Turning Thirty

No age has held ever much significance for me. Not twenty one or twenty five.

Not since I was ten, when my Dad took me to buy a book of my choice – something about dinosaurs – have I held any age to be more special than any other age.
So it seems all the more unusual to even dedicate some writing to turning thirty.

On contemplation, it is not so much the passage of thirty years that bears significance though it may be slightly noteworthy (seeing as I’ve not been thirty before. I have been twenty nine before, so that holds no allure for me now!). What seems so inexplicably significant to me is what I feel those thirty years have included in terms of my successes and failures. Simply defined as things I’m proud of and things I’m not!.

My successes and failures are self evident (seeing as I’m writing this for myself – they are evident to me!). But for completeness I shall list what I think major examples of each are.

Successes (not in any particular order):

  • Making it through high school with no special effort – although it got a little hairy in the last year!
  • Struggling to work, be married and study for my professional qualifications (degree etc).
  • Learning to fly aeroplanes.
  • Being a Muslim, a Buddhist and born again Christian all within 8 months.
  • Having Brianna (baby girl number one).
  • Having Erin (baby girl number two).
  • Opening my eyes to the injustice of the world and realising we are all humans, equal and of one consciousness AND refusing to shut them!.
  • Being a dad – its the best thing that has ever happened to me (its focused my mind and soul and reminded me to feel) and simultaneously the worst thing (it makes me eternally vulnerable!).
  • Tending my ill Dad for 2 months – insignificant at the time, but now he’s not here, I realise how priceless that time was.
  • Realising that we are all given this one life – so I resolve to live it to the maximum whilst not hurting anyone (intentionally) and enhancing humanity in my time here.
  • Appreciating that there are far worse things in the world than the minor inconveniences that I endure, cushioned in the security of modern Britain!!

My failures

  • Being mean to my Dad as a precocious 16 year old and not righting my ways before he died. (ok , even in an unordered list, this is #1)
  • Failing to be the picture perfect father in a traditional family structure. Well this is technically a failure – but an unavoidable one. I could not stay married because the love, respect and commitment was pretty much extinguished.
  • Not getting a PhD before 30. This bugged me for a long time – but not anymore – I resolved that I was living life and doing equally meaningful things instead of pursuing this.

Now I’m thirty there is no trepidation, no fear of anything . I feel neither confronted by my own mortality nor mournful of my youth. I feel alive and purged of the mistakes of the past. So many things that I was incapable of doing – mentally, emotionally and physically – seem possible now. The aspects of my personality that have seemed distinctly confusing now seem more distinct (though no less confusing) , identifiable and thus controllable.

Being able to face one’s fears and challenges unencumbered and with courage seemed to have eluded me until now.

Challenges

At thirty, I finally feel adequately equipped to face anything. As if the framework for facing any challenge is finally complete or at the very least, as good as it can be. But within this framework are the seeds for future enhancement – humility and respect for everyone else (with a few notable exceptions – hey, I’m working on them!).

Of all the challenges that I can guess at, the most significant are listed below:

  1. Losing my Mum – there’s life in the old bird yet – but she has less of the future than she has of the past.
  2. Watching my children grow into young people and having less of an impact on their reasoning.
  3. Having the courage to let my children go when they are ready – and knowing when they are ready!
  4. Changing careers and delivering my dream of arming myself to fight injustice and inhumanity.
  5. Discovering love.
  6. Becoming even less stressed, calmer and more open to the wisdom within others and myself – that is my quiet counsel.

All in all, I am happy. The happiest I have been in all my adult life. The air smells fresher and the future seems brighter (perhaps divorce will do that to you!). The realisation that no one has the answers to the lingering questions of love , life and death is such a liberating state. It goes along with the feeling of rebirth – that I can do what I feel I need to do (within the boundaries of my morality) and the world is there for the exploring.

Without trying to sound morbid (heavens forbid!) , if Death were to come now, my regret would be limited to regretting the future pleasure of seeing my children be all I know they will.

PS.  We do not have all the time in the world. There are only so many hours in the day, and even less of them are productive.

A Head Unbowed.

I must confess that with the dizzying number of causes, campaigns and events in the world to be active about – enough to keep a brigade of activists busy for a lifetime, the story of Mordechai Vanunu did not get the personal attention it deserved. Even within the relatively limited scope of Israel/Palestine and the Middle East, Vanunu may have been briefly mentioned, his actions drawing passing remarks. The strength of his courage, the integrity of his conscience all unrecognised.

All this changed with the obligatory fifteen minutes of fame that he has been accorded today and over the coming weeks. For those that do not know what the all this is about a short primer:

Mordechai Vanunu is a jewish moroccan imigrant to Israel (although he has since converted to Christianity), he worked as an engineer within the Israeli defence machinery from 1976 to 1985 during which time he was exposed to the extent of Israel’s covert nuclear programme. Rumours abounded at the time about whether Israel was acquiring nuclear weapons, if so what was their capability – to further compound this, the Israeli government refused to sign up to the Nuclear Prolifiration Treaty, that obligates signatories to inspections and some level of accountability.

Vanunu went public with his inside information, exposing the extent of Israel’s nuclear arsenal and program. He did it for neither profit nor fame. He said at the time he acted on his conscience – making a stand for the global eradication of nuclear arms. A position he still maintains today.

This percieved treachery resulted in his kidnap by Israeli agents in Rome, abduction to Israel, a secret trial and a prison sentence of 18 years – 10 years of which he spent in solitary confinement. His treatment within confinement was draconian and brutal, attested by various campaigns that took up his cause.

After 18 years in prison he was finally released today, his head unbowed despite the efforts of government to break his spirit.

His release sees a convergence of varying public (domestic and international) opinion. Broadly, there are those who recognise him as a hero for peace whilst others see him as a traitor. On the supportive side, there are representives of the various anti-nuclear groups that campaigned for his release because the object of his revelations were nuclear weapons. There are those that supported him personally because he is seen as a prisoner of conscience – acting on his beliefs (some might add, his civic duty) regardless of what the object of his revelations were. There were also those who desperately believe him to be a traitor, jeopardising the security of his adopted country by reckless publication of information given in trust. A small minority extend this feeling further by labelling him ungrateful towards the country that gave him safe sanctuary and access to opportunity. I also found those that cared little for any fact other than he broke the law of the land ( a quite serious thing – if life was only about law!), they feel that he should have been punished to the full extent of the law – no questions asked. They generally feel his crime was poorly punished – perhaps they wished he had been summarily executed for treason – the issue of truth and accountability goes right out

Unapologetic and as determined as ever, Mordechai Vanunu is now a free man, or is he?. Not exactly – the current Israeli administration – built from the same core of paranoid and idealogical off shoots of the militaristic elite of zionists – have applied a number of restrictions on him. He cannot travel abroad, his movements are restricted to certain areas of Israel, he cannot give interviews without permission nor indeed speak to any foreigners (without permission from the authorities). How is society best served by this?. All this despite his statement that he has no further information to divulge- what good would it do? The Israeli hawks would have moved to cover their tracks to neutralise any sensitive information that he publicised at the time.

In any case, the story of Mordechai Vanunu deserved my attention and so I looked into it. Primarily to understand the background to why his revelations were so damning and controversial, in addition, I wanted to profile the integrity of the person and in doing so, improve my view of how the world could be.

Since its formation in 1948 through a much documented partition of Palestine (under the control of the British – by consent of the League of Nations), the State of Israel has been fanatical about its security. Seeing itself as an oasis of democracy and civilisation in an ocean of brutality, repression and Arabness (a word here that implies the zenophobia held by many of the European jews who later went on to form the leadership of the new state – scions of which still control the power in Israel today). It undertook a massive militarisation programme, still persisting today. Compulsory national service and a religious basis that puts victimisation of the jewish people at the core of their collective psyche (and by definition the defence by jewish people against victimisation).

The paranoia that the majority of Israelis – already one of the most politicised populations in the world, feel towards their Arab neighbours guarantees support for the fundamentalist policies of the main political parties. It appears that if a party cannot deliver lasting peace, it should deliver security at any cost. If this cost includes the oppression and subjugation of an entire people , so be it.

It is against this backdrop that Mordechai Vanunu made his very significant revelations. Effectively telling the world that Israel – generally believed to have a powerful army, had secret nuclear weapons. The danger posed by this fact is awesome. Acquiring nuclear weapons used to be a defensive strategy. You did not actually have to have nuclear weapons – the knowledge that you were acquiring them (or possibly had some) would act as a deterrent from aggression from your enemies. That was the basis of the Cold war. Acquire them so you did not have to use them. Because,of course, no one in their right mind would ever call your bluff and risk nuclear attack and its hellish consequence. But without publicising the fact that you are acquiring such weapons, the objective of deterrence is lost. There then appears to be only one possible motive for such secret acquisition of these Weapons of Mass Destruction – the sudden, strategic and decisive use of these weapons under attack.

It would seem to me that an attack by an aggressor whom you know to be armed is preferable to one by an attacker who you did not know to be armed – let alone armed with such a devastating weapon. Given the fact that Israel’s immediate neighbours and those that it deemed to pose the most serious threat to its security are all non nuclear states, it is undoubtable that Israel is prepared to respond with a nuclear strike even though it was not attacked with a nuclear weapon. This presents the question of what level of attack would justify a nuclear response. Given the volatility of the Middle East political mixture and the explosive addition of religious fundamentalism in mainstream Israeli politics – the trigger for using its nuclear capability cannot be reliably gauged.

At the end of this , the situation remains little changed. Israel is still in defiance of a multitude of UN resolutions regarding its occupation, its militarisation (even in the face of economic downturns) continues unabated (financed principally by US military aid – in excess of $3 billion a year). It still has a nuclear programme, which is still unmonitored. There is still little transparency or accountability. In fact with the new War on Terror, there is significantly less transparency or accountability than in 1986 when Vanunu was imprisoned!

Being Human

Given the time in which we live, when all seems so dangerous and unstable; when the cry of the suffering seems so loud – yet unheard; when the tears of the broken seem like floods – yet left untended. It seems a particularly appropriate time for me to contemplate what it means to be human.

Almost all mainstream religions and belief systems place human beings in a favoured position with whatever supernatural force they deem responsible for the creation of the earth and all within it.

Humans are special, we say we are special, so we must be special. What does it mean to be special? – I suppose it depends on who we are special to?. We are the pinnacle of creation, the most resourceful, the most intelligent – so intelligent we have the self granted authority to qualify the intelligence of other creatures in relation to our own. Semi omnipotent (of course, there can only be one Omnipotent force), we have the power to dispense death yet cannot equally give life. We can cause so much suffering but have yet to master causing joy and happiness to the same extent. So maybe being human is about being special to the God, a god or gods. To be servient to a higher being; endowed with intellect enough to set it aside and devote one’s entirety to blind dedication to the unseen but ever present.

Native American spirituality believes that to be human is to have an elevated status. This status centers on us has having a special relationship with the Spirit. More than a simple status, it obligates every Human Being to be responsible for the earth and all within it. Characterised by a strong belief in a balance, a state of equilibrium amongst all the plants and creatures of the earth it is seen as our duty as Human Beings to actively preserve this balance.

In my youth I sampled three of the world’s main religions (christianity – the evangelistic ‘born-again’ sort, islam and buddhism). Partly as a search for something concrete to base my life on (to get some unfailing, unquestioning guidance), partly as a way to fit into a society so ingrained with religion that to abstain from it was social suicide. (plus I was courting this hot chick!). This experience taught me more about human frailty, need, greed and power than about God or love or indeed an acceptable definition of what being human really was.

(now this is interesting! – would I be prepared to accept a definition of what being human was if it turned out to be cynical and devoid of hope?)

Perhaps being human is about love. Being able to love, to choose to love, what and whom. Don’t animals love? I believe they can and do. Maybe one can’t measure it in a lab (which is no proof that it doesn’t exist!), but I believe that every living creature is capable of love – the endearment to something that gives one pleasure and meaning. It would be too arrogant to say love was an human emotion which implies animals are partly human. Perhaps a more apt description would be that love is an attribute of something from which all life stems.

Or is being human about being obsessed with trying to find meaning to our existence as human beings. Perhaps being human is divine-speak for ‘lost and searching instead of just being’. Is that the spark that sets humans apart from mere animals, who accept their existence as what it is. Or is that human ignorance prevents us from appreciating that animals are just as curious of their place in the cosmos as we are?

I think that to be human is to love and respect the fountain from which we all fall as droplets of the divine; and to project this love and respect for other such droplets.

Whatever it turns out to be or not, one thing is certain – I shan’t be the first nor the last to want to know. So long as people of all ages seek to know what being human really means, there is hope that some may find an answer that helps all.

Insignificant Flim Flam.

A storm is blowing this week after a Swedish business magazine claimed that Bill Gates was no longer the world’s richest person. Not only has Mr Gates been apparently been dislodged from the number one spot, a Swede – the ‘de-facto’ head of flatpack empire Ikea – Ingvar Kamprad, was ‘announced’ as the new richest person in the world.

The insignificance of this is breathtaking. The shallowness of its utterance and the thinking behind it is so incredibly offensive to those with a view beyond the plastic, that it has broken through the otherwise impervious membrane I have developed over the years to the media muck that is dispersed to distract intelligent analysis of events the world should really be informed of.

Undoubtedly many people are gainfully employed to painstakingly research and tote up the figures (perhaps round the results up to the nearest million). Many others are also richly rewarded to care about the result, perhaps discussing the whole ‘race’ at length over coffee. A greater waste of human endeavor by those who are employed to produce it or indeed a more defunct waste of time by those who consume it ,is hard to fathom.

It is not as though there is a shortage of worthy news. Thanks to Messrs Bush , Blair and the Bully boys – there is so much that is worthy of all the space in all the papers of the world and that is in Iraq alone; then there is Afghanistan, Israel, Venezuela….

If that was not enough to occupy their time, perhaps a tiny mention of the devastation of our natural environment by big business’ insatiable appetite for greater profit; or the smallest of newsbytes on the continuing exploitation of women,the abuse of children and man’s continued inhumanity to man, all of this in a world in which all have been declared equal. There is much much more, but you get the point.

Whilst I do not know enough about the two individuals (Mr Gates and Mr Kamprad) to speculate whether they have any personal interest in where they rank in this silly insignificant little list, I do know that Mr Gates’ foundation is the single largest charitable organisation in the world. Almost singlehandedly funding a malaria vaccination and countless aid projects around the world.Whatever his motivation in doing this (at last count his foundation had a $7 billion fund) the results on the ground are what matter. The salvation it brings to the impoverished, the diseased and the hopeless is incalculable.

I am unaware of Mr Kamprad’s charitable work, however Ikea has extensive projects benefiting the environment, UNICEF and the Save the Children fund. So the individuals themselves are not so far removed from the world to be blind to the inescapable suffering that surrounds us all, yet those who strive to shimmer in their brilliance seem unable to see.

I think that within those circles that see the world the way it should be, the way it could be rather than the way it is, we recognise that the compilers of the original rich list (how original is a list that says who has the most? Its been around since the Jones’) and those who further dispute who should be where, are simple mindless sycophants, peddling to the insecurities of other simple mindless sycophants. They are blissfully preoccupied with propping up an illusion of a world awash with money, privilege and affluence. The simple realisation that you cannot eat money or drink diamonds is so simple it is bewildering that they have not picked up on it. Perhaps if/when they do, they will commandeer their media streams to flow with news that uplifts the human condition rather than this insignificant flim flam they currently spew.