DAY 269: Resurrection

April 20th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

I’m trying to celebrate, as many others are, the fact that all three Abrahamic religions are celebrating their jamborees on or near the same day. (I’m passing up the Samaritans, given their uncertain claim to representation in this field, and I don’t think there will be many of them to argue with me.) What is there to celebrate? I think, in fear and trembling, given the dubious natures of the three festivals. At the same time I’m noting the rise of another form of festival, in the form of the ‘Extinction Rebellion’ celebrations on Westminster Bridge. What is being celebrated by these diverse revellers? The sacrifice of Isaac? The Crucifixion? The fall and resurrection of man? It all seems to come down

to a misapprehension about where this planet is headed, and no one has clarified to me exactly where that is. The drafters of the Book of Revelation were unclear about the answer, too, even if it seems to involve unbelievers perishing in a lake of fire. That, one would think, would be an extinction to celebrate.

My friend Isis rather hit the nail on the head, I thought, in pointing out how rapidly the huge sums required to rebuild Notre Dame after its catastrophic fire (in which no one perished), were found in contrast to the contemptible slowness of donors, whether private or corporate, in making any attempt to compensate for the damage to life and property following the fire and major loss of life at Grenfell Towers.

Indeed, one wonders what is the founding myth of XR? given that Easter and Passover seem to be (scholars agree) simply an excuse for running the old spring festival through under a different name. There is an obvious, but rather contradictory hope on the part of XR activists that if you glue yourself to a bus or policeman you will halt the inevitable process whereby this planet is hurtling to its destruction, or at least the loss of all its resources.

On a different if related theme, my colleagues at the Guardian have made a forceful post about the Home Office: not fit for purpose, to put it bluntly. I quote (a much abbreviated version of an indictment which is well worth studying)

‘Rather than trying to reform this sadistic operation, it should be replaced with a new body that respects human rights rather than subordinating them to an ideology hostile to migrants. Demanding the abolition of the Home Office must be combined with a debate on combating institutionalised racism. But as the injustices committed by the Home Office multiply it becomes ever clearer that it cannot be reformed: it must go.’

Please hold your collective breath, as I try to retrain myself for some further interventions.

DAY 268: Revisiting

April 16th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Well, last night a historic church in France was destroyed by fire Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 13.07.43 – you probably heard about it. And I wept, with many of my French fellow-citizens, as I remembered my past visits to the vast and beautiful church. Of course, the fire which partly  destroyed Notre Dame was probably the result of careless contractors’ failure to take proper precautions; while three churches in Calais were destroyed (two years before) deliberately and violently by the civil authorities who were determined to erase a culture which was trying to establish some feeble roots in Northern France. I’ve been weeping a fair bit about them too, and I recommend you to spend some. time on them. (Since the idea of , for example, an Ethiopian church in Calais seemed intolerable to the citizens.) The Socialist mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo, who has been. it seems, (in contrast to M. Macron) doing her best to ameliorate the misery of the migrants sleeping rough in the streets of the capital, and has inevitably called for an end to their persecution; is now confronting the disaster of Notre Dame. Fluctuat nec mergitur.



Screen Shot 2019-04-16 at 12.08.06

No one seems to have been killed in either fire, by contrast to the destruction which has been wrought on the streets of Paris and indeed Calais  by the CRS. And now here we are, desperately trying to shore up some fragments of ourselves in this ruined landscape.

By an odd coincidence, but it’s not just a coincidence, I’ve been renewing acquaintance, at least virtually, with some of the old 2015 gang; the lads and lasses who tramped with me along the Chemin des Dunes as, bit by bit, it was being destroyed. What are we doing now? I hope to find out; in my case, the answer is nothing very hopeful. In this new strange Britain where Jeremy Corbyn and Teresa May link arms to ensure a non-catastrophic Brexit, I can’t see any place for my old comrades; but prescience has never been my strong point. We may meet from time to time over tea and hot cross buns to discuss the possible outcomes for a Europe in which the fascists seem to be everywhere on the ascendant; ;and we are , these days, the discussing the concept of a ‘crime of solidarity’ as it’s increasingly called.

And yet how rapidly things are changing! In Sudan and Algeria, two countries where an ‘old guard’ had clung to power for thirty years, it has been summarily removed in a matter of weeks. I don’t have the knowledge or wisdom to comment to where these immensely hopeful developments may lead, I’ll simply mention them to show I’m not completely ignorant.

And in Paris, the mayor, Anne Hidalgo is trying to avoid the repression which is an inevitable temptation for European governments.

Des tentes abritant des migrants, porte d’Aubervilliers, à Paris, le 9 avril.
Tents sheltering migrants, porte d’Aubervilliers, Paris, the 9th April.

 The Mairie will ‘stop fraudulent dealing and drug trafficking, seven days a week’; and to rebuild a bit of peace, they claim they will strengthen the new  teams of city police.There will be a brigade present  under the aerial metro from Barbes to Stalingrad and around.

Paris, France – Trying to ward off the overnight cold with a blanket donated by volunteers, Muktar Ali was sleeping rough in the north of Paris when at about 4:30am, the police returned. He and several other Eritreans say they were pushed, prodded and kicked by police clearing the area.

“Police took everything I had – clothes, shoes, blanket – and threw it all away,” said Ali, 33, who had fled forced conscription in Eritrea and was held captive by rebels in Libya before crossing the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. Now, he’s among many refugees living on the streets of Paris, who have been subjected to displacement, detention and deportations.

Police raids, at least 30 since last June, and a cycle in which displaced people return to live in squalid camps, have angered residents and prompted them to form groups like Le Collectif La Chapelle Debout, which provide food and shelter that they say the government should be providing.

But recently, as a result of these actions, these activists have been finding themselves in criminal courts across France.

Houssam El Assimi, of Chapelle Debout, was arrested during a police raid on a Paris camp last September. Charged with “violence against persons holding public authority,” he faces up to three years in prison and €45,000 (over $48,000) in fines.

Last week, his trial was adjourned until May. In the meantime, he plans to file charges against the police for using excessive force during his arrest.

He has been translating French and Arabic and helping migrants navigate the French immigration system and told Al Jazeera that he is being targeted because his group protests against the police and government policy.

El Assimi is one of several people pursued in the courts for protesting on behalf of migrants and asylum seekers or providing them with transport and shelter.

Under Article L622-1 of France’s immigration law, anyone who “facilitates or attempts to facilitate the illegal entry, movement or residence of a foreigner in France shall be punished by imprisonment for five years and a fine of €30,000 (over $32,000)”.

Pierre Mannoni was arrested at a highway toll booth while driving three injured Eritrean teenage girls to Nice for medical care [Kyle G Brown/Al Jazeera]

Crime of solidarity

Pierre Mannoni, a 45-year-old geography professor and father of two, was arrested at a highway toll booth while driving three injured Eritrean teenage girls to Nice for medical care. He was acquitted in court, thanks to another clause stipulating that one must benefit from the transaction – a clear reference to human trafficking. But the prosecution has appealed and called for a six-month prison term.

Often referred to as the “crime of solidarity”, the law has been used to prosecute people who support  migrants and asylum seekers.

Rights group Gisti has documented a rise in the number of such cases going to court, and more than 100 NGOs, charities and labour unions signed a manifesto this month calling for an end to the criminalisation of humanitarian activity.

“What we’re seeing is that all of the cases have one purpose,” Claudia Charles, a legal expert at Gisti, told Al Jazeera. “That’s to discourage any kind of support for the foreign population, be they migrants, Roma or asylum seekers.”

Originally aimed at smugglers in 1945, the law was sometimes used under former President Nicolas Sarkozy’s administration to prosecute those who helped immigrants

In 2012, the new Socialist government vowed to turn the page. “Our law cannot punish those who, in good faith, want to give a helping hand,” said Manuel Valls, then France’s interior minister.

Human rights groups accuse the government of betraying its word and say an ever-widening range of laws are now being used to criminalise people for helping new arrivals, from the charge of assault to defamation and “insulting a public official.”

“Since 2015, there’s been a proliferation of cases aimed at intimidating or preventing citizens from expressing solidarity with migrants, refugees and Roma,” says Marine De Hass, of the rights group, La Cimade. “It’s not just article 622-1. A growing number of people are being prosecuted for helping or supporting, undocumented persons,” De Hass told Al Jazeera.

Local Green councillor Jean-Luc Munro described a personal incident that took place as he was riding his bike in a Roma camp near Lille last April.

He said he was thrown off his bike after being told to stop by the police at a roadblock there, and was consequently charged with using his bicycle as a weapon to inflict “violence against a public official”.

“There’s been a real hardening against activists for a year and a half now,” Munro told a local newspaper.

Having documented only a handful of cases against activists between 2012 and 2015, Gisti lists more than a dozen in 2016 alone, with several more going to court in the coming months.

The list is not exhaustive: both Charles and De Hass say there are probably more, unknown, cases.

Bruno Le Roux, the French interior minister, told Al Jazeera, however, that if no one profits from helping refugees and migrants, there is no “crime of solidarity”. “So I can tell you that for all the cases being pursued, in court, they’re cases where we believe there is a violation of the law.”

The ministry has not responded to repeated requests for an explanation as to why cases are being pursued in which no personal gain is apparent. Although the Nice courts concluded as much in Mannoni’s trial, the prosecution appealed his acquittal.

“It’s crazy that we have reached this stage,” says Mannoni. “Where I’ve gone to trial for helping someone who is hurt. The government is criminalising human charity.”

But this is the way it’s been going. Georges Brassens would have understood.



Day 267: Abling

April 5th, 2019 § 0 comments § permalink

Having been, over the last few weeks, more disabled than I can care to remember, I can pass on a few tips on the long and painful inverse process of becoming abled. if you have become,Nick-and-Vicky-740-x-417-1 disabled, the NHS will spend a certain number of weeks abling you free of charge, with carers to wash you and phystotherapists to try to get your feeble frame back to its former ability. You begin in a spirit of confidence – good heavens, this disabled part of my body seems much more abled than it was last week; I can walk along the hall, and even back with sticks; type a letter, read a tweet, etc etc. But ahead of this, the goal of being actually declared able (and being able in my own mind) seems to have vanished to an indefinite distance. Screen Shot 2019-04-08 at 19.23.21

Me, Virginie and Zimako in happier days, 2015.

And indeed what is it? If the NHS declares me able, can I argue with their conclusions? There seems to be much more to this business of abling than I  had imagined; and the process stretches out indefinitely,there being so many disabled parts of me which need to be abled. Islington has in its kindness been providing something like an army of ablers who will teach me to do for myself what I have forgotten; but like any of the State’s provisions, this is necessarily limited in time, and at a certain point the process of abling will necessarily cease, leaving me, I have to conclude, only partly abled.


I’d rather be able, and working in the jungle – which of course doesn’t exist any more. When can I shave, or do a crossword, or any of those essential activities which (one doesn’t realise) one couldn’t carry on one’s daily existence without? Most nights I try to watch an educational film by Pasolini or Annnemarie Jacir on the lapt0p, with some difficulty (I”m not sufficiently enabled to get the movie to stream to me), trying to piece together the implications of the social context. What social context, I might ask, am I embedded in? I have left disabled those things which I ought to have abled, and I don’t see where to get help.

It involves, inevitably, exercise, and if you don’t like exercise or can’t face it, you might as well forget it and stay disabled. Bend that knee, lift that right arm. Pain? Gain. Get motivated, for Chtrist’s sake!

Please help me, friends, and that soon.

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: “Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert . . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
‘My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!'
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.”
Please help me, friends, and that soon.

Where am I?

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