Could there ever be a Christian suicide bomber? Done already.

imageJRR Tolkien once wrote about the dangers of adventures that potentially lie ahead when you dare to step outside your front door and follow the road…any road…to see where it goes. So here’s an unexpected road my fingers took me on as I opened my digital front door to Googleland this week.

I have no idea why the old 1960s ‘Supermarionation’ TV puppet series sprung back to mind this week. Along with Joe 90 it was the lesser known of the genre after the still highly popular Thunderbirds, which has seen a modern revival. Personally, I think Scarlet would do very well if brought into the 21st Century and there’s some irony in that considering it was set in a century yet to come.

While I’ve never forgotten the classic theme tune sung by The Spectrum, I had forgotten how Captain Scarlet had become the ‘indestructible Man’ the Mysterons couldn’t kill. So I set off into Googleland to find out and came back with more than I bargained for.

imageI found the very first episode on YouTube via Google and watched it through and now recall how Scarlet gained his secret powers which again make sense of the opening credits. The episode was first broadcast in 1967. I never saw it then but like Thunderbirds, the series was repeated many times in later years. So I watched it again and found myself entertained but then shocked to see a suicide bombing and attempted assassination as the plot unfolded. A suicide bombing as we know it today back in 1967? How far sighted were the show producers? I had to find out.

imageBack out into Googleland I soon discovered to my horror that suicide bombings are not a 21st Century phenomena. It is centuries old and one of its most infamous occurrences was in the name of Christianity. I uncovered a number of references to an incident during the Tenth Crusade as Christianity and Islam fought bloodily over the Holy City of Jerusalem. In a sea battle the Knights Templar, a mysterious Sect which historians attribute to Christianity, but which no Christian denomination would own today, sacrificed 140 of their number by blowing up one of their own ships in the midst of enemy ships to take many more of them out.

I also discovered an interesting article in the Sky News archives which claims suicide bombing is recorded in and therefore seemingly sanctioned by the Bible. Well not quite. They refer to the death of Samson as recorded in the Book of Judges 16:30 who took his own life while inflicting death on many more as he destroyed a pagan temple.

imageWe ought to know from living history that suicide bombings are not a 21st Century phenomenon, even if they are far more common place than ever before. The Japanese military inflicted the first 9/11 with Kamikaze pilots ploughing into the US Pacific Fleet at Pearl Harbour in 1941. The first modern day suicide bombing was recorded in the 1980s in Lebanon and they became most frequently used to kill and maim in Israel but also Sri Lanka by Tamil rebels.

I don’t believe Christians invoked the first suicide bomb. I know of the Knights Templar from a while back as I delved into their links with the Illuminati (go Google) who were most certainly nothing to do with my faith. I have, however, long held the fear that sooner or later an atrocity will be committed in the name of Christianity whether by a deluded individual or by others wishing to ignite inter-communal strife with a deliberate act to tar all Christians but then that reality is being experienced by the majority of moderate Muslims today.

Selma – movie review

imageSelma is not the name of a girl but a town in Alabama or more specifically a place in time and space that irrevocably altered the course of American social history.I’m writing this personally and not for work.

I’m not a movie buff and it takes someting rare to drag me from the comfort of my home and large TV screen to the cinema. My movie choices are limited and predictable but ocassionally my job will require me to see a movie I would otherwise never have been inclined to watch to preview something a film company has approached the media company I work for to promote.

This film is not out in the UK yet and will not be for a couple of weeks but you may by now have heard the name. Selma is among the films nominated in this year’s OSCAR race for Best Film. It’s also up for Best Song in a movie but its lead (British) chap (David Oyelowo) narrowly missed out on a three-way British fight for Best Actor with Benedict Cumberpatch and Eddie Redmayne.

imageThere are no spoiler alerts. I could write anything I like at the moment as I dd not have to sign a confidentiality form before the preview some weeks ago, which you mostly have to do. I’m just going to write this review more from how it felt among the invited audience I watched the movie with rather than to critique it in any way, which I’m not qualified to do.

I saw the film sometime before Christmas with an invited audience of media people and around thirty or so of my colleagues. Pathe Film Distribution, with whom I’ve worked before gave me an usually large ticket allocation to share among our staff.

Selma is a town in Alabama that became a focal point in the American Civil Rights movement led by Dr Martin Luther King. Personally, I would hesitate to say the film is a biopoic of the iconic man or even totally about him. I came away feeling the film was about every black man, woman and child that fought or rather protested and made a stand for their civil rights at a time of quite incredible bigotry and vile racism.

imageLooking around the cinema that night, the audience was mostly white reflecting the general make-up of British media today, off camera. The cinema then darkened and the opening credits rolled. Oh…you know that no spoiler thing I wrote earlier? Well kind of half a spoiler. About four minutes into the film there is an explosive attention grabber that quite literally caused our audience to gasp and jump in their seats. From that moment on it would be safe to say Selma had our attention.

There’s no gimmick here. The attention grabber was a true-life event. There was no gratuitous nothing but as the film moved beyond this point I got the feeling that I have felt before on VERY rare ocassions that what was about to unfold before our eyes was an extraordinary production. I have only felt it before when watching the like’s of The King’s Speech’ The Iron Lady, Titanic, Gravity, Argo and so on. This felt quality and I know for a fact from the after screening foyer chat I was either engaged in or overheard and the buzz around the office the next day that I was not alone in feeling this way.

Selma is not about the origins, rise and history of Dr Martin Luther King. He has already been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize as the movie opens. It’s about the straw that broke the camel’s back: the freedom marches from Selma to the Alabama state capital Montgomery. The straw that caused the incumbent President Lyndon B Johnson to finally cave and drive through legislation that would allow America’s disenfranchised blacks to vote.

It is an emotional film. It’s very hard to watch at points. I felt the need to shield my eyes at times and fight back tears, rather unsuccessfully. I was not alone in that. I could hear sniffles right across the auditorium. The blonde girl I did not know in the seat to the right of me was just short of blathering and her tall, manly companion was pinching his nose at times to either escape the smell of my involuntary farts or stop himself crying too. I never fart in cinemas or in public so go figure.

imageThe real surprise to me was the buzz in the office the next day. The film was the topic of conversation well beyond the start of business. I’ve handled over 40 film and theatre promotions coming through but have not known a reaction like this among the staff. The reaction was not about the politics or ideals displayed in the film. It was about the art. How we felt watching it. What was new to us, what shocked us and what moved us.

imageThere is much out there in the press now about historical inaccuracies in the film and a quick Google will reveal these. I freely admit that while I thought I knew the story of Dr Martin Luther King and the US Civil Rights struggle, I realised by the end of this that I did not know that much. I’d never heard of Selma or the Montgomery marches. I did know Dr King had personal weaknesses that we wish he did’t have that take the shine off his hero status for some, who maybe forgot, glossed over or never read the exploits of King David in the Bible with whom Dr King would have been well acquainted and with whom he shares status as a flawed yet inspirational freedom fighter and man of God.

This is not the best movie I’ve ever seen as Ben Hur is entrenched in that position for me for all eternity (and it’s current re-make is doomed to suck). This is a film I recommend from an entertainment perspective as a film you will quickly feel is a high quality production and one that will engage your brain and emotions on a number of levels.

The film has high-powered backng from co-producers Brad Pitt and Oprah Winfrey, whose cameo role is in itself an entirely understated and moving performance.

Singing La Marseillaise…

imageRegardless of whether you are young or old, if you are too ignorant not to have watched or know of one of the most iconic movies of all time then this post is quite rightly way above your head so best head back to whatever Simon Cowell is eating your brains with at the moment, arse head.

I’m talking about Casablanca. Bogart, Bergman, As Time Goes By, black and white and that foggy airport runway to Lisbon. If you know the film then you will no doubt remember above all the defiant singing of La Marseillaise, the free French national anthem in Rick’s Bar as a spit in the face of the German NAZI occupation. The empassioned, defiant rendition in the face of swaggering overloads was struck up by a hunted freedom fighter by the Nazis who ruled Casablanca in French Morocco as a captured territory of a defeated France.

imageThisweek I gathered in the Winter night cold in London’s Trafalgar Square with a few hundred people, mostly French. That number grew significantly to thousands after I left. I was there as part of the impromptu vigil organised just 2 hours previous by some of London’s considerably large French community. We were there because Nous sommes tous Charlie. We were there on France’s 9/11 to stand with our chief rival and arch enemy of old on the historical imperial battlefields that have divided yet united us for centuries. We were there to express our…I don’t know what. Shock? Outrage? Despair? at the butchering of cartoonists, journalists and expressionists among our Western media.

And so we sang La Marseillaise.

Quite because of Casablanca, I can sing by heart the French national song, never taught to me in school and I have to say I was a better singer than many of the French around me (or perhaps they were just sympathetic Belgians)?

So why were we there? We gathered firstly in shock and then in defiance as the events were unfolding in Paris that day. This before the twin hostage situations that followed yesterday. One girl and one boy were stood singing songs of peace, mainly the boy. The rest of us kind of huddled in a widening group as media started to take pictures of people carrying Je Suis Charlie placards in memory of those butchered in the name of Islam at the Charlie Hebdo magazine offices, hastily photocopied or self drawn. Then the girl started alone to sing La Marseillaise.

When the national anthem was done, silence fell on all gathered that night as the rain started to pour in Trafalgar Square. I could not count the time we all stayed silent. I work in radio and so I know in my head how long the standard thirty seconds is. I lost count of how many of those passed as we stood in silence holding up placards or pens signifying that the pen is mightier than the sword.

I only got to know of this gathering via Twitter but wanted to be there to represent the media company I work for, though our editorial outlook is 180 degrees away from that of the Charlie Hebdo magazine that had been so brutally attacked. I wanted to be there and know that the media company I work for was there because ALL media was attacked this week. All of us were attacked this week. All.

The media company I work for is at high risk because of the nature of what we broadcast. We are a MAINSTREAM Christian broadcaster, so non fundamentalist, charity owned and regulated by Ofcom (the UK media regulators for overseas chums). We are continuing to broadcast, post and publish as normal and I hope that continues. But what we broadcast is the antithesis to what the murderers in Paris or IS or any Islamic fundamentalist believes.

I sang La Marseillaise for and with our French friends across the water. I also sang it for us, freedom of speech and freedom for our media.

I also sang in the hope that freedom will not die in Europe as some media pundits are sadly predicting.

Smitten with Helsinki

imageTo be honest, I couldn’t get myself excited about coming here. I did try. I booked this trip months ago when a casual brain fart at the start of the year took me on an adventure to Denmark, then Sweden and Norway. One of my life’s Bucket List has always been to set foot in all of the five Nordic countries. Just Finland left (Iceland happened some years back). So I booked a long weekend via Expedia. I downloaded a guidebook on Finland months ago. I’ve read it over and over but just couldn’t get into it. The language didn’t help. Though everyone speaks fluent English here, Finnish is one of the most visually daunting Western languages I’ve come across so the thought of asking any of the locals how to get to wherever was a terrifying prospect. Yet now I’ve been here just a day and a half…and I love it. I really love it.

On the drive from Vantaa Airport about 45 mins from the city centre, I already had a feel Helsinki was different from all other Nordic cities I’ve visited. It just felt bigger and that surprised me. I didn’t do my homework well enough before I left but I’m glad now of that. I’m completely enchanted. With my other trips I researched hugely and knew the places I wanted to visit as I hit the ground. I saw and did lots but ended up knackered and feeling that I just did the tourist thing instead of just chilling and experiencing the place outside the guidebooks. But when I arrived here I had no clue. When I stepped out of my hotel today onto that road – any road – that as JRR Tolkien always warned might carry one-off on high adventures unknown…I was carried away. I just got out and strolled up any street that caught my eye, not caring if it took me to such and such ‘must see’ place or not. I loved just taking in the calm and laid-back atmosphere, drinking it in after the madness of my home city, London.

I’d love to be a travel writer, but I can’t pretend to play at that with so short time in my host city so all I can do is comment on the biggest thing that’s hit me here: of all the new cities I’ve visited this year – Copenhagen, Malmo, Oslo and Geneva – this is my favourite. I liked Helsinki instantly.

As I walked out this morning under a clear blue sky and in T-shirt I just could not help but feel a liking for this place. The drive in the evening before had already influenced me. The closer we got to the city centre the more I could see how I’d underestimated this place. Helsinki is 3rd largest of the Nordic cities after Stockholm and Copenhagen. It does not have the bustle of the Danish capital but it feels far bigger and more grand than Copenhagen. I haven’t been to Stockholm yet so can make no comparison.

Though I never fully understood why until now, Finland is of Nordics but also at arm’s length from its cousins. Its language immediately sets it apart from the other 4 though Swedish is also an official language here too. Helsinki is also known as Helsingfors in Swedish. But it’s more than the language that creates the difference. It was once and for many years part of Russia and that is what I can feel so strongly around me. The city has a noble and grand feel to it unlike ‘cutesy’ and brash Copenhagen or laid back sleepy Oslo. St. Petersburg is only 3 hours away by sea and from pictures I have seen of that city I can see somewhat mirrored in some of the architecture here. The Finns also seem markedly more reserved than their Swedish, Danish and Norwegian counterparts. Not unfriendly and certainly not xenophobic: like all the other Nordic cities I’ve visited this year, Helsinki seems cosmopolitan. There are a lot of East Asians here, either living or passing through. Finland’s national airline, Finnair, has positioned itself as a prime European connector to China and the Far East. My very pleasant flight over here was full with passengers of Asian origins flying into Vantaa to take connecting flights to Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo. This is the other real significant thing you feel here. It’s one of those places where West and East and East-East meet.

Oslo Harbour and its Islands were one of my highlights of that trip but not to belittle it in any way because I have very deep and fond memories of there…but Helsinki’s harbour and islands follow the trend of the city: Grand and awesome.

As I write, I’m now back in the hotel after a very fulfilling day. Tomorrow I set for the Estonian capital Tallinn in what was the former Soviet Union. Tallinn’s Old City is a World Heritage Site as one of the best preserved Medieval cities in Europe. I have done absolutely no homework at all on it but up for the adventure. When I booked my tickets on the Hydrofoil crossing tomorrow, I jokingly asked the cashier whether Estonia was open on a Sunday but was met with stony silence and a menacing frown. When I posted this experience on Facebook, my only Finnish friend who now lives in London posted back: “The funny thing is that I’m not sure Estonia IS open on Sunday”. Could be an interesting day.

Apologies for no pictures in this post. Hotel wifi seems not to be coping.

R.I.P UK?

imageTwo weeks from today just over 4 million people north of the English border will be voting in an election that could have the most profound impact on my life. I’m powerless to do anything about it and not allowed a say on the matter. The matter being decided is the life or death of my country, the United Kingdom. Two weeks from tomorrow I will have not long landed in a foreign capital on the passport of a country that may no longer exist.

This post is not about the arguments for and against Scottish independence. It’s also not my perspective on the valid reasons the Scots have for seeking independence I believe they have. I am a unionist. It’s about the lack of realisation of what could be in store I perceive from the rest of the country, the other 55 million whose lives may be impacted. I can understand the lethargy in some ways. Not being able to have a say in the matter is incentive enough to want to disengage. The real shock is that the British Government has admitted it has no Plan B if the Scots vote to leave the Union. As the polls stand now, the long-standing ‘No’ majority has been whittled away to just a 6 point lead: 53% over 47% in the Yes camp. All either side needs to win is 51% and there are still 2 weeks to go. For our Government to have no Plan B is evidence of breath-taking arrogance and complacency in their disbelief such a state of play would exist as I’ve always suspected could.

On the morning the results are announced, the media group I work for will, like very many others, be broadcasting live from Scotland. I may not know the results until My flight touches down. Only then will I know whether I still have the same nation to belong to, the same flag to be proud of, the same passport to travel by or whether it will all be about to change. My employer will contemplate whether it can carry on broadcasting to Scotland or not. Every British bank will know whether it’s business as usual or profound volatility on the Stock Markets and a possible run on the pound sterling. Every business in the UK that has a dot.co.uk domain will be assessing the financial costs of reprinting corporate stationery should ‘dot anything dot UK’ be no longer valid. The Northern Irish may be re-assessing their own place in the Union as Irish Republicans may gain momentum for a vote to join with Ireland. The Welsh, for me a country with a far more obvious national identity and language than the Scots, will be rethinking their place in the Union. The British Labour Party may be assessing the loss of 50 Labour MPs that Scotland currently sends to Westminster to bolster their numbers and that impact on the political landscape south of the border which grows more Conservative the further south you go. The Queen may be re-assessing what her role will be north of the border if any at all. Our military personnel employed to run our Nuclear Deterrent based in Scotland will be wondering whether they still have jobs seeing that becoming a nuclear free zone is part and parcel of an independent Scotland. With that comes the possibility of a UK exit from having a nuclear deterrent altogether as there is no Plan B to move the naval facilities elsewhere and no obvious replacement to the Faslane naval base.

Further afield, the remnant UK (or whatever we might be called) will be contemplating less voting power in Europe, a potential loss of seat at the top table of the UN. The USA maybe contemplating life without the guaranteed assistance of its strongest and most dependable ally. NATO will be assessing the risks to its North Atlantic defences capabilities. Governments in Madrid, Rome and Brussels who face similar rumbling sentiments for national break up (most pressing in Spain) will also be watching the results of the Scottish vote very closely.

I’m aware that some or much of the above might not necessarily be bad outcomes to the rest of the UK for some. Fair do’s. There are myriads of other minutiae none of us know yet that will affect us both north and south if Scotland is to become like the Irish Republic: in close proximity and culturally more like brothers yet nonetheless foreigners and no longer part of our national psyche.

Fellow Brits in the other 3 Home Nations: if you have thought up to now that the vote in Scotland in 14 days time is just a matter for them and not us…think again. We are 14 days away from possibly the most seismic shift in our lives any of us have ever known and I include all wars in that assessment. A seismic shift of such great magnitude than our 4 united nations have known for many centuries. A seismic shift that will extend beyond our borders and ripple across the world. That is not me being grandiose and over-stating our significance. It’s just the way it will be.