This is Not the Enemy

July 10, 2008

The other day, I was wandering around the British Museum, and I happened across the Islamic Art exhibition, which is tucked into one of the building’s many discreet corners.

I happen to have a fondness for Islamic art; as a rule, it tends to stay away from visual representations of individuals, and rather, goes towards “glorification of the Holy Word”, namely the text of the Qu’ran. This can take many spectacular forms, particularly in terms of calligraphy and in beautifully ornate mosaics which decorate mosques from London all the way to Indonesia.

In the middle of the exhibition, there is a small Persian drinking vessel from the 13th century, which has a poem painted in gold letters on its side. My memory of the poem is not complete, but the jist of it goes: “I am writing these words while in the desert, separated from my love. I write this so that as she drinks of this vessel, she will take pity on me and remember me.”

This gentle, if somewhat maudlin, sentiment harks back to an Islam which was noted for public lighting and great libraries, the spread of algebra, and the investigation of medicine, science and philosophy. It echoes broadly with the refined thoughts of Shah Wali Allah, an Indian Muslim thinker in the 18th century, who once advised kings, “the bonds of love are stronger than the bonds of iron”.

Move forward by about three hundred years and here we are, the day after Iran’s military tested a missile that could hit Israel. Hossein Salami, the head of the air force wing of Iran’s Revolutionary Guard said, “Our hands are always on the trigger and our missiles are ready for launch.”

How did we get from there to here? We can dismiss Islam as being at the root of the problem. After all, the closer in history one gets to Muhammad, the more we gravitate towards the civilising impulses of Islam being at the fore. Yes, there have always been extremists, much the same as in any other religion; but it’s clear that the likes of Salami are not approaching genuine Islam, nor replicating its features from earlier eras.

What is it then? Where does did the impulse to destroy on a mass scale originate? The likely answer has more to do with modern Europe than it does with Islam.

The idea that whole groups of people need to be systemically destroyed is a bastard child of the twentieth century, and in particular, Europe. It was not Muslims who built the first concentration camps. It was not Muslims who came up with the idea of “liquidating the kulaks (rich peasants) as a class”. When Saladin recaptured Jerusalem, he did not kill the Christians and Jews, rather, he came to an agreement with them in order to maintain normal life as closely as possible. Going further back, Umar, one of the “Rightly Guided Caliphs”, politely refused an invitation from the Christian Patriarch of Jerusalem to pray with his flock, lest Muslims think they had a right to use their church.

In reality, destroying groups of people for who they are arose from the fever swamps of radical European politics, both on the far right or far left. The likes of Osama bin Laden are merely the Middle Eastern offspring of this ideology, twisted and reinterpreted to fit into their individual context in order to seem authentic. This ideology is no more Islam than Communism or Fascism is Christian.

The underlying structure upon which it is based contains a great deal of intellectual laziness: if we kill the Jews, kulaks or infidels, the world will be perfect, the philosophy states. This totally contravenes the original idea of jihad, namely that it was the “struggle to be human”, and that fight began with oneself. Externalising the struggle to people one doesn’t even know is symptomatic of being unable or unwilling to accept the harder task of internal change, which remains at the critical root of change in the world around us. It is a cop out, rather, a symptom of psychological dissonance: one’s lack of virtue justified by the presence of a particular group, and thus brutality towards that group is justified to create the conditions of virtue.

It’s difficult to tell what the individual Iranians are thinking, which is much more interesting than what the headbangers in their government has to say: opinion polls tend to be a scarce commodity there. Iranians, generally speaking, tend to be proud of their heritage and to the contributions to world civilisation that have come from the Persian Empire and its successors; the rhetoric from the Revolutionary Guard should be discordant to those who are mindful of this past. Regardless, they are not the enemy, and the faith they represent is not the enemy; the enemy, as ever, are the stupid and the violent, who believe the world’s salvation comes from its continued bathing in both stupidity and violence. We’ve had the nightmare of the twentieth century to prove this wrong; it would be a terrible shame if the lesson had to be repeated.

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The Exploding Toilet of the Modern Media

July 8, 2008

Slavoj Zizek, the philosopher, supposedly said that visiting the cinema was rather like watching a toilet bowl in anticipation of it exploding excrement at the viewer. When I first heard this, I took this as just another provocative statement from him, one of his little ways to shock anyone listening into thinking about the world around them. Furthermore, it is certainly true that there is an enormous amount of material that is worth as much as excreta now playing at our local movie theatres.

However, if we move on in our thinking about what is “excretal” from being merely bad to being degraded, it’s clear that Zizek had a point which extends to today’s newspapers.

A fundamental question that should generally be asked is – “what is the matter?” What’s bothering us? On an empirical level, things are bad. There is no getting away from the facts: inflation, recession and environmental destruction are all rampant. Our politicians appear to be impotent in the face of these challenges: the best that Gordon Brown could do was suggest that people at home stop buying so much food…just before tucking into a 19 course lunch and dinner at a summit in Japan, washed down with fine wine. However, serious stories are not the only ones in evidence today: the newspapers have been rocked by a double barrelled set of divorce stories, one coming from Alex Rodriguez, a player for the New York Yankees, who has been accused of infidelity. The other case involves former “supermodel”, Christie Brinkley.

The particulars of both stories are simultaneously sordid and uninteresting; if one cares to read further, there are plenty of news sources to consult, which is precisely the point. “What is the matter?” is reduced to the personal lives of niche celebrities. What makes both distinctly American cases truly bizarre is that newspapers in Britain felt obliged to comment on them as well; the bowl’s overflow apparently crosses oceans.

First, the Times of London, venerable and ancient, commented on the Rodriguez case, even though most Times readers have only the slightest possible knowledge of baseball, let alone any interest in its personalities. All right, supposedly Madonna is somehow embroiled in this, but her residency in Britain is incidental, not central to the case.

More typically, the Daily Mail, always a strange melange of hard right Islamophobia, celebrity gossip and diet tips, reported on the Brinkley case. Presumably it was in memory of her blissfully silent performance in the video to “Uptown Girl”: they thought it best to report on how Miss Brinkley – as she presumably will shortly be again – had not gone out on a date in two years. Whether she was using the Mail as an extended personals column is unclear; I suggest she was ill advised to use the Mail for that purpose, as its readers tend not to be in her target socio-economic group.

The “exploding toilet” in both instances is obvious: people whose lives are enriched with enough wealth to supposedly correct any blemishes and imperfections in the course of life are found to be vulnerable, needy, greedy, lascivious and deceitful. We needed to know this?

Apparently, we do. Otherwise newspapers of wildly varying reputations would not feel the need to “let the pipes burst”. However, if we accept the Freudian thesis that symptoms are messages sent by the subconscious, we should take heed of what this is saying about our society.

It may be saying that we are obsessed with tearing down our icons. There is certain truth in this: who is happier today, the woman with a bit of cellulite and a run in her stockings who has had the same husband for twenty years, or Ms. Brinkley? It depends of course, but there is a case to be made that the woman with the holier than other stockings is more likely to be settled in her relationship, which is a good context for contentment.

It may be saying that we are intrigued by sex. Of course. Even Neanderthal tabloids drawn on cave walls featured large breasted women from time to time; that aspect has not evolved in thousands of years, albeit now the models have “Phew Wot A Scorcher” appended as a caption. Scandals such as this show that people who appear as impervious as marble statues surrender to the indignities of being human, tender or sordid as they may be.

However, it may also be saying that we simply don’t want to think about something more serious. The aforementioned problems of rising prices, declining economic growth and the earth being steadily poisoned are not disappearing. Paying attention to this sort of ephemera is rather like altering the end of Doctor Strangelove to include Slim Pickens reading a comic book as he rides the atomic bomb to certain death.

To be resolutely fair, there are newspapers which have eschewed triviality. These, however, tend to be minority journals, not mainstream ones. Few can escape the lure of broadcasting excreta, nor perhaps, do they have the necessary desire. A disease that the patient does not wish to be cured, cannot be cured; as such it is untreatable, and unlikely to fade.

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Full Wallets, Impoverished Souls

July 2, 2008

In addition to studying towards my Phd, I work in the technology industry as a medium-level manager. My speciality is in managing teams that develop websites. It’s a reasonable job, it pays the bills, and allows me sufficient space for me to do my academic work: however as Legion said in Stephen King’s “Storm of the Century”, “Hell is repetition”. I do keep seeing the same situation repeated over and over, and across companies: there are always the same agendas, the same politics, and the same loud hiss of inflating egos.

The fact that I’ve plucked this particular string to near breaking point does give me a certain freedom. I’m not going to become a director, nor do I want to be. I’d have to lie and pretend bad decisions are good ones far too often in order to get to that level. I’d also have to flatter egos I have no interest in flattering. I get reminded of my revulsion often: I sit at senior level meetings and watch the resulting scrum of directors climbing over each other, trying to make each other look bad in the eyes of the company’s owner, and feel a certain sense of detachment as a result.

An old song sung by Tommies after the First World War often springs to mind as I watch this spectacle:

We fought the war / What was it for? / What was it for?

The managers who are so desperately trying to kill each other are doing it not for some great or noble cause, they’re doing it so they can be uber Senior Director of this and that, in a company that makes obscure widgets in Upper Gobshite, Berkshire. The winners may get a corner office. They may be able to afford a BMW. The mortgage may rest a bit easier on their shoulders. But is it worth engaging in plots worthy of medieval Venice? Is it worth the resulting turbulence in the lives of those who work for both the winners and the losers of this week’s intrigue?

The truth is that this behaviour is the result of a very simple problem: people have problems accepting the idea that they are but a grain of sand in a much wider universe. Puffed up with pride, ego and consumerism, we all are put into a situation where we are encouraged to believe that we are the fixed point around which the world revolves. Advertisements tell us what luxuries we deserve. Magazines tell us how to look like top models. The media encourages the idea that we too can be celebrities. Life should be perfect, is the message. We also envy those celebrities who supposedly have enough money and fame to make life perfect, and laugh at them when they fall: note the attention paid to Amy Winehouse. It’s no wonder that management is trying to kill each other, lurking in the corners of boardrooms with rhetorical daggers – each of them isn’t the manager of the widget production line, they’re Richard III, the President of the United States or Jade Goody.

It’s at this point that I should mention my relative insignificance. I am by no means anything near a model or celebrity. I am unlikely to be wealthy or famous: if some people read the books I have produced and will produce, I will be happy. I am glad that I have had the chance to improve some things for those who have worked for me. My hopes revolve around finding a place at a university to teach and to perhaps leave a legacy of having helped train some talented writers. That said, it is likely that my own presence will be a footnote on the cosmic ledger. But what I can say for my life, is that I am doing my utmost to avoid doing damage to the world around me. It’s a drop in the ocean, but at least it’s mine.

I do wonder how many problems we are facing now come from leading the sort of life that churns with ambition, pretention and ego centricity. The medieval Venetians of the boardroom are likely to grab as much as possible, leaving the price to be paid by other people. It is not just poisoning the morals upon which civilised behaviour is based, this is destroying the planet: if we all just take, and keep taking, eventually there will be nothing left to grab.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting a comfortable life. There is something deeply wrong with the idea that we can all achieve magnitude in consequence and prosperity, and that we actually deserve such accolades. Policy likely cannot fix this problem; it is a philosophical, moral attitude, which sadly has been ignored in many environmental prescriptions, because it is so difficult to fix. Perhaps the answer lies in the word “sustainability”, the way things are running now cannot be sustained, certainly. But neither can the human soul.

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Hey, Good Lookin’

July 1, 2008

Honda’s hydrogen fuel-cell powered FCX Clarity is due to debut in the United States this month. Its sole emission is water vapour.

While not all the kinks in it have been worked out, it looks promising – here’s a road test:

First Drive: 2009 Honda FCX Clarity

Refuelling is a problem at the moment, as there aren’t too many gas stations equipped with hydrogen: however as the chairman of Honda reportedly said, there weren’t too many places to get petrol when the Model T first appeared either.

The FCX Clarity bears another similarity to the Model T in terms of options: you can get it in any colour you like so long as it’s red.

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Bill Gates: Enemy of the Earth

July 1, 2008

For those who have been on holiday (and thus purposefully out of the loop) or living in a remote corner of the world untouched by the media, the owner and founder of Microsoft, Bill Gates, has retired.

Some of the publicity surrounding his retirement has been amusing: I enjoyed the spectacle of a BBC reporter visiting him and asking if his computer ever froze. Some of it has been ridiculous: the idea that he was some uber-geek is plainly daft. His first great success, MS DOS, was not created by him: he merely bought it, and sold it on to IBM. Some of it has been honest: statements made that Windows would not have come about without Apple’s Mac inventing the Graphical User Interface are entirely true. However, all of the coverage I’ve seen has ignored the environmental impact that Microsoft has had, particularly in recent years.

We don’t tend to think of software having an ecological dimension. When we worry about carbon emissions, there is a propensity to envisage old-fashioned, heavy industry with large factories spewing smoke into the atmosphere. Alternatively, there is a tendency to imagine the spectacle of automobiles idling in traffic, the rippling haze of emissions drifting into a smog of poisons which is increasingly strangling the planet. Software, sitting in a DVD case in a local store, or as a link on a website, seems unthreatening in comparison.

However, software matters, particularly if it reinforces the consumptive habits that create further carbon emissions. Microsoft is guilty of locking us into a deadly cycle which does precisely that.

Everyone who owns a Windows machine is by now familiar with the pattern: one buys a PC. It runs adequately for a while, but patches eventually bog the machine down. Microsoft offers a new operating system, for which one’s existing machine is entirely unsuited and too underpowered to handle. The old PC is thrown out, a new one is bought, and the cycle begins again.

The average user may moan about the cost involved, but Microsoft’s tactics of pushing out the old operating system and replacing it with the new means that the user has little choice. Rapid consumption and disposal, in order to maintain one’s relative position in the realm of technology, is essentially forced on the PC owning public. Let’s be clear about the costs: there is the carbon impact in producing the metals, silicon and plastics. There are the transport costs from Asia (at least for components). There are the disposal costs for the old units. There are the energy costs for ever more power hungry processors, graphics cards and motherboards. Whereas the auto industry is looking at new ways to reduce consumption, the PC industry is apparently rampaging in the opposite direction.

Having said all this, what does the user get in return for paying the aforementioned financial and ecological pricetag? The answer is: not much. Vista’s appearance was enhanced, but there are few anecdotal indications that increased performance or stability has been the result. Vista has been such a damp squib that Microsoft executives are already talking up the mythical “Windows 7”. Furthermore, the Windows approach, fundamental to requiring the ever more powerful machines, has a flaw at its heart: bundling everything into the kernel, the heart of the operating system, means that maintaining the stability of that operating system is an ever more complicated task as new features are added.

Fortunately, the Open Source movement has more ecologically sound alternatives. This website was built using a 5 year old laptop running Ubuntu Linux and exclusively Open Source tools. Furthermore, Firefox 3, Opera 9.50: both the latest and greatest browsers, run with no difficulty. Nor does the Microsoft Office equivalent, OpenOffice 2.4, which ironically looks more like the old, familiar Microsoft Office than Office 2007 does. It is a clear, albeit personal, example of advanced software not necessarily requiring advanced hardware to run it. Progress in both fields can happen independently, and can occur in a context in which ecological impacts are minimised.

Bill Gates is apparently now going to spend most of his time running his charitable foundation. This foundation is supposed spread some of his ill gotten gains to those in need. There is so far no indication that he has quite the same impulses as Andrew Carnegie, who had such a loathing of money that it made him physically sick to handle it, and who created institutions as wide ranging as the Carnegie Foundation, Carnegie Mellon University and Carnegie Hall. Hopefully, however, Gates will put something back into helping those he has hurt by insisting on his unsustainable model. It would have been much better, however, if he had not caused the harm in the first place.

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An “Anti-Enjoyment” Political Campaign

June 26, 2008

This is perhaps one of the few anti-“jouissance” political broadcasts in history:

John Cleese SDP/Liberal Alliance political broadcast 1987

John Cleese offered to help Obama; perhaps he can construct a similar ad campaign based on the idea that you can either have the perverse “enjoyment” of extremism, or actually attempt to solve the problems facing America.

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The Dreaded “P” Word

June 26, 2008

It’s become clear that one of the biggest challenges facing Senator Obama is the weight of expectation placed upon him. Somehow, he is supposed to be the champion of the liberal cause, yet have an appeal to the centre. He is supposed to be an idealist, yet be a realist too. Indeed, he is supposed to avoid compromise, yet actually win an election. His shoulders must have developed a psychosomatic ache from the crushing weight of these conflicting demands. It is remarkable that he remains as publicly unflappable as he does; the fact that his sole vice is indulging in the occasional cigarette speaks well about his stress management skills.

That said, it appears that the edifice of his coalition has developed some cracks. Senator Obama has disappointed liberals with his stance on the FISA bill, as well as corn ethanol. Objections are understandable: FISA is a completely repellent bill, as it contains a provision to provide immunity for telecom companies who spied on American citizens. Corn ethanol is a boondoggle which actually costs more energy and carbon emissions than what it’s worth.

As disheartening as it may be, to expect Senator Obama to do any differently may be asking too much: for a successful candidate, elections are an exercise in carefully deployed pragmatism. This may be disappointing to those who cling most dearly to ideology, but the candidate whose “base” has the strongest stomach for the dreaded “p” word is the one most likely to triumph.

The American electorate, at present, is split into three main segments: conservative, moderate and liberal. According to Rasmussen Reports, the largest segment are the moderates, who represent 37% of the electorate. 36% identify themselves as conservative. 25% identify themselves as liberal. Under these circumstances, it is not only undesirable, but it is impossible for a successful candidate to give in fully to the demands of any one group. Obama was always going to have to hunt for votes in at least two of these groupings.

There is another element which needs to be acknowledged: people tend to only embrace radical solutions, whether they come from the left or right, in a situation of crisis. Britain in 1979 was a leading example of just such a situation: there were massive winter strikes during which the dead were unburied, and rubbish had to be stacked high in the middle of Leicester Square. Even so, Margaret Thatcher had to appear moderate in the General Election and quote St. Francis of Assisi upon arriving at Downing Street; the crisis allowed her to get away with being radical afterwards.

While fuel and food prices are rising, the environment is degrading and the war in Iraq remains steeped in blood, employment is still relatively high by historical standards. Having a job and earning a living, creates an impulse whereby one has a stake in the existing order, rather than has a need to overturn it. Thus even a transformational candidate has to breathe reassurance for those who may feel that change might mean matters get worse rather than better. The model for this approach is Tony Blair’s campaign in 1997, whereby his team put out reassuring messages on taxation and other issues in order to get the public “comfortable” with voting Labour.

Apparently Obama is a pupil of Blair’s in this respect. According to the Economist, his team of economic advisers is “impeccably centrist”. His puzzling stance on FISA is intended to quash, albeit via questionable means, any doubts about his credentials on national security. Support for corn ethanol indicates he won’t radically shake up the heartland, at least not to begin with. Telling the corn farmers and the telecom companies that their time is up will only conjure up visions of Obama being a “dangerous radical” and push those who are alarmed into McCain’s column.

There is good news, however. The challenges that Obama faces in assembling a winning coalition are just as acute, if not worse for Senator McCain. His long standing “maverick” stance has infuriated conservatives; his “green agenda”, such as it is, offends ideologues who don’t believe in climate change at all. His tepid adherence to religion has earned him the emnity of many evangelicals. Some on the far right appear to want to paraphrase Satan from Milton’s Paradise Lost: “It is far better to lose with Barr (or other third party candidate) than win with McCain”. Their stomach for the compromises required by the electoral process is even more questionable than those on the liberal side, indeed, there is a compulsion at large amongst them which implies that electoral suicide is the ultimate expression of principle.

The early days of Obama’s campaign twinkle in the memory with the starlight of idealism, punctuated by flashbulbs and awash with the romanticism inherent in the word “change”. This sensation was always bound to diminish once the realities of practical policy set in. It was never going to be perfect; people need to let go of that lovely “p” word and embrace the other, more sombre one. Being pragmatic may not be a vehicle for the instant realisation of dreams, however, it can serve in making things better and dramatically so.

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Hillary Supporters: Get Over Your Enjoyment!

June 25, 2008

It’s sad but true, election campaigns often are a carnival of attractions akin to a procession of circus freaks, fire eaters and sword swallowers, with the media focusing on the monstrosity du jour.

Yesterday’s “bearded lady” was Charles Black, an aide to Senator McCain; he dared to suggest that the Republicans’ chances would benefit from a terrorist attack. The most obscene element of this comment was that it’s probably true: the spectacle of smoking ruins, victims covered in blood, families in tears and militants celebrating could crush thoughts of hope and change, and potentially send the voters “running to grandpa”. However, this is not something to be uttered, let alone entertained as anything other than a passing, cynical calculation which a basic sense of disgust should knock aside.

Meanwhile, there was a less-publicised spectacle arising from the Democrat camp: Senator Obama met with members of the Congressional Black Caucus, to discuss how to lure Hillary’s supporters back into the fold. According to the June 24th UK Daily Telegraph, he uttered the following phrase:

“If women take a moment to realise that on every issue important to women, John McCain is not in their corner, that would help them get over it.”

This statement, while true, apparently caused great offense due its the last three words: “get over it”. Congressman Diane Watson reportedly told him, “Don’t use that terminology.”

But what precisely is so offensive about it? “Get over it” is a call to Hillary’s most ardent supporters to break with previously established patterns of behaviour, some of whom are continuing to resist Obama’s advances in spite of the fact that Hillary has, at least in public, “gotten over it”.

The philosophical works of Slavoj Zizek, and his interpretations of the French psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan can help us understand the subterranean motives at work. Seen from this perspective, Senator Obama is actually asking them to break with their enjoyment, which is likely to be difficult.

As Zizek and Lacan remind us, enjoyment or “jouissance“, is a primary motivator in our behaviours: even the man who forsakes all comfort in the pursuit of a virtuous life is enjoying his relative virtue in comparison to others. Those in the environmentalist movement can recognise the type: the individual who is “more eco than thou”, demonstrating this purity overtly for an invisible audience (Zizek and Lacan would call the “Other”), is taking enjoyment in the act. The religious Right is littered with this type as well: the person who maintains an exclusivist position who denies themselves any public self-indulgence, so he or she can maintain the role of moral spokesman, is in their enjoyment of this status revealed to be a perverted type of hedonist.

Similarly, Hillary’s supporters are in the throes of enjoyment. They feel they were robbed, slighted, and they were the victims of sexism insofar as their favoured candidate was denied the nomination. This gives them a similar “perverted” position of moral superiority as the one held by the Religious Right; this “pleasure”, however, can only be maintained by continuing their outrage against Obama. In effect, Obama is having to deal with the political consequences of a psychological fetish.

Is there a way out of this? Zizek / Lacan have both stated, “the letter always arrives at its destination”. The meaning of this proverb can be deciphered as follows – no matter what, one has to deal with events as they arrive. It could be that injustice arrives at the door: for example, as sometimes happens, there could be a computer error and an outrageous bill or tax demand slips through the letterbox (the other day, a woman in England received an electricity bill for £90 million). It is wrong, but the “letter always arrives at its destination”, the event has happened and it remains there to be dealt with rather than trying to construct elaborate lamentations about its arrival. The person who does not shirk this responsibility fits into the Zizek / Lacanian definition of the Hero.

Hillary herself, has proven to be far more of the Hero than these supporters who refuse to relinquish their enjoyment. The letter arrived at its destination, and rather continue to dine on ashes, she has campaigned for Obama and helped him with her donors; so too, has her husband, though it must be said that it took longer for him to fall into line.

The remainder should, quite frankly, “get over it”. If the need to maintain this enjoyment persists, it could mutate into something far more pernicious: the need to enjoy their moral outrage at the policies of a President McCain. Hedonism rarely has had such a price tag attached.

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An Unusual Way to Protest Third World Poverty

June 24, 2008

For American readers, “pants” refers to “underwear”:

Pants To Poverty May17 08

And its predecessor event….

Pants to Poverty @ South Bank: bad pants amnesty

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An Open Letter to Nelson Mandela

June 24, 2008

Dear President Mandela:

First of all, please accept my sincere congratulations on your impending 90th birthday. I am sure that most, if not all of the world echoes me in the sentiment that a happy, restful retirement is your just reward, as are the accolades you continue to receive.

I am writing to you as a concerned citizen about the present situation in Zimbabwe. I know that you are probably receiving many letters like this one, but I hope that I can re-emphasise the contribution you can make towards resolving the crisis.

I am sure that you are kept in the loop as to the full nature of the horror going on in Zimbabwe. Only yesterday, President Mugabe’s thugs broke into the headquarters of the opposition Movement for Democratic Change and captured those seeking refuge within its walls. Their fate is unknown.

Meanwhile, hyperinflation has achieved new heights. According to Channel 4 News, it is in the region of 2,000,000 %. The stores are empty. Unemployment is rife. The country is in a state of collapse. All that seems to be holding the regime in place is Mugabe’s unflinching use of extreme violence against his own people.

In spite of this, the reaction of the African and international community is muted, blunted. Kofi Annan stated yesterday that African leaders were “too polite” to each other to speak up. You, sir, may be the only person who can “speak up” and thus change the entire tone of the discussion.

A clear statement from you stating that what is going on in Zimbabwe is thoroughly reprehensible and that Mugabe should let go of the reins of power would have an electric effect. Your prestige is such that the ZANU PF line that anyone who opposes it is somehow a Western stooge would look ridiculous. The fact that a living, breathing icon of the struggle against apartheid had said “enough” would embolden the other African leaders to be less polite, and perhaps stiffen the will of the international community. With a bit of luck, it might even persuade President Mbeki to stop supplying the regime with the economic and political aid it desperately needs to survive.

I realise that after a lifetime of struggle, that you may not want to engage in politics any longer. The burdens of the past accumulate and draw one to rest. But as you know, sometimes injustice is so great that repose is not possible, and indeed, it could be shirking one’s duty to humanity.

I implore you, sir, please speak as soon as possible. Help end the bloodshed, shake the loathsome Mugabe regime to its core with your moral force. It will represent a final triumph: not only will you have achieved a long march to freedom for the people of South Africa, but you will have advanced the cause throughout the continent.

Thank you for your kind attention.

Yours sincerely,

CDF

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Picture of meI'm a Doctor of Creative Writing, a fiancée, a son, a brother, an uncle, a published novelist, a technologist, a student, and still an amateur in much else.

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