Light the Match and You’ll Have Fire…

14 08 2010

You know how it is, when you are searching around for days looking for something to blog about, and then a prominent news agency goes and drops something right in your lap. Such as this story from the Beeb.

It’s really quite an interesting conundrum. On the one hand we must agree that all religions have the right to practise and worship freely. But on the other, we must also respect the sensitivities of certain locations based on what has happened before. My own personal view is that the mosque should not be built, and I’ll explain why.

Yes, the proposed site is two blocks from Ground Zero. Yes, I’m in favour of advocating religious freedom. Yes, logically, these things should add up to me accepting the plans for the mosque, and, like Obama, preaching the necessity of religious tolerance. However, this case is different. This case is American, and involves the religion many still associate with the cause of the September 11th attack. Of course, this association is born out of naivity and foolishness (suddenly I remember the West Wing’s analogy – Al Qaeda is to Islam as the KKK is to Christianity), but nonetheless it is still prevalent. The disaster happened eight years ago. The wounds, I feel, are still raw, and the passion still runs high. The consequences of the attack are still being felt in Afghanistan and Iraq. Blood is still being spilt due to the attack on America. The situation, despite promises from politicians shows no sign of ending any time soon. If we add all this together we have a potentially hostile situation developing in New York, at a site which, in my opinion should be used as some form of war memorial.

And herein lies my biggest concern about the building of a mosque two blocks from Ground Zero. The users of the building will not be safe. The plans are already encountering difficulties and objections from the people who can object to it, politicians and press alike. Can you really imagine what it will be like in a few years time when the building is actually opened? Can you imagine the numbers of people who will be abusive towards the builders as they are erecting the mosque into the sky? Can you imagine the continued police presence around the site most of the time just to ensure that the project gets completed? I can, and whilst I acknowledge that there may be a great deal of speculation in what I’m imagining, I still maintain that the results will be problematic. The building is going to bring out the elements of American society which are conveniently swept under the rug. They are going to be vociferous, angry, and most likely, violent. The Muslims who come to use this mosque are going to be subjected to a barrage of abuse because of where the mosque is situated, and the connotations of the site. They will be users of the highest profile mosque in the world, and they will be acutely aware of this.

There is a comparison to be made, albeit a local one. The plans for a new mosque in Dudley have been met with a chorus of widespread disapproval, which culminated in a violent protest march earlier on in the year. This has raised tensions in Dudley, and is likely to continue to do so. I fear that this could be repeated in America, but on a larger scale, and with many more problems.

The simple solution, as I see it, is not to create such a problem in the first place. I’d suggest a relocation of the mosque to somewhere less controversial. I’d suggest not doing anything to antagonise a potentially hostile situation. I’d suggest leaving the Ground Zero site free of religious connotations. There is a bigger issue though, that of education and religious intolerance. The solution to this problem will take many more years to find I fear.





Obama-rama…

22 01 2009

Just a few quick thoughts about the new president.

1. He has already made a positive impression – Guantanamo has been ordered to close today. Despite this, I maintain that the only way is down for him from here. When I say this, I mean only in terms of public opinion. I feel reasonably sure that he cannot ever be as popular again as he has been these past months. When he starts making decisions that actually affect people (taxes for example), then his popularity will, inevitably, fall.

2. He is a breathe of fresh air, but (!), we mustn’t lose track of the fact that he is a politician, and therefore by definition someone who will divide people.

3. He cannot, will not, and does not have all the answers. I am becoming hugely frustrated that people, the world over, are looking at him as some sort of saviour, sent to rid the world of trouble. He can’t. What he can do is let America lead by example in a number of fields. It is unfair to expect him to rid the world’s troubles, or indeed, America’s.

4. Is anyone else seeing parallels between him and the legendary Mandela? To my eyes, Obama is re-treading a path already walked by Mandela, and whilst I accept that there are key differences between the two, I think there are interesting comparisons too.

In short then, yes, it is impressive how many people support him and believe in him, but no, he cannot be expected to right the wrongs of the world in four or eight years. Obama will make a difference to the world, but issues such as the economy, the middle-east and global warming are ones which will obstinately refuse to disappear over the course of the next years. How he deals with them will define how he will be remembered and judged by history.





Checkered Warnings…

5 11 2008

If you’ve had one eye on the news this week you will have seen how Lewis Hamilton won the F1 drivers championship in dramatic fashion in the last corners of the Brazillian Grand Prix. It was the first time a black person had won the championship.

Also, in America there was the small matter of an election. If you check many people’s facebook statuses you are likely to find out the outcome. Yup, that’s right Barack Obama fairly comprehensively beat John McCain to become the 44th President of the US of A. This election was different to Hamilton’s win, there was no dramatic comeback, no nail-biting moments as the Obama camp had pretty much controlled the race to the White House from start to finish. In all the analysis of the election victory, it is shown that Obama and his team got themselves ahead in the polls, and stayed there.

In the subsequent media overload Obama has captured the imagination of the world, nevermind America. The leftists have gushingly (and rather sickeningly) rushed to pronounce the saviour of world liberty. The right-wing in Britain have pointed to a new era of politician taking the helm.

All that is done and dusted now though. Here is where the real work begins. All the election work was good, but now Obama will be made by how he acts in relation to a few key matters, namely the economy, the war in Iraq, and global warming. These three have been discussed in varying amounts in the campaign, but, as they say, talk is cheap. There can be no illusions, this is the peak for Obama. It is all downhill from here. Now he is the public sweetheart, the apple of the eye of Americans, Brits, and Kenyans, apparently. Now he is on a high where the media love him. This cannot, and will not last. Once the media get their teeth into someone they can be painted however the media wants. Bush, for example, is still a buffoon, someone who cannot speak, write and is about as intelligent as a monkey. Yet he was clever enough to get himself elected now wasn’t he?

My point is that the media will soon fall out of love with Obama, unless he comes good on his promises. Even then situations may dictate that he may have to become the ‘bad guy’, or the ‘fall guy’. The old adage still stands true, what goes up must indeed come down. Obama is at the top now. The world are rejoicing at such a momentous occasion, as indeed this is. We should not get carried away though, and pretend that America has completely changed, there are still pockets of people (McCain voters) who are suspect of Obama due to skin colour. This is the legacy of history, and it will not be easily altered.

Whilst listening to the radio on the way to work I heard an interesting text message read out. It ran “Rosa Parks sat so Martin Luther King could walk so Barack Obama could run so our children can fly.” This though I feel adequately reveals the problems still to be overcome. Running to flying was a hell of a leap. Many are still maintaining that he won because of his skin colour rather than his politics. I think this, to some extent perhaps rings true. Only time will tell how he will be judged. At the moment he can do no wrong. Some day soon he will have to do so by some.





Priorities…

21 10 2008

In life you must always prioritise things. Usually, as a student, that involves completing a piece of work before going out to the pub. There are frequent occasions when it is hard to justify doing something ahead of something else, one piece of work against another, for example.

There are though some things which are easy to prioritise. Family especially. Which is why I am delighted to be reading about Barack Obama taking time out of his hectic campaign to visit his sick grandmother in Hawaii. We all know that this is a critical time for Obama, just weeks before the elections begin, but it is, I think, good to know that even a man clear in the polls for the most important job on the planet, still has his priorities in order.

The beeb reports that his absence will “make his staff nervous“. I think I disagree with this, if anything, the demonstration by Obama that his priorities are his family first and foremost, will appeal to the American public, especially the unconvinced swing voters. The public are quick to forget that politicians are human too. They are prone to emotions, and are as concerned with their families as much as they are with saving the economy. To my mind, showing you are human is an important trait in a society which elevates people to ‘super’ human, above and beyond trivial matters such as emotion. In the age of celebrity the media and public expect certain people to be idyllic images of contentment and perfection. In visiting his sick grandmother, I believe Obama is showing that he is human, and he knows what his priorities are.





What is fact?

13 03 2008

Having been busy recently, I have had neither the time nor the willingness to write anything about anything. This is despite recent events such as the budget, or the storms hitting the UK, or the death of Michael Todd, or English crickets continuous woeful form.

But today I saw this. And felt compelled to add my two cents worth.

Now on some level I think I agree with Geraldine Ferraro. She has, in my eyes, highlighted a very important issue which tends to be overlooked. “Racism works in two different directions. I really think they’re attacking me because I’m white” she said, and said that anything negative about Obama was instantly seized upon as being racist. For me, it should be much more widely accepted that racism does indeed work both ways. The culture in which we seem to live is that being racist only works towards black people. This should definately not be the case. It should be noted and accepted by society that white people can just as easily suffer racist abuse from black people as vice versa.

However, I completely disagree with her when she suggests that Obama was doing well because he was black. For me, he is doing well because he engages with Joe Public much better than Clinton. And I’m not still not sure that he plays the race card as frequently as Clinton plays her woman card. This whole issue seems to suggest to me that the whole Clinton team is beginning to feel the squeeze as things are moving towards the end of the race. Obama, apparently coolness personified, just plods on, doing what he is doing, very focused. Even the problems that he has faced, he has taken in his stride.

This is epitomised by events last week, as Hillary insisted she was given a raw deal by having to field the first question at every event the pair attended. Despite the success she had last week, she still trails Obama, and I think the pressure of being runner-up may be starting to really show now.





Let’s all be friends…

20 02 2008

I hadn’t really thought about it before. Not until I saw the news today at any rate. And I really should have.

For Obama and Clinton, winning is everything. There will be no place for the runner-up. Seriously. The pair, I think, are growing less and less fond of each other as the days pass and Obama gathers momentum. The public smiles when gathered in the same place seem to mask the very private dislike the pair have of the other. Of course I could be wrong, but with Hillary losing her grip very quickly (Obama has just won in Wisconsin, and seems likely to take Hawaii too), the feeling of antipathy between the pair seems to be growing.

Both have been critical of the other during their campaigns, and I am left wondering, given they are still on the same side, whether they could ever really work together after this race is over, regardless of the outcome. More importantly than this is whether they would want to work together. Both, it must be noted are able politicians, they both have some good policies, and they both have some bad policies. I feel that they could work well together, had fate not pitted them against each other in this contest. For the failed candidate, will it be the end of public recognition? Those Republican candidates who have fallen by the wayside seem to have disappeared from the public eye. Thompson, Romney and Giuliani have all declared their backing for either of the two men left in the fight, but apart from that, little, certainly on this side of the pond, has been heard from any of them.

I suppose this is where the issue lies, media coverage. The media concern themselves with the real news, that is, those people who still are important, be it Clinton or Huckabee, Obama or McCain. The others are yesterdays news, chewed up, thrown around and rejected by in favour of the continuing process.

I return therefore to my initial musing. What will happen to either Obama or Clinton when they lose this race. To my mind, I am less fearful for Hillary. She has a reputation attached to being a former president’s wife, and a Presidential nominee. She, I think, will be fine. For Obama though, the future would be less clear cut, certainly from a public perspective. He would, like many before him, drop out of the public psyche and float around for a few years, until one day he releases a film about how cows are bad for the world, and claim the nobel prize for it.





Is Ignorance Bliss?

13 02 2008

As America continues its search for someone to replace GW, I have become intrigued by the democrats and their campaigning. I will say at this stage that, although I believe there to be little between Mrs Clinton and Mr Obama, I would prefer to see Obama win the contest.  I believe his politics are better and whereas Hillary seems keen to remind us she’s a woman, Barack does not insist on repeating the fact that he is black in order to sway some of the voters. There are a couple of places I check to see what is happening. Usefully these are the Conservative and Labour club blogs from my university, and they keep me up to date with the local opinions of the elections.

However, my issue here is not with who does or does not win, instead, as a Brit looking in, I am wondering whether it is better that I have a view on American politics, despite me having really little in the way of comprehension about how the system actually works. Or is it better that, as someone ignorant of the system, I do not need to wade in with my own opinions about the candidates?

I would be keen to say the former, as I believe any engagement is better than no engagement with current affairs. However, this still leaves me in the position of not really understanding how either Obama or Clinton will actually win the race. I know there are delegates, and there are primaries and caucuses. But I cannot tell you how they really work (despite several readings of the bluffers guide on the BBC website), or why the number of delegates is more for the democrats than the republicans.

The whole system seems too damn complicated for my little brain. Whatever happened to keeping it simple? From what I can gather, the system is a ‘first past the post’ one, but the democrats and republicans are running completely different races, with different rules. This doesn’t make any sense to me. Why not have a universal system across the whole USA, and save simpletons like me worrying about whether the caucus or primary will resolve the election matter.

Oh, and the so-called “Super Tuesday”? Was that the biggest over-emphasis of a day ever? It had the potential to be huge, granted. But the fact that, in all reality, it did little to seperate the two democrats, only to me seems to show how tight the race is, and will be until the end. Consequently, hyping it up before hand as the potential day which will almost decisively swing the vote one way or another seems to me to be flawed.

But then what do I know. I’m a simpleton.