Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Me, We

Known as one of the shortest speeches in the world (my view), these words were uttered by boxer Mohammad Ali. It was reported as one of his opening lines at a speech he gave at Harvard University. If you’re interested in aspects of his life, especially events surrounding the build-up and progress of the Ali Vs George Foreman match in Zaire (back in 1974), be sure to watch/buy the award winning (Oscar 1996, directed by Leon Gast) documentary (available on DVD) ‘When we were Kings’.

Some amazing Ali quotes can also be observed, for example: ‘I'm young, I'm handsome, I'm fast, I'm pretty and can't possibly be beat…’ And,
‘I done something new for this fight! I done rassled with a alligator! That's right, I have rassled with a alligator. I done tussled with a whale! I done handcuffed lightning, throwed thunder in jail! That's *bad*. Only last week, I murdered a rock, injured a stone, hospitalized a brick. I'm so mean, I make medicine sick!’

The film/footage is inspiring in many ways. It shows how Ali fought Foreman on a number of levels: psychologically and physically. The latter may not go down well with anti-boxing campaigners but the important issue here is how strength can be achieved through unity. I truly believe that if enough people demand change the energy created will ‘drive change home’ and a positive outcome can result. Ali showed us that confidence can provide one with the will to see a mission through.

Back in July I wrote about the Make Poverty History campaign. A massive momentum was built-up as the G8 summit began to gear-up in parallel. Lets remember that on 2nd July over 225,000 people turned out in Edinburgh to demand a change from the G8 attendees. In addition, 1Million people attended global Live8 gigs and over 1Billion viewed the gigs from TVs, the Internet…

Here is a quick update on the campaign of events to support the make poverty history campaign over the coming months:

White Band Day 2 will take place on 10 September 2005. Its purpose has been positioned to remind world leaders, meeting at the UN Summit in New York, that the world is still watching and waiting for them to make poverty history.

On 24-25 September 2005 the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund will hold their Annual Meetings in Washington, attended for the UK by Gordon Brown and Hilary Benn. This meeting is important for two main reasons. Firstly, the need to ensure that the June’05 G7 Heads of Finance debt cancellation plan is reduced and what some report as the need for greater transparency / awareness of members and policies to be developed.

On Wednesday 2 November 2005 campaigners will stage a mass lobby of Parliament calling for trade justice not free trade. Thousands of people are expected to come to London to lobby their MP as part of the campaign. Again, its aim to build on the July G8 summit but through public mobilisation.

There you have it, more opportunities for us to unite for the people. If we dream that poverty can become history then it surely will. We just have to believe in our ability to change the status quo and certainly not in our continued apathy to let people down.

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Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Are you from Arabia?

It was in the hotel lobby that someone asked me this question. On our Spanish discovery coach tour the majority of fellow tourists were American. They were a great mix and they had travelled from all over the US to come together for 7 days. Interestingly there were many couples : Daughters and mothers that had decided to take a break together.
The question, ‘Are you from Arabia?’ didn’t take me too much by surprise as it was not the first time that I had been asked about my background. All through my life I have had some interesting questions. For example:

1. Do you wear your turban when you sleep?
2. Do you wear your turban when you swim?
3. Does the colour of your turban have any significance?
4. Can you read my palm?

The latter was the most amusing encounter. One year my parents decided to explore the US west coast. Two other families joined us and in a convoy of planes and cars we moved steadily from Seattle through to San Francisco, LA, passing through Santiago and finally to the Mexican border – to both the wonders and shock of Tijuana. I say shock not because the streets remind me of Robert Rodriguez’s movie Desperado – starring Antonio Bandeas but because of the sheer variance in lifestyle. I haven’t been back there but I wonder if things have changed? Anyway, I was at the immigration gateway / border between the USA and Mexico when a large immigration official approached me. He said, ‘I’m going to ask you two questions’:

1. Are you any relation to the Ayatollah Khomeini?
2. Can you read my palm?

I wasn’t sure if he was joking but the stern and serious look on his face begged me to take him seriously. My reply was of course, ‘NO’! ‘He replied, ‘OK you can pass’
I often wondered how much that episode could be made into a comedy sketch – At least it’s clean!

Another extraordinary encountered was a few years ago. I was scheduled to make a client visit to Poole, visiting a large commercial bank to discuss ironically an international project. After an exhaustive drive I found a place to park and headed for reception. The reception desk consisted of an island of desks’ centred amongst a marble floor. I approached and asked the following question, ;I’ve come to meet Cath Cottenham’, ‘Pardon’ she replied. I again repeated my request. She then said,’ Your not supposed to talk like that’, implying that there should have been a possible accent attached. I calmly explained to her that Peter Sellers has not done the ethnic community any favours and that she should understand that many like my father were pioneering migrants to the UK.

Back to Spain, when I was asked about whether I was from Arabia, I explained my background and the American lady withdrew with the following comment, ‘Not from Arabia, well I would never have known’. Quite simply this latest episode reveals to me that its not the ignorance of people who should be in the know but a missing opportunity between the media and our community to get closer to discover the richness of our heritage and who we really are.

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Monday, August 15, 2005

My summer holidays of discovery

Over the last week I’ve spent time in Spain on what was described in the holiday brochure as ‘Discover Spain’ and it certainly has been an eye-opener to realise and gain an insight into the history of Spain:

Around 1100 BC, Phoenician seafarers from present-day Lebanon set up trading colonies along the Spanish coast. Phocaean Greeks also traded along the northeastern coast. With the fall of Phoenicia, the Iberian Peninsula came under the rule of Carthage (present day Tunisia), but was occupied by Rome following the Punic Wars. The Romans held sway in Iberia for six centuries, laying the foundations for Spanish language and culture.

Following the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the fifth century AD, Spain was ruled by the Visigoths, a Germanic people who had migrated from central Europe. In 711, the Muslims of North Africa launched an invasion across the Straits of Gibraltar, occupying the majority of the peninsula within a few years. Their presence lasted more than seven centuries, though the Christian kingdoms in the north increased their power over each subsequent generation, gradually driving the Moors southwards. The last Moorish kingdom, Granada, was conquered in 1492.

The discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus and the expulsion of Jews and Moors from Spain marked Spanish history forever. Treasure from Spain's vast overseas empire pushed Spain into the forefront of European countries. However, constant warfare drained Spain’s resources. With the accession of the Bourbon dynasty to the Spanish throne at the beginning of the 18th century, Spain came within the French sphere of influence for the following 100 years, until the defeat of Napoleon's army during the Peninsular War.

In 1931 king Alfonso XIII abdicated and this lead to Spain becoming a Republic. Conservative reaction from certain groups sparked the Spanish Civil War (raging from 1936 to 1939 & precluding World War II). Franco’s War stance lead to its isolation. In the 1950s the first US bases opened. Tourism also flourished in later decades. It was only 1975 when Spain became a democracy. In the last thirty years Spain was described by one of our tour guides as having made the move from the ‘3rd to 1st world’.

A negative point is certainly being concerned about the shear power of extremists from both the Christian and Muslim religions (suggested as the main culprits of radical changes and ethnic isolation) to cause the mass movement and ejection of people. We need to analyse and become aware of what factors ‘tip the balance’ of sense in people. Generally what drives people to communal violence there are too many examples (Rwanda, Dafur, Yugoslavia, Nazi Germany…)? My fear is that sometimes it is not that obvious when radical evil takes place.

Ending on a positive it is important to note that at one point Spain had three different religions living together in peace and respect. More recently they have been able to rapidly establish a reliable technical and logistical infrastructure. In the month that India and Pakistan celebrate their independence/Republic days (60 years) is there more progress that can be made by working together? The potential is certainly there!

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Saturday, August 06, 2005

Hiroshima Remembered

On Saturday morning (6th August 2005) it will be 60 years since Nuclear Bombs were dropped on Japan. It is estimated that approximately 140,000 people are believed to have died when the B-29 bomber named Enola Gay dropped its deadly payload, turning Hiroshima and its people into living flames. Another plane, Bock's Car, bombed Nagasaki, on the southern Japan island of Kyushu, killed at least 80,000 three days later. Hiroshima, situated 426 miles (686 kilometers) southwest of Tokyo, was charred and leveled beyond recognition. On Aug. 15, 1945, Japan surrendered.

Many died immediately and others died of cancers. Hiroshima officials now put the total number of the dead in this city alone at 237,062. In 2005, 5,000 more names are to be added to the list.Those that were evacuated in time returned to no homes, relatives and the struggle to rebuild.

The pain of such loss must is clearly unbearable. Yet, even after 60 years a superpower like the USA still plans to keep 5,000 warheads — each far more efficient than the one that devastated this city. This aim is upheld by Russia, China, Britain, France, India and Pakistan. These confirmed nuclear powers, current have no plans to give up their arsenals. Instead more countries are looking to join the nuclear nightmare club.

So what is the attraction of nuclear power? It appears that Images of these flattened cities, accounts from survivors and ongoing suffering do not have any impact on the development of these true and real weapons of mass destruction. Instead we see North Korea keen on developing their nuclear capability !?

On Saturday 6th August tens of thousands of people will be packed into Hiroshima's Peace Memorial Park. Wreaths will be laid and 1,000 doves set free. Temple bells will ring. As many as 40,000 people are expected to attend the memorial, including Japanese dignitaries. It is said that a theme of peace permeates Hiroshima. Its broad, tree-lined road leading to the park is called the ‘Promenade of Peace.’ Hundreds of thousands visit Hiroshima's Peace Museum every year, and they are greeted at the entrance by a Peace Clock, which counts the days since the bomb was dropped. On Saturday it will reach 21,915. The bomb struck at 8:15 a.m.(11:15 p.m. Friday GMT).

I cannot believe that the world is still obsessed with Nuclear power, its harmful waste and the potential it has to unleash by such destructive weapons. It appears that humanity blindly ignores the mass devastation that it can cause to itself. We need to take heed and ensure that we understand the following inscription based at the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum. Inscribed on a large stone are the words / a message from Pope John Paul's:

’War is the work of man.
War is destruction of human life.
War is death.
To remember the past is to
commit oneself to the future.
To remember Hiroshima is to
abhor nuclear war,
To remember Hiroshima is to
commit oneself to peace.’

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Friday, August 05, 2005

An Innocent Man

The recent shooting of an innocent man at Stockwell tube station by Police marksmen raises a number of issues in terms of how suspects are viewed and assessed. Although currently we await the findings of both the Public and Police enquiry, there are some basic areas that need to be considered. Clearly people are ‘on edge’, with an increased sense of suspicion by all. It is important to ask what was the premise behind the police assuming that the late discovered innocent man was being pursued as a suspect. Was it the colour / tone of his skin, the clothes he was wearing, his rug stack, behaviour or his reluctance to stop when requested? It is this issue that has raised some alarm. If there is a shot to kill policy then the public need to know when this came into being, together with understanding the way to respond to any interaction with the police.

I recently heard of a disturbing situation on a bus. Apparently, sitting in the front part of the bus two Muslim women dressed in full burka, were sitting on their own, while the rest of the passengers sat huddled together in discomfort at the back. The person telling me the story proudly declared that she had got up from the huddle and in defiance sat next to the 2 ladies. Not meaning to sound too cynical but did she tell me the story to show how liberal and open she, is i.e.: as a token or did she believe in the rightful message that we should treat all of humanity as one. I hope for the latter.

It is sad that society has now got to a stage where appearances are used to judge the potential to engage in dialogue or simple everyday interaction. I can understand the need for extra vigilance but it should not be at the expense of victimisation. Terror suspects come in all shapes, sizes and colours! There should never be an atmosphere of alienation otherwise we are in danger of reaching a point of communalism exploited by mis-guided and blinding leaders. Maybe an episode of this type say something more about how society tends to like categorising or classifying people. It also raises the question of respect. For example, looking at the way religions have been treated in recent years in France in the name of so called secularism is simple distortion. The last thing we want is for this disease of demented so-called part-time tolerance to reach the UK.

There has been much talk in recent years about religious schools and whether they create a sense of segregation. This is a non-issue as religious schools have been in existence for hundreds of years. In addition, there is nothing wrong with having an understanding of the importance of spirituality. No religion teaches violence.

Acceptance is the missing element in today’s society. There is a hidden pressure of conforming to somebody else’s agenda. Acceptance that we are all the same and religious belief only strengthen the bonds between us. By teaching each other about our differences we can derive a sense of understanding and respect. Not levelling one civilisation Vs another. The lack of teaching history on the basis of parallel world-developments and learning from past mistakes appears to be lacking. We are history in the making but it should not be at the expense of forgetting our decades of mistakes.

Have you ever considered that all life is innocent when born but it is the world that potentially corrupts the soul? Today’s education system has a part to play to teach the young and the old that religious values are good and a source for understanding each other better. Communication is better than the potential of any misguided loss.

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