The political is the personal, more often than you'd think
Tuesday, January 20, 2009
Barack Obama's inaugaration
'The time has come to reaffirm our enduring spirit; to choose our better history; to carry forward that precious gift, that noble idea, passed on from generation to generation: the God-given promise that all are equal, all are free, and all deserve a chance to pursue their full measure of happiness. '
'As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our Founding Fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake. And so to all other peoples and governments who are watching today, from the grandest capitals to the small village where my father was born: know that America is a friend of each nation and every man, woman, and child who seeks a future of peace and dignity, and that we are ready to lead once more.'
It's no longer audacious to hope. Hope is the vital heart beat that sings in the blood, so the body and spirit can rise, and renewed, begin the hard, overdue work of renewal. Good luck and God speed, to this man to inspire many to make the shining dreams of the past the clear reality of the present and so become the light of the future. It's time; there is much to do, and I hope, many willing hands to labour to achieve it: something better, something brighter, something we can all support and believe in and work to bring about. Be the change.
The BBC says today is 'the most depressing day of the year'. 'Weather, debt, time since Christmas, time since failing our New Year's resolutions, low motivational levels and the feeling of a need to take action' are the culprits apparently.
It took me nearly 2 hours to get to work, and I arrived with cold wet feet and a headache after Northern line chaos and then had to get all my stuff out of a crate because we'd moved offices, I haven't been paid for weeks and I hate all my winter clothes, but...
It's George Bush's last day in office and Barack Obama is sworn in tomorrow!
So even though I am still scared to the point of tears that some crazy racist bigot who thinks he's the antichrist because he's gifted, brave, thoughtful, liberal and mixed race will try to kill him,
these aren't tears of despair, they're tears of hope on my face.
Lift up your faces, you have a piercing need For this bright morning dawning for you.
History, despite its wrenching pain, Cannot be unlived, and if faced With courage, need not be lived again.
Lift up your eyes upon The day breaking for you.
Give birth again To the dream.
Women, children, men, Take it into the palms of your hands.
Mold it into the shape of your most Private need. Sculpt it into The image of your most public self. Lift up your hearts Each new hour holds new chances For new beginnings.
Do not be wedded forever To fear, yoked eternally To brutishness.
The horizon leans forward, Offering you space to place new steps of change. Here, on the pulse of this fine day You may have the courage To look up and out upon me, the Rock, the River, the Tree, your country.
No less to Midas than the mendicant.
No less to you now than the mastodon then.
Here on the pulse of this new day You may have the grace to look up and out And into your sister's eyes, into Your brother's face, your country And say simply Very simply With hope Good morning.
It is not anti-Semitic to hate the actions of the IDF in Gaza and to feel incandescent with anger at the bombing and maiming, the traumatising and starving of the desperate people of Gaza.
But the anti-Semites, the conspiracy theorists, the stirrers, the haters, the bottle-throwers and swastika-daubers, the flag-burners, the extremists, those who fan the flames and hand out the leaflets calling for direct action and vengeance are out on the streets over it. Those who say 'we are all Hamas', those who send the texts swearing that 'asking the kufar 4 help is haram' and demanding that the 'Muslim Armies rise up' to drive the Israelis into the sea... they marched last week. Predictably.
The haters who camouflage their hate with their self-righteous politics marched in a diverse crowd of parents with pushchairs and pensioners and priests and protesters and students and Christians and Muslims and Jews and Hindus and Sikhs and atheists and agnostics and that crowd was at times 120,000 strong. The extremists are a tiny minority; they will always be a minority. Sometimes they are noisy, sometimes the media indulge them by giving them more coverage than they deserve. They grab the headlines, but they are not representative of the great majority of those who marched. They are bullies, knaves, liars and fools. I don't want their voices to drown out the peaceful majority. They do not represent me, or any of my friends, or anyone I have spoken to about Gaza these last weeks. I am particularly sick of extremists using Gaza to radicalise and recruit to their stupid causes.
I should have been on that march last week. Condemning the horrors out of hand is more important than my revulsion at those few who march with banners saying things that I despise.
Hamas are not heroes, they are a bunch of violent extremists. The Palestinian people are ill-served by such leaders. The Israelis are ill-served by their leaders. The actions of the Israeli military and the orders given by their commanders, the mendacity and propoganda of electioneering Israeli politicians, the putrid justifications, the spin...enough.
I know I will get shouted at by both sides but I no longer care. Violent extremism is never, ever the answer to anything, ever.
So I'm going to Trafalgar Square today at 2pm to stand in solidarity with those who are being tormented, terrified and killed. Everywhere.
Meanwhile, via Democracy Now, some righteous signs to be hopeful about...
JUAN GONZALEZ: President-elect Barack Obama’s nominee to be attorney general, Eric Holder, has declared waterboarding to be a form of torture and has vowed to shut down Guantanamo Bay. At his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Holder also pledged to restore credibility to the Justice Department and to serve as the people’s lawyer. If confirmed, Holder will become the nation’s first African American attorney general.
Here are excerpts of the hearing, including questions from Senate Judiciary Chair Patrick Leahy; Wisconsin’s two Democratic senators, Herb Kohl and Russ Feingold. This is Eric Holder.
ERIC HOLDER: Let me try to state this as simply as I can. It simply should not be the policy or the practice of the United States of America to turn over a prisoner, a captured person, to a nation where we suspect or have reason to believe that that person will be tortured.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Do you agree with me that waterboarding is torture and illegal?
ERIC HOLDER: If you look at the history of the use of that technique, used by the Khmer Rouge, used in the Inquisition, used by the Japanese and prosecuted by us as war crimes—we prosecuted our own soldiers for using it in Vietnam—I agree with you, Mr. Chairman, waterboarding is torture.
SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Do you believe that the President of the United States has authority to exercise a commander-in-chief override and immunize acts of torture?
ERIC HOLDER: Mr. Chairman, no one is above the law.
SEN. HERB KOHL: Mr. Holder, for decades, this country has been looked up to around the world for its unwavering commitment to human rights and the rule of law. There is a growing consensus that the detention center at Guantanamo Bay has tarnished that image. While the past two attorneys general, the current secretaries of Defense and State, and the President himself have publicly said that they would like to close Guantanamo, no steps, as yet, have been taken.
ERIC HOLDER: To responsibly close the facility, I think that we have to understand who these people are, make an independent judgment of who they are based on an examination of the records that exist down there, so that we can treat them in an inappropriate way. I think substantial numbers of those people can be sent to other countries safely. Other people can be tried in a jurisdiction and put in jail. And there are possibly going to be other people who we’re not going to be able to try for a variety of reasons, but who nevertheless are dangerous to this country, and we’re going to have to try to figure out what we do with them. But I think that review that we’ll have to go through to figure out who these people are and in what categories they fit will take an extended period of time, and I think that is the thing that will prevent us from closing Guantanamo as quickly as I think we would like, but I want to assure the American people that Guantanamo will be closed.
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: Is there anything in the FISA statute that makes you believe that the President has the ability under some other inherent power to disregard the FISA statute?
ERIC HOLDER: No, I do not see that in the FISA statute.
SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: Well, thank you. I think that’s a very important break in favor of the rule of law that we’ve been waiting for in this country for many years, and I appreciate that answer.
Sorry I'm late with this. I really can't believe that this politically-motivated shabby little Home Office stitch-up is still going on. Charge or release. Charge or release, god dammit. Remember, the comprehensive thrashing the government got over 42 days? You'd think they might get a grip, but no, no, no.
Here we have the sorry saga of the Home Office's attempts latest attempts to shamefacedly bundle an innocent man out of the country because it appears that their heavy-handed attempt to nick him for terrorism charges and bang him up for 6 days and nights without charging him (over downloading stuff that was a) relevant to his degree course b) available on Amazon) backfired on them badly, got into the media and made them look like authoritarian heartless swines last summer.
Clue: You want to win abstract-noun 'wars' about freedom, justice, democracy and liberty? You have to walk the walk as well as talk the talk you know. Sheesh.
For those who have not already found it, this diary of an aid worker is compelling, terrible reading.
The first entry was 27 December, and ended
'I used to describe what was going on in Gaza as a catastrophe, now I have no words. I received news that the brother of one of my work colleagues has been killed in the attacks. They had been looking for him all day and discovered him under the ruins of a destroyed building.'
Gaza has an overwhelmingly young population: over half of whom being between the age of infancy to 14 years (50.3%) and 25.7% were between the ages of 15 and 29. About 13.6% were between the ages of 30 to 44, 7.7% between ages 45 to 65 and 3.9% were over the age of 64.
At the end of November, I went to Vienna to be part of the launch of SAVE, an initiative from Women Without Borders. One of the first incredible people I met, in three days and sleepless nights of meeting incredible people, was Robi Damelin, who is originally from South Africa.
Robi had been active in the anti-apartheid movement. When 'it was getting very pressured and ugly', she came to Israel as a volunteer after the 1967 Six-Day/June war. She learned Hebrew, married, then later divorced and brought up her two sons David and Eran on a liberal moshav, near Netanya
Her son, David was made an officer when he did his army service. He did not want to serve in the Occupied Territories and joined the peace movement, but nonetheless was told to serve in Hebron - or face jail. He went to Hebron, saying that he would go and try to lead his soldiers in treating everyone he met - Palestinian or Israeli - with respect.
After his mandatory army service was completed David went to Tel Aviv University, studied Philosophy and Psychology, and then started to do his Masters in Philosophy of Education. He was teaching Philosophy at a pre-military programme for potential social leaders, and also teaching at Tel Aviv University when he got called up again for reserve service in the military.
David was killed, along with nine other people, on March 3 2002 by a Palestinian sniper. He was guarding a checkpoint near a settlement - 'a political checkpoint', ( 'one not necessary for security' is how Robi described it, in an interview later with JUSTVISION).
Two days later, the checkpoint was pulled down. Robi was interviewed by the media and asked if she had a message.
'You may not kill anybody in the name of my child' said Robi. It was unexpected. It came out of a deep place within her.
Robi grieved; she travelled, went back to work, but nothing was the same. She began to want to get more involved in voluntary community initiatives and went on to become part of the Parents' Circle - Families Forum, a grass-roots organisation consisting of half Israelis and half Palestinians, who have all lost immediate family members to violence. The group now comprises over 600 people and continues to be engaged in joint reconciliation action, whilst the conflict is still active and in spite of all ongoing tensions and violence - and now, this latest war.
The Parent's Circle, Robi likes to say, 'is not about hummus and hugs - it's much deeper than that'. One of the things they do is go into schools and talk to Israeli 16-17 year olds before they join the army, and to Palestinian teenagers.
When I met Robi, she told me that the Parent's Circle had been into over 1000 classrooms.
'That's amazing', I said, trying to work out how many children, how many families that was.
'1000 classrooms just this year, 2008' Robi said, with justifiable pride.
She told me how some of the children, when they first come into the classroom to hear a bereaved Palestinian parent and a bereaved Israeli parent talk about life after bereavement by violence, don't believe that 'the other side' can actually feel the pain of loss.
'They think that Palestinians all rejoice in death and want 'martyrdom', they think the parents of Israeli soldiers and settlers are proud to 'give their children up for Israel'. Most of them have never had any meaningful contact with the other side at all. Ever.'
'80% of the children want to talk to the other side'.
'When Israelis cry, when Palestinians cry, what colour are the tears?' Robi says. The only hope for both sides is to end, not escalate the violence and to talk and listen to each other. If six hundred of those who have suffered so much can do it, why can't six politicians, generals and spokesmen at least try?
This new year saw Gill Hicks, Elizabeth Kenworthy and Tim Coulson honoured. Gill, who lost both her legs in the 7/7 bombings, walked 200 miles for peace last year accompanied by Joe, her husband, and many friends and supporters as part of the WALKTALK initiative, and continues as an Ambassador for Peace Direct. Liz was on the train suicide-bombed at Aldgate, whilst other passengers were evacuated, she went to help those trapped, using her first aid skills learned for her work as a schools police officer. Tim, with other passengers, smashed his way into the stricken train at Edgware Road which had exploded as it passed opposite him, in order to help the injured and dying.
Happy New Year Gill, Tim, Liz, Robi and to all the other amazing people who inspire, amaze and humble me. I hope that 2009 is a year of peace, for you, for all of us. Despite everything, you show how a better future, a better way, is more than possible; it is already happening, because some people are making it so, doing what they can, when they can, one day at a time.