Sahar Ghumkhor sees the world through the distorted post-colonial lense of a Glass Darkly.

 “I am talking of millions of men (women and children) who have been skilfully injected with fear, inferiority complexes, trepidation, servility, despair and abasement(Cesaire, 1986)

Sahar Ghumkhor (Ghumkhor, 2019) claims that New Zealanders (the whole 4.5 million or so of us) hold a “narcissistic self-view” of the world, that we are inherently a racist country due to our colonial past, we reject shame and responsibility, are a dishonest people, we consider ‘the other” {whatever she means in invoking the late Edward’s Said’s argument on Western Conceptions of the Orient) as barbarians. In other words, we view all other races as savage, uncivilized, barbaric, primitive, heathen, wild, brutish, Neanderthal, and uncivilized.

Moreover, she attacks the country as a place “which has systematically portrayed Muslims as inherently violent and “backward”, and Islam as an ideology justifying violence and the subjugation of women” (Ghumkhor, 2019). She claims that Muslims in New Zealand have been depoliticized and that through this wilful political act the “younger generations have internalized Islamophobia stereotypes and engaged in self-surveillance…” (Ghumkhor, 2019)

Ghumkhor further claims that the killer responsible for the 15th March attacks is “not an aberration, he’s not an exception’ he is an integral part of the collective “we” in New Zealand, Australia and the West-just like the followers of Trumpism are part and parcel of modern-day America” (Ghumkhor, 2019). Not to see the world through her eyes, Ghumkhor argues is to live a life of denial and “a cowardly flight into white liberal sanctuary of the “third way” from the discomfort of reality” (Ghumkhor, 2019). Islamophobia, Ghumkhor claims is “an everyday practice and the political reality of New Zealand” (Ghumkhor, 2019).

It is important to deconstruct the opinions and analysis of Ghumkhor, through the dark lenses of post-colonial and psychoanalytical literary theory, which she uses to launch her unprecedented attack on our country, and people who are reeling in shock and mourning, following the horrific events of March 15th, 2019.

Ghumkhor opinion and analysis are framed within several broad and generalised questions:

  1. How did the event of March 15th 2019 symbolize either explicitly or allegorically New Zealand’s history as a former colonial power and a post-colonial power of oppression?
  2. What did the event and its aftermath (including the way the New Zealand Prime Minister, her government and the men, women and children of New Zealand, who represent 160 different cultures and have over 200 different languages, reveal about its post-colonial identities, its personal and cultural identities, and its double consciousness in terms of individual vs. collective and country?
  3. To what extent have New Zealanders, and the New Zealand Prime Minster expressed their secret unconscious desires and anxieties on culture and religious racism, and is their mourning a manifestation of their own guilt and neuroses?

New Zealand has acknowledged and continues to acknowledge its colonial past, and how this affected both the original indigenous peoples of New Zealand, and the immigrants and refugees who’ve arrived in the country since the late 18th century. However, this acknowledgment isn’t framed within the revisionist histories of Ghumkhor as the post-colonial critic. They go much deeper, and are as Homi Bhabha describes when writing about Frantz Fanon:

Fanon is the purveyor of the transgressive and transitional truth. He may yearn for the total transformation of Man* and Society, but he speaks most effectively from the uncertain interstices of historical change: from the area of imbalance between race and sexuality; out of an unresolved contradiction between culture and class; from deep within struggle of psychic representation and social reality” (Bhabha, 1986)

Jacinda Ardern, along with all of her compatriots are struggling with the deep psychic reality of what occurred on March 15th, 2019, and how this social reality has been reflected in our society in the present and the past. Unfortunately, Ghumkhor has been too quick to jump to judgment here, and portray herself as the victim of a racist and Islamophobic society, because she grew up in New Zealand, and perceived people as patronizing because she “must be glad to be living in New Zealand” (Ghumkhor, 2019). In understanding the deep struggle within the psychic reality of our country, she has failed to articulate in her opinion piece, the authentic and genuine grief felt across New Zealand by children in particular, and women and men from across the class, religious and cultural divide. She has indulged in what many post-colonial critics do; impose a flawed and dark theory onto events in the present in an attempt to offer an alternative historical narrative and rewrite history. It is a shameful and selfish attempt at academic self-aggrandizement.

Her claim that New Zealand as a Nation holds a “narcissistic-self view of the world” (Ghumkhor, 2019) has no substance. It is at the very worst psycho-babble. She demonstrates no understanding of the term if she is referring to our national grief and mourning in the aftermath of the terrorist attack on Friday 15th March, 2019. Far from being a nation that indulged in self-centeredness arising from a failure to distinguish ourselves from others; New Zealand society was genuinely thrown into a national psychic trauma. It brought strangers together, hugging, sharing tears of grief, sharing stories, paying tribute to the families, and lost loved ones, and symbolized their unity of purpose in demonstrating to the country, and the world, such a violent act wouldn’t divide us or define our national and individual identities.

In attacking our national and individual psychological health (with no evidence), and naming the attacker, against the wishes of our Prime Minister and general population, Ghumkhor has shown contempt and disrespect to the children, women, men and the Government of New Zealand. She is guilty of fueling the same kinds of divisive rhetoric she accuses New Zealand and the West of using against Muslims and other peoples of different races and religions.

Her allegation that we are a Nation of hypocrites is a perfidious claim to make against over 4.5 million people. There have only ever been a few despots in the political annals of human history to target a whole Nation and population with such a claim. It is an untruthful and fictitious accusation to make.

Yet, it is her allegation that the Rt. Honorable, Jacinda Ardern, Prime Minister of New Zealand is basically a dishonest person which requires closer scrutiny and analysis. Ghumkhor pads this allegation around the argument that the global and local perception of New Zealand and New Zealanders is wrong. She argues that the perception of us having a welcoming nature, open to diversity and are a “provincial shire with a small tight knit community” (Ghumkhor, 2019) is false. She claims that it is only in the aftermath of the massacre that New Zealand has become inclusive of its Muslim population as “we” and that such a facile claim made only last week “only emphasized them as the “other” (Ghumkhor, 2019).

Edward Said argued that through the process of Othering, the colonizing powers treated the colonized as ‘not fully human’, and as a result, dehumanized the indigenous peoples of colonized countries (Said, 1978). Ghumkhor imposes this questionable theory onto Ardern, and argues that the Prime Minster codified herself as the true compassionate, humane person, and the New Zealand Muslim community as other than human. The assertion in itself is paradoxical, because in making the claim, Ghumkhor privileges herself above her erroneous understanding of Said’s definition of the “other”. She portrays herself both as a victim of New Zealand racism, and an academic saviour, whose mission is to ‘set the record straight and tell the truth”. The problem is her version of the truth is sullied with untruths, and she articulates the same kind of misinformation, convoluted arguments, and lies with which she accuses those who remain politically loyal to the master of misinformation and lies, The President of the United States, Donald. J. Trump.

She writes:

Although Islam has a century-long presence in the country, Muslims continue to be portrayed and treated as immigrant and refugees – ie inherently “foreign”. They are either “welcomed” or told to “go back” to where they came from – with both sentiments demonstrating that they are not really seen by the majority as an integral part of New Zealand’s society” (Ghumkhor, 2019)

This claim seems to have been rejected fully by the first-hand verbal accounts of members of the New Zealand Muslim community, and their experience as citizens of the country. Certainly, the Muslims I know and have met in New Zealand, have not conveyed a feeling of being foreign or of feeling caught up in a state of either “being welcomed or told to go back where they came from”. Moreover, no Muslims community leaders have supported her claim prior to and subsequent to the Friday March15th massacre.

What is considerably conceited in the Ghumkhor opinion piece is her cut and paste of various global events, and the selective inclusion of comments made by Foreign Minister Winston Peters pursuant to the London Bridge attacks in 2017. The perpetrator of the Friday March 15th attacks in Christchurch is an aberration and not the norm. It is not an act by which anyone in New Zealand should be defined. Similarly, the terrorist’s attacks across Europe, United States, Canada and Australia are aberrations and do not define the Muslin populations of these countries. And while condemnation of the perpetrators has been swift, at the same time leaders have assured their populations that those who carry out such attacks do not represent the Islamic faith or the values and ideals of the world’s Muslim population. This is an important fact left out of the article. In citing various right-wing politicians and conservative politicians for the vitriol and distorted world view on Islam as a faith and cultural practice, Ghumkhor chooses to accuse the whole western population of being guilty of the same sin, and in doing so commits her own sin of presumption.

Ghumkhor said she grew up in New Zealand. To attack the country and its executive branch of government, and the Prime Minster at this time suggests an over identification with the global narrative on right wing ideologies, and religious and cultural racism. Perhaps it also suggests there are unresolved issues surrounding her personal life, and her own understanding of Afghanistan. While it may be the case that media reports out of Afghanistan offer a grim portrayal of life in the country-it isn’t the case that 4.5 million plus New Zealanders see “Afghanistan…as the land of “burqas, intolerance and fundamentalist violence” (Ghumkhor, 2019). Most people would have an informed understanding of the geo-politics of the region, and of the cultural nuances in Afghanistan at the very least as their starting point.

The overall tone and themes in her opinion piece are of anger, and passive hostility towards New Zealand, and its people, who’ve suffered one of the greatest national and individual personal traumas in their history. A more conciliatory tone and a deeper understanding of the human psyche would have taken the scathing edge off her views and offered a more objective argument.

Grief, and the process of grieving is complex. The emotional logic of grief is only partly understood, and across cultures death is associated with customs and rituals created to help the trauma of loss. In the West guilt is often an emotional derivative of loss; whether with a close loved one or the loss of large numbers of people in a community, such as the trauma and loss experienced by a whole community and country in Christchurch on March 15th, 2019.

As a New Zealand national living and working in Pakistan, I am fully aware and cognizant of the reaction and response here to the massacre of the Muslim faithful at their mosques during Friday prayers. The whole country of Pakistan is in mourning. Yet; I have only received and heard messages of condolences and words of love and support around New Zealand’s response to this horror. Yet it concerns me that Ghumkhor has negated this response, and found a following among those who find it difficult to understand the nature of reality from the distortion of their own inherent bias across the religious and cultural divide.

In New Zealand  this tragedy will raise questions and elicit a Nation’s soul searching around cultural and social integration, and identity, and ask if more could have been done to ensure the safety of our Islamic communities.  However, our Nation as a whole, the Prime Minster, and the Islamic community cannot be blamed for the actions of a killer who took advantage of the safety and sanctuary of our overall peaceful and diverse multi-cultural Nation, even though we co-exist with him.

Fanon argues that:

Man is not a merely a possibility of recapture or negation. It is true that consciousness is a process of transcendence, we have to see too that this transcendence is haunted by the problems of love and understanding. Man is a yes that vibrates to cosmic harmonies uprooted, pursued, baffled and doomed to watch the dissolution of the truths that he has worked out for himself, one after another, he has to give up projecting onto the world an antinomy that coexists with him” (Fanon, 1986)

Ideologies, whether religious, secular, political or cultural, pit the collective against the individual. A timely awareness for publication by Al Jazeera, along with a deeper more insightful analysis and understanding of the human psyche from Ghumkhor, would have enabled everyone to better understand this point within the context of the tragic events of March 15th, 2019 in Christchurch, New Zealand. Moreover, it would have certainly helped each New Zealander, regardless of their cultural or religious identity to work through their grief process before being told they are hypocrites.

The kinds of deep divisions around culture, religion, ethnicities, migration and intellectual discourse which we haven’t seen since the 1930s leading up to World War Two, have only been further highlighted and exacerbated through Ghumkhor’s largely misinformed and inflammatory article, published through the Al Jazeera media network.

Bibliography:

Bhabha, H. [. (1986). Black Skin White Masks. London: Pluto Press.

Cesaire, A. (1986). Discours sur lke Colonialsime cited in Fanon, F. Black Skins White Masks. London: Pluto Press.

Fanon, F. (1986). Black Skins White Masks. London: Pluto Press.

Ghumkhor, S. (2019, March 20). Opinion: New Zealand Attack: The hypocrisy of New Zealand’s ‘this is not us’ claim. Retrieved from Al Jazeera .com:

https://web.archive.org/web/20190320081033/https://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/opinion/hypocrisy-zealand-claim-190319104526942.html?fbclid=IwAR0Jb-tsZncKNLit3WDLw-hpxgw2OU-3mWm1PImMPvAODRd3M1B-oa14KR0

Said, E. (1978). Orientalism: Western Conceptions of the Orient. Haryana: Penguin Random House.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Technology: How much is too much?

One of the more comic technology items introduced in 2013 was the iPotty. A simple device was attached to a toilet training potty for very young children. They could play with apps and Google away while waiting for nature’s call. Now in itself it may seem harmless, yet the problem is that this key developmental stage in an infant’s life has a lasting impact on their personality. Harsh punishment during toilet training create a submissive personality. The theory being if we can control little children biologically, they’ll be equally submissive adults and seek out authority figures to tell them how to live their life. There’s some evidence for this view. In the former East Germany toddlers in State run crèches were all sat upon a toilet training bench and required to toilet on cue. Later they became submissive citizens of an authoritarian state. The theory goes that an iPotty creates co-dependence on technology. As the child grows and develops, every time it answers the call of nature, it would need access to an iPad. One doesn’t want to over analyze here, but there are obvious developmental issues as the child grows into adolescence and adulthood. In fact I’ve often wondered why so many people enter public conveniences with an iPad or digital device in hand.
There’s no doubt that the iPad and its multiple applications, along with other mobile devices have brought additional resources into the daily lives of everyone. Yet most of us are conflicted. On the one hand we argue for creating more civilized societies, becoming interconnected and building a better world; while on the other hand we embraces technologies some of which have the most devastating and alienating effects on families and communities and undermine the very concept of nurture and a duty of care towards one another.
For example, there’s evidence to suggest people behave more rudely and aggressively online. Psychologists call this the dis-inhibition effect- a name for bad-mannered, anti-social behavior. It is suggested that people feel less inhibited when not seen and can express themselves more freely and without feeling vulnerable to criticism. But the result of this kind of reasoning put into practice can have devastating and tragic consequences. One of the cruelest examples of online anonymity and the dis-inhibition effect is the tragic and untimely death of 13 year old Megan Meier. Megan began receiving nasty messages from a boy a few weeks after she met him, via her MySpace account. After many messages of kindness and support she received one telling her the ‘world would be a better place without you’. Megan believed she had been rejected by the boy and committed suicide in her home. However, the boy never existed. He was a virtual character created by Lori Drew, a 47 year old married woman and a mother herself, who lived four houses down the street. Whereas parents were once the bridge between home life and the social interaction of their children, today technology is taking on that role. The once strong, stable pillars of family and community are being replaced by bridges of aluminum and fiberglass courtesy of Apple Inc., Samsung and Microsoft et.al.
For the most part I can fully appreciate and understand the gains to humanity through the development of technologies which assist and aid us in understanding and improving the human condition. Yet, on occasion events occur which cause me to pause and reflect on where we are heading. Such a moment occurred after reading a BBC news report about a company which markets neuroscience educational kits for children. It developed a very small electronic device which is glued to the back of a cockroach. This can be controlled through a downloadable app on a mobile phone. The child is able to control the movement of the creature. The company argues that allowing children to dissect another creature, place electronic devices into it and control its movements is giving them a 5-10 year head start on those in graduate schools studying neuroscience. They further claim they are aware of the shortcomings of the kinds of experiments their peculiar equipment enables kids to perform on other creatures, but suggest they are justified due to the inaccessibility of neuroscience in our current primary, middle and secondary school curricula. It is by all accounts a misleading and false argument.
Those of my generation learned a lot in primary school about neuroscience without being asked to cut-up another creature. I recall wonderful teachers who would take us for walks and lets us smell the earth, flowers, sea, and explain why we had such a painful reaction to accidentally standing on a broken shell, or nail or piece of glass-it was all quite wonderful, intriguing and followed up with diagrams and drawings of humans and other creatures showing how the brain and central nervous system functions. It was an interactive, highly sociable communicative process which instilled in us a lifelong love of science and a mutual respect for all living creatures-even those we didn’t like-the cockroach, spider and ants to name a few. We learned their role in the wonderful complex Eco-system called life, along with the importance of a human being’s necessary moral relationship with other creatures.
To argue that allowing children to capture and mutilate then insert electrodes into the head and body of another creature will ‘create the next generation of neural engineers, scientists and physicians’ is fabricated nonsense. Humans and other creatures have an equal interest in maintaining an Eco-system – even in the digital age-which ensures the survival of all species. Humans and other creatures matter a lot. It is this key relationship between ourselves and other living things we need to understand in the digital age. So, how much is too much technology? Today we’ve gone beyond an answer to such a question. A more meaningful question is whose brave new world do we want to live in, our own or one belonging to someone else?

It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad, world!

Trans-cranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) sounds like it’s straight from the laboratories of a mad scientist-well in some respects it is. The exclusive, somewhat secretive world of psychiatry has used electricity as a form of ‘therapy’ for decades. Through applying electrical current directly to the brain Psychiatrists attempt the reconstruction of reality as experienced by their ‘patients’. The late Professor Thomas Szasz, himself a psychiatrist was a fierce opponent of such practices arguing that mental illnesses are not real diseases, except for those with quite specific physical symptoms like Alzheimers and Dementia. He claimed-rightly so I think-that there are no objective, verifiable approaches to identifying whether a mental illness is present or not. It is almost impossible to falsify the research findings of psychiatry, for the most part they become lost in a maze of data and statistical analysis with meaning hard to locate when applied to standardized views of acceptable human behavior.
Most if not all psychiatric diagnoses are based upon a perceived understanding of what is real and what is considered acceptable thinking as acted out within the realm of private, personal and social behavior in a culture or society. In his classic book on self-development and independence, ‘If You Meet the Buddha on the Road Kill Him’, Sheldon B Kopp tells the insightful, witty and perceptive story about a man dressed in a white sheet and a funny pointed hat, speaking gibberish, being arrested by the police in a US town. He is taken off to a psychiatric institution, evaluated and assessed as quite mad. The following morning a dozen or so other similarly dressed persons appear at the institution while speaking the same strange language and seeking their lost friend. The captive man was eventually released into their custody. The moral of the story, according to Kopp, is that one man exhibiting strange behavior is a lunatic while a group of them represent an acceptable, if not slightly odd, community. And this seems to be the ever present danger within 21st century humanity today.
A recent online report (Young, 2014) claims that neuroscientists are able to change the brain function of healthy people through electric shock stimulation. Furthermore, the US military are testing this on their soldiers to improve and enhance their ability to react especially under stress and when deprived of sleep (Young, 2014). Researchers into this brave new world of mind-body manipulation observe the reactions of the brain through infra-red imaging. They stimulate the motor cortex and inhibit the prefrontal cortex to manipulate human cognitive processes and the accompanying physical responses. It is claimed that the results are extraordinary and improving performance and researchers maintain the effects last long term. According to the report researchers are also investigating ultrasound and laser light to manipulate brain wave patterns. This kind of research on human subjects raises serious ethical as well as medical concerns, especially around the long term effects and whether or not as the subjects age any long term damage will emerge. And whether the very essence and nature of a human being-our consciousness-should be manipulated to the extent that our actions are predetermined and we lose our capacity to exercise our free will. Perhaps we’ll find out in a similar fashion as we did when we had humans observe those nuclear tests in the deserts of the US and Australia during the 1950s when a horror was unleashed on humanity. It really is a mad, mad, mad, mad world!

References
Young, E. (2014, June 3). BBC Future. Retrieved from BBC News: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140603-brain-zapping-the-future-of-war

Manipulating Young Minds: American Gun Culture and the Cycle of Violence

Families are a microcosm of the communities they emanate from; subsequently issues of human behaviour and how to modify and encourage its various manifestations are among some of the most contentious issues in society. Do we live in a more enlightened age when it comes to matters relating to raising children, understanding human behaviour and promoting appropriate values and standards in our societies?
A report out of the United States of America suggests that some parents teach their children as young as 4 years old how to use a gun-not any gun mind you, but high powered weapons of mass destruction like machine guns, including high powered, rapid fire assault weapons. The parents who support teaching their children to use these dangerous weapons argue that it “demystifies guns and help children learn the dangers of them. They say that it is simply a means to an end and will help reduce gun crime and mass murders in the long term (Sawyer, 2014). Disbelief is simply an understatement when attempting to understand the kind of reasoning being used here. To argue such a case without any idea of its implications is staggering, and one needs to ask should parents who advocate and promote putting high powered assault weapons in the hands of kindergarten aged children be considered fit enough to raise a balanced, well adjusted child? To what extent are they endangering the healthy psychological and emotional development of the child? Furthermore are they manipulating the child into believing that a gun or any other weapon is simply an innocuous harmless piece of technology if used correctly? Moreover are they carrying out an act of cruelty by forcing very young children to use weapons which kill and maim humans and other creatures?
The renowned psychoanalyst Alice Miller would argue that “The conviction that parents are always right and that every act of cruelty, whether conscious or unconscious, is an expression of their love is so deeply rooted in human beings, because it is based on the process of internalization that takes place during the first few months of life…” (Miller, For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-Rearing and the Roots of Violence, 1990, p.5) She further asserts one of the more obvious empirical conclusions one can draw from human nature, and that is if a child is nurtured with unconditional love and understanding, and without physical violence or emotional blackmail, then they in turn will practice the same kind of behaviours as fully grown human beings.
Teaching and training children as young as 4 years old how to use weapons of mass destruction, when they have yet to develop their own moral sensibilities is wrong. It is a form of emotional blackmail and manipulation. It is a form of child abuse.
Miller’s more serious assertion, and one all parents ought to take heed of, is that more often than not methods of child-rearing, including discipline and moral regulation in families, is carried out in such a manner so that a child is not aware of what is being done to him or her. Clearly parents have a choice whether to put a weapon of mass destruction in the hands of their child or a toy or game which promotes a more harmonious, civil and balanced set of values and standards.
Miller says it is generally accepted that children forget a lot of their early childhood, but the serious consequences from the trauma of harsh treatment will live on and manifest itself from mild neurosis as an adult, to the more bizarre manifestations of complex psychopathologies. There are no harmless pedagogies or ways of raising children she argues, because even when an adult is sure they are considering the best interests of the child there true motives are:
 The unconscious need to pass on to others the humiliation one has undergone oneself.
 The need to find an outlet for repressed affect.
 The need to possess and have at one’s disposal a vital object to manipulate.
 Self-defence: i.e., the need to idealize one’s childhood and one’s parents by dogmatically applying the parents’ pedagogical principles to one’s own children.
 Fear of freedom.
 Fear of the reappearance of what one has repressed, which one re-encounters in one’s child and must try to stamp out, having killed it in oneself earlier.
 Revenge for the pain one has suffered. (Miller, op.cit., pp.97-98)

Miller is not an advocate of anarchy in child-rearing, on the contrary, she argues strongly for tolerance, compassion, awareness, respect and the importance of leading children to awareness and self-knowledge, but not at the barrel of a gun. While adults are able to reproach their God, Miller says, “Children are not allowed to reproach their gods-their parents and teachers”. (Miller, op.cit, p.254)

References
Miller, A , For Your Own Good: Hidden Cruelty in Child-rearing and the Roots of Violence
Farrar Straus Giroux, 1983

Sawyer, D. (2014, January 31). Parents Argue Teaching Young Kids to Shoot Prevents Gun Accidents. Retrieved from ABC News: http://abcnews.go.com/US/parents-argue-teaching-young-kids-shoot-prevents-gun/story?id=22317419

The Celebrations & Tragedies in Art Imitating Life

The Arts for the most part imitate life. Despite all the recent hype surrounding the release of the anti-societal and violent video game ‘Grand Theft-Auto V’, there is often a genuine attempt to reflect some of the highest endeavors a civilized society is able to reach. The Arts can be a commemoration of all that is good in humanity. The gifted painters, writers, photographers, journalists, actors, actresses, singers, dancers, musicians, directors, producers, make-up artists, costume designers, and the myriad talented individual who contribute to the Arts in all its splendor are a celebration of what is good in life and are a sign post for any individual to aspire to if they seek goodness, truth and beauty in life. The Emmy Awards which took place a few hours ago are a testament to these reflections.
At the same time, the Arts remind us of our darker side. While the Emmys took place on one side of the world celebrating the make believe world of high drama, and Claire Danes a.k.a Carrie Mathison collected her Emmy for chasing fictituous terrorists, a very real life tragedy beyond measure was unfolding in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.
Real life terrorists, dressed in war regalia attacked a shopping mall. Inside there were no soldiers or army battalions, just people-parents and their kids, friends and families, going about their regular routine of shopping, dining, and enjoying themselves. The militants threw grenades and fired randomly at these people-none of whom they knew. Their wanton hate and destruction was aimed at an enemy in their minds- people, good people for the most part, who opposed the madness of their repressive religious ideology. As I watched in disbelief and horror at the unfolding drama on a news broadcast-it imitated so many of the violent, destructive themes which are passed off as ‘entertainment’ today. And I wondered for a very brief moment whether what I was seeing was real or fictitious, until a sickening feeling of shock and despair engulfed me for those caught up in this mindless, deplorable act of violence. It was real. I paused further to reflect on how we live in a world which has become desensitised to violence. The daily occurrences of suicide bombings, mass shootings, killings for pure pleasure, gun crime, terrorist attacks and the slaughter of innocents are packaged by among others, HBO, ABC and the corporate based film industry for peak hour viewing pleasure and during the pause in the series productions we are left with a live news coverage of similar acts to sustain us.
It used to be safe to go shopping in a mall and expect to return home. It used to be routine to go to our place of employment and do a decent days work and also expect to return home. But these are no longer givens as recent events in both Washington DC and Nairobi have shown us.
Does it appear that we are no longer safe no matter where we go? Movie theatres, schools, shopping malls, the workplace and even the home-our once upon a time last bastion of safety (if we are fortunate enough to have one) seem vulnerable to the sane madness of ordinary men and women and “wanna be terrorists” of today. Perhaps Art, in particular the multi-billion dollar a day entertainment industry could work at imitating some of the more decent human values of kindness, compassion, goodness and caring for one another-this could grow into the politics of hope for a better future, especially for the younger generations and those yet to be born.

Exorcisms & The Problem of Evil in the Modern World

In a world ravaged by war, poverty, indifference, environmental degradation, human avarice and exploitation and general uncertainty we could be forgiven for thinking that our pale blue dot in a lonely universe is an evil place, the actual personification of the dark side. But it is too easy to lump all the negatives together and apply a universal term like evil to them-especially when the root causes of these issue are to be found in our own actions and behaviors and the simple truth that all of these major problems are caused by us. So the question of evil becomes more subtle and more complex.
The term is bandied about today without any real understanding. The meaning is still associated with the actions of demons such as Lucifer or Beelzebub found in the Judaic-Christian school of belief and understanding. These traditional and culturally bound concepts of evil have long been misrepresented, misunderstood and misinterpreted, especially in literature and film. But they seem to still have a place in our demon haunted world if a recent report by Lucy Wallis of the BBC’s news magazine is credible. (Wallis, 2013)
She reports on three teenage girls in the United States of America (where else!!) who perform ritual exorcisms on people who require them. Brynne Larson and Tess and Savannah Scherkenback are middle class, white conservative Christian girls who travel throughout the US and internationally performing ritual exorcisms on people who believe they are afflicted by demon possession. The girls, according to Wallis, see themselves as ‘freedom fighters’ waging a war on evil in the world. Sound familiar? It’s the kind of rhetoric which American leaders have been using for decades-the war on drugs, the war on terror and so on, so it’s no surprise that impressionable teenage girls would pick up on such carefully constructed propaganda and turn it into their very own cause célèbre. The girls are pictured with their perfectly coiffured highlighted hair, make-up and body hugging clothing, thrusting silver crosses into the lens of the camera. It could be a still scene from a fantasy-horror movie, but more frightening than that it captures a real life event. The girls take their exorcism crusade very, very seriously.
Among their strongly held beliefs are the idea that the United Kingdom is infested with necromancy, sorcery and bewitchment because of the vast popularity of the Harry Potter books. They are convinced that every single country has a specific kind of demon and those demons possess a person and cause suffering, unhappiness and all kinds of addictions. They claim when someone sins or does something wrong this allows a demon to enter into them. They understand themselves and believe themselves to be “enforcers’ who can take on demons. Their language is the language of street gangs and talk show television where they “look forward to kicking some demon butt”. (Wallis, 2013)
So how do upper middle class all American school girls become exorcists? Firstly, they were home schooled, which means they were denied access to a balanced, liberal arts educational program which encourages critical thinking, reasoned thought processes and the development of a rational view of the world. Secondly, the man who created and groomed the youngsters is the father of one and the pastor of the other two. He argues that ‘training’ the girls to perform exorcisms is a more noble and spiritual cause in a society rampant with lewdness, drunkenness and sexual promiscuity. Moreover in asking for money for these ritual performances he further asserts that it is unacceptable for people to expect spiritual services to be free of charge. His wife shares this irrational view of a demon haunted world and supports her husband and daughter in their work as “exorcists who are making a difference…” (Wallis, 2013) The mother of one of the girls abdicates total responsibility for grooming her daughter’s delusional thinking and behavior by arguing that “I didn’t really keep her from doing deliverances, but I didn’t discourage her.” (Wallis, 2013)
The parents of these girls are considered normal solid citizens, who love God and country-good living Christian folk. They are ordinary. Yet, in their ordinariness, with its thin veil of social respectability they have acted in an evil way. They have deceived their children into believing in a demon haunted world, and have coerced them into a delusional, irrational world view in which the girls believe they have some magical, divinely inspired power which allows them to cast out fictitious demons from the minds and bodies of the lonely, poor, neurotic, depressed, addicted and worried well in our societies. The parents of these girls are evil. In their incorruptible, inflated sense of self-righteousness they see everyone else who does not hold their world view as evil. And it is precisely because of their own self-conceited blindness to the harm they have caused their children in inflating and nurturing the girls’ delusions of grandeur as exorcists, that they are evil. They have psychologically abused and manipulated their children into believing that they are above reproach and must cleanse the world of others who do not fit their image and likeness, through using their carefully crafted silver crosses and Bibles.
But perhaps what is most disturbing in this story is that the girls and their parents are not displeasing to themselves, there’s no self-recrimination or regret only a blind faith in a discredited religious practice which has no place in modernity. It is lack of critical intelligence, humility, compassion and self understanding which denotes them all as malevolent in some way. Instead of exorcising the evil out of others, they ought to be healing the sickness in themselves. The artifice which goes into protecting the self image of moral purity and righteousness of these girls and their parents and those who condone their delusional practices are not so much designed to deceive others, as to deceive themselves, and that’s why they are evil.

References
Wallis, L. (2013). Teen Exorcists” The girls who expel demons on stage. London: BBC News Magazine.

Fratricide in the House Divided: The Dark side of American Democracy

Just as a child is the manifestation of the family and cultural environment in which they are raised, and until they know otherwise, so are a people the manifestation of the country and culture in which they are raised, until they know otherwise. It’s a loose argument with many variables coming into play, but generally speaking it is basically true. There’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to support this view point. Firstly, the great immigration multi-cultural movements of the 1970s and 1980s produced large culturally homogenized immigrant communities within Western countries and their cities, rather than fully assimilated, multi-cultural societies living together in happiness, harmony and peaceful contentment.
While multi-cultural polices were intended to engage people in cultural dialogue and celebrate a kind of unity through diversity, for the most part they produced cultural isolation. For example, individuals who migrated to the West from countries like China, India, Pakistan, Turkey, Lebanon, and the sub-Saharan African countries brought with them their own religious and cultural values and seldom assimilated into their new homelands, preferring to live in splendid isolation from their new found compatriots to live and raise their children firstly, as indigenous to the culture of their parents and secondly, as citizens and Nationals of their newly adopted country. This practice led several heads of State, including David Cameron of the United Kingdom, Angela Merkel of Germany and former Australian Prime Minister, John Howard to question the efficacy, success and suitability of multi-culturalism in the 21st century.
Secondly, children are shaped psychologically, emotionally, and physically through the kind of family environment and experiences they undergo in their early years and throughout their childhood and adolescence. There are many proverbs which confirm this assertion as well as evidence from psychology and psychiatry. “He’s a chip off the old block” and “The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” are two popular maxims. And the ominous “The father eats sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge” has been serialized in movies, television and novels like ‘The Prince of Tides’, ‘Brothers and Sisters” and ‘Angela’s Ashes’. Freud, Jung, Reich and their subsequent protégés wrote extensively and argued that children will reflect the values, attitudes and opinions of their parents, and if you spend a few hours counseling and supporting children you get a very clear picture of what their parents are like and the kinds of events that are unfolding within the private rooms of the family home.
But can the same be said of citizens of a country? To what extent are nationals of Nation States products of their specific cultural environment and experiences? History and Religion provide quite a definitive answer here. Early Christendom under the Papal States, Germany under the National Socialists, and Japan under the Militarists produced a citizenry who showed deference if not a blind obedience to the State. Contemporary China and Vietnam under the Communists, 21st century Iran ruled by a hardline Islamic Theocracy, the Nanny State of Singapore and most Western Nations including the United States of America produce for the most part a fairly compliant and subservient citizenry. Those who rebel or are insubordinate or act in defiance of the State are sought out and punished.

It is only within this social, cultural and political context that one can begin to make any sense of the killings emerging out of the State sanctioned and supported gun ownership laws in the United States of America. The Second Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America states “A well regulated Militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms shall not be infringed”. This amendment, part of the Bill of Rights was adopted in 1791, 8 years after the American War of Independence and seventy years before the American Civil War. The use of guns in this context was predicated on a belief that one will be safer with a gun rather than without one. Moreover, it was fabricated through deplorable propaganda which suggested that gun ownership fostered and encouraged personal and societal virtue. Thomas Jefferson advised his nephew thus:
“as to the species of exercise, I advise the gun. While this gives moderate exercise to the body, it gives boldness, enterprise and independence to the mind. Games played with the ball, and others of that nature, are too violent for the body, and stamp no character on the mind. Let your gun, therefore, be the constant companion of your walks.” (Foley, 1967)

It seems to me, and a great number of people throughout the world, and even perhaps in the USA that arms bearing combined with civic virtue is an erroneous and very precarious argument upon which to build a case for private gun ownership in the 21st century. More recently, the unabated carnage of adults and children going around shooting and killing supports such an opinion. The cold-blooded murder of Australian Chris Lane, by three bored teenagers as he jogged peacefully along a street in Duncan, Oklahoma, and the savage unprovoked murder of an 87 year old woman by her 8 year old grandson in Louisiana, after he’d played the violent, anti-social video game Grand Theft Auto represent a decline in the respect for life and the rise of an increasingly lawless and anarchic society held together through The Second Amendment.
Gun related deaths and massacres are much higher in the USA than in countries comparable to it in economic, social and political terms. Hand guns and high powered weaponry were used in the Virginia Tech shootings, Binghamton massacre, Fort Hood massacre, Oikos University shooting, and 2011 Tucson shooting. Assailants with multiple weapons committed the Aurora Theater shooting, and the Columbine High School and the Sandy Hook’s massacres. (Wikipedia, 2013)
Australia has almost eliminated gun related violence since it enacted tough legislation following the 1996 Port Arthur massacre in the Australian State of Tasmania. 35 people were killed and many more injured by a young man armed with an assault rifle. The dark side of democracy in the United States of America seems to be its unwillingness to reflect; self examine and agree on relevant civil virtues for the 21st century. Raising citizens on civil virtues such as the right to bear arms promotes and glorifies weaponry, endorses gun violence as de rigueur and as natural way of life, and encourages lawlessness. Since the Second Amendment of 1791, the United States of America has enacted the the National Firearms Act of 1934; the Gun Control Act of 1968; the Firearm Owners Protection Act, also known as the McClure-Volkmer Act in 1986; the Brady Handgun Violence Prevention Act in 1993; the Violent Crime, and the Domestic Violence Offender Gun Ban, the Lautenberg Amendment in 1997 (Wikipedia, 2013), yet mass killings and shooting continue to increase exponentially and go on unabated in the house divided. It is time to repeal The Second Amendment and work towards building a more harmonious, trusting and peaceful society, rather than one ruled by fear and a gun.

Foley, J. (1967). The Jefferson Cyclyopedia 318. New York: Russell & Russell.
Wikipedia. (2013, August 22). Gun Violence in the United States. Retrieved August 26, 2013, from Wikipedia.org: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gun_violence_in_the_United_States