual mode – and what are flowers if not spiritual? –  is a quote which I meant to include last week, but lost it It’s by Daniel Kerrigan, and was in an article by Sam Donaldson in the Friend:

‘From a religious point of view, nonviolence is not primarily a tactic. It is a way of living and being and expressing the truth of your soul in the world. Tactics come and go. Tactics now work and now do not work. The gift of faith, as I understand it, is to be able to die well when called to. It may yet come for us. I recall Dietrich Bonhoeffer while in prison writing that, in his situation, there was very little he could do. “One can only”, he said, “tell the truth and say one’s prayers.” And then he went to die. That was his politics. He told the truth, he said his prayers, and he died. That was his gift to us. So, I think this concentration upon political effectiveness is very often a trap. There is, in fact, very little one can do in certain circumstances. One can only know effects later, or the survivors know what the gift meant. You can’t immediately proclaim political effectiveness. Hope is a mystery, a gift. It has nothing to do with optimism.’

Why does this speak to me particularly now? I’m not particularly concerned with nonviolence, but I admire it; and in this dire situation I’m concerned as we should all be with tactics and hope. What I understand to be the message of the quote is: we can’t think in terms of the success of what we’re doing . To imagine its success in the present conditions is to lose before we start, at the same time as we go on battling to help the weak from day to day. We must look for hope.

The daily grind

In an attempt to do something about the situation, and also to fight the loneliness of old age (When you’re 28 you never never imagine yourself getting to 78, or what your life will be like then), I signed up in December as a volunteer with Islington Law Centre, well known for their role in fighting the  court case which, in January 2016, brought four young people out of the jungle of Calais to be reunited with their families in England. This (my acceptance by the law centre) took some time – we’re talking about the law which Hamlet accused of delaying; but I was finally signed up about three weeks ago. The law centre has been constantly  subjected to cuts (what hasn’t?), particularly on the reception desk; it was as a receptionist that I was accordingly signed up. I don’t have any qualifications for the job apart from being able to type, and I hope I can make the grade, because my social life has indeed improved 100%. Two days a week I spend in the company – not of lawyers, they have better things to do – but of other receptionists,

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Receptionists – professional and volunteers

answering the phone and trying to reassure the desperate citizens of Islington that they are not going to spend the night on the street or lose their disability benefit, the outcome which the wicked government and/or landlords are determined to see; and, hopefully, finding them an appointment with a real lawyer who can help fix the problem about which they are desperate. Not tomorrow, lawyers subject to cuts don’t work like that, but some months into the future. While the three or four of us – and as you can imagine, I’m both the oldest and the most inexperienced, always fluffing the phone transferring system – carry out these essential tasks. And chat in the lunch break (yes, it’s nonstop outside the lunch break with all those calls and letters, but we do get an hour with a kettle and a microwave), about matters Islingtonian. It’s the nearest I’ve got to real life since I was laid low by illness six months ago, and I’m seriously enjoying it.

Poetry: This about Raqqa seems to be by an American, but whatever.

Slaughtered Silently

Scribing silently in old Abbasid Raqqa
A doctor-poet secretly worships at art’s altar,
Guided by history and the luminous lanterns of Seville
Collective unconsciousness is devoured, yet still:

Swaying silently in old Bedouin Raqqa
Black flags rise as his troupe plot their escape,
Dancers and musicians flee the city between tears
To roam like ancestors – but unknown on the road and laden with fears.

Slaughtered silently in old Ayyubid Raqqa
Daring dissidents shuffle amongst the traitors,
The altar of art replaced by that of depravity
While watch is kept by Ruqia – a Lieutenant of humanity.


Aleppo is slaughtered silently.

Daraa slaughter’d silently…

All bleed under the same dead sky,
But timeless! The Levantine idea will not die.

Daniel W. Round


Here, for a complete change, is an oldish bit of French schlock: France Gall’s Evidemment

DAY 203: What is to be done

February 7th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

In despair, I’ve been putting off the appalling state of the world and what we can do about it; writing about small mammals and so on when my more courageous friends (Izzy Tomico Ellis, as usual, comes to mind) are out there in the street waving banners. As we all should be.

The best lack all conviction, while the worst

Are full of passionate intensity

as Yeats remarked under similar circumstances seventy years ago – although this time around, I believe, some of the best of us do have conviction and show it. Unbelievable crimes are being committed without shame; the President of the United States puts, effectively, a ban on Muslims entering his country, and the British Prime Minister invites him as her guest. Racism and misogyny rule gleefully, imagining that they can get away

4horsemenThe Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

with their ugly misrule – that the ownership of power entitles them to   ignore the drowning of boatloads of Africans, of Syrians, of Afghans, simply because they don’t belong to the class and race which – it would seem – have complete control of our poor planet.

They are wrong, and (I hope) they will suffer for it. But our part is not so much to make them suffer as to stand firm for what is what has always been – obviously right. How can you sleep when you condone the burning of a farmer’s trees, police attacks on old men freezing in the streets of Paris, so much mindless cruelty? How must we live in response? Here I’ve been greatly cheered by the response of the Quaker Meeting for Sufferings (I’m not going to explain what that is) to all these events, in a statement on Saturday 4th February:

“’We are a people that follow after those things that make for peace, love and unity’ (Margaret Fell, writing to Charles II in 1660). Quakers in Britain see these values now under growing threat around the world, not least from recent developments in the United States of America.

“We condemn all acts of government which set people against one another; which discriminate against people because of who they are or where they were born. We reject policies which condone suspicion and hatred; which turn away those who need and depend upon our help. We were not put on Earth for this, but to be a people of God, to live in harmony with each other.

“There can be no peace without justice; no love without trust; and no unity without equality. Our faith urges us to welcome the stranger as our equal and friend, feed those who are hungry and shelter those who are homeless, needy and frightened.

“Alongside Quakers in the USA, and their American Friends Service Committee, we stand with those whose lives are blighted by racist, lynchingdiscriminatory policies and those whose faith is denigrated by association with a tiny violent minority. We pray for the courage and steadfastness that will be needed as we uphold our testimony of equality, justice, peace, sustainability and truth. For us, prayer is inseparable from action.There can be no peace without justice; no love without trust; and no unity without equality.

“Humanity needs leaders of integrity and conscience, ready to be held to account by individuals and institutions, national and international. We pray for those in positions of power. We call on them, as public servants, to work with all of good faith to build the world we seek, to fertilise the soil in which the tender shoots of peace, love and unity may flourish.”

In accordance with beliefs like these, the Speaker of the House of Commons (as you probably know) reasonably concluded that for someone whose values were so appallingly at variance with democracy to address the House of Commons would be a mockery. Now you and I may think that there have been many many undemocratic people addressing the houses of parliament (did Col. Gaddafi? I don’t think so, but in his heyday he might have.) and one more hardly makes a difference. We’ll see.

In the meanwhile, we need to reflect on the number of decent people there are in the world, and, rather than simply being filled with despair at the number of the wicked, rejoice in our friends, in this time of trial. And rejoice that we have been granted the honour of living in such a time, when our faith is tested. (Is that 17th century enough for you?)



Men of England, wherefore plough
For the lords who lay ye low?
Wherefore weave with toil and care
The rich robes your tyrants wear?
Wherefore feed and clothe and save
From the cradle to the grave
Those ungrateful drones who would
Drain your sweat—nay, drink your blood?
Wherefore, Bees of England, forge
Many a weapon, chain, and scourge,
That these stingless drones may spoil
The forced produce of your toil?
Have ye leisure, comfort, calm,
Shelter, food, love’s gentle balm?
Or what is it ye buy so dear
With your pain and with your fear?
The seed ye sow, another reaps;
The wealth ye find, another keeps;
The robes ye weave, another wears;
The arms ye forge, another bears.
Sow seed—but let no tyrant reap:
Find wealth—let no imposter heap:
Weave robes—let not the idle wear:
Forge arms—in your defence to bear.
Shrink to your cellars, holes, and cells—
In hall ye deck another dwells.
Why shake the chains ye wrought? Ye see
The steel ye tempered glance on ye.
With plough and spade and hoe and loom
Trace your grave and build your tomb
And weave your winding-sheet—till fair
England be your Sepulchre.

Here is Fairouz in a political moment.

DAY 202: Wastebasket taxa (Not about Trump)

February 5th, 2017 § 0 comments § permalink

Like the rest of us, those whose job it is to classify mammals (put them into phyla, orders, families, genera and species, and give them a couple of Latin names for good measure) have a job which has its boring moments; and at the end of a long day and too many cappuccinos they’ll always find – I have to assume – a few mammals lying around on the table which they haven’t managed to sort. This blindingly obvious fact only became clear to me when I got obsessed (don’t worry, I’ve got over it) with the tenrecs, a bewildering variety of beasties

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who hang out in Madagascar and Réunion and similar lush places. These – because they eat insects, which you’d think was reason enough – were included in Insectivora (Don’t worry, I’ll get on to Trump soon, but isn’t it a relief to be discussing something else?) But some pernickety taxonomist (I had to get that word in somewhere) decided that the insectivora – the tenrecs and ant-eaters and shrews and stuff were not really similar enough  to deserve a single Latin name and they had just been aggregated by a lazy act of wastebasket taxonomy.  It’s like Basque and Albanian, which many of us feel belong together as European languages which aren’t related to any others. (Other examples of wastebasket taxonomy include lumping together a load of subgenres of 1990s dance music into a category called ‘commercial tracks that may not easily be categorized’ because something like ‘Everybody dance now‘ escapes the 16 or so narrowly defined genres (no, I’m not going to list them) they’ve managed to think up. You can see how it works – make up your own.)

And of course, being in that position leaves you wide open to being wiped out by the members of other huge hegemonic taxa. Hence the numbers of Basque refugees (remember them?) in


Guernika after the 1936 bombing – compare Aleppo. (You thought I was going to post Picasso’s famous pic – but I did, I think, in no. 1 or thereabouts.) Or of Albanians now for that matter.

Well, I said earlier that I was going to get on to Trump, but I don’t see why I should. We just have to build a world counter-hegemonic movement of workers, women, blacks, Muslims, LGBTQs, disabled and so on, that’s all; and you can read more, and probably more sensible things about Trump and about doing this, than I can say in any number of other fora. Music can take our minds off our present troubles, but I can’t get Angela Rippon singing ‘Let’e face the music and dance’ on Eric and Ernie (as I’ve complained before) because the BBC along with all their other crimes have blocked the vid. So here’s a quickie of Nat ‘King’ Cole; while here – (I really hope it comes out ok – is the Comitato Antirazzista Saluzzese singing a partisan song in a square at a great speed. (I posted it earlier elsewhere but it bears repetition.) And here is Nancy Ajram (with subtitles, if you can read the Arabic):

Where am I?

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