Monday, 21 May 2018

Contemplating a change of name

As I am no longer active in any sort of ministry, I think it is perhaps time to change the name of this blog to something which reflects where I find myself in terms of writing, living and all the things that go with it. In truth, the last few years have been a challenge in several ways as I have tried to get my writing refined, my books selling and juggling home, family, writing, and publishing demands. Then there is research, developing ideas and plotlines, promoting the books in print and, of course, pulling my weight around the house.

The Shelties definitely think I should devote more time to them, but that means less time to write ... A nice little balancing act I think.

So, what do I, in my alte ego under my own name, plan for 2018 and the future? First of all there is a new Harry Heron story in the process of publication. It will appear (all things proceeding smoothly) in early July. Harry Heron: Savage Fugitive is the fo urth book in the series. It will be followed by at least two more. I want to pick up some of the characters I created in A Baltic Affair and Limehouse Boys in some new stories set in the 19th Century, and I have been playing with a few other ideas as well. The biggest problem is devoting the time writing demands to the task. Sir Terry Pratchett once said that writing is the most fun you can have on your own, and he was right. The problem is there is a fine balance when one is married, has family and other responsibilities ...

So, my solution at present is to try and find a way to make more use of my blog and my website, Harry Heron, to market my writing. I hope it will allow me to use this blog as a sounding board to discuss the books and share my thoughts on writing fiction and, perhaps, occasionally to share my thoughts on other matters. For now, I will leave the blog name as it is while I think up something more appropriate. And that will now have to wait while I make a brief visit to family and friends in my former stamping grounds.

Inspiration may be triggered there!

Monday, 7 May 2018

Reviving a blog

So much seems to have been happening lately that there has been little time to attend to small matters like blogging. Certainly having now published six books in the field of fiction, and two more of a technical nature, plus having two Shelties "taking me for walks regularly", I am finding time sort of runs away ...

So, as an opening shot to get this blog up and running again (would you believe I've actually lost the email I used to log on with!), I have decided to try a different approach. The politics around the world is just far, far too depressing at the moment, so here goes with some upbeat thoughts on my books. As you can see from the sidebar, I now have three of the Harry Heron series on sale, and the fourth will be in the second half of this year.

To be titled Harry Heron: Savage Fugitive, it follows on from Harry Heron: No Quarter. The big task early last year was to finally get my fictional biography of St Patrick published. Magnus Patricius, The Remarkable Life of St Patrick, the man, took around seven years to finally reach a publishable version, and even longer to research. I'm very pleased with the outcome.

Encouragingly the sales are steady, which at least means the books are getting read!

Thursday, 4 January 2018

Destiny and Change

An article in today’s Guardian concerning objections to a seminar to be held in Oxford to examine the “benefits and costs of Empire” certainly got me thinking. Since retiring and moving to live in Germany I have begun to realise that a considerable amount of what I was taught, have read, and which is popularly believed in the English-speaking world, is, if not actually false, certainly not the entire story. That doesn’t mean I support the removal of statues, the defacing of memorials or the excising of historical figures or aspects of history from public view or from the history books. Far from it, I would far rather see their actions, or the events, examined in context, if possible with the view from “the other side” so that those hearing it or studying it, are in a position to be able to form a balanced opinion.
Far too often I hear people claim that the British Empire brought “civilisation” and “rule of law” (specifically English Common Law) to various places and must therefore be a “good thing”. That completely ignores the fact that many of these places — such as India — already had perfectly good, functioning, civilisations and legal systems. In this version, the "British" had a "manifest destiny" to bring their brand of civilisation, their order of society, their version of Capitalism and their concepts of justice to the rest of the world, and, if necessary, impose it. Yes, in some places we found no formal “civilisation” which had built roads, railways, harbours or even cities. But did not mean they didn’t have a social structure, hierarchical society or a sense of nationhood before we trotted in, shot a few to make them realise how superior we were, and then proceeded to herd them off the land they held so we could put it to better use. Yes, that is a rather cynical summary, especially as I am the descendent of English settlers in Africa. 
I will defend my view by saying that my forebears had little real choice but to leave a Britain where they had little chance of rising out of poverty, and every chance of ending up dying of cholera, tuberculosis or something else in the slums of the British cities at a very young age. In Africa they faced an understandably hostile native population, totally unfamiliar climate and soil conditions and the exploitation of moneyed “younger sons” sent out to build their own estates and grab a share of the wealth available. A short reading of the history of the governments and those “elected” to govern in the Cape is enlightening to say the least. So is a short reading of the history of the development of the exploitation of the nations natural resources, starting with the diamonds in Kimberley and ending with the seizure of the Boer Republics so as to gain full control of the gold reserves. The mines were already in the ownership of Rhodes and his chums, but their monopoly was threatened by the political affiliations and anti-British attitude of the ruling Afrikaaner governments. 
In the minds of those in power in Britain and the brokers of power and wealth, the Boers had to go! Reading how the Daily Mail portrayed the Afrikaaners is instructive, partly because it is how, even now, the Daily Mail and its stable companions in the nationalistic Press portray any people or nation they want to whip up enmity against. Raised on the British version of the Anglo-Boer War it came as something of a shock to learn that the Boer Republics actually had a very sophisticated society. Their legal system was based on Roman-Dutch Law, the judiciary was independent, their lawyers widely read and travelled. Their Parliaments were lively, democratically elected and their Presidents and presidency modelled on the US style executive moderated by a Parliament. Their Public Buildings, and their cities would not have been out of place in Europe. Some of their leading families traced their antecedents back to titled families from France, the Netherlands and Germany as well as Britain.
Yet nothing of that is ever mentioned in the history taught to those of us of English descent. To us the “Boer” was always portrayed as a caricature. A dour Calvinist, living in an ox wagon, shooting buck, herding cattle, and occasionally planting a crop when not beating the natives or trying to take the gold and diamonds away from “Uitlanders”. Ironically, cut off from the Netherlands in 1805, the Dutch Reformed Church drew its post British Occupation ministers from the Scottish Presbyterian Church, from which it gained its Calvinism via Knox! Yet it isn’t as if the history from the Boer perspective isn’t known and available, it just is not mentioned!
Reading the Guardian article it struck me that a large part bon the problem we face at present in western civilisation stems from the Edwardian view that the British Empire was some great civilising force. That we, as the British (by which is usually meant “The English”) have a “manifest destiny” to bring the entire world under our benevolent and superior governance. Since the end of the second world war, this “manifest destiny” has been extended, if not entirely subsumed, by the US, the successor western power to the British just as Byzantium/Constantinople was to Rome. In the eyes of many in the UK and the US, it is our “right” and our “destiny” to shape and form the world. In that view, the Anglo-Saxon/Anglo-American peoples are superior in every sense to every other nation and race. In a large part, reading the news feeds (particularly the rabid commentators on some of them), this slewed version of our history is what has led us to Brexit, to the animosity toward the rest of Europe, and the refusal to be “part of the team” in some quarters. It is also what has led to Trump, to the xenophobia toward anyone “not one of us” and underpins a lot of racism everywhere.
To me that is a rather frightening and dangerous delusion. One that only a real awareness of history taught from ALL sides can overcome. Thus, I hope that the proposed symposium on the study of the history of the British Empire does not simply adopt the usual approaches of “it is all rotten” or “it was essentially good, but with awkward bits”. We have to confront the reality of the bad — like the industrialisation of slave trading, the Irish Famine made infinitely worse by laws to protect English farmers, the massacres of Aboriginals in Australia, Africa, the Americas — and acknowledge what was achieved that has benefited those lands (and there is quite a bit).
What we do have to do, is drop the complete nonsense that it was all about bringing civilisation to anyone else. That may have been a side effect in some instances, but the real purpose was the control of resources and wealth. The world is changing, and we need to change too, to embrace, perhaps, a new destiny in which we recognise that there is considerably more value in being honest about our role in shaping today, and working with everyone else, to shape tomorrow. Then we can celebrate the achievements of the little men and women on all sides who endured, suffered, rebuilt and plugged on after the, to quote Kipling, “Shouting and the tumult dies, The Captains and the Kings depart …”

Wednesday, 2 September 2015

The Migrant Crisis

I note with interest that the media and various government ministers use the term 'migrant' now to cover everyone trying to enter Britain or, for that matter, Europe. Very occasionally the word 'refugees' creeps into a report, but is quickly replaced in all further references by 'migrant'. What's the difference? In my dictionary a 'migrant' is one who leaves one country/town/ or the land and 'migrates' to find work away from his/her roots or origins. Karl Marx argued for the 'right' of workers to do this, saying in effect that it should be the right of a worker to move to where his work will be adequately rewarded.

A 'refugee', by contrast, is one escaping a war, oppression or some other event which may be a 'natural' one such as a volcanic eruption. But herein lies the rub -- if our media and political masters apply the word 'refugee' to the 2 or 3 million people currently in holding camps in various countries in the EU (800,000 in Germany alone), a whole raft of so-called 'International Laws' will kick in and with them the armies of 'Human Rights lawyers' who feed off contesting any and every attempt to remove those who don't qualify for admission anywhere.

Let's also admit that it is also the case that our various bureaucracies are often biased, frequently unfair, and usually so 'rule bound' as to be utterly uncaring, unfeeling and pretty nearly reduce the people they deal with to a point of being no longer 'human', but just cyphers in the system. An article in The Spectator addresses several of these points, but, as ever, attracts comments from those who see only a threat to their own comfort, have never been in a position where they cannot remain in their homes, and who comment from a perspective of ignorance of the realities of the world. Many of those who have commented on the article seem to have missed the author's point completely. Stephano Hatfield makes the telling point that there is a difference between an 'economic migrant' and a 'refugee', yet Theresa May, the current UK Home Secretary, seems to conflate them, linking 'migrants' from other EU States with the refugees pouring in from the failing Islamic States of the Middle and Near East, North Africa and the Civil wars in several West African states with the undoubted groups migrating for economic reasons.

Then there is the hysteria stirred up by the British Press and politicians, about the 'siege' of the Channel Tunnel, and the migrants trying to board trucks, cars and anything else heading for Britain. This is, it must be acknowledged, in part due to the last Labour government's drive to open the immigration doors to all manner of immigrants from cultures which bear no relationship whatever to that of Europe, much less Britain. What gets lost in all this, is that while the UK goes into an almost ludicrous frenzy over fewer than ten thousand 'migrants' trying to enter the UK by these means, Germany is dealing with 800,000, Italy with another 250,000, Greece (remember the ones with the financial problems) over 100,000 and France with numbers approaching those of Germany. Yes, there is unhappiness about it, but they are dealing with it quietly and efficiently. Yes, it is a political football in most countries, but much less so, it seems, than in the UK -- which is dealing with a fraction of the numbers everyone else is coping with.

More worrying is the very point the author of The Spectator article is making with his link to the family of Anne Frank. Vilifying the refugees simply creates an atmosphere in which it becomes easy to isolate them and then turn them into an 'enemy' - which, alarmingly, seems to be happening already if when one reads the UKIP and similar minded parties and their supporters rants and comments. Another Spectator article published today points to the fact that almost 10 million people in Syria are now 'displaced', and trapped because the borders around that benighted land are now closed. The 2 million or so in camps in Jordan are trapped as well. Forbidden to work, families are dependent, children are rebelling and teenagers are defying their parents and sneaking off to join militias 'at home' because that is better than sitting around waiting for the next handout.

To those who argue these folk should have stayed where they were and fought back against the oppression, consider this; if your family home were reduced to a pile of rubble, and the attacker threatens to behead you, your children and rape your wife and daughters - would you 'remain in place'?

We should be concerned at the Home Secretary's deliberate linking of the refugee crisis with the European freedom of movement for workers. The freedom of movement within the EU of workers is NOT the problem, but linking it to the 'migrant/refugee' crisis gives opponents of such movement (and the UK does have a bit of a 'history' there) gives the politicians and the media the chance to whip up antipathy against ALL migrant workers, especially those from EU countries. By calling workers from other EU countries 'migrants' and in the same breath calling those fleeing Africa, the Levant and all the other countries suffering massive conflict or grinding social poverty 'migrants' she is setting them all up to be vilified and hounded out of the UK.

I'm inclined to agree with the latest Spectator article, in that we may have an obligation to 'rescue' people, but we do not have an obligation to house, feed, clothe and employ them here. We do have some responsibility for ensuring they are supported in all efforts to improve the situations which have driven them to flee their homes. In places like parts of Libya and Syria or Iraq, I would suggest there is a need to find ways to make the refugee camps more like functioning societies rather than a 'waiting area'. Why can't the refugees be given employment looking after their own needs in the camps? Why should this be forbidden? Why bring in teachers from the local area, when you have qualified people sitting around idle?

To solve this problem we need to do more to provide something meaningful for those who have escaped, which will encourage them to stay in the camps. We also need to look very carefully at how we can break the cycles of corruption, abuse and conflict which bedevil so many lands and are causing this tide of human misery. Only then can we hope to even begin to deal with it.

Monday, 17 August 2015

War on European Culture

In a recent post I looked at the apparent assault on western civilisation by the forces of fundamentalist Islam. The post, entitled The Assault on Western Civilisation has now received from a reader the following pertinent observations.
While I share all the views you have expressed, an additional matter appears to be the fundamental distinction between Judaism and Christianity on the one hand, and Islam on the other, in respect of the relationship between religion and the secular power. The former explicitly acknowledge a dichotomy ( Caesar and God of the New Testament; the prophets and kings of the Old Testament); while the latter sees only a seamless web. Consequently, the creative tensions of Europe ( Emperor and Pope; Puritans and the Stuarts) do not significantly exist; and politics in the Islamic world is either mimicry ( Nasser Socialism) or the barbaric Gulf states with primitive and confused tangles of religion and secular power. The static ( regressing?) societies in the ME and Pakistan confirm Islam’s stultifying influence, in contrast to the supple societies in India and China, with the capacity to adjust and advance.   
Europe’s fundamental error was to uncouple immigration from culture, because of the lazy reaction on the Continent to Nazism; and in Britain because the country could not break free from the lie of empire (when it was on its last legs) that there was one big rainbow family; and at the end of World War 2 no politician could admit that victory was concurrent with the collapse of the empire, so the rag bag Commonwealth had to be presented as a better, modernised empire. It has to added that the pretence had, of course, the most hideously lethal consequences in Asia and Africa where a premature and botched partition in the subcontinent saw a million die, and in colonies that were not partitioned ( happy families!) the massacres were postponed, as in Sri Lanka. 
As for Africa, colonialism could not have been more destructive than if the powers had set out to re-enact Carthage ( “they make a desert and they call it peace” – from Tacitus’ seems still peerless). Out of the most primitive societies in the world, 19th Century countries were carved which completely ignored organic and fluid tribal perimeters. And out of these, in turn, came independent Bismarkian states, given the apparatus of armies, governments, police and treasuries: for what? As instruments of incompetence, barbaric oppression and confusion on innumerable occasions. In the organic tribal societies the power to create harm was relatively small: the very backwardness of the societies limited damage, and because they operated in a prescriptive framework, the tribesmen were sane, whole ( albeit backward) people with transmitted codes of behaviour.

I find his observation regarding the difference of approach to 'government' and human authority particularly pertinent. Having discussed this very point with several Muslim friends, there is a stark difference in their view of 'democratic' government and that of everyone else. When teaching a Leadership course in the Middle East, I asked the students to think of some remarkable leaders in their own history and culture who provided good examples of inspiring leadership. I expected to get at least something on the likes of Cyrus the Great, Saladin and one or two others. I got one. The Prophet, in their view the ONLY valid example of 'perfect' leadership. That should tell us everything we need to know. It should also scare the living daylights out of those who loudly demand the contradiction of 'no religion in public' and simultaneously welcome any non-Christian religion to indulge in full on displays on the grounds it is a 'minority culture'.

Nor is Europe alone in the error of uncoupling immigration from culture. In their haste to prove their 'inclusive' and non-racial credentials post war, many liberal thinkers preached the mantra that mono-culture was evil, that it promoted racism and many other ills. Now they try to promote the concept of a 'rainbow' culture that is all things to everyone, and yet it is not, and can never be. As my correspondent says, it has its roots in the myth, created at the end of the war, to promote the idea that the Empire had been a 'family' and that it was simply changing shape to be even more inclusive as it became the 'Commonwealth'.

But the Commonwealth is itself a game of smoke and mirrors. Recent exchanges I have had elsewhere with what I shall call 'Little Englanders' who wish to sever all ties to Europe, are loud in claiming that 'we have the Commonwealth; we don't need Europe.' It is interesting to note that, to them, 'The Commonwealth' is Canada, Australia, New Zealand, India, Bermuda and very little more. Mention that it includes Pakistan, Zimbabwe, Bangladesh, Zambia and various other basket cases and you get the response of 'Oh, well, they don't really count, and besides, they buy our goods ...' The truth is, that they don't., but that's alright, because we're still part of that great big 'rainbow family' of the Empire. Aren't we?

Almost all of the current upheaval around the world can be traced to Imperial meddling, carving up of land in order to impose European ideas and nations out of diverse and disparate peoples. This is why Turkey has resorted to force against it's Kurdish population, and why the Kurds dream of a nation state of their own that includes territory currently part of Northern Syria, Northern Iraq and Eastern Turkey. It is why Syria is falling apart, and why Iraq is ungovernable.

Studying the history of major population migrations, one quickly realises that Roman culture fell, and their empire failed, when 'migration' reached a point at which there were more 'alien' cultures in their towns and cities than those who followed the Roman pattern. Those who claim that 'Britain has absorbed migrants throughout its history' fail to recognise that the vast majority, until the 20th Century, were European and held similar cultural values and ideals. That is no longer the case, particularly those migrants that 'follow the Prophet'. To them a separation between the Temple and Caesar is unthinkable, so is any 'democratic' decision which flies in the face of their Faith.

History buffs will also know that Byzantium was not conquered overnight, it died by a million small cuts as the Arabic conquerors first learned to manipulate the populace to their line of thought, and then to accept the imposition of a new culture. So it will be with us - thanks in large part to well meant, but hideously misguided, attempts to find simple and pleasing solutions to very complex human problems.

We can but hope that sense, reason and ultimately democracy will prevail. 

Monday, 10 August 2015

Turkey attacking the ISIS?

In recent days I think one of the worst possible moves the US has made in a long time was to throw the Kurds to the Turks in order to gain support and the use of an airbase against the ISIS. Turkey has immediately seized the opportunity to punish the Kurds, labelling them 'terrorists' and bombing them anywhere and everywhere. Since the Kurdish forces were the only effective force against the ISIS thugs, this is likely to rebound badly - particularly on the US and its plans. The Kurds feel they have been betrayed, and they're probably justified.

Turkey's president has his own agenda. Until very recently he has been covertly supporting the ISIS, mainly by NOT doing anything to stem the flow of recruits, but by also refusing to allow the Kurds to pass through Turkey en route to attack these psychopaths. Now, in a cunning move, he's declared that Turkish forces will attack the 'terrorists' in Syria and Iraq - and promptly attacked the Kurds. The Turkish media is, of course, full of stories of how the Kurds are evil terrorists who want to break up the country and will murder all true Turks in their beds. And Uncle Sam, with Washington's usual crass lack of understanding of any non-American culture or nation, has endorsed Turkey's 'war on terror' so it can use an airbase closer to the front.

As I said, I suspect that the result of this little political misstep will lead to even worse problems in the future. Erdogan (pronounced, so I'm told, as Erdo-wan), expected a landslide in the most recent elections. Instead the 25 million Kurds in Turkey gave him a hung Parliament, and now they reap the reward - a purge of all Kurdish Parties and politicians on the grounds they support terrorism. And Uncle Sam, having got what he wanted looks on while Erdogan's armed forces round up his opposition at home and bomb the Kurds more heavily than they are doing to the ISIS. Turkey has a long and bloody history when it comes to minorities and minority rights. I wonder if anyone in Washington has even heard of the Armenian Genocide. Perhaps they haven't, but I suspect they may now be a party to a new and perhaps more subtle form in Erdogan's war on the Kurds.

I expect it looked good on paper. But the payback may be something Washington may not like in the longer term.

Thursday, 6 August 2015

Islamic Dress? What's that?

Am I the only reader of news media who is constantly irritated by the reference, when addressing anything to do with any prominent follower of Islam, to their wearing 'Islamic Dress'? This usually is a reference to someone wearing the 'tribal' outfit of either some Bedouin group, or some group from Pakistan, Afghanistan or Bangladesh. I note it is also abused when referring to women in headscarves, burkhas or the rather strange 'coats' worn by women in Iran and neighbouring states under theocratic rule.

Would someone please tell these so-called 'journalists' that THERE IS NO SUCH THING as Islamic Dress! It is a fiction spread by certain fundamentalist elements of the Islamic faith and widely spread by the terminally ignorant mouthpieces of 'Political Correctness' and other so-called 'liberal' claptrap. Frankly, it is insulting to call those of that persuasion 'liberal' since they are generally everything except 'liberal'. The Quran makes no reference to how its adherents should dress other than to say it should be 'with modesty'. Choosing to wear Bedouin robes in the UK or Europe, or the tribal outfits one associates with the many ethnic groups scattered about the Near and Middle East is NOT a statement of faith, but a matter of personal choice in clothing.

Islam is a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural, multi-national faith. Not everyone who follows it is an Arab - indeed many of its followers get quite annoyed by the suggestion they might be - just as not every European is French. To say that its adherents must all wear the same thing, or even that there is such a thing as one 'Islamic' outfit is stupid in the extreme. It is the equivalent of saying that all Baptists and Non-Conformist Christians MUST wear black suits with knee breeches, white stockings, buckled shoes and wide starched white collars with an obligatory wide brimmed tall crowned hat with a prominent buckle! With their womenfolk in grey or brown dresses and white bonnets. Or that all members of the Church of England must wear Tudor pantaloons and puffed sleeved coats with Canterbury caps, and their wives in wimples, corsets and floor length dresses. And the Romans? Monks habits and nuns habits for the lot of them. What complete twaddle!

There is no such thing as "Islamic Dress" just as there is no such thing as "Christian Dress" unless you belong to a religious order, or one of the Sects that impose such a thing. If some so-called 'preacher' like Mr Choudray chooses to wear the outfit of his homeland that is a matter of his choose. It does NOT mean that he is any more Islamic than me wandering around in a cassock makes me any more "Christian".

Would some editor, somewhere, please sack the next lazy journalist who uses this inane and frankly inaccurate expression in a report!