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#Metoo

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#Metoo

I was 7 years old, taking swimming lessons. I told my mum that the swimming instructor was holding me around the crotch area and it made me feel funny. I contracted a whole batch of verrucas from the swimming pool and the lessons stopped. I’ve never liked swimming in pools much since. #Metoo

I had chronic childhood acne, so I went to see the top dermatologist in the city. I told my mum that I got a funny feeling from him, and so I never was taken to see him again. It was later found out that he had sexually assaulted a number of patients, including a girl I worked with later on. In this instance, not #metoo.

I was 13. Like a lot of 13 year olds, I wanted to be older than I was, so I snuck into a disco with my cousins for over-16s. I met a guy there. We met up the next day. He was 25. I told him that I was 13. We kissed. He didn’t seem to mind about my age. #Metoo

I was 14. Lazing in bed in my room. A relative, who was staying, came in. I pretended to be asleep. He stuck his hand down my nightie. A year later, I told my mum. I never saw him again. #Metoo

I was 15. Staying with my best friend in her house in Sicily. We wanted to put on a show, a ‘spettacolo’. We decided our contribution to the show would be to dance around in our bikinis to ‘Papa don’t Preach’. We showed her father our routine. He was horrified and absolutely forbade us to do it. We didn’t understand why. I understand now. It would have been a spectacle and we were spectacularly naive. Not #metoo.

Between the ages of 13-15, I was bullied by two boys at my school. Bullied with daily, relentless gendered insults, whispered sotto voce: Slut’. ‘Bitch’. ‘Cunt’. There was nothing sexual to it, but it was relentless, daily harassment and terrifying. When I watched my dad die, age 16, I knew that nothing they could say could hurt me anymore. The next time they tried to harass me, I tore them down with a sharp-as-an-arrow, whip-accurate retort. They never bothered me again. #Metoo

Aged 16, I go to New York for the summer to au pair. I am on a bus to upstate New York to stay with my grandma. On the bus, a man starts talking to me. He tells me about how his mom, Big Red, would love to meet a real Irish person, and how I should definitely get off the bus at Roscoe with him. I politely decline a number of times, though he is incredibly insistent. I go on to meet my unsuspecting grandma. I had no idea why he was so desperate for me to meet his mom, but something didn’t feel right. Not #metoo.

I’m in my bed in a shared house in Dublin, aged 18. Earlier that evening some friends of the live-in landlord had come to stay. They seemed nice enough. I chatted a little with them and then went to bed. I was woken up by one of them on top of me, trying to hold me down while telling me that ‘I wanted it’. With all my might, I kicked him in the groin, and rushed to a room in the house vacated for the weekend. Luckily, this room has a lock. I lock the door and stay there, heart racing, until I know they’ve gone the next day. I tell the landlord. He tells me I must be mistaken, his friends wouldn’t do that. I move house a few months later. #metoo

I hitchhiked everywhere up until the age of 21. I got a lift one evening from a lorry driver going back to Dublin. We were chatting about AIDs. Suddenly, around Cashel, he said ‘So do you want me to pull over and we can do it?’ I let out a horrified ‘No!’ and very firmly told him to drive or I would kick him with my Doc Martens. We drive in silence to Dublin and as he’s about to let me off on the quays, he said, by way of an excuse ‘You kept talking about AIDs. You made me think you wanted to do ‘it’.’ I thank him, because I’m a polite middle-class young woman, and slam the door shut. I didn’t hitchhike long-distance after that. #metoo

It’s my first sun holiday. I was so excited, and I’d bought a long, navy, figure-hugging dress. I loved that dress. I went through the security barriers at the airport. There was no beeping but the security guards made me go through it again. And again. And again. And again. They started giggling and admitted they just wanted to see me walk in my tight long dress. I felt humiliated. #metoo

I’m walking home from a friend’s on the South Circular Road in Dublin. A man stops and asks me for the time. He then asks me if I would have sex with him. For £20. I shout ‘No!’ and run all the way home. #metoo

I visit Leipzig for the first time. I’m staying with my friend Claudia. We walk past a park. Something looks out of place. It turns out it is a man, with a shirt and tie, and a hedgerow up to his thighs, visibly masturbating. My friend is horrified and assures me this is not acceptable behaviour in Leipzig. I’d already seen a guy do that twice in Cork, walking down the street, masturbating as he walked, his penis sticking up over some very baggy sweatpants. The first time I saw him, he shocked me. The second time, I told him to put it away, or else it would fall off. I’m 26, and already wise to the ways of men. #metoo

I’m on my first job out of drama school. I’m excited to be working. The experience is marred by the constant harassment from an actor in his 60s. He wants to impress upon me what a big deal he is – he’s had some one-hit wonder with a song back in the 70s and been living off the royalties ever since. I tell him to keep his hands to himself and to his side of the room. #metoo

I grow long, Titian-red hair and so am hired for a show which requires nudity. Great, I think, I can do that. I’m comfortable in my own skin, it’s not gratuitous, it’ll be a new experience. For publicity shots for Time Out and The Stage, I’m offered a closed set and I take it. The director and his stage manager keep peeping through one of the windows that have been covered with black-out paper, pointing and giggling. I feel humiliated. I explain to the PR lady after what happened, and why I really don’t want the pictures used. They’re published anyway. I might be comfortable with my body, but I won’t ever put myself in that situation again. #metoo

An older director invites me for tea. We have a lovely afternoon. He grabs my ass as he kisses me on the cheek as I leave. It barely even registers at this point. It’s certainly on the tame side of my experiences in life thus far. But, hey, #metoo

I’m working in a non-acting job. I need it to pay my bills. I’ve fallen into serious debt and need that steady income. They are trying to get rid of me. Not because I’m not good at my job. But because I’ve held them to account on their practices around women. One member of their senior management was allegedly arrested for wife-beating while in a more junior position. This does not stop him getting promoted. There were whispers around another as a rapist. He is also promoted. Yet another would summon young attractive female employees to come sit on his knee. He is one of the owners. Women are ritually undermined, overlooked, humiliated. They get rid of 5 women over a 9 month period in key positions. I do not stand with 4 of those women at the time in a meaningful way. I am ashamed of myself. I am the 5th. I decide to do something meaningful. I prepare a 22-page document with supporting evidence of their sexist practices. I know where this is headed and I know I must stand up now. I must be counted. The boss is affronted. He later rants to a fellow worker ‘How could I be a misogynist? My wife is the biggest feminist there is!’ After a 7-month campaign of bullying, mind-games, harassment, cajoling, a nervous breakdown (mine), I come back to work. I last 4 days before telling them we either settle or go to court, and I don’t care which it is. I’ve had enough. We settle. #metoo

I have been cat-called as many times as I’ve had hot dinners. I’ve been stalked a number of times by ex-boyfriends. I’ve been harassed into dates and even into relationships by men who wouldn’t take no for an answer. I’ve had men pull over in their cars to ask me to get in. I’ve been knocked off my bike by men looking for a date. I’ve worked with men who tell me their wives ‘don’t understand them’. I’ve worked with men who’ve used their power and reputation to bully me in a non-sexual, but nonetheless damaging way. I’ve overheard men on public transport talking about what they were going to do to particular girls in the type of locker room talk that one expects now from the POTUS. I’ve been catfished by someone pretending to be David Haye until I contacted his agent to confirm it was him. I’ve been invited by a producer of porn to contact him. I’ve been the subject of death threats for having an opinion online. #Metoo. #Metoo. #Metoo. More times than I am capable of remembering or writing about: #MEFUCKINGTOO

And yet: I’m lucky. Despite several near-misses, only a portion of them listed above, I’ve never been raped, unlike several friends who’ve confided in me. Unlike other friends, no man has ever attempted to hit me. I’m tall, athletic and strong. I keep myself athletic and strong and always on guard. My keys are my weapon of choice. I’ve developed a persona that is my armour. The strong woman. The warrior woman. The woman with the big voice and the big laugh. I like this woman. She protects me. She takes on my adversaries one by one, the bullies, the misogynists, the would-be abusers and belittlers of women and vanquishes them. One by one. I cover my vulnerability not because I want to, but because I have to. As a woman, never give away all of your heart, I was once told. I thought that was dispiriting at the time, and now I see the wisdom of it. I thought I thought I’d be done with this shit once I hit my thirties. Oh the innocence. Every time something happens, I am jolted from my reality of being a human being to the reality of living in a world that does not favour the human beings with vaginas.

Can we change it? I don’t know. I know it will not happen if men do not help.

Should we change it? Yes. Absolutely yes. The only objectors to this would be  people who want to continue harassing and abusing.

How do we change it? The first step is listening. Believing women and their stories. Whether it’s misogynistic bullying, sexual harassment, assault: giving the benefit of the doubt. Not many women would want to go through even a workplace hearing to tell their stories of harassment and abuse unless it was true. That in itself can be a harrowing and mentally traumatising experience. It says something that in the #Cosby case over 60 women came forward, in the #Weinstein case over 30, and still there are murmurings of ‘Why didn’t they come forward sooner? Is this a vendetta against men?’. This very thinking is a silencing mechanism, because women know the cost of being visible. It’s something we live with all our lives. It’s a technique that men like Weinstein use to great effect. After that – I’m not sure. Make certain more women are involved in power positions? It can’t hurt to at least try that. After all, it’s not really been done before, and we can tell from the #metoo stories emerging that this is not just a Hollywood/arts industry problem. The industry of story-telling has merely been the catalyst for women from all walks of life to tell their stories.

Let me tell you why this is important. I’m not going to tell you a story about why this is important for your daughters, your wives, your sisters. I was house-sitting in a very wealthy part of London last year. The house belonged to a wealthy older woman of 87. She’d led a privileged life, and her husband had worked in close proximity with a relative of the Royal Family. She was in the early stages of dementia, in and out of lucidity. One day, when I was sitting down with her, she told me of her driving lessons, aged 17. She spent at least as much time fending off the driving instructor from touching her up. She didn’t want to tell her father, because she felt he would have done nothing. She didn’t want to tell her mother, who would have made a scene and that would have stopped her learning to drive, which signified freedom. So, 70 years later, this patrician, Cambridge-educated lady in the first stages of losing her mind, still remembered this ritual humiliation, this abuse of power, this demonstration of privilege. Despite all she had achieved in her life (and it was considerable), that scar still burned bright. Her fear, anger and upset was palpable.

That’s the power of the #metoo hashtag. We’re finally visible. Telling our stories. This is not an attack on all men, but it sure is about as personal as it can get. Because until we tell our stories, reconcile the truth of those stories with the fiction of the patriarchal narrative, how can we hope to create space in this world for every human being to live safely, to reach our potential as a species and to evolve and thrive accordingly? That’s what I want – do #youtoo?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Take a Knee

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A flag is just a piece of cloth. What it’s supposed to represent – an equal playing field for all, justice for all – is not being adhered to and has not been, ever, in the history of the US.

Remember these protests started under Obama’s administration, as a protest against police brutality. Only Trump could make it all about himself and some perverse idea of patriotism, where one doesn’t question how loyalty to this ‘flag’ trumps (pun intended) keeping racist law enforcement officers in check.

But since The Donald has decided to put his rather profane tuppence ha’porth in, let’s use it to question what is really important here. In truth, no flag matters. What is done supposedly in the name of the flag does. The flag is no more than a human extension of the Pavlov’s dog experiment. I support those taking a knee because what they are protesting for (actual civil rights, the right to not be killed by endemic racism) is more important. If you are proud of your country (and by this I mean any country, not just the U.S.), know exactly what it is you’re proud of. When it comes down to it, and if one’s grasp on history is solid, and if one is scrupulously honest, it’ll end up that you’ll be proud of some things, of other things not so much. Let the country that is without sin cast the first stone.

The danger is, during this political paradigm shift (and we are still in the midst of this shift) that revisionism of history is rife. We have the situation in Germany where partly (to the best of my understanding) what the AfD set their stall out on is whitewashing German history, especially that of the Third Reich, as something to be proud of, that ‘others’ had wilfully misinterpreted. How can one be proud of that part of one’s history which included mass genocide? And this point could be said of many countries, including the US. Including the UK. Trump and Brexit happened, to a large extent, due to people’s ignorance of their own imperialist, genocidal, racist histories.

Pride in a flag, for pride’s sake, if the foundation of what that flag represents, is ridiculous. Pride in an anthem, a song, is indefensible if the human rights that have been nominally enshrined in law are not being accorded to all citizens, irrespective of colour, creed, sex, gender, sexual preference, power and wealth status. There is ample evidence to show us that the US has little respect for the rights of its African-American citizens. The very presence of a man like Trump in the White House and his penchant for the company of white supremacists and self-described Nazis is a very testimony to this. The symbols that we once held dear unquestioningly are being called into question. It’s long overdue. Men like Kaepernick remind us that rather than slavishly adhering to the status quo, our citizenship calls upon us to question whether it is fit for purpose, or indeed, if it ever was. And the evidence and history taken objectively, would strongly indicate that it never has been.

The late great Stéphane Hessel wrote about a ‘Time for Outrage’. Outrage is only the beginning point. It’s the precursor of change, and holds the potential of change for the better, for everyone. Some people will not want change, simply because change, even when it is for the better, is not easy. Some people will not want change, because they see change as an attack on their status and supremacy in the world order. Those latter are probably not wrong, but they must not stand as an impediment to change for the better for the majority. We are on a knife’s edge balance in the West when Germany, for 28 years a beacon of hope to the power of people and progressive thinking, to the art of the possible rather than the cynical deal, can have 1.3 citizens who ignored their own history and voted in the far-right to the Bundestag again. The damage has been done, and nationalism has made its inroads. The road that this ultimately leads to can be changed, however. It’s not too late for that yet, if we remain conscious of the difference between superficial nationalism and deeper citizenship.

Nationalism only appeals to those who are childish and sheep-like in their thinking. Those who deal in the vicious pettiness of playground politics. Those who like their inane saluting, doublespeak, symbolism and who find comfort in the denigration of others. This is not ‘love of country’. Love of country, and deeper citizenship is when you care that everyone is afforded the same rights, the same opportunities, that everyone prospers. That’s what those who are taking a knee are highlighting. May they overcome.

#Takeaknee #sportisnotjustsport

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Self-pity – the nuclear option

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“We may have no choice but to totally destroy North Korea”.

The Donald’s ‘choice’ of language is revealing. Part of the #Trump schtick is to paint himself as a victim. This is also a trait I’ve noticed in the average #Trump supporter, when conversing with them, the average white male who feels victimised and put-upon for having to acknowledge the inequities of the past and present, and of narcissistic sociopaths of both sexes. It’s the trait of the adult that doesn’t want to grow up and acknowledge uncomfortable truths about themselves and the world they’ve created for themselves. It’s the trait of inmates and children of nursery and reception-going ages, both of whom I’ve worked with.

This sort of trait is not confined to a type, as such: One can be supremely talented, be an intellectual high flyer, be an average Jo(e), be a rare beauty, be plain. Ironically the place where I’ve seen this sort of self-pitying characteristic least is in special needs children. I know about this intently, because I was prone to this trait, and really had to come to a place in myself to re-frame my thinking on it – and it is still a work in progress. It’s an easy place to slip to, where everyone else and the world is at fault, without taking the time to do the adult, accountable thing and take stock of one’s own perspective. What are my patterns, and how do I overcome them?

Although this is still a theory in formation, there are two reasons that I can see that Trump is prevailing: 1. He is tapping into this infantile sense of injustice without challenging the recipients of his message to challenge themselves to rise above their own inner toddler and 2. He has authenticity. Now, I know there is a lot of evidence that could be thrown against that last statement, but hear me out, because this is key: He is authentically an asshole and he is living his truth in that. There’s a lack of pretence there that is clearly speaking to his supporters. And until people in opposition realise this, and start to think about how to combat it, we will always lose the argument, no matter how much evidence we have to the contrary.

Because the reality is: He is not put upon, and he has choice. He is choosing to rattle the sabre and poke the bear. There seems to be a lack of education and understanding about the effects of nuclear war, which back in the 80s was just par for the course. Every school child had seen ‘The Day After’, we all knew about Hiroshima, and we all understood the lyrics of Sting’s ‘Russians’ (time for a re-release called ‘Americans’). Mr. Sumner was accurate about the Russians loving their children – I’m not convinced pro-Trump Americans do, or that, due to a lack of education and understanding, they understand the Pandora’s Box that Trump is promising to unleash. Judging by the plethora of bombastic tweets in support of him, they don’t. Who would, having seen even the pictures of Hiroshima, would wish that for the world?

Mr. Trump has a choice; and he is choosing to take the lowest road possible. Perhaps in a bid to boost his flagging ratings and his dwindling crowds. His pronouncements are normalised and a logical outcome of the normalisation of white male privilege and a failure in our systems of teaching and enforcing personal accountability in our society. If we all survive the Trump presidency (my T-shirt is already on order), we have to focus on what is important: our interdependency, an insistence on equality and equal representation, respect for our differences and for our planet. The only point of being lead down a dark path is to embrace the light when we see it.

I’m going to leave you with a quote from Frankl, who was, the more I discover about him, an amazing character. One thing I did not know until recently was that he chose to go to Auschwitz. He had a safe passage to the US, but his parents were being deported to Auschwitz and he chose to go with them. So not only did he make a choice – he chose love. It’s always there, folks. In our words. In our deeds. In our reactions. You are not helpless. You have power, if you choose to use it. If you choose to live mindfully. If you do not, no matter your circumstances, you are a hamster on a wheel, an eternal victim of your own whining 3-year old. Ask yourself – isn’t it time to embrace being an adult, with all the wonderful joys and challenges that entails? There’s little point in being king for a day (or in Trump’s case, 7.25 more years and counting) if one’s head does not have the strength to bear the crown. There’s little point in being Emperor if the rest of the world can see, plain as day, that you have no clothes. That you’re just a big whining man-baby in a suit who, through circumstance, has access to the biggest and most dangerous toy in the world. Even standing on the precipice of obliteration, let’s see this for what it is. A choice.

“The one thing you can’t take away from me is the way I choose to respond to what you do to me. The last of one’s freedoms is to choose one’s attitude in any given circumstance.”
― Viktor E. Frankl

Dear (fellow) White People

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Dear (fellow) White People

Like many people in the US and UK, I was glued to my computer and television screens yesterday, watching the horror in Virginia unfold. Right now, it’s really hard to take the positives from #Charlottesville.

I’ve been watching the rise of white supremacy over the last 10 years or so, and it’s shocking how it’s been normalised in mainstream politics, over here through Blair’s reintroduction of the Prevention of Terrorism act, which was always bound to unfairly vilify the Muslim community as it did the Irish community throughout the 1970s and 80s; Bush’s clampdown on civil liberties in the US and re-working of the facts of history to reflect a NeoCon narrative; and the demonisation of Muslims and immigrants by Cameron, Farage and Trump. This actions were always going to give credence to a white imperialist narrative of English-speaking white people being the fabled ‘good guys’, despite masses of evidence to the contrary throughout history.

I agree with MLK’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail, on the white moderate:

“I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.”

If we have been shown anything over the last year, and in particular, the last two weeks, is that white male fragility turns nasty when faced with both the sins of the past and present. This must change. There are those who would call for tolerance. This, to my mind, does not solve anything when those calling for ‘tolerance’ are supported by systemic injustice. I think, rather than erring on the side of ‘tolerance’ we must have robust discussion. No holds barred, no punch unpulled. And not just with others, but with ourselves. How much are we willing to watch other people be demonised? Killed by police for trumped up traffic ‘violations’? Being twice victimised by the use of the false equivalence I have seen on the Twittersphere today, comparing those in Black Lives Matter who are standing up for their civil rights with those self-described Nazis who worship at the altar of a genocidal dictator? Being ‘tolerant’ of bigotry enables it – if we’ve learned nothing from the last 15 months, I think the evidence would point towards that. Power = privilege. It’s as simple as that. These last 15 months, both here in the UK and the US, and indeed, across Europe has been a sharp wake-up call to those who believed white supremacy to be vanquished; it merely was gestating underground, ready to rise up at the appropriate time.

But I will say this: There is hope. There are those who realise what is at stake and who stood up and were counted, like the counter-protesters stood up to Nazis and white supremacists. Everyone who stood against fascism and white supremacy in Charlottesville put themselves literally in the line of fire and did the right thing. That’s brave. Governor Terry McAuliffe gave the speech that Trump should have. Republican politicians like Rubio are calling Trump out on his ‘many, many sides’ endorsing of the white supremacists (and they are taking it like that, on social media forums – they’re emboldened). I can’t believe I’m writing this, but even Nigel Farage was shocked at the Nazi salutes and publicly expressed that, like Dr. Frankenstein horrified at the monster he helped create.So there is some hope.

The veil has fallen from the ‘alt-right’ ‘fashy’ neo-Nazi white ‘nationalist’ aka white supremacist KKK. I’ve long thought the term ‘alt-right’ was a dangerous one for the media to adopt – there is little hope of reasoning with fascists.  A rose by any other name is still a rose. A Nazi by any other name is still a Nazi.

I have two questions for the likes of Richard Spencer:

1. If white people (and white men in particular) are so ‘supreme’, then why do we (and they) require unfair, systemic advantage socially and politically?

2. There is much talk in fascist circles about ‘white genocide’ – isn’t the truth that it is closer to ‘white suicide’, as what psychologically balanced person (including white people) would want the continuation of an imperialistically-minded, misogynistic, racist, intolerant culture such as the one you and your acolytes are espousing?

Indeed, given that “inbreeding increases the chances of the expression of deleterious recessive alleles by increasing homozygosity and therefore has the potential to decrease the fitness of the offspring”, there is a strong argument that racial purity is unrealistic and undesirable – unless you are the sort of madman that wants to control those with a low IQ.

Many clearly were emboldened enough by the fact that Trump, with his KKK entourage in the White House, to appear at a rally without their masks. They have potentially given those who work in the area of counter-terrorism and terrorism prevention a huge gift by this shameless display of arrogance, through a theory known as social learning. This theory, developed by Albert Bandura posits that people learn from one another, via observation, imitation, and modeling. If organisations like SPLC has the facial recognition equipment to identify each and every one of them in such a way that they can out them within their communities.  Depending on the community, if  it has a tangible effect on their lives,  (through societal shaming, loss of employment etc) that they might really think about what they’ve signed up to. America also has a strong tradition of patriotism and religion that can be used positively – I can’t think of anything more antipathetic to the supposition of what ‘American values’ or ‘Christian values’ are than Nazism.  Because we’ve yet to hear any denouncement of these white supremacist Nazi terrorists from Trump, but logic would dictate that if anyone in white communities knows that one of their own is involved in white supremacy  and Nazism- report them to the FBI immediately and without hesitation. That’s actually the most patriotic thing one could do in this instance, if indeed one is sincere in one’s belief in the US constitution of equality for all.

If there are any #Trump supporters out there – shame on you if you quietly sit by and don’t petition him and/or your local senator to categorically denounce this as white supremacist terrorism. He contended that ‘race didn’t affect the numbers’ – now is your chance to do the right thing and show him that it will have an impact in 2020.

My hope today, in an American that seems more divided than ever, is that white people are reaching out to their black neighbours. If they don’t know someone who is black (and that is entirely possible), visit a black church to pray, or support a black business with your custom.  The only use of ‘white power’ or ‘white male power’ should be in the service of rendering an equitable world for all. Pandering to white and male fragility is no longer sustainable, especially among white people ourselves. There are ways you can show your solidarity, by being a great ally and listening to the black communities very real fears. if I was a black person or POC in Trump’s America, I’d now be officially terrified post-Charlottesville,  if I hadn’t been before. That’s unacceptable. Let’s stop tolerating intolerance. As the late and great Stéphane Hessel said, it’s ‘Time for Outrage’.

 

Britain – it’s time to talk

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Pull up a chair, Britain and sit down. We need to have a long overdue chat. And we need to be honest, so shudDUP and let us talk. Yup, pun absolutely intended. Never let it be said that we Irish don’t try and inject a bit of humour into every situation.

But after Friday, and yet another kick to the proverbial nuts, and yet another betrayal, and yet another situation where serious risks could be posed to Ireland as a result of English foolhardiness, the niceties are over. It’s time for the truth bombs. I think many Irish friends living in England feel the same. Hell, even our Taoiseach, Enda-ThirdWay-Kenny, has issued a little slapdown to the British government. So in the interests of inter-island dialogue and a baseline of understanding, and having been asked questions by so many English friends on Friday (which I’m always glad to answer) ranging from ‘Why don’t Sinn Féin do a solid for Corbyn and take up their seats’ to ‘What’s so bad about the DUP’, let me take you through a potted history of Ireland, and in particular recent history, and why this recent move on the part of the Tory party is beyond the Pale (that’s a little joke for Irish readers – British readers, you may have to do a little Googling).

Ok. 800 years of British rule, which was barbaric, unjust and brutal. I’ll skip through most of this section except to say that even dating back to Tudor times, the English have a nasty habit of believing and cultivating xenophobic divide and conquer tactics. The Paul Dacre of his day, Sir Edmund Spenser, described the Irish as savages; a description that stuck while they were being stripped of their lands, their languages, their culture, and even their crops (which caused the ‘potato famine’ of the mid-19th century – the lie is that it was a famine, it was more genocide for profit. No foodbanks at the time, so the native Irish either starved to death or left. The population was halved to 4 million. Some ate stones and grass in a bid to stay alive). Being hung, drawn and quartered was a punishment remembered in Irish songs like Robert Emmett. You get the picture. Being occupied is not fun. Hopefully it explains why we support anyone but the English in football matches.

So we then enter the 20th century, and let’s speed through the 1916 Rising. The Black and Tan lads added to the general jolly japes of the history of the British in Ireland with mass burnings of properties, scalpings, rapes and so forth. We come to the Anglo-Irish Treaty, whereupon the deal was made to leave most of Ulster in the UK and the other 26 counties as the newly-formed Republic of Ireland.

Let’s shoot forward to the 1960s. It was clear that there were civil rights abuses by the mainly Unionist political class against nationalists by this time, which lead to civil rights marches inspired by those in the US at that time. These culminated in Bloody Sunday, whereupon British soldiers shot 28 unarmed civilians in the Bogside in Derry who were involved in a peaceful protest against internment. This led to a cover-up by law-enforcement institutions across Northern Ireland and by the British government. It also led to a huge recruitment drive to the IRA.

British readers will know all about the bombings on their mainland. I’m not condoning the bombings or the killing of innocent lives. They do have to be placed in the context of loss of life on both sides, however. Loyalist terrorists were no slouches in that department either, which is why it is important to understand the DUP, the ‘confidence and supply’ partner of the Tories and their ties to them. So here are some interesting #DUPfacts  that the general British public may not be aware of:

1. Many of their politicians have roots in paramilitary activities – not unusual in Northern Ireland, but after all the Tories’ smear campaign against Corbyn for merely talking to Sinn Féin, this is a bit much.

2. They opposed the Good Friday Agreement.

3. They are the biggest anti-choice, pro-forced pregnancy party in the UK.

4.They are against equal marriage and fought hard against LGBTQ rights. Even David Cameron disagreed with their stance on this. Though he also toyed with the idea of aligning with them in 2015, had he not won a small majority. ‘Compassionate Conservatism’, eh?

5. Jeffrey Donaldson MP, worked with Enoch Powell,  when he was expelled from Tories, and claimed he was one of the ‘great voices of unionism’

6. They are climate change deniers who raked money off biofuels in a ‘cash for ash’ green energy scandal.

7. Accepted a £435k donation from Scottish Tory Richard Cook, from the shady Constitutional Research Council (links with Saudis), and ran pro-Brexit adverts in the Metro free-sheet in the UK.

The Good Friday Agreement, voted for in a referendum in good faith by Irish people both North and South of the border, has been the cause of almost 20 years of peace. The process broke down in March this year over the green energy scandal, in which Arlene Foster was deeply implicated, and which Theresa May would have known about. They’ve lost two of the major poster boys of the GFA, the late Rev. Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness.

Given the history of the British government in Northern Ireland, their support of the interests of the Protestant political class over that of the nationalist community, to have been courting the DUPs since last summer for their support and then to enter into an ad hoc partnership with them beggars belief. It throws any pretence of the stance of neutrality on the part of the British government regarding Northern Ireland out the  window, and contravenes the tenet of neutrality on the parts of the British and Irish governments within the GFA. And it is a major security risk; not just for the people of Britain and Ireland, but most especially for the nationalist community of Northern Ireland. Unionists do not have a history, much like their English ancestors, of wielding power graciously.

The frustration on the part of Irish people like myself is that yet again, the interests of Ireland have been placed as secondary to those of the English, and in particular recently to the internal wranglings of the Tory party. Ireland took a massive hit in 2008 for the British and German bondholders. The pain was certainly not shared on that occasion. There was then the fallout from Brexit, where the impact on exports and the border between Ireland and the North wasn’t even considered. And now this. The most apt description I have come across about the DUP is from George Monbiot, as an organisation that are like ‘UKIP, supercharged by religious fundamentalism’.

The only very small silver lining from this is that it may inadvertently cause more of an understanding of Irish politics, and the politics and history of Ulster in particular. If the peace process doesn’t get shafted completely, we will all be very lucky. Suffice it to say, you have been warned. You think the Tory Party is the ‘Nasty Party?’ You ain’t seen nothing yet.

 

 

 

 

 

Why, with barely a vote cast, Corbyn’s Labour has already won

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I was getting quite emotional over the last few days thinking of casting my ballot for Corbyn. And make no mistake, it’s for Corbyn, not for Chuka Umunna, my local MP, who I once touted as a potential leader, but no more.

Disclaimer: I have long been a dedicated Corbynista. I barely knew who he was when I saw him interviewed two years ago. I knew after hearing him speak that here was someone who was different, and who saw what needed to be done for the future.

We are living in incredibly interesting political times, and what has happened over the last year is a paradigm shift. So I get that people were sceptical of Corbyn, not convinced, doubtful about his ability to lead the Labour Party. The recalcitrance of the New Labour old guard obfuscated what was necessary for the party to succeed. Their inability to see the shifting sands, the political weathervane moving, cost Labour dear in terms of obstinately promoting Ed Miliband, an abysmally weak leader whose time was over somewhere circa 2013 and the most disastrous Labour election in 30 years in 2015. But obstinately they clung to the echo chamber of neoliberal peers and journalists, and failed to embrace the very real alternative Corbyn offered from the very start.

Better late than never, I guess. While I don’t agree with Corbyn on everything (#Brexit), I admire his singlemindedness, his vision, and just his sheer self-belief. What he has undergone over the last 2 years would have knocked many another politician off their course. My gut instinct (as well as avidly reading newspapers from all political sides over the last two years) is that himself and John McDonnell have a transformational plan for Britain. The manifesto is the layman’s version of this. They, along with their campaign manager (who’s questioning Seumas Milne now?) have run the most brilliant campaign. I would go so far as to say that it is the most brilliant political campaign of modern times, and I include Obama’s 2008 campaign in that, run by David Plouffe. Never has someone had so much thrown at them and risen above it and flourished. He has managed, after years of the harshness of austerity being obvious, to change the tone, the nature, the focus of this argument. And that is why I believe, as I have done for the last two years, that Corbyn would be a transformative PM.

Labour may not win outright tomorrow – in fact, it’s very unlikely they will. Due to either bad advice or Miliband’s own ego, the losses made in 2015 are too hard to claw back. Scotland is lost, not least because of Jim Murphy’s failures there. And then there’s the BluKip factor. That makes the game unfairly skewed in favour of the Tories. However – in a very real sense, before barely a vote being cast, Labour under Corbyn has already won. They have made political discourse the new normal. They have engaged record number of supporters to the PLP. They have used social media in a way it has not been used hithertofore in British elections (more by necessity than by design, given the hostility of Fleet St, but still). They have taken the fight to the Tories, and even if the Tories prevail, it will be as a party battered and bruised, with their weak leadership exposed for what it is under Theresa May. They will not find it so easy to get their mandate through and ultimately it may even be the case that by 2020 we’re looking at a party torn asunder, eating itself alive through infighting and intrigue, and another election.

I never liked voting for New Labour under Tony Blair. I admired Blair’s political acumen up to 2003, but disliked his obvious actorly mannerisms and insincerity. His assuming of the NI Peace Process as his success, when anyone on the other side of the Irish Sea was aware that the success was all Mo Mowlam’s. ‘The people’s this’ ‘The people’s that’. Please. The illusion of allowing democracy, which he himself rent apart by pursuing a foolhardy illegal war. But I will be voting Labour proudly for the first time. Maybe we expect too much of our heroes. Maybe Corbyn will, for many millions of other people, turn out to have feet of clay. But in my opinion, he’s already won. He’s proven, in this campaign, that there is an alternative, there is hope, there is an appetite for a road less travelled, and that it is for the many, not the few. Most of all – he has brought compassion and humanity onto the political agenda. Dignity for those vulnerable in UK society. Pride in public services. The notion that no man or woman is an island. That government is there to work with people, to help them and not to scold or dictate to them. And above all, a question I raised a number of weeks back in my blog on the Huff Post – What type of country do Britons want to live in? I take nothing for granted, and I’m interested to find out the answer.

#VoteLabour #GE2017

#LondonBridge

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I was lying in bed in London on Sunday morning catching up with the news on #LondonBridge.

What to say? To be honest, I feel a bit numb. Before making it my permanent residence, I travelled through London a couple of times in the late 80s/early 90s en route to elsewhere. The main concern at that time, when there was a bomb scare, was to keep my mouth shut. It was pure instinct. Any bomb scare at that time was likely IRA-related, and while Irish people aren’t necessarily the most identifiable through skin colour or what we wear (apart from if one had a big auld Ireland/ GAA jersey), the accent could make one a target for aggression. Later, in 1998, when I first came to live here, it did. Barely-old prejudices die hard.

Since living in London, I’ve lived through several terrorist attacks. The most immediate for me was the Admiral Duncan attack, as I was around the corner on Dean St on a date. The one that resonated most was 7/7, as I was working in Covent Garden that day, in a new job at the private members club The Hospital. I wasn’t scared, funnily enough, and was kept busy helping panicked people to use the phone. One of my colleagues was in the bus behind the bus on Russell Square and she was understandably upset when she came in. There was an eerie sense of calm and desertion in Covent Garden that day. We’d been told not to venture out in the streets, because at that stage there were rumours about at least another 10 tube stations being targets, but being young(er) and maybe a little foolhardy, I went out for my lunch break. I’m really glad I did. I got to experience a noiseless Covent Garden, and even in the midst of terror, there was a beauty in this.

The most scared I’ve ever felt in London was during the London riots of 2011. I was living on my own, in Forest Hill, and it seemed during those dark days, like a wave of feral, unstoppable youth was marauding through London, like a wave of black smog, rampaging and overturning everything in their midst. Of course, the reality of what came out afterwards was quite different – it wasn’t just young, poor people, but also older, middle income earners who got caught up in looting and stealing, infected by atmospherics and their lizard brain being triggered. That hadn’t stopped assumptions by the media over the course of a week.

There have been more in the interim – Woolwich, Jo Cox, the Westminster attacks, Manchester etc – and this is the first time that I’ve felt this numb. I don’t think it is any coincidence that we are seeing an increase in attacks in line with cuts to policing and social services. The police and social services have their issues (racism being one of the biggest for the police), but police personnel and social care workers and all those who work with communities and that know their communities are vital.

There is also the issue of these attacks being, to a man, committed by men. I cannot tell you how deeply frustrating I find it that no one really has started to acknowledge this, apart from maybe people like Sara Khan at Inspire. There are issues with Khan and her organisation, especially with their once-entanglement with the Tories. However, identifying the seeds of radicalisation is incredibly important, be it white supremacist or Islamist.

I teach a lot of young boys when I am ‘resting’ as a private tutor, and young boys are loving, and immensely confused. They have all these feelings and emotions, and no one to really help them to process them as their society says ‘Stop crying’ ‘Be a big boy’ and other damaging messages. And their background has no bearing on the volatility of their emotions.

One of the angriest kids I teach (age 6) goes to one of London’s premier schools (hint: A certain former rightwing party leader went there). His parents are in very high-powered jobs, but by and large (from what I can tell), absent. We talk about his feelings, and he often said to me ‘I’m angry’. I don’t really need to help this kid academically – he’s far ahead of his age group (by years). But emotionally, he was a minefield when I took him on a couple of months ago. So I took him outside into his garden one lesson and showed him plants, and grass. I implanted the notion that maybe he could grow things so he would have something to pour all this emotion into. (Much as my parents did for me, when I was an angry 7 year old – my father’s answer to this was to give me his punch-bag and my mother’s was to give us all a little patch of garden to call our own. Both worked.) A mere two weeks later, this same kid was giving me some of his very precious football cards and showing me with pride his strawberry and thyme plants and was noticeably calmer. He’s probably my most extreme case in terms of his rage – but it is interesting that listening and giving him something to care for, and to love has worked.

The thing is: young boys who don’t know how to handle their emotions grow into men who don’t know how to handle their emotions. Given that men have the bulk of power and privilege in our society as things currently stand, this is a recipe for what we are witnessing. It is very easy for Wahabi Saudis, or white supremacists, or other damaged males with their hatred of Westerners/Muslims/women/gay people/take your pick to come in, and prey upon young men that, for whatever reason – life, family circumstances, lack of a father figure or positive male role model etc – feel enraged, alone, entitled and unaccepting of their own human vulnerability (because they’ve never been taught how to intelligently deal with it in emotional terms).

 

I’ve witnessed how this sense of coming into a ‘brotherhood’ ‘community’ can both stabilise the person but skew their thinking in a member of my own family. They were lucky enough to have some emotional tools to extricate themselves, even luckier to have met a fantastic woman that understood on a very visceral level how to modify some of the more destructive tendencies – but it’s hard. Others are not so lucky – the feeling of belonging to a community, be that Daesh, or the KKK, or the EDL is irresistible because, after all, it is a very human instinct to want to belong. Even if that community has a more malevolent purpose, those that are desperate for love will just want to belong. The saying of every child needing a village is so true, and in a society where society itself isn’t valued (according to Thatcherite and neoliberal principles) there is a falling through the gaps more and more of these angry, emotionally volatile young men.

Let me be clear as well: I believe that if young girls were raised along the same principles and thought processes and expectations that boys are, we would have exactly the same issue. I see no difference in emotional intelligence of girls up to the age of about 8 in those I’ve worked with. Society expects women to be in touch with our emotions; and for the most part, we are. Society expects men to suppress emotion on a grand scale, and for the most part, they do. Hence – if one looks at crime statistics, and abuse of power, attacks and other things that destroy our sense of well-being as communities and a society, one will find they mostly have, as a root, male disconnection from their emotional selves at the core.

This is not to reduce the absolute senseless, awful tragedy of lost lives in this attack and other attacks. It is just that I believe if we want a better society, and these sort of attacks to stop, we need to address the root causes. We can bring nothing with us into the afterlife – if there is even such a thing. All our energies must therefore be expended on (in the first instance) coming to a full understanding of ourselves and how we can overcome our own worst prejudices and accept ourselves and love ourselves. Secondly we go out in the world and help others, our communties on a small scale, or on a grand scale. For most of us, it will be on a small scale – and that is great. Every interaction we have with another human being has an effect. Sometimes it is difficult if the interaction itself is difficult. But there is great power in knowing that we can effect change, even in a small way.

Let’s really demand that, at another level, our politicians start investing in people rather than in bombs. If a group of people can spread this much terror with guns and what sounded like kitchen knives, we really have to question the practicalities of weapons like Trident. There are many layers to what is happening in the world, but addressing it with roots in teaching emotional intelligence, caring for each other in our communities and tribes and making sure our tax pounds/euros/dollars are directed to what is important rather than expansion of profits of the military industrial complex (banks, munitions, big pharma, energy companies) seems to be a good start. Most of all, let’s love. Let’s love ourselves and other human beings, with all of our collective faults and peculiarities and differences. Hell, let’s love ourselves because of our differences. We don’t see the rose hating on the chrysanthemum for being a different flower; as in nature, so should we be.