Monday, 24 September 2012

Mocking Muhammad

We were going to hold our counsel on the latest wave of violence by Muslims that has been sweeping across the Middle East and beyond, but not now. There are a number of observations we feel we must make. Our guiding principles on what we’re going to write about here come from two previous articles – ‘Survival of the Dumbest’ ( ) and ‘Strength in Belief’ ( ).
The impressive mosque near the Djemaa el Fna square in Marrakech, Morocco
A more tranquil time in the Muslim world

First of all it must be stated that the United States produced Muhammad ‘movie’ trailer (whether there is an actual full-length movie remains a doubt) that is being used as the catalyst for this fierce uproar in the Islamic world is an absolute joke – and that’s not in a funny way, it’s just complete rubbish. If you’ve seen it – as most of you probably have by now – you’ll know what we mean (heck it even makes some of the Colombian ‘telenovelas’ we’ve had the ‘privilege’ to appear in seem like quality productions). 

So while it obviously has infuriated the majority of Muslims, the fact that it is of such low quality, made by dim-wits, would make you think that most reasonable people should be able to let it slide – it doesn’t even deserve comment. But for many followers of Muhammad it was all they needed to go on – in Libya and Pakistan at least – a murderous rampage against the USA. 

From the outside looking in, it really appears that Muslims are just waiting for any slight excuse to take to the streets in angry, violent protests against the ‘West’. 

For these latest demonstrations are not cases of ‘fighting fire with fire’. Yes the movie trailer is offensive – and you can also now throw in here the naked picture of Prophet Muhammad published in recent days by a French magazine – but no physical damage was caused and certainly no Muslims lost their lives because of it. The best thing that could have been done was to ignore it completely, to rise above such idiocy. Or at most make a film counter-attacking all that they see as daft and deplorable in the United States – it’s not like they wouldn’t have much ammunition in this regard.
A quite imposing religious figure in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
"What did you call me?"

But no, a significant number of Muslims, seemingly drunk on their faith, think that rioting is the only response to such things. It certainly doesn’t paint a very good picture for the religion as one of ‘promoting peace’. Yes, there are fundamentalists in all religious sects, but there seems to be a proliferation of them in the Islamic world compared to elsewhere. By definition, it is next to impossible to reason with such fundamentalists – be them Muslim, Christian, Hindu or whatever. Indeed from our experiences, those closer to being ‘peaceful beings’ are found more so in the agnostic/atheist camp than in organised religions. You can usually discuss different opinions and outlooks with such people without raising their ire – their understanding tends to be more universal.

In terms of Islamic states, there are clear practices and laws in existence that in any enlightened society cannot be condoned – the freedom to express ‘incompatible’ views without fear of death and the treatment of women to name two of the most obvious. Contrast this with the relative freedom Muslims are granted to practice their beliefs and customs in the ‘western world’ and you see apparent double standards. A little bit more reciprocity from the Islamic world wouldn’t go astray here. 

Of course there are certain aspects of Muslim society that we generally like. There is a no nonsense approach to those found guilty of crimes. Find yourself on the wrong side of the law in an Islamic country and you’ll certainly know about it. It’s something that many Christian-based or secular societies could learn from – stronger, more meaningful deterrents rather than the ‘softly, softly’ approach. In this regard we refer to what might be considered as more ‘universal’ crimes – needless to say there are a number of things considered offences in the Muslim world that in other societies are certainly not.

We must also state that the brief time we spent in the past in countries that are predominantly Muslim was highly enjoyable. Friendly people where you don’t get a feeling that all they see you as is a talking cash machine there to be used and abused – something you can’t always say about the more ‘Christian’ Latin America.
A Muslim burial ground, Morocco
"Everybody in the graveyard votes the same"

However, as mentioned above, the radical streak when it comes to defending their religion only serves to deepen the chasm and suspicion that exists between themselves and the ‘Christian/Secular West’. We’ve firmly nailed our colours to the mast previously here on what we think about organised religion – no matter what sect it is. Take away any form of reason or perspective and you get events like we’ve been witnessing in the last week across the Islamic world. 

You have to wonder what does ‘God’, along with his prophets Jesus and Muhammad, make of it all?

Tuesday, 18 September 2012

The damned Irish question

For Winston Churchill it was ‘the damned Irish question’. Fast forward the guts of a century later and for Rory McIlroy it’s the damned – although perhaps not in the same venomous way as Sir Winston – Irish or British question. And it appears, unsurprisingly considering his stock, the United Kingdom resident is siding with the latter. Although he has been at pains to state in recent days that he is yet to fully make up his mind.

Rory McIlory doing what he does best - palying golf
Mean in green - or not? Rory McIlroy
For those of you in the dark on the above, we’re referring to where Northern Ireland born Rory McIlroy – the number one golf player in the world right now and arguably the sport’s biggest superstar – will pledge his allegiance for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in 2016. As he correctly pointed out in a recent open letter on this subject via his Twitter account, no matter which side he opts for, he is going to upset some people. By the tone of that correspondence it seems this whole subject is one he wishes he didn’t have to deal with – or at least that it was one that was taken out of his hands. He’s certainly not in an enviable position.

Of course, it shouldn’t need to be stated that as a UK citizen he is fully within his right to plump for Team GB. Hailing from Northern Ireland, he can choose to have either a British or an Irish passport – as yet there is no separate one for NI. So the fact that he holds a British passport is a pretty strong guide to his preference – however we are aware of some Northern Ireland residents considered to be more in the ‘green’ sphere than ‘orange’ that hold British passports for the simple fact that they are cheaper to obtain. What price your nationality, eh? About £20 it seems for some. 

The whole political position of Northern Ireland is one that we regularly get questioned about from locals here in Colombia. Most of them assume that it is British, confusing Great Britain – the island to the east of Ireland consisting of the countries England, Scotland and Wales – with the UK, the sovereign state that is Great Britain and Northern Ireland. So looking at this from a purely geographical perspective, if you are born on the island of Ireland – be it in the Republic or the North – you are Irish. 

For most people though – Rory McIlroy included – nationality is much more than just where you were born. It’s about where you come from in a background sense – your blood, your heritage. For McIlroy and many of his kin in Northern Ireland, their roots on the island date back to Britain’s Ulster Plantation in the early 1600’s. These new settlers – mostly Scottish Presbyterians although there were also English Anglicans – remained fiercely loyal to their motherland of Britain and, chiefly because of religious, political and indeed language differences, did not end up mixing with the dispossessed ‘old Irish’ as happened in other parts of the island where British settlers had been previously planted. This divide was only made deeper after the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 where the Protestant King William defeated the Catholic King James, ensuring the Protestant succession for the English, Scottish and Irish thrones and thus the religion’s ascendency in Ireland.
The 'Irish' Union Jack
Perhaps even the Brits are Irish at heart?

In the following years, up to and including the creation of the Irish Free State in 1921 and its subsequent declaration as a Republic 27 years later, the political and cultural differences between the settlers in the North-East of Ireland compared to residents in most of the rest of the island sharpened further.

In this context, what it meant (and still means in many ways) to be Irish was completely at odds with the customs and mindset of the planted stock in what is now the state of Northern Ireland. Namely to be Irish usually meant Catholic, anti-British (here you can include British sports such as cricket, rugby and soccer versus the Irish sports of Gaelic football and hurling) and anti-royalty to name just the most relevant in this regard. 

Now while many of these differences were unavoidable from the get-go, they were given further ‘legitimacy’ by the direction taken by the early leaders of both states. Northern Ireland’s first Prime Minister, James Craig, summed this up in his response to Éamon de Valera’s (his Southern counterpart at the time) declaration in 1934 that the Irish Free State was a Catholic one, stating: “They still boast of Southern Ireland being a Catholic State. All I boast of is that we are a Protestant Parliament and a Protestant State.” 

So bearing all this in mind, for Rory McIlroy, while geographically he may be Irish or Northern Irish if you will, culturally he feels more British – or at least the Northern Ireland version of what it means to be British. It feels more natural to him to march behind the Union Jack rather than the Tricolour – even allowing for the fact that the green, white and orange of the Irish flag signifies the hope for peace, understanding and harmony between the Irish nationalist and British nationalist/Orange traditions that exist on the island. Indeed, it could be argued that the flag has more significance today for the North considering the uneasy peace process it’s going through than it has for the Republic of Ireland.

All this begs the question – is it possible to be Irish if you come from a Northern Ireland Protestant/Orange tradition? This really depends on how you define what being Irish is. It also depends on what you want to be yourself. If you can be British and Scottish, British and Welsh or British and English, than surely you can be British and Irish? Many past and present rugby players, from the same stock as McIlroy, have donned and continue to don the green jersey of Ireland when it comes to representing their ‘country’. There is however an important difference here – there is no British rugby team (it’s the British AND Irish Lions remember). The Olympics however forces a choice.
'Wrong Way' in his Northern Ireland soccer shirt - a gift from his friends in Belfast
What's in a shirt? C'mon 'Norn Iron'!
Perhaps though there is still time for a compromise – one that may be closer to being a reality than most people think. That is representing the fully-fledged, independent Northern Ireland at the Olympics – not Irish, not British, but Northern Irish. From our highly enjoyable time living in Belfast, we encountered a number of locals – from both sides of the ‘divide’ – that expressed such a desire.

Considering the arrogance, ignorance and indifference that many citizens of both Britain and the Republic of Ireland have towards Northern Ireland, this might be the best solution for all. For one, we’re sure Rory McIlroy would like it if that were the case right now.

*For a somewhat related piece, see Punching back.

Tuesday, 11 September 2012

Unsocial media

A few years back we made a public call, via a newspaper letter and its subsequent broadcasting on radio, asking that the use of mobile phones be banned in public places. The main reason for this came about after numerous bus journeys in our native Ireland where people were yapping away for all to hear about their latest weekend escapades or what have you. It appears that the boundaries between private and public conversations become blurred for some people when they speak on their mobiles. Our letter plea was well received in many quarters at the time – someone felt it even warranted a Noble Peace Prize nomination, we kid you not. Alas, however, there has been very little corrective action in this regard, be it in our native land or further afield.

A selection of some very 'smart' phones.
Many people's new best friends - compact & intelligent.
Now while our appeal wasn’t really penned in a humanistic sense, more in a curmudgeonly way to be honest, the case for restricting mobile phone use for the good of our species can certainly be made.

Yes, there is little doubt that mobiles have revolutionised the way we connect and communicate with each other – in many ways for the better – but you must ask the question, is it at the expense of face-to-face interaction? The anecdotal evidence would suggest yes. If people aren’t talking on their cellular, then the likelihood is that they are either ‘pinging’ somebody, listening to music, messing around with some sort of app or whatever else they can do on these fancy pieces of plastic (you’re right, we’ve yet to be bitten by the ‘smart-phone’ bug). The ‘real’ person sitting beside them doesn’t exist any more. 

OK, judging by many of the conversations we’ve overheard such as the ones alluded to in the opening paragraph, we wouldn’t be that keen to speak to such people anyway, but there might be some individuals that are worth the effort. The mobile though – especially more advanced models – has become a barrier to ‘in the flesh’ communication.

This is particular apparent in pubs and bars. The chance of a random chat with somebody has been greatly diminished in recent years. When people find themselves on their own, rather than look for somebody to talk to or at least be 'available' for a chat, they go to the comfort of their phone for company. (Why would anyone miss out on the chance to converse with 'Wrong Way?)
The Facebook 'like' symbol - how could you not like it?
Thanks Facebook - we like you too.

Now you might say that radio and TV have also had a negative impact on real, physical interaction, but not as close to the extent as the new-age phones together with the ‘social’ networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter have had. Radio is obviously far less intrusive and ‘demanding’ than TV but for its part, the ‘great conversation stopper’ in the corner can often be the source of conversations, especially in public houses.

You really can’t say the same for mobile phones while Facebook and its ilk are even more harmful to natural communication. People will waste away hours of their time ‘virtually’ chatting to friends and acquaintances at the expense of actually going out meeting somebody in person. For social beings that most of us are, that can’t be good for body or mind.

Another worrying aspect on the Facebook front is that it can actually be quite damaging to some people’s mental health, especially those at a low point in their lives. It can at times paint a picture that all your ‘connections’ are having a wonderful time while your life is banging along at the bottom. But instead of logging off and heading out which would seem the sensible thing to do, these people stay ‘hooked-in’, becoming in a sense new-age, social network ‘voyeurs’.

This kind of behaviour can be particularly damaging in the context of a recent romance break-up. It certainly doesn’t help you to move on from somebody if you subject yourself to constant updates and photos of the daily happenings of the person you once loved – or maybe even still love. In fact, in a previous article (see: Mi Amor’ – or perhaps not?) we jokingly had a go at how some Colombian female ‘acquaintances’ are quick to delete you from Facebook if things turn even slightly sour. Perhaps though they’re right if ‘moving-on’ is what they want to do.

Of course social network sites, mobile phones and all these things are just tools – they are not inherently ‘evil’ in their own right. It’s how you use or, more importantly, misuse them that’s at the heart of the matter here. From our point of view Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn have helped us gain and maintain a plethora of contacts across the globe. Without such outlets, these new connections would have been next to impossible to not only sustain but to find in the first place.
The 'Where did it all go wrong?' Evolution/devolution poster.
Replacing a wife for Wi-Fi - the latter is more reliable for one.

However, virtual communication should not come at the expense of real-life, face-to-face contact. If we let this happen, we'll all end up like the person sitting at the computer at the final stage of that ubiquitous evolution poster. Hermits - but with technology.