Tag Archives: politics

number 67- my son is a good boy, a good son.


Disclaimer – There was always going to be a house, a family on this street, in this portmanteau collection of short stories, somehow touched by Jihadism.

My thoughts are of course with all those affected by the dreadful events in Paris on 13th November 2015, but there are other families who also have to make sense of the world after such tragedies in quite different ways.

 

Number 67 -my son is a good boy, a good child.

She doesn’t say it out loud anymore because she knows how other people react, knows how they think, knows what they think and she cannot bear to read the derision, the confusion in their eyes. She does not want to have to defend the indefensible, understands that to most people, her son is as far from being a good boy as is possible.

She knows that trying to explain, to share stories from his childhood, to pull out the photographs, the family videos, his school and college reports are meaningless acts, particularly when these are put beside those other photographs, those other videos, those public images of her son.

But, he was a good boy, a good son, her youngest son, the baby growing up when Somalia had been left behind; when she wondered if they would ever settle again, ever have somewhere to call home.

He was her last link with home, the child created  as Mogadishu fell apart and staying became impossible and then inconceivable and so they began the journey that brought them to here and maybe brought him to place he now calls home.

But, he was a good boy, a beautiful child, everyone said so, strong and graceful, eye lashes so long that they curled against his clear skin, always happy, always easy.

She remembers sitting in a pavement café in Amsterdam, older children all at school and the two of them stealing time together, eating ice cream and waffles, throwing the crumbs to the ducks at the canal side and both of them fascinated by the Dutch girls, so tall, so fair as they cycled past at top speed, too busy to notice the small dark-skinned child, his face covered in strawberry ice cream.

She remembers the cat the children rescued and brought back to their freezing apartment in Stockholm, her son, with the easy linguistic fluidity of  child who are 6 years old has already lived in four countries, petted the animal and informed her that its name was Bella, Italian for beautiful.

She remembers the mother’s day card he made for her in his first year at school in this country, their final destination, their home now. She can still see the careful lettering and the time he took to teach her to read the unfamiliar swirl of shapes that eventually she could de-code into a message of love.

She remembers the bicycle he begged for as his Eid gift when he was 8, his disgust at the helmet and shin pads she insisted he wore whenever he rode the bike, but and when she remembers this, she has to sit down, bite on her own knuckles, the memory is so painful, but, he always wore them, ignored the taunts of the other children, understood that this country cared her and his free movement through it, scared her even more.

She wanted to fit in and both she and her husband worked hard at it. She went to language classes, pulled her tongue and mouth and lips into unfamiliar shapes, made noises that sounded too sibilant, too slippery to ever make meaning, but, she persevered, didn’t want to be like some of the other mothers, still unable to have the simplest conversation in this ugly, muttered language even after living here for years and years.

The children went to madrassa, of course they did and her husband walked the boys to Friday prayers, once they were both sure that each one was old enough, sensible enough to not embarrass him or call into question her parenting skills.

She wore hijab, but knew it wasn’t about religion or even culture, far more about habit and routine and seeing the reflection she expected when she caught sight of herself in a mirror or a shop window.

She tried to explain it once to Tracey, lovely Tracey, the first mother to talk to her at the school gates and Tracey nodded, got it at once, said she couldn’t leave her house without a full face of makeup, said she just didn’t feel right and they smiled at each other, went back to towelling dry children as they erupted from the swimming pool.

But, religion wasn’t a burden in their lives, yes, something they believed in, even found comfort in, but it didn’t weigh them down, didn’t set them apart, not then anyway, from their neighbours, her husband’s colleagues.

And her son, her son just wasn’t that bothered by Islam, more worried by global warming, racism, unfairness at school, bullying of weaker kids, a good boy, a good son.

At 15, he stopped going to madrassa, wanted to concentrate on his studies, wanted to get good GCSEs. She understood and he still sent to mosque, although she knew, that really he went for his father and their good name in the Somalia community.

She doesn’t know, not exactly, not for sure, when he discovered his version of Islam, but she does know that it doesn’t make him happy, doesn’t give him the quiet joy that she experienced over the years in her careful reading of the Quran, her observation of fasts and feasts.

His Islam, his Allah – praised be his holy name – is the religion of anger, the vengeful god and it makes him, her good son, the good boy, angry and vengeful himself.

Salford, she thinks, that’s where it started, when after good GCSEs and good A levels, he went off to become an engineer.

She worried and she can almost laugh at those worries now, she worried about him becoming too westernised, perhaps even meeting the wrong sort of girl, pale skinned, properly English, uncomfortable around his family.

But, he became inward looking, angry, his texts became briefer and briefer, phone calls were one sided, terse and she felt him slipping away from her.

When he came home, he was changed, prayed 5 times a day but with an intensity that frightened her, began to wear traditional clothes, grew a beard that seemed too rough against his soft skin, she could believe that it chaffed him on the outside and the inside.

There were bitter family rows, he criticised his sisters, tried to force them to wear hijab and bourkas and when they laughed at him, he became incandescent with rage and refused to speak to them again.

Finally, he told his parents that he was leaving university, was going to Pakistan to study his religion and at that point she was grateful for the lie.

She hasn’t seen him since the day that she stood with her husband watching his plane become smaller and smaller and further away.

She hasn’t seen him in the flesh since them but, Her other sons comb through YouTube, she has watched one and refused to look at any others. Last year, her own sister in Washington swears that she saw him in the background on a story on CNN from some dusty town in Syria. she doesn’t want this to be true and so, has decided that it isn’t.

Men in suits and very short hair visit the house sometimes, they ask her if she has heard from him, if she will tell them if she does, they remind her of the law, of her moral duty and she offers them good Somalia coffee and home cooked biscuits.

She is waiting for him to die, waiting for this to be over, but she prays, actually prays for a non-heroic death. His life is already over, but she clings onto this one, wants to still be able to nod to her neighbours, stand in the queue at the bus stop, and shop in local shops without being spat at, her headscarf pulled from her head, terrible thing being pushed through her letter box.

She knows that these and other dreadful things have happened to other mothers, other families and she doesn’t know if she is strong enough to bear it.

So, she prays for a pointless, stupid death for her good son, her good boy.

A car crash on a rutted road on the way to Mogadishu.

Untreated malaria with complications in some backwater in Syria.

A falling out amongst men with too many automatic weapons in   a town no-one has ever heard of on the Pakistani border.

Most of all, she prays that his death will cause no harm to anyone else.


The eternal, ever-giving, fun-loving clowns hit town again …….and again


The child leans forward, her hair a curtain between her and the glowing screen, her lips move, reading the messages that ping and click into her inbox.
Her hand moves automatically to the family sized bag of crisps, nestled, half hidden on her lap.
Hand, mouth, bite, chew, hand…..old familiar pattern.

She stifles a giggle with a hand that is salty, malty with crumbs of crisps. His messages are so funny and then he can be so tender, so loving.

She knows that he is the one for her, it’s all perfect

They will run away together, start a new life, no more name calling, no more teachers staring at her with half disguised disinterest.

She loves him, cannot wait to be with him, has already packed a bag, written, in rough, the note she will leave.
She’s going to do it properly, her neatest handwriting, nice paper and everything.

She doesn’t hear the door open, doesn’t see the smallest clown tiptoe in, skirting the fluffy rug, the bundle of bears huddled at the foot of the bunk beds.

He reaches across her and with a gentle finger pushes the off button on the lap top and then bows to the child with a flourish and pulls the pink paper flower from the brow of his hat.

She can’t help her smile, forgets to cover her mouth and the beam lights up her face.

As the clown leaves, he pulls back the curtains and lets the sun shine stream in.

The boys are sitting, their backs against what remains of the walls of the last house on the dusty Main Street.

Dogz and Little Man have found some battered cassette tapes, they are carefully unwinding the black plastic tape and wrapping the flapping spool around each others arms to make bracelets or armour or just something that looks fine, catches the midday sun, sets them apart.

Spider sits, legs splayed, rubbing the butt of his AK47 with a tiny bottle of palm oil, the metal gleams and he bows his head to concentrate.

The others are watching him carefully, they know he has some Kif in his jacket pocket, maybe even some weed. In the absence of the Sergeant, he is the man, the dan.
They quietly move closer to him, make sure that they are in his sights.
Nobody wants to miss out on anything good.

Newboy and the boy so new he doesn’t even have a nickname, are sitting away from the others.
No name boy has been crying, the tears have left an almost clean path down his dirt encrusted face.
The others can all remember the tears, they make sure that they don’t make eye contact, nobody wants to remember back then, back when they first came.

It is Newboy who sees them first, a dot in the landscape,that becomes distant figures, that slowly resolves into 3 figures, biggest, smaller, smallest.

The clowns are back in town.

The crew stiffen, hands reach out for guns, bats, sticks, they all stand, even New Boy, even no name boy, group together, wait to see what will happen.

The clowns stop at the edge of the deserted town, they eyeball the boys and the boys eyeball them and then with a whoop and a shriek, the clowns launch the selves.

Cartwheels

Summersaults

Forward rolls

Flic Flacs

And the dog runs alongside, tongue flapping, mouth smiling.

The boys turn to Spider, looking for guidance, but he shrugs, trying to be the man, but wanting to see what’s going to happen, feeling a smile tugging at his mouth.

He makes a decision, places his gun on the floor and slowly slides himself to the ground, his jeans are too short now, bony, adolescent ankles stick out, before his boots, the boots, the man boots, 2 sizes too big, but, in them he walks like a man, so he ignores the blisters, has pushed to the back of his mind, the actual getting of the boots.

In them he walks tall.

The other boys, slide cautiously to the ground, form a rough semi circle and become an audience of children, mouths open, weapons forgotten, they lean into each other, a tangle of legs and arms.

The clowns go through the routines, custard pies, the kicks and pratfalls, the teeny tiny cycle and then, the smallest clown begins to march, miming the carrying of a huge military drum, it trips him up, catches his behind, threatens to swallow him and all the time, the other clowns are marching, mad goose step marching, legs so high they almost reach their heads.

With a flourish, the biggest clown produces a giant water pistol and starts to fire jets of water at the others, they fall back, legs kick in the air and the boy soldiers laugh and laugh as the clowns lie twitching in the dust.

The road is full of people, as far as the eye can see, heads down, laden with bags and boxes and prams and trolleys and baskets balanced on heads.
They walk, trudge, one foot, another foot, walking towards the horizon.
There are no young men, just women and children and old men, all becoming more silent as the days go on.
The children have stopped playing, stopped darting ahead, stopped suddenly dropping to the ground to examine a brightly coloured stone, a tiny lizard.
They walk and carry and if they are too small to carry, they are entrusted with even smaller children, one each side, held tight, dragged on legs that have to trot to keep up.

At the very back of the line are the clowns,
Biggest
Smaller
Smallest

And on each of their shoulders is a child, head drooping, face brushing against the soft pompoms on the pointed clown hats.

The clowns walk, slowly, doggedly, behind the lines of all the lost.

Biggest
Smaller
Smallest

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Ding, Dong, the witch is dead!


I’m lying on a road outside the air base, the loose grit rubs against my face.
All around me are other women, lying, sitting, waiting.
It’s December, cold, grey, early morning.
Yesterday, we cocooned Greenham Commen in song and hand clasps.
Today is different, serious, someone starts the chant
“The whole world is watching you”
The police move in, not yet as skilled as they will be at the pinch, the quiet blow, the shove that hurts a little bit too much.

I’m standing outside the supermarket in a leafy left-wing suburb
“Food for the striking miners, make your donations here”
shouts a man, his voice honed from years of selling socialist worker.
People are running, actually running to place tins, packages in battered carboard boxes.
It’s an eclectic collection:
Pasta
Rice
Tomatoes
Cat food
Chocolate
Someone has dropped 2 jars of olives into the mix.
At 20 something, I wonder what the miners’ wives will make of them.

I’m on the Mall and somehow there’s a gap, a space and I launch myself
The car is so close that I can almost touch it and then I’m on the ground.
The secret service man looks terrified and only afterwards, long, long afterwards, I realise how close I came to being shot by trigger happy Reganite protectors.

Upper Heyford 1980s – the plan to close the base for 5 days.
It becomes a game, we link arms, they scoop us up, we, taking non-co-operation to a new height, refuse to move, to speak.
They cannot process the sheer numbers of protestors, so release us and we do it all again and again and again.

Outside my window, my neighbours are rioting, we go out to take photographs.
We watch a woman, fleshy, middle aged, skin gleaming in the half light, enter the over-priced local supermarket, minutes later, she reappears, a trolley laden with toilet rolls and bathroom cleaner.

Someone says that Thatcher is dead, blown up by the IRA, we lie in bed, wondering what will happen next, we consider packing, re-homing the cats, moving on.

I’m on an outer -city estate, where the only people who work are us, the project workers, parachuted in to make the place better for the community. The community is unified only in its suspicion of these middle class young women. they refuse to believe that I am 26, they don’t know any 26 year olds that don’t have children.
One day, I go to the local pub, an airport hangar of drink and smoke, it scares me so much I cannot swallow my low cal bitter lemon.

I’m watching the master race assemble for a rally.
They are surprisingly short, almost stunted, with bad skin and badly fitting jeans.

I’m speaking at a rally, Hiroshima day.
Over-taken by rhetoric, I raise my hand in a clenched fist.
Afterwards, one of the camp children, hair dreadlocked, not a fashion statment, just a lack of running water, asks
“Why did you do that thing with your hand?”
And I’m embarassed and can’t think of an answer.

There’s a protest against capitalism.
The City is full of interesting hair dos, woven clothing.
A group of nuns are standing quietly on the pavement, a policeman, young, a little confused, asks them politley to move away.
he doesn’t understand that they are in disguise, not nuns at all and that in 10 minutes time, they will walk calmly into a McDONALDS and spray fake blood on all the walls.

On every rally, every protest, every march
“Maggie, Maggie, Maggie”
“Out, Out, out”

Margaret Hilda Thatcher, Baroness Thatcher, LG, OM, PC, FRS (née Roberts, 13 October 1925 – 8 April 2013)

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Jafar Panahi – latest film at the Berlin Film Festival


i have blogged about the plight of Iranian film maker Jafar Panahi before, he is currently under house arrest, forbidden to make films, write screenplays, edit film, speak to journalists or leave the country.
His last film “This is not a film” was smuggled out of Iran – look for it on t’interweb, its out there and was made in defiance of this blanket cultural ban.

His latest film was previewed at the Berlin Film Festival last week, obviously Panahi could not be there himself, instead a large cut out photo of him stood in place of the director.

Iranian film has been decimated by a fundamentalist Islamic government, with many filmmakers in exile, unable to work, in fear of draconian bans of their creative freedom.

Panahis’ “Closed Curtain” does not currently have a cinematic release in the UK, if this changes, please, please support freedom of expression in Iran by going to see it.

Amnesty International currently are campaigning on behalf of Panahi [ links in the side bar].

Iranian cinema is extraordinary and important in terms of world cinema, if you love film and believe in cultural freedom, please get involved;
Join the Amnesty International campaign
Feel free to re-blog this article
Watch his [ and other Iranian film makers] work
Make some noise – his high international profile is probably the thing keeping him safest at the moment.

Iran has complained to the organizers of the Berlin film festival for giving Iranian director Jafar Panahi an award for an allegorical movie made in defiance of a 20-year state ban.

Panahi shared the best script prize at Berlin on Saturday for “Closed Curtain” with co-director Kamboziya Partovi for a film made in secret, which mirrors aspects of Panahi’s life under house arrest in the Islamic Republic.

“We have protested to the Berlin film festival. Its officials should amend their behavior because in cultural and cinematic exchange, this is not correct,” said Javad Shamaqdari, the head of Iran’s national cinema organization, Iran’s student news agency (ISNA) reported on Monday.

The movie follows the story of two people on the run from state security and is considered by critics to be a multi-layered portrayal of how restrictions on the filmmaker’s work and movement have brought on depression and even thoughts of suicide.

Iran banned Panahi from making films for 20 years in 2010 and sentenced him to six years in prison on charges of “propaganda against the state” following the country’s 2009 disputed presidential election.

While he remains at home under house arrest, Panahi has previously described himself as a victim of injustice and an Amnesty International statement published at the time of his conviction said he may be forced to report to prison at any time.

“Everyone knows that a license is needed to make films in our country and send them abroad but there are a small number who make films and send them out without a license. This is an offense … but so far the Islamic Republic has been patient with such behavior,” Shamaqdari said without mentioning Panahi or the film by name, ISNA reported.

A celebrated filmmaker in the West for his portrayals of issues such as women’s rights and support for political opposition, Panahi was not able to attend the Berlin festival.

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Through the Wire


maximum of 200 words inspired by this song title – Through the Wire.

I’m struggling to hear him, to catch exactly what he’s saying, his words coming through the wire, indistinct.
I lean forward, clamp the headphones tighter to my ears, concentrating hard.
The visuals look good though, promising, he’s leaning forward, a bubble of spit on his lips, excited.
Eager to walk away with her, kinky little sod
The girl’s doing a bang up job, I can feel his desire, his anticipation 100 yards away.
They’re moving out of sight,
Yeah, it’s happening, they’re doing a deal and it’s all on tape.

Well, they say politics is a dirty business, but what can I say, perhaps you shouldn’t start a moral clean up campaign, try and rubbish our man when you tastes are, now how can i put it, quite so specialist themselves.

I radio the girl, tell her to lose him, we’ve got everything we need through the wire.

Over and out.

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