More recommended reading

These are business books that contain a few life lessons as well. The story about RJR Nabisco is a fast-paced account – it’s been called a thriller – about business and banking practices (junk bonds and whatnots) and of course a portrayal of Ross Johnson and others. (It’s not for everyone, and not for every moment because it requires enough time.)

The book about Greggs gives you the inside view of how Greggs came about and grew into what it is today. It’s a good read and may change how you think of Greggs, the big chain it is today that started as a mom & pop undertaking not unlike my own parents’.

Hilary Devey’s Bold as Brass is suitable for everyone – unless you happen to be a misogynist. It’s a touching book, showing you how Hilary grew up in Britain, the many personal and professional challenges she had to overcome and how she developed Pall-Ex. Throughout her life, Hilary climbed many steep cliffs and was pushed off a few too.

  1. Barbarians At The Gate
  2. Bread: The Story of Greggs
  3. Bold As Brass

Unbleached, recycled and 100% biodegradable toilet paper

You’d think it’d be easy to find…

Amazon has it. Unbleached, recycled, biodegradable toilet paper.

The packaging is compostable, too. Made from potato starch.

Ecoleaf, from Suma. Ecoleaf Toilet Tissue 9 Rolls (Pack of 5, Total 45 Rolls)

And while you’re ordering this… why not get the paper towels too?

Ecoleaf Three Play Kitchen Towel (Pack of 12)

Lessons two pigeons taught me

Until a few years ago, I had never paid much attention to common pigeons. I’d seen them around, of course, and I’d seen them hump each other in what looked like a fairly random manner. I used to shrug.

Pigeons – colored mostly grey in my mind – had become the sparrows of the first two decades of my life. We chased those away, out of many countries. Pigeons and gulls stepped in to fill their shoes at the tables of our outdoor cafes and eateries.

But unlike gulls and sparrows, pigeons were actually introduced all over the world, by us, humans. We took them from their sea cliffs in much warmer climates. They were rock doves.

Pigeons are much more tolerant than humans, it seems. They happily eat along other species of birds, they pay attention to each others’ alarm calls, particularly those of crows and other corvids (who often act as watchdogs against prowling cats).

Pigeons are smart. They understand, wordlessly. They also have the ability to distinguish between music by different composers and art by different painters. (Can all humans? Has anyone ever tested that?) And they usually mate for life. Racing pigeons are males who hurry home to their mate. Did you know that? I didn’t until one or two years ago.

Why did I start paying attention to pigeons? Well, one day, I was on my way downtown, crossing a very busy intersection, when I heard a woman say “that bird has a death wish” to her partner. I looked at the bird, hung around to observe, and concluded that she was right.

Pigeons know that cars and buses kill and when they know that they are fatally ill, unable to save themselves, and maybe also after their mate has died, they sometimes choose to end things swiftly rather than die a long and painful death, and perhaps even end up as fox food in a shorter but still pretty painful death.

The second pigeon who caught my attention also kept walking into very busy traffic, but kept trying to fly away and only got a few centimetres of lift. It clearly didn’t want to die but felt it had no choice. I stopped traffic, grabbed the bird, took it home and rehabilitated it.

It had very likely accidentally had gotten locked into an enclosure – I think I know where, too – and was mainly dehydrated and also malnourished, but other than that it was perfectly fine. It stayed with me long enough to be able to assess that and its ability to fly again. (It was getting increasingly impatient too!)

That was the occurrence that got me to look into pigeons and changed my mind about these creatures.

Next, in the course of 2016, two pigeons befriended me. I found one of them on my windowsill one day, indoors, studying me calmly as I was sanding a little table. I had been completely unaware of it, looked up at some point and my jaw dropped when I saw that pigeon resting on my windowsill.

Turned out that he had decided that my windowsill would be a perfect place for a nest. In principle, I agreed, but there was one problem. Kitchen windows aren’t always open. This one – dad as it turned out later – is highly inquisitive and likes looking at what I am doing. When I was hand-sewing sleeves for my penny whistles, he watched with great interest. (Whatchadoin’?)

The whole thing puzzled me for a while until it dawned on me, that, of course, birds are far from stupid – heck, they’ve survived on the planet much much much longer than humans – and they’d noticed that I no longer had pet birds in my place. “I wonder if we can nest there now.” I guess they decided that they wanted to become my pets, which several mammals have done before them.

I sort of compromised. I fed them breakfast off and on, or dinner. When they stopped appearing as a pair, I concluded they had a nest somewhere, I fed them more often and made the decision that I had to support them through their nesting period as I might inadvertently have encouraged their nesting (so I thought, but I later found out that it wasn’t the case as I saw many more young pigeons appear in the streets at around the same time).

I asked them whether they had one or two eggs or youngsters and told them I was very curious about their offspring. Eventually, I got the impression that they were merely getting fatter so they probably did not have a nest at all. Also, I didn’t want them to feel too comfy visiting as not everyone around me might like that, and the birds might start leaving droppings (which they had not done so far). So I cut back on my catering service and transitioned to adding some food to a location where all sorts of wildlife already forages and other people provide food too.

(The female pigeon broke my heart once when she showed up half covered in some really disgusting fast food that had been thrown away. Not all fast food is bad but the fast food that is, is also making wildlife less healthy.)

One Sunday evening, I saw the two walk around in an obvious panic and realized that my support for them had cut them off from the intelligence (information) of other pigeons, namely where to find the best stuff and at what time and on what days. They know that schools are closed in the weekend and supermarkets are closed on Sunday mornings here. (Of course they do!) Those are among the places where people often eat hence drop food. Though it isn’t the best kind of bird food, not by a long shot. I had to cue them in, so I did.

It dawned on me that I had introduced inequality among the local group of about ten pigeons and that this was not benefiting my pair.

Then one day, dad stopped by, first with youngster 1 who was still a bit sleepy and the next day, with youngster 2, the older one. (I felt so stupid! They’d had a nest after all. I’d been right.) The two youngsters are each other’s spitting image, except that one is older and bigger. It took me a while to figure it out.

I discovered that mom and dad are a lot like humans. Daddy pigeon thought it was okay to sit on people’s windowsills, but mommy pigeon was teaching her kids to avoid windowsills. Ha ha!

I saw many more young pigeons around at the time, also in other locations in town.

I have seen one who was still quite intimidated by other pigeons. Ha ha! I have seen him fly toward other birds and then off again, repeatedly, which is odd behavior for a pigeon. Then one morning, I saw him or her do it again. Approach, hover, fly off, approach and hover, fly off, repeat, then approach, land and literally jump in, to eat with the other birds. It was perfectly fine. No one shooed him or her off.

(Yes, they do occasionally fight. The males sometimes get into quarrels and the females sometimes have to shoo younger males off. I have seen the female of my friendly pair grab a much younger local male – quite a character, that one – by the bill to make sure he got lost when he was way too pushy.)

I have negotiated with dad and moved the birds back to where they came from. I found them surprisingly easy to work with (which explains why humane pigeon management works much better than the traditional pest control approach, as I wrote in my previous post).

Dad really likes me for some reason, though, and still stops by from time. We mostly just look at each other and enjoy the bond, the trust. He is highly inquisitive, likes watching what I do.

I guess he is a lot like me. I have no idea where these two roost or where their nest was, but I confess that I was quite curious about where they were hiding them when the little squabs were still highly vulnerable and very ugly.

If only humans could be a little more like pigeons…

Thankfully, where I live many people help out the local wildlife, often feeding them high-quality (proper) food too. I think that, in theory, if people see the plights of wildlife, it is easier for them to see the plights of other humans around them too.

On some days, I wish that Julian Savulescu’s solution – feeding all humans oxytocin in pill form – would work and we humans would stop killing other animals, destroying ours and their habitat and foster harmony among all humans and all species on the planet. But to think that this will work is scientifically naïve, although a very useful ethics exercise. (I used to know a woman with a Bachelor’s in psychology who once shocked me by saying that she wished mind control was possible for the entire human population, to make people behave the way she felt they should. I considered that notion highly unethical, though now, many years later, I can also see the other side of that ethical dilemma.)

The solution will probably have to come through a combination of education and voluntary activities – a version of show and tell, of setting good examples – and dogged persistence. We need more Thich Nhat Hahns in the world. But not even Buddhism is free from violence and sexism because Buddhists too are merely human. We humans are so fallible, so liable to make mistakes.

Thankfully, the greatest learning comes from mistakes. Learning is the purpose of life, not only in our own lifetimes, but also from one generation to the next and the next. Life’s lessons are repeated until learned.

Even the oxygen we humans depend on comes from other species.

Below are some photos of dad and the eldest squab, taken on the day dad surprised me when he stopped by to introduce the youngster. (At the time of writing, I haven’t seen any of them for quite some time as they’re way too busy getting on with their lives and enjoying the wonderful weather. Only dad stopped by to say hello a few days ago.)

Effective city pigeon management

Traditional pest control companies like spreading persistent myths that help keep them in business. Thankfully, humane wildlife deterrence practices – which are much more effective – are slowly gaining traction. Take pigeons.

They’re highly intelligent animals which we took from their native habitats in foreign countries – sea cliffs – and introduced all over the world. I didn’t know that until nearly two years ago. When it comes to pigeons, there seem to be three groups of people: People who hate them, people who love them and people who are indifferent to them.

I used to be in that third category. In the past, I hardly paid any attention to the critters.

If you haven’t seen it yet, watch this documentary:

Deterring pigeons the traditional way is expensive. That’s partly because it works against the intelligence of the animals instead of working with it. Birds have been on the planet much longer than humans – since 150 million years ago, roughly, whereas our oldest ancestors such as Orrorin tugenensis appeared only around 6 million years ago. So birds have built up a vast collective knowledge that we still lack.

Several cities, including Paris and Nottingham, successfully work with pigeons instead of against them. It results in healthier birds and makes – if you want that – controlling pigeon populations much easier (through the use of dummy eggs).

In city parks and on the rooftops of flat buildings, you can provide pigeon roosting, nesting and feeding structures – modern dovecotes – that are so attractive to pigeons – the former rock doves – that they’ll select them over the inferior spots where we humans usually don’t want pigeons.

Such structures can be made from recycled plastic, which is maintenance-free, non-toxic and available in many shapes and colours. You can use them educational facilities for the public too, connect them with their surroundings in a positive and meaningful way that can be highly inspirational.

It makes sense. Would you rather live in a shack that exposes you to the elements from almost all sides or in a nice cosy environment that feels like home?

PS
I’d be very happy to assist any party (city council, park owner, owner of large building with flat roof) who wishes to apply this.

Northern Ireland abortion refugees: Supreme Court — UK Human Rights Blog

R (o.t.a A and B) v. Department of Health [2017] UKSC 41, 14 June 2017 – judgment here. Sometimes The Law comes to the rescue. And by this I do not mean constitutional law versus populism or the rule of law versus raw-knuckled fighting. It just happens that, occasionally, litigation drawn from ordinary life encapsulates more political […]

via Northern Ireland abortion refugees: Supreme Court — UK Human Rights Blog

Foreign criminals’ deportation scheme ruled unlawful — UK Human Rights Blog

R (Kiarie) v Secretary of State for the Home Department; R (Byndloss) v Secretary of State for the Home Department [2017] UKSC 42 In a nutshell The Government’s flagship scheme to deport foreign criminals first and hear their appeals later was ruled by the Supreme Court to be incompatible with the appellants’ right to respect for […]

via Foreign criminals’ deportation scheme ruled unlawful — UK Human Rights Blog

Five books about Britain

I haven’t read the fifth one yet, but take for granted that it’s highly informative. The first one is pretty heavy reading, more suitable to browse and read when anything catches your eye about how the tea tradition came about for instance or that alcohol used to be seen as good sustenance for hard-working people. Do that often and you’ll learn a few things you didn’t know yet.

The other four are much easier reads.

The Making of the English Working Class (Penguin Modern Classics)

Rich Britain

The Making of Modern Britain

SHOPPED: The Shocking Power of British Supermarkets

A History of Modern Britain

Human rights for just a few, that’s discrimination. Human rights apply to all human beings.

It has just been the 6th anniversary of an important human rights case, that of Mark and Steven Neary. Steven, who is autistic, was detained in local authority care for over a year before his dad used the Human Rights Act to get him home. RightsInfo has made a powerful short film to mark the […]

via A powerful new human rights film  — UK Human Rights Blog

Abortion

Writing the first edition of my essay “We need to talk about this” – the second edition is in the works – forced me to think about issues I had never thought about before in great depth and I had to leave many of them untouched at the time.

For example, I am a feminist and I have always believed in a woman’s right to abortion. While I was considering how we could regulate the new eugenics, I ran into boundaries. It included having to think about how to fit abortion into the topic. That was a significant hurdle.

I was no longer able to say “of course women should be able to have abortions” – which I had always done in the past – but had to think about why and when they should, regardless of my own personal feelings. Because what I was writing about selecting pre-embryos and fetuses clashed with the general ideas that I had always entertained about abortion but had never examined in detail.

Legislation and protocols can sound very cold to people, but it’s not enough to just state something like “we think this is very very good” or “we think this is very bad”. That wouldn’t work in practice. If you want to make sure legislation is solid and leaves little room for abuse (deliberate misinterpretation), you end up with language that can come across as heartless. But that does not mean that the legislation (or protocol) is heartless or that the people who wrote it are!

It can be difficult to get that across, I have seen in various online comments (on for example the Groningen Protocol). It works the same way for traffic rules or rules for building skyscrapers. The law can’t just say something vague like “drivers should be careful” and “buildings should be safe” and leave it at that.

When Obamacare was introduced, a staunch Republican (and stauncher Libertarian) wrote to me that it was ridiculous that its legislation was taking up more than 2,000 pages or something like that. (Who would ever read that?)

I replied to him that I knew a jurist who works in precisely that area in the Netherlands and explained what that kind of legislation has to include. Fortunately, he listened to that explanation.

Unfortunately, I have found that even people who see themselves as the voice of reason (and sometimes as having absolute wisdom, too) aren’t always willing to listen to what someone “from the other side” is saying.

A certain brand of callousness

In my essay “We need to talk about this” I mention that I have on occasion been shocked by a certain brand of callousness that I have seen (too) often in Britain (both in the media and in real life). Here is one example of what I mean.

 

You can only justify such occurrences by applying a tweaked form of utilitarian reasoning. One person was suffering, but “wasn’t really harmed” and the number of people who were enjoying what was being done to George Cheese was greater than 1, hence these occurrences “increased overall happiness”.

The fact that utilitarianism was associated with the higher classes may have given this type of reasoning or events an unfortunate aura of “cleverness”. It could also explain why anyone who condemns the sort of things that were being done to George Cheese is seen by some as “naïve” and “not quite with it”.

Utilitarianism also attached little importance to individual persons’ rights. It would have stopped short from, say, stabbing someone like George Cheese as opposed to setting his clothes on fire and stuffing him into the trunk/boot of a car. This is the kind of background, I think, that enabled Simon Wright to say “It did not go too far.”

In reality, abuse targets like George don’t get to LIVE. All they are allowed to do is wait for their natural deaths. George Cheese said “FUCK THAT!” and stood up for himself in the only way he had left.

At least there is an inquest. That’s good.

 

 

The Charlie Gard case

Ouch.

I ran into the story a while ago, and couldn’t find too much information about it back then. However, the parents have just been turned down by the next court and now apparently plan to take the case to the Supreme Court. That’s resulted in more attention for the story, with more background.

Here are two places where you can read more about the case if you’re not familiar with it:
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-40047485

https://researchingreform.net/2017/04/12/london-live-interviews-researching-reform-on-charlie-gard/

http://www.bailii.org/cgi-bin/format.cgi?doc=/ew/cases/EWHC/Fam/2017/972.html

In the online discussions, I see something that I also recently mentioned in an essay I wrote and I feel the need to say something about that. (I have also submitted a comment elsewhere.)

Yes, it is true that the British medical profession can be extremely arrogant. As a Dutchwoman who previously lived in the US and is now based in Britain (in Ashya King’s city, I might add), I too feel that the medical profession generally still has that ridiculously old-fashioned god status in Britain. I’ve for instance been ridiculed by an ophthalmologist for asking about possible side effects of a medication, only to find that it did cause serious problems for me. (Thankfully, we have the internet now, which can help us solve such relatively minor problems and bypass physicians who don’t like assisting emancipated patients.) Some people have mentioned Ashya King’s case within this context.

Having said that, Charlie Gard’s case – heart-breaking and difficult – also has a strong element of the opposite. We are now in an era in which doctors are increasingly often perceived as “playing God” when they do NOT do everything in their power to prolong a baby or an adult’s life artificially, no matter how high the cost to the individual in question.

Charlie Gard’s case is not comparable with Ashya King’s case.

Charlie was born with a condition that normally means the infant won’t live very long. I understand that of the few children with his condition, his situation is the worst. Ouch. One can ask whom prolonging Charlie’s life benefits, Charlie or his parents. This will sound incredibly harsh to many and I understand that. It is okay to be very angry with me for that comment.

(I understand, really. I grew up with illnesses and deaths in my very close surroundings; it concerned my mother, one of her sisters and one of her brothers. They died of different kinds of cancer. My mother suffered greatly and for many years, after having been misdiagnosed twice. My youngest sister almost died after she was misdiagnosed when she was 4 or 5. She ended up in critical condition and had to be cooled with ice to keep her fever alone from killing her.) If it hadn’t been for the persistence of my dad, she would never have had the chance to develop into the successful business owner she is today. So, yes, I do know about losing people and wanting to hold on to them.)

On the other hand, allowing Charlie the experimental treatment in the US could yield very important information that may not benefit Charlie but could benefit future infants with mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome or even other conditions. Could that be worth it? Hard to say.

What would Charlie want? Can you place yourself in Charlie’s situation for even a moment?

Ashya King, by contrast, was a healthy and much older kid who developed a brain tumor. Even with the traditional treatment, Ashya had a fighting chance and treating Ashya as well as possible was certainly going to benefit Ashya (even though there is never a 100% guarantee).

And it has.

One of our problems is that we badly need global regulations for all kinds of medical situations, regulations that people from all sorts of backgrounds all over the world can agree with. The lack of it currently not only causes medical tourism but also the kind of heartbreak we now see in the Charlie Gard case.

If I put myself in the parents’ shoes, I say that most of the hurt and upset for them is currently coming from the legal process. The uncertainty. Even possibly the knowledge that every day they spend in court is one day on which he is not getting the experimental treatment in the US. Unassisted, nature would have already allowed Charlie to cross the rainbow bridge and be at peace and the parents could have had a more normal mourning process.

Is Charlie at peace now? Is he not? How can we know?

It might be possible to avoid this kind of agony if we had much more clarity about what to do to limit harm to such a child as much as possible. Such regulations will have to be a compromise, obviously, and can never avoid heartbreak (but heartbreak is also a normal part of life; life does not come with guarantees and the losses make us cherish what we have).

Conditions like Charlie Gard’s also play a role in the new eugenics, currently particularly in the selection of embryos for IVF procedures, a rapidly growing practice, and soon in the creation of designer babies. It is an incredibly difficult topic that is screaming for attention. So I just wrote a rather provocative essay on it, in a hurry. It is called “We need to talk about this” (the second edition is already in the works) and includes a definition of what constitutes a life not worth living. I have based it on the principle of humanity, namely that every human being has the right to a life in dignity. During the writing of that essay, I grew very depressed a few times, because it is such a hard and dark topic. But we really do need to talk about this, sooner rather than later.

I wish the judges and the parents wisdom and strength and little Charlie lots of eternal sunshine of every possible kind.

 

 

You, me and plastic

Like just about everybody else, I use too much plastic and have started to take small steps toward reducing my plastic footprint.

Instead of toothpaste, I use baking soda that comes packaged in paper and cardboard. Using baking soda is cheaper than using toothpaste.

Instead of buying containers of liquid hand soap, I make my own from a quarter bar of soap and refill the containers I already have. This too is much cheaper than purchasing ready-made liquid hand soap and the effort involved in making my own is negligible.

I try to keep plastic food containers and reuse them at least once for seedlings on my window sill. It’s nowhere near enough. I would like to see a system geared toward collecting and reusing  the plastic used to package food.  Maybe I’ll start one myself one day.

 

Solidarity and compassion

There are two kinds of solidarity. Exclusive solidarity is essentially protectionism. Groups rally to stand up for their own kind and do each other favors such as recommend each other and give each other jobs. It exists on the basis of what divides us, what makes us different from others.

Birds do this too. If you are observant and like being outdoors, for instance go for walks, you may on occasion have seen crows appearing from all sides and forming a circle around a crow attacked by someone’s dog. You can also occasionally hear a lot of loud cackling, look up and see a group of magpies around a cat that has climbed into a tree.

Inclusive solidarity, on the other hand, is much closer to compassion. It does not ask many questions and exists on the basis of what we have in common.

Birds do this as well. If for example you happen to have lived with certain parrots, you may be quite familiar with this. I adopted two quaker parrots in 1994 and they both stood up for my cats if they thought some harm might be happening to one of my cats, for example if I had to stuff a pill into a cat’s mouth and make sure the cat swallowed it, for a very good reason. This happened regardless of whether the cat in question was kind to birds or not.

Birds are capable of compassion because they appear to have something called “theory of mind” just like humans do.

I have seen one of my little parrots quickly step forward and snatch a bit of feces off the other bird. It was stuck to a feather. That other bird never even noticed what happened. This was an act of selfless compassion based on the first bird’s reasoning that she would not want to have feces stuck to her own butt and therefore the other bird probably wouldn’t like it either.

I have two kinds of confirmation for this.

In the past, I have seen that particular bird come running down a series of perches (in a huge cage) and then stop short to avoid stepping into fresh feces.

This particular bird was a pretty intelligent rascal who went through phases of pranks involving feces. For a while, she took great delight in pressing her butt against the bars of the open cage to help her aim and then pelt poop at my shoes whenever I sat reading in a chair near the cage, for example. Poopball. Goal! This means that the bird assumed that I would not like getting feces on me and also that she knew that getting feces on my shoes wasn’t so bad.

This bird has forever changed the way I look at birds. I used to see birds as completely devoid of anything resembling human intelligence. Birds flew, hopped and tweeted. That was it. Oh, and they laid eggs, too. Particularly the flying made me experience them as distant, I presume. Removed. Different.

I couldn’t have been more wrong about that.

I still remember the look that parrot – the longest-living of the two – gave me when I apologized to her for it having taken me so long to realize how intelligent she was. How stupid the two of them must have thought we humans were and how desperate they must have felt at times. “Is she ever going to get it?” She was a very wise one, that one. (She started showing me, by anticipating my moves and wishes and acting on them, all by herself. The first time that happened I was stunned.)

We’d all do ourselves a favor if we could focus more on inclusive solidarity and less on protectionism. I believe we’re slowly getting there.

 

IP addresses aren’t passport photos

I hear it time and time again. If someone is bothering you electronically, such as by e-mail, you can identify them on the basis of the IP address, take that to the police and be done with it. An IP address is like someone’s passport photo, right?

Not so.

Most people make the mistake of assuming that cyber stalkers and hackers behave the same way they do. They think that cyber stalkers and hackers automatically reveal their own IP addresses when they approach a target electronically.

Wrong.

Anyone who’s ever used a torrent stream or tunnelled to access a TV show or some other online content in another country knows better.

Most people haven’t.

Cyber stalkers and hackers aren’t stupid and usually hide behind an electronic wall called a proxy. They can also use a series of proxies. Sometimes, a cyber stalker or hacker gets sloppy and forgets this step. It’s been said that’s what happened in the recent hacking of Sony. Others think that it was just a smart hacker who made it seem that way, though.

It’s time to re-evaluate our relationship with animals

From the description (6 May 2014):

Lesli Bisgould is Canada’s first animal rights lawyer. For ten years, she acted for individuals and organizations in a variety of animal-related cases in the only practice of its kind in the country. She has fought for the rights of students who objected to dissection in science class, for critics of facilities where animals are held captive, and for changes in the law to ameliorate the legal status of animals. Lesli is an adjunct professor at the University of Toronto’s faculty of law where she instructs a course on animals and the law. Lesli is the author of “Animals and the Law”, the only Canadian law text on the subject, published by Irwin Law. Lesli was the 2012 international law lecturer for Australian animal protection institute, Voiceless – she undertook a 12-stop lecture tour of Australia, comparing the commercial hunts for seals in Canada and kangaroos in Australia. In recent years, Lesli’s full-time work has been in the human rights and poverty law fields, and she is currently the Barrister at Legal Aid Ontario’s Clinic Resource Office.

When Buddhism goes haywire

Yesterday, I looked into Buddhist violence in Burma. That may sound like a contradiction to you, but there is a group of violent Buddhists in Burma (Myanmar) and there is one in Sri Lanka too.

If you want to read up on it, follow these links:

understandingArticle in Time: How an Extremist Buddhist Network Is Sowing Hatred Across Asia

Article in the New York Times: Sri Lanka’s Violent Buddhists

Article in BBC News: The darker side of Buddhism

Article on Al Jazeera America: Myanmar’s Buddhist terrorism problem

Article on the CNN site: Dalai Lama to Myanmar, Sri Lanka Buddhists: Stop violence against Muslims

Article in Time: Burma’s Hard-Line Buddhists Are Waging a Campaign of Hate That Nobody Can Stop

Class on terrorism

Beatrice de Graaf gave a public class on terrorism in a Dutch TV program called DWDD University. (DWDD = “The world is going nuts”, in Dutch, but also “The world keeps turning”.)

Below are some quickly penned highlights of this public class on terrorism, which took place on 12 March 2016.

1. Read “Demons” by Fyodor Dostoyevsky.

2. What is terrorism? And where did IS come from?

(2004 definition)

Terrorism contains three elements:
– Violence, or threatening with violence;
– Intimidation;
– Forcing governments to do something or stop doing something.

Terrorists target three audiences;
– Us (you and me);
– Governments and authorities;
– Followers.

Attention is the oxygen on which terrorism thrives.

The Netherlands suffered more deaths (about 20) due to terrorism in the 1970s than it has since 2002. (In the Netherlands back then, a train was hijacked and a school attacked, with 104 children being held hostage, on the same day, for example.)

Four waves of worldwide terrorism since 1800:

  • Anarchism (peaked around 1890; this also included governments carrying out attacks and pretending they were carried out by anarchists; became overshadowed by WWI);
  • Anti-colonial terrorism (started in the 1920s, peaked around 1950, included IRA and FLN; ended when former colonies gained independence);
  • Revolutionary wave that started in the 1960s (peaked around 1980; this also included governments carrying out attacks and pretending they were carried out by revolutionaries; ended when the Berlin wall came down);
  • Current wave of terrorism. This includes Sikhs in India, Buddhists in Burma, and now IS. It began in 1979, sparked by first Khomeini and next the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan which triggered a response from (math) teacher Abdullah Azzam, whose efforts were supported by $3,000,000,000 from the CIA. This was followed by Osama bin Laden who was funded with Saudi-Arabia money. After he was killed, the messy situation in Iraq, partly caused by the us in the west, and the Arab spring (which began in Tunisia after a fruit vendor set himself on fire out of frustration and) which turned into the war in Syria helped foster Al-Qaeda 2.0. That is IS / ISIS / ISIL / Daesh.

90% of the victims of the current wave of terrorism are Muslims. Most of the current terrorist attacks take place in non-western countries.

The attacks in the west take place because we in the west don’t pay much attention to attacks in other parts of the world.

Al-Qaeda Iraq which became IS was led by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (who later declared himself Caliph Ibrahim). Osama Bin Laden (!!!) actually thought he went too far and tried to halt him/them.

IS had a better (more attractive) story than the vague ideas spread by Azzam and Bin Laden, because IS established the state (caliphate) and invited people to come over and live there. This had a romantic appeal. 20,000 to 40,000 people moved to the IS area to live there.

And here is where Stasi training comes in (command & control). The strength of IS was that it was not simply a bunch of frustrated folks, initially, but consisted of Saddam Hussein’s former military top. The Americans had imprisoned a large group of frustrated people together (Salafists, criminals, and Saddam Hussein’s generals and colonels) at Camp Bucca and that is how they got to know each other and started plotting revenge. They established a new police state with what the Stasi had taught them about how you do that, complete with a strong internal security structure.

Recruiting child soldiers is part of it too.  (Bin Laden particularly had a problem with the fact that IS wanted to involve children.)

Another strength of IS is that it is very good at using social media. Bin Laden had to use individual video tapes that had to be transported to the nearest Al Jazeera office, hoping that Al Jazeera would use them. IS releases 3 to 4 videos with propaganda and rules for how to dress and so on every day. They also have a magazine, in which they recently indicated  that they want a dialogue or negotiation with the west about the Sykes-Picot line. (This provides a possible opening.)

3. What next?

While IS remains a concern, its attraction is beginning to wane. Part of the IS caliphate has already fallen to pieces (and today, on 27 March, the ancient city of Palmyra was taken back from IS). The IS area is no longer the romantic place to live, with swimming pools and well-stocked shops, that initially drew people in. Most of the IS area no longer even has electricity.

People who live there are starting to tell that side of the story, on Open Your Eyes, for example. How IS forced itself upon them, that there is no drinking water, no power, and garbage and rodents everywhere, that women are beaten, and so on.

(Personal note: You can probably see some evidence of this in how young recruits from particularly Tunisia are lured in, namely with promises of paid work. Once they arrive, they are moved around all the time so that they don’t even know where they are, and are not permitted to leave.)

There are increasingly often tensions between different groups within IS (for example Dutch jihadis versus Iraqi jihadis). (Personal note: Keep in mind, too, that some of what is going on is actually Al-Qaeda 2.0 fighting Al-Qaeda 1.0 as well as extremists attacking non-extremists in their own countries. This explains why the victims of the attacks are mainly Muslims.)

As long as there are war-torn countries and as long as there are oppressive regimes and as long as there are young people who don’t have the patience for the slow democratic processes, there will be terrorists.

Terrorists tend to use modern technologies; they are early adopters. (Personal note: This means that intelligence services should have specialists who do nothing else but stay on top of new technologies, become part of the early adopters and keep their eyes and ears open.)

Historically, having an open and inclusive society has always been the best way to crack terrorism.

So, engage in a dialogue (at all levels and everywhere; apparently the Belgians and French don’t do that in their own countries, but the British and the Dutch do), don’t just put (young) people in prison but also make sure that they will have a life when they get out again and don’t continue to be radicalized, don’t cut funding for intelligence services, and use all possible means and openings, not only bombings. And perhaps most important of all: do not overreact to terrorism. Attention is the oxygen that terrorism thrives on.

Cause for pause for concern

Estimated death toll September 11 attacks in the US:
2996.

Estimated death toll 7 July 2005 London bombings:
56.

Estimated death toll 2004 Madrid train bombings:
191.

Estimated death toll November 2015 Paris attacks:
137.

Estimated death toll in Britain in 2015 for people who were not able to heat their cold homes:
9000.