Sifting through the ashes in search of something, anything

england-eu

Shantih Shantih Shantih, wrote Eliot in the final lines of ‘The Waste Land’, a fragment pillaged from the Hindu Upanishads. It is bewitching, it is intensely mournful, almost inexplicable, and today in particular, it is the most poignant expression of ultimate resignation.

Along with David Dimbleby, JK Rowling and a good chunk of the country’s students, among a vast array of others from John o’ Groats to Land’s End, I stayed up all night to watch the results of the EU referendum come flooding in over the airwaves and through the slippery plumbing of the social media pipework. And, just before 5am, the BBC called game, set, match for the “Leave” campaign.

Newcastle was the signal fire that first spelled doom for those championing solidarity with Europe, bringing in a tiny “Remain” majority despite confident projections that it would be much higher. This was almost identical to the role of the Dundee result in the Scottish referendum, which in the same way brought in a much smaller win for the “Yes” campaign than predicted, crippling them for the rest of the count.

Screen Shot 2016-06-24 at 12.41.19But this was by no means the first speed bump of the night that was last night. Next came Sunderland, then Swansea, the latter with a huge “Leave” majority, a trend that was incidentally set for the rest of rural Wales in stark contrast with cosmopolitan Cardiff. And when Birmingham, with its 700,000 or so votes, came in with a “Leave” win, all hope was lost. Though it was a narrow margin the fact that “Leave” triumphed at all was unprecedented, the great swathe of votes in the region therefore serving to just about cancel each other out. The disappointing Euroscepticism of the outer London boroughs nailed the coffin shut despite soaring “Remain” majorities in the likes of Lambeth, Hackney, Camden, and the rest of the city. Scotland of course voted “Remain” pretty decisively (albeit with a 67% turnout versus the 85% of September 2014 and the 72% of yesterday’s national average), but so did Northern Ireland, prompting calls from Sinn Féin as well as NI’s Deputy First Minister to reignite the debate for a unified Ireland. One can hardly imagine a UK consisting of just England and Wales, the very prospect of which seems simply absurd, outlandish even. And yet here we are.

The steep “Leave” trend, however, in the xenophobic and pensioner-rich middle class enclaves of the North East and Midlands was expected, but the bitter truth is that it was Corbyn’s polarising leadership bid that splintered those red-rose strongholds and so compromised the voice of Labour’s “Remain” proponents. And now on the eve of chaos, he has been served a motion of no confidence.

But as Iain Martin of CapX put it in the wee hours, “Labour: it’s the fault of the Tories. Tories: it’s the fault of Labour”.

Undoubtedly, one of the first seismic political tremors following the result occurred when David Cameron emerged from 10 Downing Street at 08:18 just moments after rumours had swept along the rope line of the press that he would be resigning.

At the podium he began by championing democracy, thanking those who took part on “my side of the argument”, and congratulating the opposition, stating categorically that “the will of the British people is an instruction that must be respected.” He swiftly went on to reassure the markets, the armies of investors, and those Brits living abroad as well as those non-British EU citizens living here that there would be no immediate changes, stressing the need for preparations for negotiations to ensure the interests of “all parts of our United Kingdom” are heard. That rather cemented the trajectory of his speech, and sure enough, he was soon expressing how proud he was to have been Britain’s PM these past six years and listing his government’s achievements, before insisting we must “confront, not duck, big decisions”. This, he said, was that so quintessentially British spirit that saw the first coalition government in seventy years being forged in 2010, a “fair, legal and decisive” referendum in Scotland, and the EU negotiations he carried out with his “head, heart and soul”. That’s when he delivered the words that we were all expecting to hear, that he was not the “captain” to steer the country in this new direction, and while giving no precise timetable, that there must be a new prime minister in time for the Conservative conference in October. “Delivering stability” was the priority he emphasised, with a Cabinet meeting scheduled for Monday and the Bank of England taking steps to ensure this stability. He said he had already spoken to the Queen and will be attending the European Council next week to formally explain Britain’s decision. He finished on a note of solidarity, encouraging “those on the losing side” to help make it work, because ultimately, Britain is a “special” country, driven by its astonishing history of science, arts, engineering, creativity, and though certainly not perfect, it can be and will remain a model of a multi-racial, multi-faithed nation. “I am the first to praise our incredible strengths,” he concluded, voice breaking, “I love this country and I’ve been honoured to serve it.”

MP Anna Soubry hailed the PM moments later on the BBC for his “beautiful composure”, looking rather shell-shocked as she described how he “led from the front” and how sincerely she hopes “this won’t cloud our memory of him”, while across the Channel MEP Philippe Lamberts condemned him as “utterly irresponsible” on the doorstep of the HQ in Brussels.

Of course, Cameron really had no other option than to resign. As Salmond dryly remarked to the BBC earlier this morning, “I have some experience in this field”. And so, the three month leadership battle begins. Johnson, May, Davidson, Crabb… whoever emerges on top, it will be a sensationalist Tory pseudo-drama of Freudian proportions.

But much caution has already been expressed over the rapidity of implementing Article 50, with many prominent “Leave” politicians encouraging cool-headed patience and negotiations. And yet, Corbyn appeared on BBC1 at 07:30 saying it should be invoked “now”, a reminder of his reluctance at backing the EU at all given his long history of resistance against the establishment, the status quo, the bureacracy. He did, after all, express his support for the EU at only “7 and a 1/2”, whatever the hell that means. And now speculation is stirring that Corbyn will be ousted by the end of the week.

Speaking of speculation, Carney emerged after the night’s global turmoil in the wake of Cameron’s resignation to reassure the markets that the banks were fully backed with a £250 billion reserve ready to secure credit for both households and businesses. It was at the sight of the Newcastle signal fire that the pound, which had soared to around $1.50 against the dollar right before the vote, plummeted to its lowest level since 1985. The FTSE was down 500 points at its open, Barclays bank tanked 35%, with RBS and Lloyds quickly following, and shockwaves rippled though the Nikkei. Expressions of Britain’s bad judgement appeared in morning papers across the globe, from the New York Times to El Mundo, with Obama receiving a “briefing” on the result in the White House around 6am. Indeed, some have hailed this disturbing realisation of xenophobia, regression and isolationism as the harbinger of everything from the resurgence of Europe’s far-right groups to the wall-building, Muslim-banning madness that would be a Trump presidency. Sensationalism aside, the EU has been guaranteed at least two years of uncertainty.

As for Scotland, we now know that every council area across the nation voted to stand with the EU, and Nicola Sturgeon just made her assurance from Bute House that preparations for a second referendum will now begin. She was careful not to confirm it, but that is undoubtedly the trajectory we are now on. Indeed, the weight of the Glasgow result at 2am temporarily tipped the total national count into a “Remain” majority. The consensus in Scotland is beyond doubt, but the case for independence of course will now be made even more complex and polarising by the reality of a Britain outside the EU and an EU rocked by the messy exit of its second largest economy. Of course there is the possibility that “Brexit” will now trigger any number of copycat referendums in the most traditionally Eurosceptic countries from Greece and Spain to Latvia and Hungary, not to mention the looming spectre of potential bank runs.

It may just be that the EU was the crucial pressure point on the windowpane of the UK. Now it has been hit with such surgical precision, spidery cracks have bloomed across it, obscuring all beyond. A second independence referendum will be the tap that shatters it forever. But, there will be two Nationalist reactions. Sturgeon has made her position clear, while expressing respect for those No-voters who will want to rationally reevaluate their position. However, many senior figures within the SNP leadership, Humza Yousaf among them, will be reluctant to use Brexit as a vehicle for statehood. For one thing currency is now even more of a roadblock. It will have to be the Euro or a brand new currency, perhaps pegged to the pound. Also, there is the simple reality that Scotland receives £9 billion per year from Westminster while juggling a deficit three times the size of the rest of the UK, particularly problematic given the lack of oil revenue. And we must remember that over a million people voted to leave the EU and the SNP would certainly not want to initiate a referendum that would most likely take place in 2017-18 without being certain of victory. There would also need to be a border, a proper, real-life border between Scotland and England. But there is now a new independence case for previous No-voters to consider. There is not space here to elaborate just quite yet, particularly in the swirling Charybdis that is today, but yes… there is certainly a case.

The fact remains that 17 million is a lot of people, a hell of a lot, and yet it’s not even a third of the UK’s population. Nor is it actually a majority of the electorate, despite the record turnout. The result was so close that a 72% turnout didn’t give “Leave” over 50% of the votes when those other 10 million-ish people who couldn’t or wouldn’t fill out a ballot are taken into account. Just look at the demographics. 64% of 18-24 year olds nationwide voted “Remain”, while 58% of 65+ year olds voted “Leave”. If, as in the Scottish referendum, the 1.5 million 16-17 year olds in the UK had been granted the vote, the nation would have awoken to very different news this morning. Instead, our futures have been decided by the oldest generation to the detriment of all.

Marina Hyde of The Guardian took to Twitter this morning to muse over Farage’s comment that “this is a victory for ordinary people, decent people”, pointing out that all us Remainers are therefore extraordinarily indecent. Indeed, we are the “indecent minority”, as JK Rowling wryly replied.

From the terribly bitter and painful ashes of this referendum, several things will rise. The question and intense likelihood of a second Scottish referendum, the question of a possible Irish referendum, the question of fresh party leaders for both the Tories and Labour, the question of the timing and logistics of Article 50, the question of citizenship for Brits abroad and Europeans here at home, and the question of trade and foreign relations now we have cut ourselves loose from the continent.

Not all of these things will survive the battle to wing their way across the sun-splashed skies, but the ones that do will determine the future of this isle full of noises in every single possible sense of the word.

Shantih Shantih Shantih

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An evening of Sudanese literature and a reminder of the importance of cultural exchange

London

On an iron-grey Tuesday night earlier this week, the first floor of Waterstones Piccadilly (or Waterdilly as my best friend and I call it) was filled with the murmur of voices from a truly staggering array of cultures. It was an evening in celebration of Arabic literature and the launch of the fifty-fifth issue of the Banipal magazine.

The magazine itself is significantly named for the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal who mobilised all the 7th-century-BC resources at his disposal to establish the first organised library in the Middle East. This treasure trove of fledgling-world-literature was located in the largest city in the world at that time, Nineveh, a sprawling fortress-town of red brick where the Tigris and Khosr Rivers meet. Ashurbanipal’s library saw the accumulation of thousands of Sumerian, Babylonian, Mesopotamian, and Assyrian clay tablets. The logistics alone of transporting so many fragments of engraved rock from across the Assyrian empire to a single city perhaps epitomises the ferocity of the spirit that has been so characteristic of Arabic literature ever since; a literature that began as an oral tradition, growing and fluctuating with all the many peoples who would one day share the incredibly rich language that evolved from it. Nowhere is this fierce literary pride more intense than in those nations under those regimes that still seek to repress it.

pub_20160414185113It is, therefore, very apt indeed that Banipal-55 focuses specifically on today’s greatest Sudanese writers, collecting their latest works into a garishly yellow and vital volume of translated short stories.

Sudan’s republic, though democratic in theory, is fettered by the authoritarian National Congress Party who retained power in a rigged vote in 2010 that saw the re-election of President Omar al-Bashir, despite the international warrant for his arrest. This controlling regime and the fact that its legal system operates under Sharia law mean that the arts are virtually non-existent, at least to an outsider.

On Tuesday evening, Waterstones welcomed Sudanese authors Ahmad Al Malik and Tarek Eltayeb, two contributors to the Banipal-55 publication who characterised the situation in Sudan today in a moving expression of quiet passion and simmering resentment. Literature of course exists in Sudan, and is in fact flourishing, but publishing houses are fatally repressed, the internet is censored and restricted as much as humanly possible, and any paperbacks that do make it across the border must be secretly photocopied and distributed through the black market in books flowing out from Khartoum. Due to this rather desperate model of literary dissemination, piracy is rife, which though increasing circulation to a point, actually damages the growth of Sudanese writing in the long run as those authors working abroad then face losing their platform of expression. The majority of these authors now live in Europe due to the desire for a medium in which thoughts can be expressed freely without fear of discrimination and persecution. It makes one think of the “thought-fish” Virginia Woolf wrote of in her infamous, feminist polemic, and the necessity of a medium in which they can swim without impediment.

Under Waterstones’ flat, muted lights, these two sleek-suited and enigmatic authors graciously answered questions in broken English interspersed with streams of melodious Arabic, which was then frantically translated verbatim by a German interpreter scribbling Arabic script as they spoke and converting it immediately into English for the more linguistically-challenged of us in the audience.

In fact, the room was filled to the brim with polyglots from every walk of life. Eltayeb was born in Cairo but spoke with a perceivable intensity about Sudan and his Nubian mother, who unlearned Nobiin (the descendent of Old Nubian) as she learned more Arabic. Both Eltayeb and Malik were venturing into their third language when they answered questions in English, and Malik described it as being like walking into a different room in his mind. Suffice it to say, the entire evening was a rather bewitching euphony for the ears.

Above all, it was a profound reminder of the role of language as the gateway to other cultures, especially those repressed by regimes constricting their medium of expression. Indeed, the native speakers of every language still surviving today have something of a moral responsibility to be the torchbearers of their language’s literature. Not only is it the one most comprehensive creative outlet and medium for social commentary in every culture, but a language’s survival relies on its literature. As soon as its writers stop producing new works for people to read and discuss, it is left behind, yet another dusty signpost dwindling in the rearview mirror marking a point assigned for evermore to history.

This, of course, is not an imminent danger for Arabic, but it is so important for those writing in that distinctively Sudanese Arabic to keep writing no matter how desperately others try to silence them. And that’s why publications like Banipal are so essential.

It is as that old Arabic proverb says.

أول الشجرة بذرة

A tree begins with a seed.

Sudan

 

Ibis of Palmyra, a poem

 

Palmyra

Dhwty, sing ancient voices

searching stars for meaning,

eyes upon gleaming

crescent, lunar forces,

black and white film still,

a curved ibis bill.

 

Lunar forces hauling wine-dark

oceans across inky skies,

bewitching ancient eyes,

who saw an ibis stark

against the starry night,

wings raised in flight.

 

Mighty mediator, Thoth,

calculator on high,

weaving papyrus sky,

sun-kissed pith-cloth,

bill dipped in ink,

father of those who think –

 

think and write in words

with winged helms, hurled

from world to world,

the free and vital birds

flying with bills sharper

than needles of fir.

 

But now black feathers

shimmer in moonlight

setting desert alight,

littering a city in fetters:

Geronticus eremita,

prisoner of Palmyra.

 

Single sunset eye burns

in darkness, searching,

seeking, lurching

swish hrump through ferns

and shrubs of steppes

steeped in silence-webs.

 

Soft in silky quiet

ibis pauses and prowls

when wind howls

and hosts of stars riot,

alone with pillars of stone

and towers of bone.

 

Last to give way to howling

hurricane, first to emerge

when hell subsides, scourge

of darkness, prowling

ibis, Noah’s charm

survives unharmed.

 

Echoes haunt dhwty city,

voices of forgotten empires

ravaged by time’s fires,

soaked in world’s pity –

and the ibis stands,

silent in the sands.

 

It was the silk road – once.

Conduit for ivory, porcelain,

salts, spices, gold, cotton…

but ibis hears no response

to her hrump and hyoh calls,

just echoes from empty halls.

 

Temples of lost gods,

buried Roman blades,

and corinthian colonnades

stand now in muddy bogs,

pale phantoms frozen

in the blaze of erosion.

 

Yet still the ibis lays

her spotty blue-white eggs,

as blue as her legs are red,

in the rocky maze

of the northern dunes

above the Valley of Tombs.

 

But where ibis prowl

hatred-seeds be strewn,

and around our crescent moon

barbarian shadows crowd,

for murderers cage worlds

as rhyme shackles words.

 

So murderers return

to carve out Palmyra’s doom,

to destroy and exhume –

a band of thugs armed

with the sordid black rag

they call their flag.

 

Ibis eradicated by plague,

crescent neck snapped,

by barbarians entrapped,

rage staining papyrus page,

silence slammed

onto the waste land.

 

Now all that remain

are the tortured ghosts

haunting the outposts,

and the inexpressible pain

of a land locked in fetters,

littered with black feathers.

Jungian synchronicity. Dhwty city.

Dhwty  dhwty  dhwty

Ibis

“If you fear high-handedness from your wives… hit them” (Qur’an 4:34): Right-wing extremism in Islam and the voices it silences

Quran

Abstract:

As fearless Egyptian ex-Muslim activist and writer Nawal El Saadawi told The Guardian last October of the spectacular “refusal to criticise religion”, “this is not liberalism, this is censorship”.

More and more the fear of being labelled Islamophobic has begun to censor the discourse in the UK around terrorism and Islam, or more broadly violence, repression and Islam. In a particularly scathing article for The Spectator earlier this month, Nick Cohen identified the rise of this trend in universities: “the idea of a university as a free space rather than a safe space is vanishing.” And the student interviews he cites rather resonate given the following article was refused publication by UCL’s biggest student magazine due to its potential to offend. Of course there is a dominant misconception about and distrust of the Muslim faith in this country, and a propensity to perceive the barbaric terrorist attacks around the world as acts perpetrated by Muslims because they are Muslim.

But it remains a fact in the context of religion that terrorism, along with violence against women and other human rights violations, seem to proliferate most frequently in Islam. Why does this happen?

These are of course all caused by a combination of geopolitical factors, among them economic depravity, low or non-existent social mobility, and chronic unemployment, especially for those with degrees in engineering. Religion is not a direct cause of ideological and resource-driven conflict but a “terrific force multiplier”, as Christopher Hitchens argued. And in fact, radical Islamism is more often than not an extreme right-wing ideology in religious garb.

Consider for instance the similarities between the American Tea Party and the Taliban: ideological purity, the view that compromise is a weakness, a fundamentalist belief in scriptural literalism, severe xenophobia, severe misogyny, the need to control women’s bodies, the denial of science, a rejection of pluralism, a hostile fear of progress, a demonisation of education, tribal mentality, intolerance of dissent, and a pathological hatred of the US government.

However, there is undoubtedly a question around the correlation of such violence with Islam, with Islamic countries, and with the refugees fleeing Islamic countries.

One could argue the answer lies in the Qu’ran itself and in the manner with which it is presented, particularly by online radicalisation programmes, not as a compilation of moralising stories that allows for the possibility of the free-will defence, but as a code of law to be enforced by the government that plays on our deepest fears, vulnerabilities and dreams. The blind hope for a utopian world that places us and our beliefs at its centre.

Daesh

Article proper:

“We are all atheists about most of the Gods that humanity has ever believed in, some of us just go one God further,” said Richard Dawkins. And with just one sentence, he perfectly encapsulated the paradox of faith; simply put, that each religion is a claimant on absolute truth, authority and morality, and so either only one of them is right, or none of them are. And given there has been no empirical evidence to prove the former theory in over two hundred thousand years of human existence, I would argue in favour of the latter.

Let us begin with the most sordid aspect of theology. In December 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was written, of which Article 19 is arguably the most important. Without it, all the others are obliterated: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; the right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.”

Carved, however, into the scripture of every religion on the planet is the refutation of this most fundamental of human rights. And it is this intolerance that has formed and fuelled the pyre upon which the world burns.

One need only look to the Bible, which preaches: “He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction” (Proverbs 13:3). And the Qur’an only echoes this sentiment: “Those who insult God and His Messenger will be rejected by God in this world and the next – He has prepared a humiliating torment for them” (Qur’an 33:57). Have you ever read anything so outrageously manipulative? These lines follow the account of the Battle of the Trench in 627CE, when Muhammad massacred nine hundred men of the Jewish Qurayzah tribe, before enslaving the women and children, confiscating all their property, and taking yet another wife. Not only is the fear of God described as the beginning of all knowledge, but also blasphemy is punishable by death. It just defies reason, it just defies it. As Salman Rushdie put it:

“What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist.”

It is important to clarify that the following is not an attack on the peaceful practicing Muslims of moderate Islam, but rather a critique of religion as a whole, of theology itself, and a quixotically impassioned defence of free speech. If I had been writing in the 1930’s the emphasis of this article would have been on the Roman Catholic Church, whose open alliance with anti-Semitism and fascism made it the most dangerous religion in the world and inflicted damage that our culture will most likely never recover from. Today, however, in light of the religious fractures in the societies of the Middle East, the rise of Daesh and indeed global jihadism, as well as the refugee crisis across Europe, my attention lies with the Abrahamic religion articulated by the Qur’an.

The greatest problem lies in the fact that the single proven cure for poverty is explicitly forbidden by the teachings of Islam. This cure is of course the empowerment of women, universally acknowledged as the one surefire means with which to alleviate suffering. But unsurprisingly the Qur’an advocates for exactly the opposite. Just look at the laws spelled out in the Al-Nisa’ section, in which a woman’s inheritance is decreed as exactly half that of a man’s: “God commands you that a son should have the equivalent share of two daughters” (Qur’an 4:11). Indeed, the whole chapter is filled with toxic rhetoric about temptation, ownership and abuse. It is written by men, for men, and women are spoken of like property with an intellectual and emotional capacity only just above that of livestock: “If you fear high-handedness from your wives, remind them of the teachings of God, then ignore them when you go to bed, then hit them” (Qur’an 4:34).

Defendants of Sharia law are quick to argue that the Qur’an preaches nothing but equality, justice, chastity and mercy, but please notice when you peruse its pages that all of those fine qualities are entirely dependent on absolute obedience to both men and to God. They completely exclude unbelievers, war captives and sex-slaves.

You are also still considered chaste if you are unmarried and only have sex with your slaves. So essentially if you are female, atheist, and believe in absolute equality in all areas of life, then rape, enslavement, abuse and murder are all fine in Allah’s book: “You are forbidden to take as wives […] women already married, other than your slaves. God has ordained all this for you. Other women are lawful to you, so long as you seek them in marriage […] If you wish to enjoy women, give them their bride-gift – this is obligatory – though if you should choose mutually, after fulfilling this obligation, to do otherwise, you will not be blamed” (Qur’an 4:24). It would be blindingly naïve to claim that this is anything other than a blatant sanction of rape. Look to the Sahih Hadiths of Abu Dawud, Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim (chapter 29 in particular) for confirmation.

It is a worldview founded on these very principles that is now being brought to Europe by the refugees fleeing Daesh and Assad. One cannot possibly deny this when met with stories like that of the Syrian refugee who, as payment for his family being trafficked to Europe by people smugglers, allowed and took part in the daily gang rape of his wife.

And such a mentality does not magically stop when they reach their destination. Last year a 20-year-old woman was unearthed from a grave in the small German town of Dessau who had been stabbed to death by her father and brothers after being raped by three men – her mother had demanded the killing to restore the family’s honour.

This all articulates a growing problem that remains unaddressed by governments and media alike due to the cowardly fear of being accused of racism and Islamophobia: in essence, the treatment of women by Muslim men. It is an issue that has been met with spectacular silence in recent times, most inexplicably by feminists themselves. Times columnist Melanie Phillips put it bluntly earlier this year: “Of course Muslim men don’t all behave towards women with such violence and contempt, but it is worse than idle to pretend there is no cultural factor fuelling such sexual pathologies.”

The sheer extent of this silence was demonstrated by the violent New Year’s Eve sexual attacks across German cities, with dozens being carried out in Cologne in particular, by North African and Arab men. The initial analysis laid fault with uneven sex ratios attributing the rise in sexual violence to the fact that more than two thirds of refugees reaching Greece and Southern Italy are male. Indeed, Sweden’s sex ratio of 16-17 year olds one year into the crisis now favours males more heavily than China’s, despite the latter’s decades of selective abortion. Sweden is also now the rape capital of Europe, with an incidence of rape ten times that of the other European states (The Times).

The deduction that some have made from this, that sexual crime abounds where there are too many young males, is supported by the 1995 study carried out by German social scientist Gunnar Heinsohn, who found that 60 out of 67 countries in which people aged 15-29 made up more than 30% of the population were racked by civil war or mass killings. He concluded that violence from El Salvador to Palestine was linked most closely not to poverty or religion but to a failure to provide a critical mass of young men with employment.

So this is the conclusion we are left with. Sexual violence proliferates where young men have nothing to do. Though there is an element of truth to this, unemployment indeed breeds crime, it is both unfair to men and staggeringly naïve in its denial that religion is not the most important factor.

There is a demonstrable silence around criticising Islam; not jihadism, which is almost universally condemned, but the theology itself that Muslims follow. Of course we must separate followers from what they are following, and indeed the claims that terrorists represent Islam are met with outrage, but this does not negate the fact that its followers would not exist to the same extent without the theology itself. And, like it or not, anyone who advocates and quite literally broadcasts an interpretation of it contributes to its perception.

Part of the problem is because “Islam” itself is an umbrella term for such a fractured array of groups, countries, and belief systems. So much of the animosity erupting into violence in the Middle East is due to the hatred between Sunnis and Shiites that has spawned conflicts from Iraq, Egypt, Afghanistan and Pakistan to Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. Indeed, the only time the ancient schism seems to come remotely close to unity is in its deep distrust of Zionism. And the battle lines are as nuanced as ever.

Perhaps most recently demonstrative of the deep internal conflict Islam faces has been the rapid breakdown of relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. Triggered by the execution of Shia Sheikh Nimr al-Nimr on 2nd January, a vocal activist for free elections, Shia rights, and “the roar of the word” over violence, it has once more brought the appalling human rights violations of Saudi Arabia to the world stage. Their most unforgivable crime? Silence.

Ashraf Fayadh

A self-portrait by Ashraf Fayadh, Palestinian-Saudi Arabian artist and poet

Consider Ashraf Fayadh, a Saudi Arabian artist and poet of Palestinian origin. His career has included art exhibitions across Europe and the Levant, including an active role in the British-Arabian arts organisation Edge of Arabia. Last November he was sentenced to death for apostasy. Originating in his arrest after a trivial argument with a fellow artist at a football game in 2013, this barbaric sentence claims to be based upon his promotion of atheism in his 2008 book of poems Instruction Within, while his supporters suspect it is actually a response to his posting of a video showing a man being publicly lashed by the religious police in Abha. Either way, this is just one of many examples of the total disregard for international law practiced by the Islamic kingdom. And what’s worse, it goes unchallenged by governments worldwide due to the sole reason that the totalitarian dictatorship in question controls the world’s second largest oil reserves.

Indeed, it is a country defined today by flogging, crucifixions, beheadings, amputations as a means of torture, a total lack of freedom of speech, and worst of all, a treatment of women akin to that of medieval slaves. But this fundamental belief in women’s status as an inferior species is not just contained to the cesspool of Saudi Arabia. Nor is their xenophobia and chronic conservatism, characteristics so dominant in Islamic governments.

It seems inexplicable, for instance, from a moral standpoint, that the likes of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, or the United Arab Emirates, oil-rich and able to help, have refrained from sending aid or offering shelter to the millions of refugees fleeing Iraq and Syria in the same way Israel did for the persecuted Jews in Ethiopia throughout the 1980s and 90s. Prime Minister Menachem Begin initiated the mass exodus in 1977 as well as sending in El Al 747s to literally fly as many people as possible back to Israel the following decade in daringly covert government-led airlifts. Though they then failed spectacularly to humanely integrate the Ethiopian Jews into Israeli society, at least the effort was made in the first place.

For a religion that so prides itself on its values of fellowship, community, and brotherhood, Islam is staggeringly devoid of any of this unifying sentiment, and the answer lies perhaps in the factions that have corroded it from within, to say nothing of the extremist groups that have destroyed any political and social equilibrium there may have been. And of course, these divisions were exacerbated by the savage Catholic Crusades of the Middle Ages and rampant European imperialism that sowed the seeds of resentment against the “West”. Indeed, “because they hate the West” is such a frequent cop-out for the explanation of terrorism, an easy, ignorant answer that enforces this “us” and “them” rhetoric. Because of course when you start talking about the arming of rebel groups, the funding of insurgencies, the meddling, oil interests, imperialism, the Crusades… quite simply the further back you go, the further back you need to go.

And yet, even the brief states of equilibrium in the Middle East and North Africa were maintained through oppressive dictatorships that operated under models of stringent control. Despite suffocating levels of repression, extensive infringements of rights and freedoms, sectarian discrimination, corruption, and appalling and medieval attitudes towards women, they did, for the most part, have a warped kind of stability.

From Gaddafi to Saddam Hussein, it took the shoddy dynamite of Western intervention to bring them crashing down, thereby tearing open catastrophic power vacuums that have led to today’s chaos. And what has it really achieved? Tens of thousands of people have died at the hands of Daesh, and women’s rights have been set back centuries.

Whether these regimes should have been left to transition to democracies in their own time through an osmosis of enlightened ideals is a question we will never know the answer to. Even that sounds like a thoroughly Eurocentric and elitist sentence. The world has become an increasingly more secular and tolerant place, but when a country has been forced to change through foreign intervention and invasion, the result has been something no one would have thought possible: regression.

Indeed, the whole concept of a nation has its origins in imperialist Europe, deriving from Latin “natio” for “people” or “tribe”, though its literal meaning is, rather significantly, “birth”, forcing us to challenge the nature of our nationalities and the ultimately arbitrary boundaries decided by chance and circumstance over the years. Boundaries, after all, are utterly human constructs. Israeli political scientist Azar Gat argues that Ancient Egypt was the world’s “first national state”, but after millennia of evolution, and in the wake of the shattering forces of imperialism, statecraft seems to have sown only seeds of violence.

This brings us to a developing school of thought, governance in areas of limited statehood, and the fundamental question of whether “Arab state” is simply an oxymoron. Where such states do appear to retain a semblance of stability, their skeletons are composed not of mechanisms of democracy, pluralism and tolerance but stringent economic and social control, enforced with a divine mandate.

No rational person could disagree that Islamic-ruled countries like Saudi Arabia are truly terrifying places. “The spiritual savage caged within my skeleton,” wrote Elinor Wylie in her 1921 poem Full Moon, articulating the force of her rage in a world of moral corruption where she felt utterly suppressed by the sheer level of materialism and conformity. This is the kind of rage I feel when thinking about the horrors that women face in Islamic countries on a daily basis: the expectation of total subordination to men, the constant threat of physical violence, the utter objectification, and above all the ingrained cultural belief that they are inferior beings, that this is just how life works, Allah’s bidding, what they deserve. Call me ignorant, an outsider, lofty and moralising, I don’t care.

And yet Saudi Arabia, due to reasons entirely to do with economics, has remained free of that sententious Western dynamite. If it wasn’t so rich in oil, if we didn’t rely on its cooperation to such an extent, would we have at some point cried “WMD” and removed the Saud dynasty? One can imagine a parallel universe out there where exactly this happened, and where yet another jihadist group rose from the ashes of the dismantled kingdom to declare war on the world.

Is this then what we face when it comes to Islamic countries?

There is of course a place for Muslims in secular democracies where religious tolerance is unimpeachable law. And of course refugees should be unconditionally welcome. But the New Year attacks in Germany, the child sex-trafficking horrors in Rotherham, the shocking leap of rape incidents in Sweden, none of them were due to gender ratios, to one-dimensional economic facts. It is not that there were more young men, but that there were more young Muslim men. This is a contrarian view indeed, one that is almost impossible to posit without being ferociously condemned as backward, racist and Islamophobic, especially when such a standpoint was so toxified by the BNP and European neo-Nazis.

But there is a silenced truth that I would dare to voice.

We cannot expect a peaceful and progressive marriage of cultures and religions when the countries these abusive men in particular are coming from operate on the fundamental belief that women are inferior. Just take a look at those passages from the Qur’an and consider them in conjunction with the fact that Islam is followed by 90% of the population of Syria, 74% of those being Sunni Muslims whose society still closely adheres to four different schools of Islamic law (statistics from the U.S State Department).

Islam

We live in a fragile world. Nuclear weapons are allegedly being tested and developed in North Korea, Putin’s Russia looms like a spectre behind seemingly all worldwide conflicts, a violent culture of crime rages almost unopposed among the gangs of Latin America, political relations balance on a knife-edge between the likes of Taiwan, Tibet and China, child trafficking, poverty and civil war still reign across vast swathes of Africa, and fascist factions are rising in the political wings from France to the US.

But the one conflict that dominates parliamentary debates and headlines worldwide, the single most controversial topic of discussion, is the conflict with radical Islam, one that has been so polarised by the refugee crisis. It seems like there have only been one of two fates for Islamic countries in recent times, either a collapsed regime that has bred medieval extremism, or a stable yet toxic state where peaceful human rights activists are flogged and beheaded and women are not even free to drive a car.

Part of me thinks that a country bound by one religion is simply not one with a model conducive to equal rights, and that we should never have interfered in the first place with regimes founded on their ancient principles. But then again it is these very regimes that seem to lead inevitably to human rights violations. And where Article 19 in particular is broken, we have a moral imperative to help, which I say subjectively of course given there is no such thing as objective morality. But to me “help” means emergency aid, humanitarian missions, political and economic sanctions, loans for medicine and infrastructure, and open doors to fleeing citizens, not ill-informed military campaigns.

Bombing Iraq and Syria is like bombing a prison filled with thousands of innocent men, women, and children to kill a handful of guards. How will Daesh ever be defeated then, you ask. The answer to that is that there is no answer.

The UN’s ‘Blue Berets’ are free to offer military support to the nation in question’s armies while individual Western countries should be sending in food and medical aid in modern-day Operation Manna-style operations (when the RAF dropped food supplies on the starving Dutch in 1945), as well as focusing on improving their own security and intelligence procedures to prevent terrorist attacks through cross-border police collaboration, intelligence sharing, Anonymous-style hacking, and a crackdown on social media and radicalisation websites inciting racial hatred and jihadism.

But that’s it.

By all means help refugees, we’re human, they’re human, but don’t be scared to break political correctness and blame Islam for any violence that may take root as a result. It is a religion that is an amalgamation of many different interpretations given the sheer number of sects that exist within it. Not only are these sects failing to co-exist in peace, they all seem to claim absolute authority over the others, from the Shi’ites, to the Sunnis, to the Salafis, to the Sufis, to the Ibadis, to the Ahmadis, and so on. This does not mean blaming individual Muslims who live and work beside us, who befriend and marry us as we do them. Indeed, rhetoric like “us” and “them” itself is half the problem in our bigoted little worlds.

But Islam on the whole is a religion that still has to evolve to accommodate basic human equalities that have only been realised by the males of our species in the last few decades, in particular those around women’s and LGBTQ+ rights.

And so that should be our ultimatum to faith: evolution or extinction. This is not a demand of peaceful moderate Muslims, but one of the very theology of Islam itself. Its followers either have to admit that a two thousand year old code of law should be subject to the natural amendments that time and reason bring, or it should be binned altogether.

Islam is not alone in this of course. It is a tenet of all monotheistic religions that they hold a monopoly on morality and basic decency, and it is a delusion that is doing far more harm than good, resulting in the justification of truly immoral crimes. But the Qu’ran is less a collection of myths and legends than it is a rulebook, the words of the Prophet that should be taken as unimpeachable instruction, disobedience of which means eternal damnation.

This is what is so terrifying about Sharia law. While most Christian-dominant countries clearly have either an official or unofficial separation between church and state in place, Islamic governments base their laws on the Qur’an, thereby making atheism illegal. This is why the US, still 80% Christian, is able to be so liberal, because the Bible is perhaps, crucially, second in importance to that one document so fundamental to the identity of the American citizen: the Constitution.

But that’s no excuse for the misogynistic homophobes of the Republican Party and the 50% of the electorate who don’t bother to vote. Funnily enough these tend to be the most religious people.

And so once again I can only echo Hitch. Those of faith must realise that “human decency is not derived from religion, it precedes it.”

Charlie Hebdo

Rodents in children’s literature: The power of the ‘undermouse’

acorns

Deep in the heart of Mossflower country, nestled between the emerald woods and the sprawling meadowland, stands an ancient abbey. It was built from red standstone by the first mice centuries ago, and even now, with the fiery red cloak of ivy draped over its south face, it burns as brightly as it did back in those distant days so dusted by memory. Today, with the Summer of the Late Rose just beginning, the page has opened at a new chapter. Father Abbott Mortimer’s words to Matthias, the bumbling, ebullient novice mouse, were supposed to be kindly dismissive. “Poor Matthias, alas for your ambitions. The day of the warrior is gone, my son,” he says in those opening few pages. But he could not possibly have been more wrong. For this is the world of Redwall.

Redwall. It’s funny how a single word rooted so deep in your childhood can be so charged with meaning. Say this particular word to me and my imagination explodes with images of cloaked mice, the clash of swords, flagons of white gooseberry wine, raspberry cordial, peach and elderberry brandy, candied chestnuts, riddles, badger lords, a fearsome rodent army led by a one-eyed rat covered in grey and pink scars, candlelit caverns filled with dancing woodland creatures, and above all, Martin the Warrior.

Martin the WarriorBrian Jacques began his enchanting series in 1986 and subsequently published twenty-two books set in the Redwall universe, the final one released three months after his death in 2011. Often described as one of the greatest children’s authors of all time, he wrote his first animal story aged ten at school about a bird that cleaned a crocodile’s teeth. His teacher was so convinced that he must have copied it from somewhere, deciding that no ten-year-old could possibly have written such a thing, that she caned him. Jacques left school five years later to become a merchant sailor in search of adventure, and eventually wrote his first Redwall tales for the children at the Royal Wavertree School for the Blind while working as a milkman. They quickly spread across the globe like wildfire, fuelling the imaginations of millions.

I think nostalgia is underrated. That bewitching rush of affection tinged with sadness for a moment buried in your past. I get it most intensely while reading novels I adored as a child. Re-reading has that unique synesthetic effect of evoking the places, feelings, sights, smells and sounds you experienced while first reading the story, be it the crash of waves, rumble of the Underground, smell of evening barbecues, feelings of loneliness, jubilation, or the warmth of a family home. And there is something so magical about anthropomorphic literature in particular, from singing bears to scheming tigers. It ignites that most romantic corner of our imaginations.

But what is it about rodents?

Well, even the word ‘rodent’ is charged with the negative connotations of disease-carrying creatures scurrying through pipes and sewers, evoking images of pinpricks of light in dark corners and the eerie rustling of woodland undergrowth. Woven through their web of associations are traits of timidity, disloyalty, untrustworthiness, and cowardice, along with words like ‘infection’, ‘vermin’, and ‘plague’, not to mention the fact that ‘rodent’ is actually an adjective meaning ‘corrosive’.

One would think that with such damning qualities they would be doomed to malevolence and antagonism. But everything changes when they are given human traits. As soon as a mouse is invested with the powers of speech, reason, and free will, his or her true nature is revealed to spectacular effect.

Brian Jacques’ Martin the Warrior is a heroic woodland mouse who becomes a Redwall legend, the legend of legends. The son of Luke the Warrior, he sets out with his father’s magical sword to avenge his mother, who was murdered by the wicked stoat pirate Vilu Daskar. His adventures include being enslaved by the tyrannical stoat Badrang as well as battling Verdauga, the wildcat king of Mossflower. He is first described by the novice Matthias generations later. Matthias walks with Father Abbot through the Great Hall of the Abbey right at the beginning of the very first book and stops to gaze up in awe at a magnificent tapestry, ‘the pride and joy of Redwall’, woven by its founders. Upon this tapestry is an armoured mouse ‘with a fearless smile’, leaning casually on a mighty sword ‘while behind him foxes, wildcats, and vermin fled in terror’. The more you read of their world, the more you will come to realise that the mice of Redwall could not possibly be more heroic.

Perhaps even more famous worldwide are the stories of Beatrix Potter, also filled with rodents who fly in the face of their connotations. From Squirrel Nutkin, Twinkleberry, and Mrs Tittlemouse, to Timmy Tiptoes, Johnny Town-Mouse, and Tom Thumb, they all have their own quirky personalities and grievances, often overcoming many challenges in their respective tales to emerge stronger and happier than ever before. These characters are particularly topical this year given the 28th July will mark the 150th anniversary of Potter’s birth. September will also see the publication of her newly-discovered story, The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots, thanks to some detective work undertaken by publisher Jo Hanks, who found a reference to the lost tale in an out-of-print Potter biography.

So what does all this really say about our interpretation of those most diverse and preyed upon members of the animal kingdom?

Perhaps it merely illuminates the sheer intensity of that so fundamentally human adoration of animals and our quixotic propensity to idolise the ‘underdog’, or in this case, ‘undermouse’. More than anything, it shows just how much we want the weakest and most vulnerable to triumph. And nowhere is such an outcome more avidly hoped for than in the mind of a child. It rather restores your faith in humanity, doesn’t it?

As George Eliot mused in The Mill on the Floss, ‘we could never have loved the earth so well if we had had no childhood in it’.

New illustration for The Tale of Kitty in Boots by Quentin Blake

New illustration for ‘The Tale of Kitty-in-Boots’ by Quentin Blake

In Conversation with Thomas More: Escaping the Labyrinth of Theology

Religion cartoon

“You must acquire the best knowledge first, and without delay; it is the height of madness to learn what you will later have to unlearn,” wrote “Prince of the Humanists” Desiderius Erasmus in a letter to his friend Christian Northoff in 1497. Though himself a religious man, Erasmus had such a knack for articulating the ironies of learning that it would be understandable to misread him as a born sceptic. Either way, he tried throughout his life to free the methods of scholarship from the rigid formalism of medieval traditions and the often narrowing framework of theology.

It is unsurprising then that fellow Renaissance humanist Thomas More, born just twelve years after Erasmus, developed such a friendship with him. Sharing his equal detestation of the irrational feudalism still raging in 16th century Europe, More brought together many of their ideas in his 1516 masterpiece Utopia. Though it contains much that is archaic and illiberal by modern standards, More was after all a product of his time, he still manages to envision a world with some truly enlightened ideals. The most important of these is one that would utterly transform the earth today and it boils down to just two words: religious tolerance.

OvidMore agrees with Plato that the ideal state would be a communist one, but instead of Plato’s superior Guardians, the philosopher-kings, he describes an agricultural island overseen by a hierarchy of ‘syphogrants’, ‘tranibors’, and a single governor, who all form the democratic senate. His society echoes the myth of the Golden Age which Ovid so poetically wrote of 1400 years before him, a utopia of sorts that can be adapted to any outlook, whether monotheistic, polytheistic, atheist, or agnostic. In short Ovid imagines a world that has no mention of religion, but is simply governed by peace, equality, and harmony with nature:

      No punishment or fear of it; no threats

      Inscribed on brazen tablets; no jostling crowds

      Beseeching mercy from a lofty judge;

      For without law or judge all men were safe.

And More’s vision is just as optimistic, one where “Utopians marvel that any mortal can take pleasure in the dubious sparkle of a little jewel or bright gemstone, when he has a star, or the sun itself, to look at.”

He lived during the early years of the Protestant Reformation, the sweeping movement triggered by Martin Luther in 1517 that saw a determined break from the Catholic Church in favour of a purified faith free of corruption, ritual, and embellishment. And it is the very fact that he was surrounded by such religious turbulence that makes his Utopia so interesting.

The island is populated by believers in not one but many different religions that vary from household to household and city to city, those that place their faith “in a single power, unknown, eternal, infinite, inexplicable, beyond the grasp of the human mind, and diffused throughout the universe, not physically, but in influence”. However, there is one crucial characteristic of the Utopia that would transform our world today, and indeed is the core argument buried in the heart of his text that will make his words continue to stand the test of time, that “it is one of their oldest rules that no man’s religion, as such, shall be held against him […] everyone could cultivate the religion of his choice, and strenuously proselytise for it too, provided he did so quietly, modestly, rationally, and without bitterness toward others. If persuasion failed, no one was allowed to resort to abuse or violence”.

If this was only the attitude practiced by those of faith today, it would not only bring an end to the majority of the world’s most brutal and long-lasting conflicts, but it would free religious people from the impossible task of trying to explain and justify religious violence.

Though the resource-driven conflicts from Rwanda to Israel to Ireland would no doubt have taken place anyway, religion has always acted as a terrific force multiplier, an argument the great Christopher Hitchens always so vehemently advocated. As Freud said, we are torn apart as a species by the “narcissism of little things”, a genetic inevitability greatly intensified by an absolute belief in divine authority. Both faith in a supreme being, and faith that such a being takes sides are delusions of a truly fatal magnitude.

This realisation of the impossibility of human perfection is, in a way, what More concludes in the Utopia. Indeed, he abandoned his tenet of religious tolerance only a handful of years after its publication when he began to partake in the mass persecution of Protestants.

AragornBut that’s what makes imperfection such an important concept to acknowledge, not to simply deny by imagining a greater intelligence into the framework of reality. It’s why JRR Tolkien never wrote a sequel to The Lord of the Rings. He began such a project, resuming the story some decades after Aragorn’s reign when the world had begun to destabilise again with the absence of the elves, but he soon abandoned it, realising that the cyclical nature of human vice and destruction is simply never-ending so why not let it rest at the culmination of one particular war.

This cycle is denied outright by theology, which has many elaborate timelines of creation, redemption, intervention, and absolution, all of which contradict the others.

The only way out of the labyrinth is through the realisation of imperfection itself, and the collective resolution to tolerate it.

LGBT Rights Today: Socrates, Dumbledore, and the nonsense that began in 539BC

LGBT march 2

In October 2016 the trial of serial killer Stephen Port will begin in London. His story is a horrific one. Over the course of fifteen months from June 2014, Port coerced four gay men to go with him back to his house in Barking, where he manipulated them into taking large amounts of the Class C ‘party’ drug GHB (gammahydroxybutrate), before murdering them and depositing their mutilated bodies near a church and abbey in the impoverished east London town. Though murder is always reprehensible, Port’s crimes were made all the more horrifying as a result of his apparent motivation being the sexuality of his victims.

This is just one example of the fact that though laws are now finally starting to change in favour of LGBT men and women, homophobia is still a deeply embedded cultural belief across Europe. After four years of being ranked top on the continent for LGBT rights in the Rainbow Europe index, the UK has now fallen behind Malta, who pulled ahead last October with a score of 89% based on forty different criteria, while Azerbaijan still festers at number 49 with a score of just 5%. Though Malta should be commended, this only reinforces just how polarised opinions still are.

Pride march 1981Across the pond, the outlook is similarly bleak. Though the ruling of the US Supreme Court to legalise gay marriage across all states last year was indeed a milestone, one need only look to the pockets of extreme Republicanism scattered throughout the country to see prejudice still raging. Consider the story of 15-year-old Larry King, who was shot twice in the back of the head in 2008 after asking his murderer to be his Valentine. Though it even prompted a rare political intervention by a tearful Ellen DeGeneres in a televised call to start changing attitudes once and for all, there were many who still denounced King as the bully in the scenario, with his own (abusive) adoptive father claiming he was then used immorally as a “poster child” for gay rights. All this does is once more show just how ingrained homophobia is in the human psyche in a long history of men claiming rights over the bodies and choices of others.

The fault for this lies almost entirely with religion.

It is staggering to consider the sheer extent to which the rise of monotheism bred this inhuman discrimination. From the perpetuation of the belief that homosexuality is not born nature but optional disposition, to the insistence that sodomy is sin, the collective damage inflicted over the last two millennia or so by religious delusions just defies comprehension. In the same way the sheer magnitude and complexity of the cosmos is beyond imagining, it is impossible to comprehend that scale of suffering.

SocratesThis is even more confounding when one realises that in the classical age homosexuality was an object of absolute veneration, and that gay men were not only considered the only people fit for political office and cultural accomplishment, but were also considered as being in possession of the highest and truest understanding of love. In The Symposium, Plato writes of a fictitious dinner party in which seven great orators including the very personification of wisdom, Socrates himself, gather to discuss the nature of love. The conclusion is that men inspired with the love of ‘Heavenly Aphrodite’, who had no mother, as opposed to ‘Common Aphrodite’, who was the daughter of Dione, were drawn to the ‘naturally more vigorous and intelligent’, that is, other men. Gay men therefore ‘are the best of their generation, both as boys and young men, because they are naturally the bravest’, and, being ‘pregnant in mind’, the result of their love is ‘more beautiful and more immortal’ than love with a woman.

It is an astonishing thought indeed that a people who lived two and half thousand years ago were more liberal than we are today. The only downside of this liberalism was of course that male homosexuality was only so prized in the first place due to the fact that women were universally believed to be fundamentally inferior; physically, intellectually, genetically, and socially. Even now the majority of verbal insults are still derived from a negative association with women, and gender stereotypes remain so embedded in our culture that many people don’t realise when they’re approaching something from the view that to be female is to be weaker or inferior in some way.

First London PrideIt is now almost an insult to be labelled a ‘feminist’, with a feminist argument often being the unpopular one regardless of how many times it is made clear that this is an equality movement. Hollywood is racked by gender pay gaps and a lack of “good roles for older women”, interviews by men with women always mention aesthetic beauty, most female comedians must be self-deprecating to be funny, periods are still used as cheap insults, and sexual attacks are blamed partly on the woman for walking alone or dressing how she wanted to. Everything women ever do is always defined first by sex, from filling out forms to the assumption that their names must be changed to the man’s upon marriage. Any film or novel or TV show in which a woman is the protagonist is pigeon-holed in depressing rhetoric like “strong female lead” as though it’s a revolutionary thing, and when a woman is better than a man at something or trumps him in an argument it is still met with surprise and patronising admiration in some quarters of the world. Frankly, no man will ever understand what it’s like to battle against such embedded, daily assumptions. And that’s just in the fairly democratic and progressive West where women don’t face, at least not anywhere near to the same extent, constant reminders of explicit inferiority, rigorous censorship, patriarchal control, frequent rape, genital mutilation, and total ownership by a male relative.

But it remains a fact that homosexuality was never a bad thing until the Persians, after their conquest of Babylon in 539 BC, triggered the writing of what would become under Emperor Constantine centuries later ‘the Bible’, by ordering the local authorities of Jerusalem to come up with a single law code in exchange for a degree of autonomy from the Achaemenid Empire. Indeed, this will always be a thought-provoking question. If Constantine had not converted to Christianity in 312AD, would it have swept the globe as it did, and would polytheism then have survived?

With the rise of transgender awareness particularly over the last year given the publicity around Caitlyn Jenner and pioneering films like The Danish Girl it is more important than ever that these fatally unenlightened views are shattered by common sense and basic human compassion and civility.

DumbledoreIt is time for justice. And justice can only come with universal acceptance, though even the word “acceptance” implies LGBT people are different and “need” to be assimilated, that they are removed from “us” in some fundamental way.

As JK Rowling said to one Twitter user who claimed they were confused as to why Dumbledore was gay given they couldn’t see him that way:

“Maybe because gay people just look like… people?”

It’s time we, as people, treated people like people too.

LGBT march