Notes from underground

يارب يسوع المسيح ابن اللّه الحيّ إرحمني أنا الخاطئ

Do we understand democracy? An appeal to the youth

There was an interesting “debate” on Twitter this morning, about leadership and the problems of South Africa, apparently sparked off by an article by Max du Preez, pointing out that South Africa is an open society, and not a “failed state”

One of the exchanges it sparked off was this:

if we were an open society our people would express their anger differently, nit through violent protest

. Violent protests are often the result of absent & weak . Then violence becomes a norm.

Greed ignores passive actions of resistance and criticism. Violence demands immediate attention.

ServDev2The 140 character limit of Twitter doesn’t make it the ideal medium for a serious political discussion (which is one of the reasons that I am writing this here, and not on Twitter), but I think that some were saying that violent protests were a method of the 1980s, and this is 2015. In the 1980s South Africa was a closed society. Violent protest was one way of getting the attention of those in power, and changing things.

Max du Preez’s article points out that South Africa is no longer a closed society, it is an open society. Instead of trying to get the attention of those in power, and demand that they do things (like “service delivery”), the way is open for people to take power, and do things for themselves.

ServDev1Next year we will have local government elections, and if the municipal government hasn’t delivered, there is the opportunity to change them, not by burning tyres and libraries, but by voting the bastards out of office.

This can be done by organising locally, at a local level. Instead of the big national political parties parachuting in leaders as rewards for political loyalty, we need local people to organise and vote them out.

One thing that could be borrowed from the 1980s is the Civic Associations that were organised locally back then. The difference is that back then the Civics could only organise protests. Now that we have an open society they can produce candidates for election and organise the voters, because they ARE the voters. We have democracy. We have an open society, so it can be done.

Max du Preez’s article is important. Read it, and organise. South Africa not a failed state | News24 – Linkis.com

History teaches us that countries with open societies very seldom become failed states. Only when a state’s openness and personal freedoms are destroyed can there be a breeding ground for failure.

The terms failed state, banana republic and “becoming Zimbabwe” are being used freely nowadays to describe South Africa, even more so after Eskom’s failures and the scandalous behaviour during the State of the Nation Address last month.

This is uninformed nonsense. Prod those who use these terms and nine out of 10 times you will find an Afro-pessimist or someone that never believed that a black government was able to manage a modern democracy and economy like ours.

The openness of our society is our greatest asset. This is the product of our constitutional guarantees of free speech and the rule of law, but it has now been internalised and become the new “normal”.

We don’t need to make the celeb-style leaders “listen” in the hope of getting them to do something. We need people who will use the local government elections to push the failed leaders aside and replace them with ones who actually represent the people.

South Africa not a failed state | News24 – Linkis.com:

We live as if it is the most normal thing to criticise the head of state and other politicians using extreme language. The deepest secrets of the state are regularly exposed without endangering the journalists’ lives.

When I wrote nasty things about the last two presidents of the pre-democratic era and exposed their unholinesses, I was dragged to court dozens of times, my office was bombed and agents were sent to assassinate me.

Our openness is one of the most important building blocks upon which our democracy, our stability and our relatively free economic activities are built. This is why South Africa cannot be described as a failing state in any sense of the word. Struggling state, perhaps, state with a multitude of challenges, yes, but not a failed state according to the accepted definition of the term.

As some pointed out in the Twitter interchange, people like Max du Preez (and me) are old. It is up to the youth. But as the youth of the 1980s organised the Civic Associations, surely the youth of 2015 can do something similar.

22 Britannia Road (book review)

22 Britannia Road22 Britannia Road by Amanda Hodgkinson

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A Polish couple is separated at the beginning of the Second World War, and reunited in Britain after the war is over. In the six years that they have been apart their different experiences have made them different people. Then there is the child Aurek, who has only known the life of a fugitive, hiding in the forest. He has to adapt to living in a suburban house in a society where the language, is strange.

The story alternates between the present and the past, starting with their reunion, and going back to their former life, leading up to the present.

I picked this book up on a remainder sale, after reading the blurb I thought it looked interesting for the same reason that I found the The long road home the aftermath of the Second World War interesting (my review here). I’m interested in transitions, in between times, changes from war to peace, migrants, refugees, displaced persons, asylum seekers. How do such people make a transition from one life to another?

And so I bought it and brought it home to read it, and was surprised at how good it was. When I read historical novels, I tend to look out for anachronisms, well, not actually to look for them, but when I spot them I find them jarring, and so I tend to be reading in nervous expectation. In this book I didn’t spot any, or at least none that were jarring. It seemed remarkably authentic and true to life — not that I’ve ever been to Poland, so I might not know anyway, but it didn’t seem much different from novels by Polish novelists that I’ve read.

The characters and their reactions are believable, yet not predictable, and this unpredictability is what makes the novel seem so authentic. It is like the unpredictability of real life, when you never know what will happen next or how people will respond to it.

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The treasure hunters

The Treasure HuntersThe Treasure Hunters by Enid Blyton

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Jeffery, Susan and John Greyling go to stay with their grandparents, who are being forced to sell the family home, which has been in the family for generations, because they can no longer afford to maintain it. The children discover a hidden map showing the whereabouts of the family treasure, which had been lost for many years, and if they can find the treasure, their grandparents will not have to sell the house. But there is already a potential buyer, Mr Potts, who is also after the treasure, and is determined to get the map from the children.

I can’t remember when or where I first read the book, but I must have been about 9 or 10 years old, and it was a copy that belonged to someone elee, so I wasn’t able to re-read it. Jeffery, the eldest of the children, made a big impression on me — so much so that when I wrote a children’s novel of my own many years later (Of wheels and witches), I borrowed his name, and something of what I had imagined his character to be.

On rereading it as an adult, more than sixty years later, I am struck by different things. I can see why there was a period when librarians didn’t like Enid Blyton. There are some things about her style that I found annoying as an adult, though as a child I didn’t notice them. There is an over use of exclamation marks. The children are always telling each other how clever they are and exclaiming about the obvious. There is the usual Enid Blyton food porn. This gives the impression that Enid Blyton is writing down to children, and I was struck by the contrast with, say, the Harry Potter books, where the style is so much better.

susanBut after the first couple of chapters either the style improves, or else one gets caught up in the story so that the defects are less noticiable. There are a few reminders of how society has changed since the book was first written, assumptions about gender roles, for example. The children discover an abandoned summer house, and when they decide to clean it up, “Susan took charge of the cleaning, because she was the girl.” But at least her brothers helped her.

It’s a simple story with a simple plot, but still an enjoyable read after all these years.

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What’s really going on in Ukraine?

For the last year or more, Ukraine has been descending into violence. This week, we are told, a group of leaders are meeting in Belarus to try to find a peaceful solution to the problems, but nobody seems very hopeful that a solution that all interested parties can agree on can be found. Leaders locked in Minsk talks on Ukraine ceasefire | World news | The Guardian:

Russian, Ukrainian, German and French officials, as well as separatist leaders and officials from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OECD) are locked in talks in Minsk trying to smooth the way for a summit deal leading to the demilitarisation of eastern Ukraine.

The leaders of the four countries are expected to meet in the Belarusian capital on Wednesday in an attempt to secure a ceasefire in the region, where pro-Russia separatists have been expanding the territory under their control in recent weeks.

Fighting raged in east Ukraine on Tuesday as both sides tried to make territorial gains before the proposed summit, which is being billed as a last chance to prevent the conflict from spiralling out of control.

It would be nice if they could find a peaceful solution, but I doubt that they will, because no one really seems to want one. And it is also very difficult to know what is really happening there, because most of the media reports one reads are tendentious and biased to one side or the other, so one has to read between the lines, and reading between the lines is often a misreading.

So here is the picture I have.

It is probably simplistic, and possibly wildly inaccurate, but I have no way of knowing, because the news media can’t be trusted.

I tend to interpret what is happening in Ukraine in the light of Samuel Huntington’s Clash of Civilizations theory, because it seems to have predicted such clashes with uncanny accuracy, and what is happening in Ukraine seems to be almost a paradigm case.

Huntington identified nine civilizations, and compared the boundaries between them with the geological fault lines between tectonic plates. He predicted that most post-Cold War conflicts would take place along these fault lines, and that when they did, the more powerful countries in the civilizations would tend to be drawn into the conflict, and often use a local conflict on the fault line as a proxy for larger civilisational conflicts.

Civilizations and theoir boundaries, according to Huntington

Civilizations and their boundaries, according to Huntington (1996)

There is one inaccuracy in the map, however. According to Huntington’s theory, the fault line between the Western and the Orthodox civilizations should run right through the middle of Ukraine, though the map does not show that clearly.

In Western Ukraine Ukrainian nationalism is stronger, and more people speak the Ukrainian language (as opposed to Russian). In the past it was ruled by Poland and the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and there were significant minorities of Poles and other peoples. In much of Western Ukraine the Roman Catholic Church was strong, either in its Latin form, or in its Eastern Rite (Uniate) form. These characteristics tend to put it into Huntington’s Western Civilization.

Eastern Ukraine, by contrast, has many people who speak Russian in preference to Ukrainian, and the strongest church is the Orthodox Church, linked to the Patriarchate of Moscow. It was never ruled by Western empires, except briefly, in the 1940s, by the German Third Reich.  This tends to put it into Huntington’s Orthodox Civilization.

The differences between east and west tend to shade off towards the centre of the country with a more mixed popularion. Eastern and Western Ukraine have tended to support different political parties, though all seem to have been characterised by corruption. The parties supported by western Ukrainians have tended to be supported by Western Europe, and have tended to favour trade and cultural links with Western Europe. The partes supported by eastern Ukrainians have tended to be supported by Russia, and to favour trade and cultural links with Russia.

Here’s my take on it:

It would be in the interests of a stable, free and prosperous Ukraine if there could be a balance between the interests of east and west, so that one would not dominate or threaten to dominate the other.

The present crisis started when President Viktor Yanukovych (whose support was mostly in the east) cancelled a proposed trade agreement with the European Union (EU) and proposed making one with Russia instead. Those in favour of closer ties with the West protested, initially in the main square in the capital Kiev, but also in other centres as well. The protests became increasingly violent, with violence being used by some protesters and the police. It was at this point that several clergy and monks were seen standing between protesters and the police, praying for peace.

Clergy and monks pray as they stand between demonstrators and riot police in Kiev

Clergy and monks pray as they stand between demonstrators and riot police in Kiev

On 21 February 2014 President Yanukovych fled from the capital, perhaps fearing a coup, and the following day the Ukrainian parliament voted to depose him (unconstitutionally, and apparently with unseemly haste). Russia gave asylum to Yanukovych, and said that his deposition was a coup, and said it would protect Russian speakers in Ukraine; the West supported Yanukovych’s opponents, and the pressure from these outside interests gave it all the marks of a classic clash of civilizations.

And now some of the eastern parts of the country want independence, and this has developed into a civil war, which is also, because of the backers of each side, a proxy war in the clash of civilizations.

If there is to be any peace in Ukraine, then it’s time for the big boys to back off, and not to back one side or the other, but simply to back peace. In other words, the civilisational leaders must stop playing a zero sum game, and must help the Ukrainians to look for a win-win solution. I suspect that the current talks will fail because the participants are not looking for peace, but victory, which would be the conclusion of trade agreements that would favour one side and not the other — in other words, a zero-sum game. But I pray that it is not so, and that there will be at leasst a glimmer of sanity.

Now my view may be ridiculously simplistic, and I have been assured by one blogger that it is based on totally wrong premises, and that there are no differences or differences of opinion between Eastern and Western Ukrainians, and they would all live together in perfect peace and harmony and unanimity if it weren’t for the evil Russians, or rather, one Russian in particular, the evil Putin.

Well, not having been to Ukraine myself, I’m in no position to refute it, but I do regard it with a great deal of scepticism, because everything I’ve read about the history of the region indicates that there is no unanimity between Eastern and Western Ukraine, though I do think they might do a better job of sorting out their problems among themselves if they weren’t being egged on by Russia and the West.

So I reject that interpretation, and still haven’t seen a better one than the one I have given above. Does anyone else have one that isn’t driven by blind nationalism or civilizational loyalty?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The river of no return (book review)

The River of No ReturnThe River of No Return by Bee Ridgway

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A rather strange and quite enjoyable book, which I might have given a higher rating were it not for a few flaws. Some people facing almost certain certain death, usually in battle, have a mysterious ability to jump forward in time, and in their new time they are welcomed by the Guild, an organisation of time travellers that helps them to fit in to their new environment.

In some ways the book is reminiscent of The time traveler’s wife, except that a lot more people are able to travel in time. The story is interesting and the plot is quite complex, but reaches a point where there seem to be too many coincidences. And then one starts expecting even more coincidences, and trying to guess what will happen next. One lesson that the Guild teaches new arrivals is that there is no return, either to the time or place that they came from, but then Nicholas Davenant, an English nobleman who disappeared in 1812, in a battle in the Napoleonic wars, and was translated to the early 21st century in the USA, is asked by the Guild to return to his own time and place, because of problens with another mysterious group called the Ofan.

The book raises all kinds of expectations about what is going to happen, and that there may be some explanation of some of the plot twists, but in the end the story ends rather abruptly, with all kinds of loose ends with no explanations at all.

But Bee Ridgway has promised a sequel, so maybe this is a cliff-hanger technique to get people to buy the next book.

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School suspends pupil for pretending he had hobbit ring of power

A few days ago there was a story being shared on Facebook about a school that had suspended a nine-year-old pupil for pretending that he had the hobbit “ring of power” School Suspends 9-Year-Old For Pretending He Had Hobbit ‘Ring of Power’:

Aiden Steward had just watched the third Hobbit movie with his family and he wanted to pretend that he had a ring that could make people disappear, just like Bilbo Baggins. But when he brought the toy ring to school, it ended up getting him suspended.

The ring he brought may not have been the true ring of power, but the Kermit, Texas, school where he attended said the pretend Tolkien “one ring” was used in a “threat” against a classmate.

I shared the story too, and commented that it seemed to be yet another example of zemblanity in education — zemblanity being the opposity of serendipity. Serendipity is the knack of making happy, fortunate and unexpected discoveries by accident. Zemblanity is the facility for making unhappy, unfortunate and expected discoveries by design, and seems to characterise much education.

aidenA blogging friend, Yvonne Aburrow, commented “I think the kid kind of missed Tolkien’s point about the Ring, though, but to be fair, he is very young, and will probably get it when he reads LoTR.

Now I don’t know about the films, but in the book (The Hobbit) the history of the ring is unknown to Bilbo, and the only properties known to him are that it makes the wearer invisible, and the not fully appreciated one that it makes the holder possessive. So if the kid was pretending to have that ring it did not necessarily mean that he had ambitions to rule the entire world, and so the school was probably overreacting.

oneringAfter his adventure was over, Bilbo used the ring mainly to hide from unwanted and tiresome visitors, until he staged his spectacular disappearing trick on his eleventy-first birthday. And it was only then that Gandalf revealed to Bilbo and Frodo that there was a great deal more to the ring than invisibility.

And, in thinking about this, I think there is more to this story than just zemblanity in education suppressing the imagination of kids.

We are never told exactly what the ring can do, apart from conferring invisibility on the wearer and possessiveness on the holder. But we are told that what the Dark Lord fears is that some mighty one will get hold of it and come wielding the ring to destroy his power and rule in his place, and the last thing that he suspects are that those who have the ring will try to destroy it.

When Aiden told a student that he could make him disappear since the plastic ring was forged in fictional Middle Earth’s Mount Doom, the school accused him of “threats of violence” against classmates.

“It sounded unbelievable,” Aiden’s father, Jason Steward, said in an interview with the Daily News. But Jason said his son “didn’t mean anything by it.”

He explained that their family had just watched “The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies” that week, and the elementary school boy was just pretending he had a ring like in the movie.

And then I recalled that when I was 7 years old, I was given a policeman kit for my birthday. I forget what else it contained, but there was a truncheon and a pair of handcuffs. The handcuffs actually worked, after a fashion, and were obviously intended for use in games of cops and crooks.

Steve Hayes aged 7

Steve Hayes aged 7

I was staying with an 8-year-old cousin at the time, and it appeared to us a good idea to make use of the equipment in our games, and to that end we abducted a younger kid, handcuffed him, and told him we were arresting him and taking him to the police station, which was about a mile away down a rural gravel road, and we had got a good way down the road before we took him back home and released him. He told his parents what had happened, and they told our parents, who ticked us off for it. Perhaps if we had been at school we would have more than just a ticking off, we might have got a suspension, and it would have been deserved.

Gollum referred to the ring as his “birthday present”, and my birthday present was a policeman outfit, a symbol of authority. And once in possession of this symbol of authority, my cousin and I behaved in an authoritarian way. We used, or misused, this symbol of authority to terrorise a younger child.

The Greek word for authority is exousia (ἐξουσία), and it appears in the New Testament in several places. Pilate had ἐξουσία to release Jesus or crucify him. Jesus had ἐξουσία to cast out demons. In Ephesians 6:12 St Paul says our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against “principalities and powers” (ἀρχάς, πρὸς τὰς ἐξουσίας), which may also be translated as rulers and authorities.

Rulers and authorities, or, if you prefer, principalities and powers, are among the orders of the celestial hierarchy, the angelic ranks. But power, when misused, becomes demonic and evil. The power bearers, the flesh and blood, can become enslaved to the rule and authority that they bear, as my cousin and I became briefly enslaved to a symbol of power, even though it was merely a child’s toy, and used it as an instrument to enslave another.

Power can be used to enslave or set free, to liberate or to oppress, but the temptation is always to become addicted to power, to seek it for its own sake, and this is what Tolkien’s “ring of power” symbolises.

The action of Kermit Elementary School in suspending a pupil for pretending to have the ring of power may indeed have been an instance of zemblanity in education, but on the other hand, children’s games are not always innocent.

 

 

The Lake of Dreams (book review)

The Lake Of DreamsThe Lake Of Dreams by Kim Edwards

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

A rather slow-moving book that couldn’t seem to make up its mind what genre it was. I read the blurb, and it seemed to be about a family history mystery, and I enjoy reading such books, but the theme wasn’t handled very well. Lucy Jarrett leaves her boyfriend in earthquake-ridden Japan and goes home to the Lake of Dreams in New York to visit her family. She discovers some old papers that suggest that she had some relations she had not known about, and sets out to discover more about them, and they seem to be connected with some stained-glass windows in an abandoned chapel.

So far, so good, except that the story moves painfully slowly, and we are not told much about the family history that he did know, so the startling revelations are less than astartling, and at times in seems to drop into stream-of-consciousness stuff like Virginia Woolf or James Joyce, with the same dream told three times over, and thoughts repeated again and again, so that in just about every chapter I wanted to say “Get on with the story, for crying in a bucket.” Other authors seem to handle the stream-of-consciousness stuff quite well, but in this book it just gets boring,

Much of the earlier part is told in the form of letters of a mother written to her young daughter, whom she has had to leave in the care of relatives. The letters seem not to have been sent, and in any case, the daughter would have been too young to read them. They were also highly unconvincing. I can’t imagine a mother writing to her pre-teen daughter in 1912 or 1913 about viruses and human interfaces.

This edition didn’t have a cover illustration on Good Reads. That’s OK, because the generic cover expresses what I felt about the book.

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On rewriting history and the clash of civilizations

This week marked the 70th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi concentration camp at Auchwitz, and it has been marked by commemorative events, speeches by political leaders, articles about the Holocaust and the like.

Among these was a speech by Russian President Vladimir Putin, Putin: Those who rewrite history attempt to hide own disgrace. “The Russian president has blasted attempts to rewrite the history of WWII and hide the crimes of Nazism as inadmissible and immoral, adding that people who do this often try to distract attention from their nations’ collaboration with Hitler.”

“Direct attempts to silence history, to distort and rewrite history are inadmissible and immoral. Behind these attempts often lies the desire to hide one’s own disgrace, the disgrace of cowardice, hypocrisy and treachery, the intent to justify the direct or indirect collaboration with Nazism,” the Russian leader stated.

“In places where they imprint the ideas of ethnic and moral supremacy into people’s heads, where they destroy or scoff at human values, civilization is being quickly and inevitably replaced by barbarity,” Putin noted, adding that the process is often accompanied with war and aggression.

Well, one can’t cavil at those sentiments, and I wouldn’t want to, but the problem is the subtext. All historical writing carries what one historian called “the burden of the present”, and this is no exception. If you want to understand Putin’s words, you must read them in context, and the context is the present, and relations between Russia and Ukraine.

President Vladimir Putin and Russia's chief rabbi Berl Lazar light the candles at the ceremony commemorating the Holocaust victims (RIA Novosti / Alexey Nikolsky)

Putin is talking about the past, but in the present there is a fight going on, and Putin has a dog in that fight, and his words need to be interpreted in that light. In his words he is having a dig at Ukraine, which, when occupied by the Nazis in WWII, in some places welcomed the occupiers and collaborated with them, including collaboration in the Holocaust.

And in this he has a point, as this article shows: How the world teaches the Holocaust – or ignores it.

Ukraine and Norway are two European countries where the Holocaust is not explicitly taight in school history textbooks

Ukraine and Norway are two European countries where the Holocaust is not explicitly taight in school history textbooks

So what Putin is apparently implying about Ukraine might be true, but it is nevertheless disingenuous.

I was recently told by a Ukrainian nationalist that I “supported Putin” because I referred to a civil war in Ukraine. I suppose that in the nationalist worldview anything less than enthusiastic support must mean that one sides with the enemy.

But this article illustrates what so many people seem to be at pains to deny: that there is a clash of civilizations. The conflict in Ukraine bears out, with uncanny accuracy, what Samuel Huntington wrote about “the clash of civilizations” twenty years ago.

Huntington pointed out that where a civil war took place entirely within a civilization, it would be less likely to become a clash of civilizations. The civil wars in Rwanda and Burundi 20 years ago bear this out.

But where the “fault lines” between civilisations run through a country, as they do in Ukraine, then such a civil war is likely to become a proxy war for the wider civilizations, and others become involved. The fact that most of much of the “news” about the Ukraine conflict in the Western media was composed of attacks by Western politicians on Putin bears this out. And this article on Putin’s speech about historical revisionism bears it out too, because Putin is clearly using it to have a dig at the Ukrainian leaders.

So Huntington’s “clash of civilizations” theory is being demonstrated every day, not merely by actual violence, but by the media spin put on events, and even the denialists sometimes show by their very denials that it is true.

 

 

Fantasic creatures, evocative houses

In 1969 I often used to drive from Durban up the North Coast Road to Tongaat Beach and beyond. On the way I passed a rather strange symmetrical house among the pine trees, between the road and the beach. The house kept drawing my attention, partly because of its symmetry, partly because of its location, and partly because it reminded me of a film I had seen.

House at Desainagar

House at Desainagar

It was in a place called Desainagar, at least that whas what was on the sign on the road that seemed to lead to it. I often thought of stopping to take a photo of it, but the road was then the N2 highway, with a lot of traffic in two lanes desperately trying to overtake along the only straight stretch for a long way on each side, so I never did.

The house reminded me of a film I had seen a couple of years before on Dutch TV. It was in French, with Dutch subtitles, so I couldn’t follow it very well. The film was called Les Créatures, and was set in a place on the seaside, and that was what the house reminded me of.

The film started off with a bloke and his wife driving in a car, and they had an accident which left the wife dumb, and they lived alone in a house in the woods. The first part was rather puzzling, but it became clearer when they discovered
another man who had built a machine that could control people’s lives and influence them for good or evil, and he prefers to influence them for evil. It seemed to be a kind of parable on manipulative relationships.

In the late 1970s and early 1980s we lived in Melmoth in Zululand, and passed that way again whenever we visited Durban. Val said that she found the house as fascinating as I did, but it was even busier than it had been ten years earlier, so we still did not stop to take photos of it. It was then painted a light green, which matched the trees.

A couple of years ago we passed Desainagar again on holiday, and were sad to see that the house was abandoned, empty and vandalised. The trees had all been chopped down too, so that the house was barely recognisable.

Then a couple of weeks ago someone posted a link on Facebook to an article on the house, which had some of the pictures we had never taken. And it seems that the trees that we had thought were pine trees were actually casuarina trees. It was interesting to read something of the history of the house, but sad to see it vandalised. It would have made a good setting for a fantasy novel or film along the lines of Les Créatures.

 

Charlie Hebdo, polarisation, Quakers, Orthodox

The Charlie Hebdo murders have sparked off widely-differing reactions around the world, and ripples of solidarity and hostility that go way beyond the original event.

It seems that people are being friended and unfriended on the basis of Je suis Charlie and Je ne suis pas Charlie. I had two such opposite reactions to one of my blog posts on the subject.

A few days ago I posted a blog article Je ne suis pas Charlie.

One person posted a comment saying

Thank you Steve for your post. It has given me courage to post my own views on Facebook which I copy below. On Facebook, I can be found as Brigid O’Carroll Walsh. I am also interested in your comments, Steve, about modernity and fundamentalism and think that this is an idea well worth exploring. Anyway, thank you and here is what I said on Facebook:

Dear Facebookies, All the stuff I am reading about the protests of the dreadful killings in France seems to me to leave so much unsaid. My own view, I think, is a minority view and I did not want to air it because I fear a thoughtless howling down. However, this post by my oldest internet friend, Steve Hayes, has given me courage.

Another, an old friend I have known for nearly 50 years, not only online but also face-to-face, wrote in a very different vein, on Facebook:

Steve Hayes, I find your whole attitude offensive in the face of such sad events. I think you are being deliberately bloody-minded. You are very close to being unfriended so please keep your comments on this issue to yourself from now on, or at least don’t post them on my page.

So the events of last week have certainly polarised people, and seem to have lost me an old friend, which makes me very sad.

And that would be the end of my sad story, but for one thing that strikes me as curious. Both the friends who reacted in such very different ways are Quakers, and I wondered about other Quakers’ views. Someone posted some links in a comment on  my encouraging/offending blog post, which included this one from a Quaker. I find myself in broad agreement with it.

QuakersI have quite a number of Quaker friends, including some linked on Facebook, but not many of them have posted anything directly on this issue. But some of those who have have seemed to wonder how one can do peacemaking in this kind of situation.

Most of us are a long way from Paris, and it is impractical to do anything there, but the division seems to have spread so widely that it would be worsh looking to see what it is that is causing it. How is it that two Quakers can have such radically different views?

One thing that strikes me is that it could be a misunderstanding, and that instead of “unfriending” and breaking off relations in other ways, we should be talking through our differences. Modern technology has made communication much easier in many ways. This should, in theory, make it easier to discuss and resolve differences, clear up misunderstandings etc.

But very often it has the opposite effect. If you had a friend on another continent before about 1990, you could send one another Christmas cards once a year, and not be aware of any fundamental differences of opinion. Modern communications technology makes it more obvi0us and immediate. In some ways, ignorance was bliss. As one person put it, we live in an  age of communicati0n without community.

So one of the challenges of peacemaking and peacebuilding is to see how we can use the advances in communications technology to build community, and try to reduce misunderstandings.

I’m not a Quaker, but an Orthodox Christian, and some see the two as very far apart. Fr Alexander Schmemann, an Orthodox theologian of the last century, told of attending an ecumenical conference as an Orthodox delegate. One of the organisers offered to seat him with the “high church” group — Roman Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans and the like. He saw this as the organisers puting him in a box of their own making, and he said Why not with the Quakers? They share our emphasis on the Holy Spirit?

Fr Alexander went on to say:

The important fact of Orthodox participation in the ecumenical movement and in the encounter – after so many centuries of almost total separation – between Orthodox and the West is precisely that the Orthodox were not given a choice; that from the very beginning they were assigned, not only seats at a certain place, role and function within the ecumenical movement. These ‘assignments’ were based onWestern theological and ecclesiological presuppositions and categories, and they reflected the purely Western origin of the ecumenical idea itself. We joined a movement, entered a debate, took part in a search whose basic terms of reference were already defined and taken for granted. Thus, even before we could realize it,we were caught up in the essentially Western dichotomies – Catholic versus Protestant, horizontal versus vertical, authority versus freedom, hierarchical versus congregational – and we were made into representatives and bearers of attitudes and positions, which we hardly recognized as ours, and which were deeply alien to our tradition. All of this was due not to any Machiavellian conspiracy or ill will, but precisely to the main and all-embracing Western presupposition that the Western experience, theological categories and thought forms are universal and therefore constitute the self-evident framework and terms of reference for the entire ecumenical endeavor

And perhaps that illustrates the kind of assumptions we make about each other, that leads to miscommunication, misunderstanding, and, sometimes, hostility.

I think that is one of the obstacles to attempts at peacemaking. And perhaps it is something that Quakers and the Orthodox Peace Fellowship could work on together.

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