The worst of my week on the web -- and the best
Politics, poetry, and a call for compassion
Imagine. You’re a perfectly harmless despot who’s ruled the ‘island of happy smiles’ for several years. You’ve been generous to a fault. Just a month ago you gave $3000 to every family in the land .. and who can forget that you allowed your
poor old uncle to purchase the prime commercial development site in the capital for just $3? There was economic freedom: no taxation! You let businesses hire cheap labor from anywhere in the world. And when the people asked for a voice, you gave them a parliament. You exercised your wisdom of course, to ensure that this did not mean the rule of the rabble. Your chosen advisers, wise and trusted friends and family members, continued to choose the right path for the country.
And yet, no matter what you gave, your ungrateful people wanted more. More freedom. More power. Jobs. The ouster of your uncle as prime minister after his 40 years of unselfish service in the job.
For weeks, they gathered around the Pearl Roundabout in their tens of thousands, chanting their demands and disrupting traffic, stopping those who had jobs from going to work. There were mistakes of course, but you were the first to admit them. For example, when someone gave the unfortunate command to fire on the demonstrators, killing three of them, you immediately faced the nation, expressed your condolences and promised a full investigation.
But still the demonstrators massed around the Pearl, calling now, unthinkably, for your removal. And finally, this week, your patience was exhausted. It was time to put an end to this madness. So you ordered the army to disperse the protesters with whatever force was required, accepted the kind offer of military support from your nervous fellow-rulers in the Gulf, arrested the ring-leaders, and put the country under curfew. No more Mr Nice Guy!
Source: The Guardian
And then you decide to fix the problem once and for all. What was the cause of all this turmoil? What was the focal point? What else could it be but the 300-foot high monument, the Pearl itself? So you order it smashed.
When lives are lost and a nation’s iconic landmarks are destroyed in a wanton act of violence, the empty space left behind becomes the focus for rage. Ask New Yorkers. I fear this is not the end of the story. The Pearl lies vanquished and scattered on the ground like the Hydra, and my guess is that two heads will grow for each one cut off.
Why should I care? I’m not Bahraini and though I lived there for ten years, I don’t any longer. It’s none of my business.
And yet it is my business. Why do I write? Because I love wordcraft. Because I love to tell stories. Because one of life’s great pleasures is the stimulation that comes from sharing ideas and experiences with readers and other writers. But also because I want my stories to make an impact. I write about the dangers of closed minds and sectarianism and the futility of war.
As events have unfolded in Bahrain, I’ve been reliving my experiences in Beirut some 35 years ago when civil war was brewing. Protests by a majority underclass against a minority ruling-class: it always seems to start with jobs and money. Marches, a few deaths, clashes, protests intensify. The expats certain that everything will be back to normal by the weekend. They’re right: there’s a lull. But then it starts again, heavier weapons are mysteriously provided and Religion sweeps onto the scene. She’s disguised as Justice, blind, but carrying a book instead of scales, and her sword is not there to defend but to attack. Barricades are erected, check-points are set up. The cry goes up: ‘If you don’t kill them, they’ll kill you and everything you treasure.’ Trying to restore control, the government sends in the army, calls for military assistance from its neighbour. History retells itself.
And I started blogging and tweeting for all I was worth, to anyone who would listen. Read my story, I pleaded -- and I directed them to this extract from The Lebanese Troubles. Do you really want Bahrain to be another Lebanon, with endless civil war? And guess what. Nobody listened. Or if they did, they sent messages like this:
I should have listened to Yeats:
I think it better that in times like these
A poet keep his mouth shut, for in truth
We have no gift to set a statesman right.
On Being Asked For A War Poem
It was poetry -- via Twitter -- that lifted my gloom. Angela Scott, tweeting as @whimsywriting, had posted the single word ‘Doubt’, with a link. Well Doubt was certainly what I was feeling -- so I could only take a look. And this little gem was waiting for me, bringing a big smile back to my face:
Doubt’s Big Hairy Behind
Doubt tiptoes its way inside.
Before I know it,
Doubt blindsides me,
Takes me down,
Pins me to the ground
And flops its big hairy behind
On top of my chest.
I can’t move. I can’t breathe.
I spit in Doubt’s eye—my only defense—
But Doubt only grins through its pock-marked face,
And green-tinged smile, and swipes the spittle away.
He’s experienced worse.
Doubt’s got me
And he knows it too.
My gnat-like strength is waning.
My belief is gone.
I shift a little,
Make adjustments to carry Doubt’s weight.
He’s not going anywhere.
That’s perfectly clear.
So I may as well get comfortable.
What a brilliant image! Showing me that writing really can make a difference -- at least if the reader’s in the mood for listening. If this inspires you to find out more about Angela, there’s a link to her blog at the end of the post.
And then another wonderful discovery, this time thanks to Sheri Brissenden (@SHBRISSENDEN) who’d ‘followed’ me on Twitter after I’d vented about the hatred coming out of Bahrain. There’s a huge amount of guck on Twitter, but when someone follows, I always make a point of checking out their last few posts to find out who they are. I could see immediately that Sheri was my kind of Tweeter. One of her messages immediately caught my attention: “The wonderful Karen Armstrong discusses the Charter for Compassion.” I’d never heard of Karen Armstrong. But I was up for compassion.
20 minutes later, I’d thrown Doubt off and was up for the struggle again, inspired by words like these:
The Golden Rule: Do not do to others what you would not like them to do to you.
Any interpretation of scripture which leads to hatred or disdain is illegitimate.
We’re living in a world where Religion has been hi-jacked.
We have a talent as a human species for messing up wonderful things.
The cause of all our present woes is political, but religion is a fault-line.
A lot of religious people prefer to be right rather than compassionate.
It’s time that we moved beyond toleration to appreciation of one another.
I leave you with Karen Armstrong herself. Here’s to a better next week.
Angela Scott’s blog -- Whimsy, Writing and Reading