Tag Archives: terrorism

LONDON IN CRISIS AFTER WAVE OF DISASTERS AND TERRORIST ATTACKS: VEHICLES ARE THE TERRORIST’S WEAPON OF CHOICE

London, one of Europe’s great cities, is in the midst of the sort of crisis not seen since the 7/7 bombings in 2005. Back in March, Islamic terrorist Khalid Masood killed four people and injured 50 others when he drove a car at high speed into pedestrians walking on Westminster bridge near the Houses of Parliament. In that attack, unarmed police officer Keith Palmer was stabbed to death. Masood was shot by police officers.

On June 3, eight people were killed and scores more injured after a van containing three Islamic terrorists smashed into pedestrians on London Bridge. As reported in the Guardian, the terrorists attacked passersby with knives before making their way to the nearby Borough Market area, where they were shot by armed police officers.

Read More here

 

Paris killing

Paris Tragedy: Should We Be Surprised?

Like most everyone with a shred of humanity and decency I am appalled and sickened by the terrorist attacks in paris last night.

At least 127 peaceful law-abiding citizens were murdered in cold blood in the name of religion.  I would love to be sitting here saying that I am shocked or that I can’t believe what has happened.  Sadly neither would be true.

I am sick to death of the killing in the cause of some sort of religious dick swinging contest.  My god is better than your god and I will kill you if you don’t agree.  This kind of religious zealotry has been going on since the crusades and shows no sign of abating anytime soon.

We hear time and again that god is great, god is merciful, ours is the religion of peace.  Our god says we should go out and kill anyone who disagrees.  Why can people not see the irony?

Of course the response from around the world is at first revulsion but less than 12-hours after the attacks we already have a ramping up of the rhetoric.  Already Hollande, Obama and Cameron are promising revenge, declaring the attack as an act of war and promising retribution.  Why can the idiots not see that violence just brings more violence?  Why do they think that killing Arabs, mostly women and children, is the way to end these terrible attacks?

I wish I had the answers, I don’t.  I do know however that bombing, shooting and killing innocents is not the answer.  When will we wake up and end the politics of war?  Perhaps when we put an end to organised religion.

Je Suis Charlie

Charlie Hebdo: I Am Not Charlie And I Make No Apology For That

Earlier this week I sat horrified and appalled by the events that took place in Paris.  The barbaric murder of journalists, Police Officers and innocent bystanders cannot be excused by any sane and rational person and I most certainly do not intend to offer any excuses for the perpetrators of these truly horrific murders.

Today sees a million people come together in Paris in a show of ‘solidarity’, and over the past few days we have seen the hashtag #jesuischarlie go viral in a social media campaign that “Stands up for free speech.”  Politicians around the globe have rightly condemned the attacks and many have made their way to Paris today to support the protests against the killings.  Against this backdrop I and no doubt millions of people around the world are wondering where attacks of this nature leave us.

It isn’t difficult to come up with a huge list of atrocities that have been committed in recent times in the name of Islam.  9/11, 7/7, Peshawar, Madrid,  the list goes on and on.  The rise of Islamic State, the battle for Kobane, the rise of Boko Haram, the kidnap of 276 Schoolgirls, the slaughter of over 2000 people in Baga, Nigeria this week all issues that have us scratching our heads and wondering what to do to combat the threat posed by Islamist terrorism.

We hear much about the ‘War on Terror’ and just today we hear world leaders saying that we must step up our efforts in that direction.  We in the UK today have also heard that more funding must be directed to our secret ‘security services’ and that those organisations must be given still greater powers to spy on their own citizens.  I find this ever increasing erosion of my civil liberties deeply concerning.  I know for a fact that we have Police Officers trained to pick locks to gain access to suspects homes to place listening devices and spy camera’s, I know that tracking devices are attached to suspects cars.  I know that mobile and landline telephones are regularly listened to by Police.  I accept that the Police have to have a warrant before they can place these devices but if this is what is happening in Policing, how much more surveillance are  people subjected to by the secret security services.  As our civil rights are eroded as a response to the ‘War On Terror’ how much freedom will we have to give up in the name of security.  How far do we trust those who spy on us to use the information lawfully and reasonably?  I can only say that after some 29 years as a Police Officer I have no faith that the agents of state will act reasonably.  None!

Getting back to Je Suis Charlie, let me say that I am delighted to see so many turn out to support the families of those who were murdered.  I believe that response is right and proper and it may even provide a crumb of comfort to the families.  What I am less comfortable with is the groundswell that this in some way protects free speech.  I wonder!  Charlie Hebdo is portrayed as a satirical magazine.  Now as I understand it the magazine has attacked Islam, Judaism, the Catholic Church and just about everyone else in recent years.  I accept that as fact without argument.  I saw the argument put forward very forcefully today that this was OK because it attacked everyone equally.  This where my support evaporates.  This magazine has been Racist, Sexist, Anti-Semitic, Islamophobic, Anti-Catholic and insulting to just about  every race or creed.  The question I have to grapple with is this.  Is it acceptable to insult peoples beliefs so long as you insult everyone’s?  Not in my view, that sort of thinking is just bonkers in my opinion.

Of course being rude and insulting people or religion should not carry a death sentence.  It does however mean that I don’t want to be Charlie, thank you very much.  I have had more than enough religious hatred in my life growing up in N. Ireland.  It may be a cliche but hate breeds hate.

Je Suis Charlie

The thing that has been totally absent in the past few days is any meaningful analysis of the root causes of these atrocities.  It seems clear that for some reason young Muslim men, and increasingly young women and children, are all too easily radicalised.  What on earth induces a 10 year old child to strap a bomb to herself and to explode it in a market place killing herself and at least 19 others in Nigeria yesterday.  Perhaps Ironically this incident and the atrocity in Baga, Nigeria where over 2000 have been slaughtered by Boko Haram this week are almost totally unreported in the mainstream media.  This lack of coverage leads me to ponder why the murder of 17 people is more newsworthy than the murder of over 2000.  Is it because it place in Nigeria and the area is deemed too dangerous for journalists, is it because we find it so difficult and sensational that gunmen can walk into an office in a major European city and murder indiscriminately?  Is it because it is closer to home and that journalists see the murder of their colleagues as more important.  I genuinely have no idea.

Image: TOPSHOTS-FRANCE-ATTACKS-CHARLIE-HEBDO-SHOOTING

What does seem clear to me however is the elephant in the room.  That elephant is U.S., Nato & European policy in the Middle East.  There can be little doubt that the implementation of the ‘agreement’ of the formation of the state of Israel and western support for the jewish state caused a huge amount of resentment in many of the Arab States, there have been wars and conflict in the region ever since.  The unrest and radicalisation however seems to have accelerated significantly since the first Gulf War in 1990.  Since that time the terrorism has become the weapon of choice in the region.

Lets be clear, terrorism is the weapon of the weak, particularly of the weak who feel oppressed and aggrieved by stronger oppressors.  The first Gulf war was ostensibly prosecuted to liberate Kuwait after it was invaded by the larger and more powerful Iraq.  The liberation of Kuwait was undoubtably one of the primary objectives but it is widely accepted that Iraq’s actions could not be tolerated because it threatened the west’s oil interests.  Our reliance on oil meant that any action that threatened access to this increasingly rare resource could not be countenanced.  Ever since 1990 our policies in the region have become increasingly confusing with support for regimes seemingly changing on a whim.

What is absolutely beyond a shred of doubt is that the war on terror has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of people in the Middle East and that the overwhelming majority of those killed are Muslim’s.  It seems to me that the killing of Muslims by Muslims or by coalition forces is either under-reported or not reported at all.  The Stop the War coalition reports on these issues today saying

“The same people responsible for the attacks in Paris are also responsible for much worse attacks on their fellow Muslims in countries like Yemen or Libya. Last week 37 police recruits were killed in a bomb at an academy near near Yemen’s capital city Sanaa, and dozens more injured.”

“Many people hearing about so-called western values ‘freedom’, ‘truth’ and ‘equality’ — now made so much of, following the Charlie Hebdo slaughter — will wonder what values it was that allowed Israel last Summer to bomb Gaza, causing the deaths of thousands of Palestinians. They will wonder about the torture by US forces at Abu Ghraib (cited as one reason for the ‘radicalisation’ of one of the Charlie Hebdo murderers). They will wonder about Guantanamo, extraordinary rendition, torture, and the other consequences of the war on terror that have caused such misery.”

“They must also wonder at the myopia which allows the absolutely correct condemnation of terrorist attacks in France but which seems to regard western bombings, drone attacks and the killing of civilians in occupied countries, as necessary if slightly distasteful activities, justified because they are carried out by nation states, rather than lone individuals.”

The sad fact is that terrorism is bred by oppression.  The oppressed can only attack nation states in a limited way such as we saw in Paris this week.  Charlie Hebdo may have been attacked because of their depiction of the prophet but the willingness of individuals to commit mass murder in this way is driven by something much deeper and much more difficult to understand and resolve.

I fear that the attacks in Paris will serve to stir up more anti Islamic feeling not only in France, where there have been numerous attacks on Muslims since the murders, but also in the UK.  I am certain we will see Nigel Farage and UKIP step up the anti-immigration rhetoric as we move closer to the forthcoming General Election.  We have already seen fascist group ‘Britain First’ step up their racist attacks.

As our political leaders gather in Paris today, along with the millions around the world, to mourn those so brutally murdered, I hope they will take a moment to reflect on how we have come to be where we are.  Our leaders have supported war after war in the middle east since 1990.  Rather than recognising that our reliance on oil puts us in an increasingly vulnerable position and instigating measures to reduce that reliance we seem more than willing to fight wars over what remains.  Reliance on oil cannot continue for ever, it is a finite resource.  Fighting over the last few drops will lead only to further conflict and more killing.

Those same leaders have to recognise that the ‘War on terror’ is a war that cannot be won militarily.  There is no military solution, as the British Army found out in Northern Ireland, you cannot fight an enemy that you cannot see.  Eventually attacks of the kind we saw this week erodes the will to fight and it must be acknowledged that Muslim Terrorists are often much more ruthless that The IRA.  The IRA wanted to walk away from their attacks, the radical Jihadist terrorist is not only prepared to die bringing terror they seem to welcome ‘martyrdom’ with open arms.

In conclusion I will return to my original point about Je Suis Charlie.  I fear that this has little to do with ‘freedom of speech’.  I fear that the solidarity expressed will lead to further demonisation of Muslims and even worse it presents the conditions for an anti-muslim backlash in Europe, something likely to cause yet more radicalisation.  The biggest tribute that could be paid to those who died this week would be for our leaders to begin the process of addressing the root causes that underly Islamic extremism.  For them to begin the process of finding a political solution that sees a fair settlement for all and that removes the sense of injustice and powerlessness that breeds terrorism.  Where that to happen I could then stand proudly and say Je Suis Charlie.

(AP Photo/Thibault Camus)

Ottowa – Another tragedy

Todays Daily prompt is a free write for 10 minutes so here goes.

For the past 24 hours my news feed and television screen have been filled with comments on the awful tragedy that took place in Ottawa Canada yesterday.  The murder of Nathan Cirillo, the second such killing in a couple of days is as senseless as it is futile.  It is yet another tragedy, for Corporal Cirillo’s family, for his unit, for Ottawa, for Canada and of course for every right thinking person on the face of this planet.

Once again this atrocity seems to have been carried out by a so called Muslim extremist.  It does seem that, at least in the media, every act of this sort seems to have been committed by someone who is a radicalised Muslim terrorist.  Whether the media coverage given to these atrocities is an accurate reflection of the facts or not is in many ways immaterial.  What we are constantly fed via our media is the concept that radical Islam is a threat to our way of life and a threat to world peace.

Now I don’t for one second try to play down the tragedy of Cirrilo’s murder, but I wonder how many murders were committed in New York, Washington or Los Angele’s yesterday?  What I do know is that none were reported in the UK media.  It seems that the murder of one soldier by a Muslim extremist is much more newsworthy.  Of course the fact that the gunman entered the Canadian parliament building and was shot dead by the Sgt-at Arms and that elements of the story were captured on video does add considerable drama to the whole thing as does the fact that Ottawa is by-and-large a very peaceful city.

I do wonder if much of the reporting of this and similar incidents isn’t secretly welcomed by the politicians because it allows them to more easily justify their actions in the Middle east.  Canada’s Prime Minister Mr harper was quick to get himself on television to state:

“We will not be intimidated. Canada will never be intimidated”.  “In fact, this will lead us to strengthen our resolve and redouble our efforts… to take all necessary steps to identify and counter threats and keep Canada safe.”

Mr Harper stressed that the perpetrators “will have no safe haven” in Canada.  , but admitted the attacks showed that the country was “not immune to terrorist attacks”.

It seems to me that I have heard those (almost) exact words from the last two american Presidents and the last 3 UK Prime Ministers on numerous occasions over the last decade or so.  The fact remains that terrorists seem to be able to carry out their attacks all too easily and that western policy in the Middle East serves only to further radicalise the people of that region and worryingly this radicalisation seems to be spreading increasingly to our own populations.

Something has to change.  I am neither clever enough nor influential enough to say what needs to change, but things cannot be allowed to continue as they are.

As a final comment spare a thought for the friends and family of Nathan Cirillo and for every family touched by senseless slaughter in the ‘War against terror”

Yes it’s true, the United States really is the greatest country in the world – but in what? – Stop the War Coalition

Wow, I just came across this article and thought it worth sharing.  I think it throws up some really interesting issues.  Check it out and let me know what you think. Yes it’s true, the United States really is the greatest country in the world – but in what? – Stop the War Coalition.

AMERICAN politicians are fond of telling their audiences that the United States is the greatest country in the world. Is there any evidence for this claim?

Well, yes. When it comes to violence and preparations for violence, the United States is, indeed, No. 1.

In 2013, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the U.S. government accounted for 37 percent of world military expenditures, putting it far ahead of all other nations. (The two closest competitors, China and Russia, accounted for 11 percent and 5 percent respectively.)

From 2004 to 2013, the United States was also the No. 1 weapons exporter in the world. Moreover, given the U.S. government’s almost continuous series of wars and acts of military intervention since 1941, it seems likely that it surpasses all rivals when it comes to international violence.

This record is paralleled on the domestic front, where the United States has more guns and gun-related deaths than any other country.

study released in late 2013 reported that the United States had 88 guns for every 100 people, and 40 gun-related deaths for every 400,000 people―the most of any of the 27 economically developed countries surveyed. By contrast, in Britain there were 6 guns per 100 people and 1 gun-related death per 400,000 people.

Yet, in a great many other areas, the United States is not No. 1 at all.

Take education.

In late 2013, the Program for International Student Assessment released a report on how 15-year old students from 65 nations performed on its tests. The report showed that U.S. students ranked 17th in reading and 21st in math. An international survey a bit earlier that year by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that the ranking was slightly worse for American adults. In 2014, Pearson, a multinational educational services company, placed the United States 20th in the world in “educational attainment”―well behind Poland and the Slovak Republic.

American healthcare and health fare even worse.

In a 2014 study of healthcare (including infant mortality, healthy life expectancy, and mortality from preventable conditions) in 11 advanced industrial countries, the Commonwealth Fund concluded that the United States ranked last among them. According to the World Health Organization, the U.S. healthcare system ranks 30th in the world.

Other studies reach somewhat different conclusions, but all are very unflattering to the United States, as are studies of American health. The United States, for example, has one of the world’s worst cancer rates (the seventh highest), and life expectancy is declining compared to other nations.

An article in the Washington Post in late 2013 reported that the United States ranked 26th among nations in life expectancy, and that the average American lifespan had fallen a year behind the international average.

What about the environment? Specialists at Yale University have developed a highly sophisticated Environmental Performance Index to examine the behavior of nations. In the area of protection of human health from environmental harm, their 2014 index placed the United States 35th in health impacts, 36th in water and sanitation, and 38th in air quality. In the other area studied―protection of ecosystems―the United States ranked 32nd in water resources, 49th in climate and energy, 86th in biodiversity and habitat, 96th in fisheries, 107th in forests, and 109th in agriculture.

These and other areas of interest are dealt with by the Social Progress Index, which was developed by Michael Porter, an eminent professor of business (and a Republican) at Harvard. According to Porter and his team, in 2014 the United States ranked 23rd in access to information and communications, 24th in nutrition and basic medical care, 31st in personal safety, 34th in water and sanitation, 39th in access to basic knowledge, 69th in ecosystem sustainability, and 70th in health and wellness.

The widespread extent of poverty, especially among children, remains a disgrace in one of the world’s wealthiest nations. A 2013 report by the United Nations Children’s Fund noted that, of the 35 economically advanced countries that had been studied, only Rumania had a higher percentage of children living in poverty than did the United States.

Of course, the United States is not locked into these dismal rankings and the sad situation they reveal about the health, education, and welfare of its citizens. It could do much better if its vast wealth, resources, and technology were employed differently than they are at present.

Ultimately, it’s a matter of priorities. When most U.S. government discretionary spending goes for war and preparations for war, it should come as no surprise that the United States emerges No. 1 among nations in its capacity for violence and falls far behind other nations in providing for the well-being of its people.

Americans might want to keep this in mind as their nation embarks upon yet another costly military crusade.

When commenting on WordPress is a bad idea!

I came across a really interesting  and useful piece of advice today.  Unfortunately for me it came about 18 hours too late!  The advice came in the form of a post from Opinionated Man.  The advice “Your audience is not your friend”.

I have been writing this blog for a few months now and for the most part it has been a really positive experience.  I am getting a reasonable number of hits on my site and the numbers of people commenting and following my blog is slowly growing. I have just followed the Writing 101 and Blogging 101 courses as I firmly believe that you can always learn something new and there was always the chance that I would gain a bit of inspiration.  As these courses drew to a close we were encouraged to reach out to other bloggers to help build our networks.

In my reader I searched for topics that interested me and hit upon a post criticising Western Governments for committing funds to rebuild Gaza after what was described as Israel’s ‘Defensive War against Hamas’.  Now most commentators worldwide have roundly condemned Israel’s recent actions and I made what I thought was a balanced and measured comment on the blog. I should have looked a little more deeply before commenting and admittedly I should have known better.  The writer you see identifies themselves as an Israeli activist and the tone of the posts made it unlikely in the extreme that the writer would engage in a conversation that disagreed in any way with the posters views.  As a result I was subjected to a torrent of thinly veiled abuse, accused of being anti-semitic and ill educated.

This was my first negative experience with a member of the WordPress community.  It’s not something I want to repeat :/  I most certainly echo Opinionated Man’s advice.  You should of course reach out to other bloggers, but do check the tone of a blog before commenting on subjects that are controversial and likely to provoke strong reactions. If in doubt either do not comment or be prepared for a bad reaction.

On WordPress as in life you live and learn 🙂

Why we are bombing Iraq & Syria

Why we’re bombing Iraq and Syria: Statement by Barack Obama and David Cameron clears up any confusion

As told to Audrey Bailey.

You may be confused about why we are bombing Iraq and Syria. So we will make ourselves very clear.

We support the Iraqi government in the fight against ISIS.

We don’t like ISIS, but ISIS has been supported by Saudi Arabia, whom we do like, and Saudi Arabia is now supporting us in bombing ISIS.

We don’t like President Assad in Syria. We support the fight against him, but not ISIS, which is also fighting against him.

We don’t like Iran, but Iran supports the Iraqi government against ISIS.

So some of our friends support our enemies and some of our enemies are our friends, and some of our enemies are fighting against our other enemies whom we want to lose, but we don’t want our enemies who are fighting our enemies to win.

If the people we want to defeat are defeated, they might be replaced by people we like even less.

And all this was started by us invading Iraq to drive out terrorists who weren’t there until we went to drive them out.

We hope you now understand.

Source:  Stop The War Coalition

The Futility of the war against ISIS

There is a fascinating piece by Patrick Cockburn in today’s Independent on Sunday newspaper which throws the situation in Iraq into sharp relief.

Cockburn explains that:

“At the start of the bombing in Syria, President Obama boasted of putting together a coalition of Sunni powers such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Jordan, United Arab Emirates and Bahrain to oppose Isis, but these all have different agendas to the US in which destroying IS is not the first priority.

The Sunni Arab monarchies may not like Isis, which threatens the political status quo, but, as one Iraqi observer put it, “they like the fact that Isis creates more problems for the Shia than it does for them”.

Once again this demonstrates how futile the involvement of Western forces in situation in the Middle East is.  The policy of western governments is a shambles.  our Governments seem to be incapable of understanding that there are so many agenda’s at play in the region that addressing one ‘problem’ merely reveals a different problem or agenda.

The original article is available here and it makes fascinating reading.

The Forget-me-not – Writing 101

Todays writing 101 task is to talk about an object that we treasure.  This was an interesting challenge for me as I am not a hoarder.  Well I am not a hoarder of anything except my music collection.

I don’t have possession of a single item from my childhood, I left home not long after my 16th Birthday.  My parents put me on a boat from Belfast to Liverpool with a single bag.  From Liverpool I travelled to Plymouth to join the Royal Navy.  My parents divorced shortly afterwards and after several house moves both settled with new partners.  I spent 9 years in the Navy, married and had several house moves myself eventually settling in Dorset.  As a result everything from my childhood was lost through the years.  My younger brother even sold my collection of rare and fairly valuable LP’s.

In 1991 I became a Freemason.  Shortly afterwards my mothers partner, who was also a Freemason, gave me a small lapel pin.  A little blue forget-me-not.  Freemasons began using the flower in Germany in 1926 as a message not to forget the poor and desperate. Many other German charities were also using it at this time. In later years Masons in Nazi Germany adopted the flower as a means of recognition in place of the square and compass design. This spread across Nazi occupied Europe to avoid any danger of being singled out and persecuted. The symbol of the forget-me-not in modern Masonry has become more prevalent and today it is an interchangeable symbol with the square and compass.  Some also use the forget-me-not to remember those masons who were victimized by the Nazi’s. In English Freemasonry it is more commonly now worn to remember those that have died as a symbol that you may be gone but not forgotten.

In Newfoundland the forget-me-not was a symbol of remembrance of that nation’s war dead. This practice is still in limited use today, though Newfoundlanders have adopted the the Flanders Poppy as well.

Sadly Trevor, my mother’s partner, died from a particularly virulent cancer shortly afterwards and so my little forget-me-not became a memento of someone I was very fond of.  It is however so much more than that.  Given its symbolic origins my forget-me-not is a symbol of freedom, of resisting oppression, of distrusting authority and of my abhorance of prejudice, discrimination and inequality.  Now thats a lot of symbology from a little flower.  Let me try to explain a little more.

I have written a lot recently about my views on the illegality and futility of the so called ‘war against terror’ in the Middle East and I promised in an earlier post about the situation in Gaza that I would try to give some insight into how and why I believe that some of the people in Gaza become radicalised and carry out terrorist atrocities against the Israelis.  I grew up in Northern Ireland, a small province that was torn apart by “the Troubles’, a period of sectarian conflict that cost over 4000 lives.  The Troubles began in 1969 when I was just 9 years old.  The reasons are complex and beyond the scope of this post but if you would like to know the background there is a comprehensive summary here.  Shortly after the troubles began my family moved from Belfast to a small coastal village in County Down.  It was the sort of place where kids were safe to run free on the beaches and in the fields.  The community was almost entirely Unionist and of the Protestant religion.  There were only a couple of Roman Catholic families in the village.  You knew immediately who the Roman Catholic families were because the children went to separate schools.  This is a situation that still exists in Northern Ireland today.  Isn’t it incredible that in Britain in 2014 a social apartheid still exists, even today over half of the children in the province attend schools where over 95% of the pupils are of a single religion.  In the 1970’s it was much worse.

My first real personal exposure to the troubles came in 1974 during the Ulster Workers Council Strike.  In May of that year the strike brought the Province to a standstill, schools, offices and factories were closed by the strike.  Even the power companies closed down meaning no electricity.  Loyalist paramilitary groups setup road blocks and barricades to ensure that the strike was not broken.  My friends and I manned some of the roadblocks around our village.  At just 13 years of age we were delighted that the schools were closed and we thought manning the roadblocks was great fun.  In all honesty at that time I didn’t really understand what was going on, but there was an association with Loyalist paramilitaries.  Several of my friends and I were also in loyalist flute bands in what we saw as a celebration of loyalist and protestant culture.  Of course what we did not understand was that many of the adults involved were members of paramilitary organisations and that we had already been identified as possible recruits.  Dod we see those friendly laughing, joking men as terrorists?  Of course not, they were simply guys who were in the band, who lived down the street or who drank in the pub with my dad.  The terrorist you see isn’t necessarily a monster, they simply feel that their situation is hopeless, that no-one is listening to them and that they have to take radical action to be heard.

A sense of injustice can so easily lead to young people being radicalised and becoming involved in terrorist organisations.  Indeed many people I knew as I was growing up and even members of my family ended up in jail and some died as a result.  The economic system in Northern Ireland was dire indeed and for many the only way out was to do as I did and leave the country.  Of my peer group and classmates at school some joined the armed services or the police, others emigrated, some turned to religion and others joined paramilitary organisations and got involved in terrorist related crime.  The Northern Ireland I grew up in had the army on the street, Police stations were behind high fences, parking in town centres was almost impossible as parking was not allowed because of the fear of car bombs.  You had to pass through security checkpoints and submit to searches before you could even enter Belfast town centre.

The situation was not helped when the Westminster Government introduced internment without trial for those suspected of being involved in terrorism.  One of my Uncles spent over a year in prison.  He was never charged with any crime, he was imprisoned because he knew people who were suspected of being involved in terrorism.  He tells tales of beatings and torture by the Police and security forces.  Internment proved to be the biggest boon to recruiting that the paramilitary organisations ever had.  It is so easy to draw comparisons with the situation in the Middle East.  Whilst I do not condone terrorism in any shape or form my forget-me-not reminds me how easy it is for the marginalised to be drawn into armed struggle.

As I mentioned above I left home at age 16 and joined the Royal Navy.  After completing my basic training and my trade training I was waiting for a posting to a ship.  Whilst I was waiting my class were asked to volunteer to attend the military research facility at Porton Down to assist with research into finding a cure for the common cold.  We were offered additional pay of £10 a day and an additional two weeks leave if we volunteered for the six week trial.  This was a huge amount of money at the time, my first monthly wage after I joined the Navy was £28 after food and accommodation charges were deducted.  Thankfully I had learned early in life that if something appears too good to be true then it usually is.  It has since emerged that those who thought they were helping with research into a cure for the common cold were in fact being unwittingly subjected to the testing of chemical weapons.  My forget-me-not reminds me that you cannot trust those in authority.

I mentioned above that my mothers partner, Trevor, had died from a virulent strain of cancer.  Trevor had served as a Royal Marine and had been present when the UK carried out the testing of nuclear bombs at Christmas Island in 1962.  Those present were not given any form of protection, they were simply told to turn their backs on the explosion and to shield their eyes with their hands.  Many of the veterans present during those tests later died from cancers.  The UK Government and Ministry of defence fought tooth and nail to avoid paying compensation to those affected or their families.  You can read more information about this situation here.  My forget-me-not reminds me that Government cannot be trusted to look after those who serve their country, and of course it reminds me of the man who gave it to me.

Many of you will remember that in 1982 Argentina invaded the Falkland Islands.  The British Government sent a task force to the South Atlantic to recover the Islands and in the ensuing conflict 907 people lost their lives this included 86 Royal Navy personnel and 27 Royal Marines.  Several of the Navy personnel who died were former shipmates and friends of mine.  My forget-me-not reminds me of those who lost their lives during that conflict.

In recent years I have seen at first hand how the UK government marginalises and criminalises those who choose to live differently to the rest of society.  The root of my awareness lies in the criminalisation of those who chose to live on the road during the 1980’s and 1990’s.  The introduction of the Poll tax by Margaret Thatchers Government was seen to be so unfair by some people in our society that many people moved to of their homes and into vans, buses and trucks to avoid paying it.  As a result government passed laws making it an offence to park on land and even made it an offence to damage grass on the land they parked up on.  The media in the UK portrayed these travellers as drug crazed thugs and sparked a moral outrage across the country.  I came to realise that the people they were talking about included my little sister.

In recent years the government and the media in the UK has been on a crusade to portray those on welfare benefits as feckless scroungers.  They give the impression that huge amounts of cash is being ‘stolen’ by those who are not entitled to support.  The fact that the vast majority of welfare spending goes to old age pensioners or to the working poor seems to be immaterial.  This is merely an excuse to demonise the most needy in our society whilst taxes are cut for the richest.

The media and government continuously demonise those who seek political asylum in our country, claiming that the vast majority of immigrants into the UK are economic migrants who come here to sponge off the welfare state and the National Health Service.  The fact that the vast majority of immigrants are from EU countries and are entitled to settle and work anywhere within the European Union is conveniently ignored.  The remainder are often those who are displaced by conflict in those countries in which the western governments are waging war.  Once again the most vulnerable in society are a convenient scapegoat to cover up economic mismanagement by successive governments.  My forget-me-not reminds me that government often makes bad laws and demonises the poor and vulnerable, society is unfair and over the last 35 years the rich have got richer whilst the   poor get poorer.  It reminds me that inequality, prejudice and discrimination are rife in our society and that government sometimes make laws that reinforce that inequality.

My forget-me-not may only be 10mm across but it provides something of an anchor and I think you will agree it has quite a story to tell.  It is a treasure beyond value.