Category Archives: current affairs

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.

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.

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.

Dawsons Field: Part 1

EL ALThe Pilot suddenly plunged the airliner into a steep nosedive throwing the two hijackers off their feet. Back in the passenger cabin, Flight Attendants grappled with the female on the floor. Also thrown, the male in desperation hurled his hand grenade down the aisle. By some miracle it failed to explode. As he pulled his gun and shot and wounded a Cabin Steward, he was hit over the head with a whisky bottle by a passenger. The last thing he heard was the bullet from the gun of the Sky Marshall that brought the heist to and end. With all passengers shaken but safe, the airliner made an emergency landing at London Heathrow and the hijack was over.

No, not snippet from a thriller novel or my first attempt at a short story but what really happened on EL AL Israel Airlines flight 219 from Tel Aviv to New York via Amsterdam with 148 on board in September 1970. If you have forgotten or are too young to know, 9/11 was not the world’s first spectacular multiple hijacking. Why September seems to be the optimum month for such events I do not know and how much a part the events of 1970 had to play on the timing and style of 9/11 can only be guessed at. As events unfolded, they threw the world at the time into chaos causing acrimony between the UK and the USA, leading an Arab state to implore Israel to strike other Arab states on its behalf, almost bringing the entire Middle East to war, superpowers to loggerheads and shaping the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict as it stands today.

imageEL AL 219 was one of three international flights originally targeted for hijack along with TWA 741 from Frankfurt to New York with 155 on and Swissair 100 also with 155 on heading from Zürich to New York. What is it about New York and hijacks? The Israeli plane was seized shortly after leaving Amsterdam and due the swift actions of the Flight and Cabin crews the male hijacker was killed in the air and the female, a Leila Khaled, was overcome and handed to the UK authorities where she was interned. What no-one knew, and again in a chilling similarity with 9/11, was that not all the hijackers had made it on board. Two were left at the gate in Amsterdam. Not to be thwarted, these two bought tickets to board Pan American 93 heading from Amsterdam to New York with 162 on board. Seems like hijacking planes was as easy as stealing cars in those days.

Dawsons field

Dawsons Field

With the EL AL jet safe on the ground in London, the TWA and Swissair flights headed to a little known former Royal Air Force Base in Jordan known then as Dawsons Field (Zarka today). The Pan American flight, a Boeing 747 and the largest of the 3 airliners captured, needed a longer runway to land on than Dawsons Field offered. The flight touched down in Beirut to pick up additional hijackers and explosives, and then headed for Cairo. All in a 1970’s hijackerman’s normal working day really.

The last and unexpected piece of the puzzle was the taking of British flight BOAC 775 heading to London from Bahrain with 114 on board. 775 joined the party with the Swiss and American flights at Dawsons Field while Pan Am 93 sat on its lonesome in Cairo.

And so the eyes of the world focused on the remote and little known former RAF base in the deserts of Jordan known as Dawsons Field from where ripples would spiral bringing superpowers and global allies to logger heads and the armies of the Middle East mobilising for war.

(to be continued…)

You can’t move history.

imageIf you have ever taken a walk along the South Bank of the River Thames in London strolling eastward from Westminster Bridge opposite the Houses of Parliament, you will come across some of the city’s most popular tourist attractions and cultural centres. The London Eye, London Dungeon, London Aquarium, Royal Festival Hall, the National Theatre. The place is totally buzzing with atmosphere both inside and outside, day and night.

The South Bank has long been a hotbed for creativity, innovation and the Arts. It is a Mecca for street performers and tourists love to gather around these guys and girls and be entertained or bemused for free. Just as your walk takes you near the National Theatre, you will come across the birthplace of some British creative history that is sadly, so I recently discovered, under threat.

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It’s called the ‘South Bank Undercroft Skatepark’ and it sits under the belly of the upper walkways between the theatres complex and the Royal Festival Hall. It’s open on one side but is otherwise a concrete alcove of no commercial value. To some, it’s an ugly, graffiti-daubed eyesore and hangout for London’s delinquent youth. To others, it’s a work of Art in itself created over decades at the hands and expressions of the city’s young people. Over time, virtually every spare inch of the otherwise depressingly drab cement walls and columns of the alcove have been covered in some of the most colourful and vibrant graffiti I have seen anywhere in any of my travels. Now I actually hate graffiti and the wanton defacing of property by people who don’t own it, but I’ve come to really like and admire the Undercroft, which I see as an organic work of art – an art that is both inanimate and animated. People walking the South Bank will stop at the Undercroft not only to photograph the muralled walls, but to watch the skills or attempts at skills of the young people who practice their skateboarding there and not just skates but bikes, scooters and rollerblades too.

The Undercroft is recognised as the birthplace of British Skateboarding back in the 1970’s when the craze took off here after (like many before and since) being imported from America. The youth of the time took  unofficial ownership of the drab concrete alcove with sloping floors to bounce off walls, cement slabs…anything they could use to create a new manouver and in doing so became themselves a visitor attraction. Today, new generations of skaters still practice their skills there, drawing gasps from small kids and parents alike as they fly by. Sadly, the kids of today may be the last generation to paint their mark on the piece of national history. That’s right; the property developers are moving in.

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A £multi-million redevelopment of the South Bank is waiting planning permission from Lambeth Council who run the borough of London the Undercroft sits in. The redevelopment promises to give a complete make-over to an area that let’s face it has looked pretty shabby and in need on modernisation for many years now. The developers promise to increase the amount of creative space given over to the Arts and for the development of young talent and in an era of austerity the fact that anything at all wants to be spent on supporting the Arts surely should be welcomed. Needless, to say that once details of the plan were revealed, which did not make any provision for the Undercroft in its present form, the Skateboarders of the UK united and took to the campaign trail to save the place. A petition is currently being canvassed to save the Undercroft that has so far raised over 50,000 signatures of support. Lobbying of politicians, celebrities and sportsmen and women is also taking place.

As the arguments for and against the South Bank redevelopment are aired in public, it was made known that there is no intention to rob the young skaters of today of their fun. There is a plan to create a brand new purpose-built skate park under the Hungerford Bridge further down the Thames. Billy+Bragg+1A surprising campaigner for the redevelopment is iconic musician, songwriter and broadcaster Billy Bragg, himself a symbol of youthful rebellion when I was growing up. He makes his case for the plans very well claiming that the creative interests of young people are at the heart of the new plans and you can read his own words here.   Interestingly, the next article I Googled while researching this reads “Billy Bragg is a knob. Ignore him and help save the Southbank Undercroft” and you also read all about that here.
Having spent some thought on the arguments both ways over this piece of London I really like, my feeling is that Mr Bragg and the supporters of the South Bank redevelopment are missing the point. The issue here is not just about a makeover that will hopefully better hone the skills and talents of the young (not to mention also increasing the commercial revenues generated in this highly popular stretch of London real estate). It’s about Art and History, both inextricably linked at the Undercroft. To simply do away with history in the name of progress and modernisation is never to have learned anything from history at all. It also reveals a fascinating irony that the (presumably) older people who have drawn up the new plans to boost South Bank’s famed creativity show very little creative talent themselves: surely there is a way of achieving the commendable new goals and still preserve the History too? I reckon if this debate were taking place in, say, Paris, Berlin or New York…a way would be found.

 

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There has been some final intense lobbying now in the last few days before Lambeth Council make their decision to grant planning permission or not and just very recently the skaters received the backing of two powerful an unexpected allies – their neighbours in the Royal Festival Hall and English Heritage. Both have joined forces with the skaters’ campaign to have the Undercroft listed as a heritage site, something that would severely damage the redevelopment bid though not scupper it.

Time will tell, I guess, but while the skaters were still campaigning as I walked past them last week I added my name and support beneath their campaign slogan. After all they’re bloody well right. You can’t move history.

Online petition here.

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