A very cathartic weekend to you

By Marco De Angelis
By Marco De Angelis : Terror’s curtain of death spreads

How do you react to terror? A great part of me wants to give them as little attention as possible. They do not deserve my tears. I will not admit I am afraid. I will not let hate bleed into my heart, even though its poison is all around me. On the other hand I do not want to become indifferent. I want to feel and see and know it all, even though it is  so very tempting to close my eyes and (try to) forget.

The thing that keeps poking Mr Cynic awake in my mind every few minutes is the “pray for Paris”-campagne so many are supporting online. I appreciate its intention, but all the while I think: What good will THAT do??

By Marco di Angelis : The difficult path of tolerance.
By Marco di Angelis : The difficult path of tolerance.

Why pray? Religion is partly what got us into this mess! What do you think god is going to do about it anyway? He stood by while it happened and now you ask him to… to what? To heal the wounds? To give us the strength to carry on? You don’t need someone to GIVE you strength, you already have it. What you need is a kick up the ass! Or a hug… yes, maybe a hug is better…

And while we’re at it, why are you only praying for Paris? Shit is hitting the fan all over the place. If you think prayer is the solution, pray for Beirut too! Pray for the airplane victims in Egypt, pray for Baghdad, pray for Thailand. Hell, I don’t even know half of the places this stuff is going on…

So don’t fold your hands and trust some almighty cloud dweller to fix this mess. It’s up to you and me. Don’t let your thoughts be led by fear or hate. Do you feel any negativity towards your hijab wearing neighbor? Check yourself: what is this feeling based on; have you every actually spoken with her? Give it a try! Or just throw a smile in there. It won’t fix the world, but it might steer us away from this self fulfilling prophecy. It’s a small and easy gesture and I assure you it will do more good than your bedside prayer.

Also, let’s stop calling that group of hateful cutthroats “Islamic State”. They do not deserve to be acknowledged by this name. They are neither worthy muslims nor do they have or deserve an actual state. They are the Daesh. If there were a way to acknowledge them less, I would.

I don’t feel like predicting the future right now or finding any justification for last night. I clearly have no solutions for this either. So yes, this blog may have been a pretty futile undertaking all together and I apologize if you feel it was a waste of your time. I guess this is what they call catharsis.

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Righteousness with a vengeance

Newschannel Euronews has an item they show in between programs called “no comment“. It always shows images of some event but with no commentary. No translation. No explanation. Just images. For a couple of minutes you get to decide what is going on and if you think that’s OK or not. I always thought it was kind of cool. Perhaps it’s the closest you can get to objective journalism.

If the internet taught me anything though, it is that there is no such thing as “the truth”, nor is anybody ever completely impartial. The fact that the camera is pointing this way and not that can change the whole story. I try to be conscious of this fact when I read / watch any narrative.

This morning however, the internet gave me a shocker when I encountered the image seen below, among the likes of one of my FB friends. It really took me a while to process what I was seeing and reading and my initial reaction was anger. I asked the person who had liked the image (and he’s a family member, for crying out loud!) if he really believed this to be true. I asked him this, with the intention of deleting him from my account and from my life if he declared to my (cyber)face that he stood behind this statement.

FB Jews

I felt offended. Personally. I felt the legacy of my grandparents was being spat on and I couldn’t believe people were giving such a message a thumbs up. I felt it was unfair to hold me accountable for something that happened long before I was born. I felt it was wrong to put the Nazi horrors in the same sentence with what is happening in Palestine as if these things are somehow related. I hated the fact that I was being asked to disagree with Germans killing jews but to condone jews killing muslims (or vice versa for that matter).

Now that I’ve calmed down a bit I am trying to see if I can find the nuance in there somewhere, but I’m finding it quite difficult. All I can come up with is that I do understand that everyone has the right to defend themselves. My inner Ghandi however keeps popping out and poking at me with his walking stick and repeating his famous quote like a mantra:

eye_for_eye_500

UPDATE: Nuance found! I also decided to change the title of this blog and share a bit of the discussion I had on FB with the people that posted the controversial image.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot, actually, and I still feel that the way this South African jewish organization formulated their message was way too strong., -and I can’t believe I am actually going to admit it,- BUT, I do understand where they were coming from now.

In their very elaborate response to my angry, slightly defensive rant, they asked me to bare two things in mind:

1. The Allies were fighting the German/Italian/Japanese Axis not because of what Hitler was doing to the Jews but because they were invading other countries.
2. The incredibly brave individuals who put their lives on the line to save Jews during the Holocaust were a minuscule minority.

I can’t deny any of this. It’s painful and it’s true.

The thing is, that I actually do believe that the world stood by and watched atrocities happen for way too long. Individuals breathed a sigh of relief as the horrors passed by their front doors (in other words, they were not jewish) and politicians dared not speak up and risk turning up on the losing end.

The world was stunned, like a deer in headlights. There was no protocol for this. No precedents or lessons learnt from previous occurrences that we could fall back on. We were slow to act. There must have been denial and heaps of mixed messages, making it so difficult to take a strong stand for the masses.

So yes, that surviving jews held grudges for the world’s passiveness: I get it… We didn’t step up until the Nazis started making life difficult for the rest of us, the non-jews. That’s offensive and no apology or compensation will ever mend those wounds.

But I don’t see us giving the Tutsi’s in Rwanda a free pass, nor have I heard them ask for one (or have they…? not even sure about that one, as the world cared even less about what happened to them than the jews’ ordeal and I haven’t really heard of them since)…

Another thing that has been bugging me is how this statement is not about the world not allowing jews to stand up for themselves. This whole image, without mentioning it ONCE, is actually about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

I always struggle with political correctness here. Can you use Jew as a synonym for Israeli? I can imagine there are many jews that would disagree. Or non jews, for that matter. As a matter of fact, I know quite a few muslims that have no issues with jews or their faith, but do whole heartedly dislike Israelis. And then there are those referred to as zionists, who are the one’s that believe in and actually persue “the re-establishment of a Jewish homeland

So in that sense, the first sentence in the image above refers to jews, but the second one refers to Israeli’s and more specifically, the zionists who are trying to establish their so called homeland on somebody else’s homeland.

So my conclusion is, I get it, but I still don’t think it’s OK at all…. but feel free to disagree!

Ugly

What a bizarre day Friday was… I came back from a normal day at work, looking forward to the weekend when a friend asked me if I had heard about the decapitation in France. I hadn’t. I swiped my way through the news and took it all in. Because it wasn’t only France. It was also Tunisia and Kuwait and Somalia, all though the latter hardly made the news. And I caught myself answering my friend that I wasn’t surprised (I even predicted it would happen)… It was ramadan after all and a Friday, so the fanatics were extra pumped after being spoken to by their clerics of choice.

Coexist-cartoon2

After having a quick bite at home, I went to the gym. While I was plodding away on the treadmill I looked at the lady next to me, making her miles without going anywhere. I have seen her many times and we always exchange smiles and friendly greetings in the dressing room. She is old enough to be my mother but she is lean and strong and would probably outrun me any day of the week.

keep-calm-and-turn-a-blind-eye-2She was looking at the TV screen in front of her while working through her routine. It was a news channel. Men with flags. Large guns. Flashing lights from police cars and ambulances. Blood. Moving images of anger and fear, but no sound. Just the pounding of our machines and the encouraging beats of some dance song. I saw her turn the screen in front of her off and continue on in a sort of “Keep calm and carry on” sort of way.

RAF knoopI must admit I consciously chose not to watch the news that evening, even though it was on my mind. On Saturday I woke up and realized it was Veteran’s day in the Netherlands. I had made a point of remembering it this year as I had received a very special gift from an amazing man and second world war veteran the year before. It was a button from his uniform and I had promised I would wear it this day to honor him.

I turned on the TV and saw the preparations for the national parade and the stories of veterans pass by. They were from different generations and had served in different conflicts but they all shared a sense of pride in what they stood for. But there was also guilt, because it was never enough. And recurring pain, physical or mental (or both) because a war leaves scars that never heal.

And I then realized my gym companion didn’t turn the TV off because she was uninterested but because at that particular moment she couldn’t deal with it and had to switch it off. Violence does something to us, as humans. It’s not just a physical wound, it kills something inside us, doesn’t it?

I suspect this is also why people around me seem to be more vocal about the destruction of the ancient buildings and sculptures in Palmyra than about the trail of torture and death IS left on its way there. It’s so difficult to process what is happening there and it’s nearly impossible to find the words to say anything meaningful about it.

Realizing that there are people that can get past that point of repulsion and not only condone these violent acts but become active participants boggles my mind and I hate that it is becoming “just another killing” on the news.

It’s hard because on the one side I want to crawl away into my happy space of denial and just ignore this nasty business. I am helpless in the face of this aggressive cancer. There is no room for reasoning. It’s just ugly.

But to quote the Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

The terms and conditions of freedom

Freedom LoesjeToday is the fifth of May, which means that it is Liberation Day in the Netherlands, as explained in my previous blog. So, you can imagine that this is one of those days that we Dutchies show off our more patriotic side. Many of my Facebook friends post pictures of typically flat landscapes with windmills here and there and the occasional Dutch flag.

One of today’s posts really got me thinking though, and that’s the one you see on the left here…

I shared it on my own wall, only to come to the conclusion that I have no clue what the terms and conditions of freedom really are.

On the one side, I want to say that someone is totally free only when there are no rules, no terms and no conditions. To be able to walk, to run, to jump, to dance, to sing and do whatever you feel like doing at that particular time. Is that what being free is? But then again, I would kind of be bothered by some people taking advantage of their unconditional freedom, me thinks.

The absence of an oppressive force, is that freedom? And then the rest just boils down to being tolerant and well behaved to one another?

To be able to speak your mind. That’s pretty important, no? But then again, looking back at my Charlie Hebdo ponderings, perhaps there should be some limit to that one too…

So I guess being free isn’t really that easy and I guess only love can be truly unconditional (all though in all honesty, is it ever really 😉 )…

Anyone care to help me out on this one?

Remembering and celebrating 70 years of freedom

It will be exactly seventy years ago this week that the second world war officially ended in the Netherlands.

The 4th of May is Herdenkingsdag, or Remembrance Day. On this day we all do a conscious effort to commemorate the cruel history of war, to realize once again what men are capable of when exposed to hateful doctrines and to honor the people who did not survive. Poems, speeches and solemn music help us get in a contemplative mood that suits this day of mourning.

At 8PM, we are all silent for 2 minutes. Cars stop by the side of the road, all TV and radio channels adjust their programming, cities go quiet, children study the faces of their parents and try to understand the sudden change of atmosphere… And then the national anthem is played, smiles reappear and life slowly picks up again.

I always wonder what other people think about in these two minutes. There are no real rules about this (luckily!) all though I always ask people around me what they will focus on during the moments of silence. You can steer your thoughts in all directions during those quiet moments but I’m quite sure most of us try to keep our thoughts relevant. That is to say, we think about the second world war; about the destruction of Rotterdam, about the underground resistance, about the concentration camps and the millions that died. But we also think about more recent wars and conflicts where military force was used and soldiers met their deaths, – our soldiers, their soldiers, guerrillas, civilians.

A few years ago there was some controversy because the annual poem that was chosen to be read aloud  (always written by a child) was dedicated to the boy’s grandfather, who had joined the SS and was therefore, as we call it in the Netherlands “fout”, which translates to “wrong”. The poem was about making choices and how these choices can echo on in future generations. The poem is a sort of reminder that in times of war things can get confused and one must not judge too quickly.

This caused so much upheaval that in the end, the Committee decided to pull the poem out of the program. The wounds are still too fresh to forgive. There is no room to grieve for the men that stood on the wrong side of the line, at least not on this day. I do understand this sentiment even though I think it is valuable to stay open for the fact that there is always another side to the story.

The sad realization is that in the end it makes no difference. No battles are prevented or stopped by the strength of our quiet thoughts and next year we will do it again and we will have more death to think about…

…but to not end on this somber note I will also tell you about the 5th of May, which is Bevrijdingsdag or Liberation Day. On this day we celebrate our freedom by dancing in the streets, as the people must have done in 1945 when the Nazi occupation was officially over.

bevrijdingsdag bevrijdingsfestivalbevr festival

What will you do on the 5th of May?

Making peace with my inner-racist

The mayor of the Dutch city of Rotterdam is an interesting man. Let’s start with the obvious, just to get the elephant out of the room. He was born and raised in Morocco until the age of 15 in a small town in the Nador province. He is a muslim. Even more so, his father was an imam and he himself remains a devout muslim to this day.

Ahmed Aboutaleb, because that is his name, is an incredibly well spoken Dutch politician that has made me nod my head at my tv-screen on several occasions. I wish I could say that his provenance is not what I find most interesting about him. I wish I could say I consider him to be completely “one of us” or that I respect him for and foremost for his qualities as a politician and a person in general … but now that I think about it, every time I am wowed by one of his statements, my amazement is usually intensified, thinking of his background… and when I talk to someone about something I heard him say, I think I do often use words along the lines of “… and that is coming from a man from such-and-such background”. Does that make me a racist? It kind of does, doesn’t it?

Yesterday morning I saw an interview with Mr Aboutaleb on the news, which triggered me to write this blog. He talks about the second generation immigrants that are increasingly finding solace in the more extremist corners of their faith and are considering picking up weapons in armed conflicts elsewhere, to defend these new values they have come to stand for.ahmed_aboutaleb02.jpg

I translated a large part of it and included it below:

You describe young muslims that want to travel abroad to join the fight in conflict zones as people commiting treason, what do you mean by this?

Imagine for example my situation. I came to the Netherlands when I was 15. The Netherlands invested in me for many years, ten thousands of euros in education. I have now reached the point that I can do something for society. For myself and for my parents; especially my parents who have been through a lot to get this far, and then you would say “forget it, I am going somewhere else” and not just that, you are going to do things AGAINST the country that has invested in you. I can’t call it anything but treason.

So you are asking people that turn their backs on our values and the laws of our constitution to hand in their passports. That’s quite a strong statement, isn’t it?

We often organize ceremonies in our municipality, where we hand newcomers their citizenship on behalf of the Dutch State. I always mention that a passport is not just a travel document. It stands for an identity and its core values. And not only that, the values of our country, the laws of our constitution will sometimes need to be defended by force of arms if those values are threatened or the Netherlands are under attack. “If you don’t accept those conditions,” I always say in my speeches, “leave the document here”. And if, after all these years, you find out that these values don’t suit you, be a man and come in next Monday and hand over the passport. This way we don’t need to discuss in the senate who is right and who is wrong.

Aren’t people allowed to have another opinion?

Ofcourse people are allowed to have other opinions. There will always be room for that. I am talking now about people that have reached a point that they are prepared to leave this country, take their wife and kids with them and settle in a feudal system, where everything we have been brought up with, everything we have learned about, is rejected. That is a conscious choice, which is allowed, but be a man about it and come hand in that passport as well. If you reject our constitution, that your passport is linked to, than you obviously don’t want that either.

But isn’t that a bit harsh. Aren’t you bringing problems to other immigrants with this statement, people that do not agree with these minorities?

Absolutely not. You know, what people that are involved in these discussions often don’t understand is that dealing with these minorities, and dealing with them strongly, by for example asking them to hand in their passports, is the best way to protect the 1 million people that are wrongly being associated with this. This is the best protection for me, and the other 999.999 others.

[…]

But is repression the only way?

It’s definitely not the only way. Repression in this case may be a small part of a larger whole, but a very necessary one. The big tasks lie with the municipalities, the local authorities and the mayors to organize this debate, to open the dialogue, which we will be organizing here in Rotterdam at the end of September. Let it be a hard discussion, let’s tear this up because nothing shines without friction.

But if you lay the lines down so tightly, won’t it make it more difficult to have this dialogue?

I have always learned that especially when the lines are clear and tight, people are prepared to talk. I can tell you now, this conversation is going to give reactions of repulsion, it is going to spark angry emails but it will also trigger a lot of support. You can’t be everyone’s friend, as mayor of Rotterdam, and luckily that is not my goal either.

So what you are saying is that if there are certain elements in society, no matter how large or small, that we don’t agree with, that it should be removed…

For starters, I think that if you have consciously decided that you do not want to be a part of the Netherlands, that you should be honest about this. Come out, hand in the passport. But, if you are not willing to do so, if you do this secretly and undermine the values of our society, the consequence is that we, as a society, will isolate you and shut you out. And it is justified for the Dutch government to makes this possible and I stand behind these measures. But do not forget that the whole climate that has been created is very damaging for the 1 million muslims that live here. We must treasure them, hold them close and make them feel included and not judge THEM for the choices of these extremist minorities, because that is one of my largest worries…


An interesting interview… I am convinced that this message would have come across a lot different if any of our kaaskop politicians would have introduced it, but coming from him it becomes more acceptable… right? But where does this leave me? Do I actively try to include my muslim countrymen and make them feel welcome? Should I be doing this more actively, or is “tolerance” enough? I really don’t like that idea… to tolerate is to just barely accept someone’s presence… but only just… that’s not what I want to do…

racist but shhh.jpg

I have been wondering a lot lately about the racism I have in me. If someone were to summarize me in 10 words I don’t think “racist” would be one of the words they would pick, but I admit I do live by certain stereotypes though, just because they make life easier. I have always tried to see every situation from all possible points of view and I’m usually able to find understandable reasons for almost every stance. I seem to be losing my ability to put myself in “the other’s” shoes though. Either that, or the opinions people are standing for are truly becoming more unreasonable and I simply can not follow.  I believe the latter is the case, which doesn’t really make me feel much better…

I have an opinion about many things but I have noticed that when people around me talk about things with a whiff of what I would categorize as racism, I pull back from a conversation. I quickly decide these people are ignorant and that giving them my opinion will only pull me into a tiring discussion that will leave us both annoyed and not an inch further into convincing one another. So why bother?

Well… just the other day I changed my point of view, all though I must admit I haven’t put it into practice yet. My idea revolved around the fact that if I don’t open my mouth and voice my very reasonable, well-informed and moderate ideas (yes, I am full of myself), then the only people talking are the people with extreme (or just plain stupid) ideas. And that’s not good! Especially in these times, with tension building all around us and it seems all we are doing is waiting to see who will make that final spark to blow the whole thing up.

I know this new mission of mine will frustrate me. I know I won’t convince 9 out of 10, maybe even 49 out of 50. Maybe I won’t be making any new friends among my co-workers. But I have to try this! I’m giving myself a month to experiment with this and will then report back here on how it went and if I won anyone over to join my team…

A struggling pacifist

My father has always had a strong aversion toward militarism. I could let all sort of psychological theories loose on the why and how of this sentiment, but that is not my point of today. I was brought up with his teachings and – all though his pedestal has crumbled here and there throughout the years, – I consider him to be one of the wisest men I know, especially when it comes to matters of the world. He is an incredibly informed and smart man, whose opinions I value highly.

I suppose it is because of my upbringing that parading soldiers give me the chills and even boy scouts make me cringe a bit, when they pride themselves in their uniformity. I am a true pacifist at heart. I don’t like seeing hummers in the streets, not only because they are ridiculously fuel inefficient, but most of all because they are originally army vehicles. I hate the fact that firearms even exist and so many of us have come to believe they are synonyms for safety or even justice. It breaks my heart.

(In that context, have you seen the “make love not war” commercials by Axe… man, if only….)

Not long ago I had a talk with someone who had a very different point of view. As representative of a national veteran organization his task was to praise and show respect to every form of military involvement to those that had served our country, be it on recent missions or in wars many decades ago.  I remember him complaining about the choices our country was making in the face of the economic crisis. Of course cuts are being made all around, but our ministry of defense has had to hand over a great deal of its funding, with great consequences for our military.

I remember feeling a strong urge to contradict him, from the very first sentence. My thoughts and words were full of the necessity for education, unemployment, welfare and social programs. I remember him saying we might regret our choices at some point and I remember snapping back that it was more important to deal with problems that were actually truly affecting us now than worrying about some fear monger’s hypothetical war of the future.

I think I still stand behind those words, but I am starting to understand what he was saying. I think it’s a pity it took me so long to process his point of view, because it could have been a much more productive and interesting conversation, had I been more open to it.

With my father as an example, I have always tried to be well informed and involved in the worlds’ affairs. I am not completely sure if times are truly harsher or that my sensitivity to it has just grown but lately it’s been really getting to me. On the one side I want to stay aware, interested and engaged and not let the hopelessness and eternal stalemates of conflicts make me look away or become indifferent. Like a legendary Argentinian song by Leon Gieco says:

 Sólo le pido a Dios
que la guerra no me sea indiferente,
es un monstruo grande y pisa fuerte
toda la pobre inocencia de la gente.
 I only ask of God
That i am not indifferent to the battle,
It’s a big monster and it tramples hard
on all the poor innocence of people.

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On the other side, the endlessness of it and the inhumanity of humans just really gets to me sometimes and I just can’t watch it any longer. This makes me feel guilty because I know there are people who can not switch it off. It is their reality and anything the TV shows them is an improvement compared to what goes on right outside their doors (if it hasn’t come crashing down through their roofs already…)

I think my slight change of heart came a couple of months back, after seeing an interview I also blogged about here. The world is changing and I have this uneasy feeling of chaos brewing around me. A sense of hate that is building, of tempers rising, of mobs growing. We all see it and our solution is to send in our army of politicians and diplomats. We analyze, we write reports, we understand its history and the possible outcomes. We have men in suits and ties, armed with laptops, blackberries and fountain pens and, oh man, I truly wish that would be enough but I know it is not going to bring us anywhere…

The time that we could say “not our problem” and retreat in our bubble of blissful ignorance seems to be ending. The conflicts of the Middle East are not only IN the Middle East. Our populations are built up of people of all ethnicities and our cultures have become entangled through migration and globalization. And then there is this new game we are playing with Russia. If it’s all just economics and politics, then our army of bureaucrats will do just fine. But if the “bare-chested one” has as much cojones as he claims, we might be in trouble…

The other day, one of the Transformers movies was on TV and for some reason (despite it being a terribly simplistic story with some pretty poor acting here and there) it made me so incredibly sad. All I saw was destruction, suffering and men getting traumatized. At the end I saw a victorious society, scarred for life by the traumas of war. If I were religious I would be praying for wisdom and tranquility, or world peace, if you will… but I’m not… so now what can I do??