Archive for September, 2006

The eleventh hour

In a few hours (October 1), British Time, it will be my birthday. It may also be the last day on earth for Mirza Tahir Hussain.

It seems appeals to Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf during his presidential visit to Britain have fallen on deaf ears.

Musharraf alone has the power to commute Mirza’s sentence but he “brushed past” demonstrators in Oxford today and refused to comment on the Leeds man’s case.

At a meeting in Brussels earlier this month, Liberal Democrat Euro MP Sajjad Karim, Chair of the Friends of Pakistan group, said:

“I, and the whole of the UK Liberal Democrat delegation, have been leading a European Parliament campaign to prevent what would be a gross miscarriage of justice.

“We have garnered the support of the European Parliament President, Josep Borrell, to see to it that, after spending half his life on death row, Mirza Tahir Hussain is granted clemency. It is the eleventh hour and time is running out to end the suffering of Mirza Tahir Hussain and for his distraught family and all of us who have been working tirelessly to secure his release.”

In response President Musharaff said:

“I have received those pleas and appreciate your concern for this individual. You must understand that I have to work within the constraints of the law, but I am willing to find a solution to this case that goes over and above what the courts are able to do.”

As time runs out for Mirza those words sound increasingly hollow. If I had faith in a supernatural God I would praying to him right now to intervene and save this man.

Sadly, I have no such faith. I do, however, believe that Mirza will survive. Musharraf needs a “distraction” from a couple of “higher profile” issues at this time. Perhaps an act of clemency towards the man from Leeds will provide it? 

Thank you Mask Man

Talkin’ about a… revo what?

What were the last words on the suicide bomber’s lips as he touched the wires together? I’ll tell you: “Give me liberty or give me death.”

Thomas Jefferson might well have stirred his audiences with the pronouncement that “Every generation needs a new revolution”, and Abe Lincoln probably did declare that “Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up and shake off the existing government…”

Yeah, sure. Listen, try it, go on, start a revolution and see what it gets you.

Mickey Z reckons the land of the free would likely reward you with an orange jumpsuit and a “one-way ticket for an all-inclusive vacation at Guantanamo Bay”:

‘Let’s face it, revolution just ain’t what it used to be. Mao Tse-Tung warned: “A revolution is not a dinner party, or writing an essay, or painting a picture, or doing embroidery.” Today, revolution is a Chevy commercial or a Beatles song. Che Guevara believed “the true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love.” By 1994, Newt Gingrich and his merry band of Republicans were using “revolution” to describe a minor reshuffling of ruling class allegiances. “The most heroic word in all languages is revolution,” stated Eugene Debs, but if he were around today and typed “revolution” into Google, he’d find the top response was for a software company.

‘As long as you’re not talking about the U.S. government, you can have as many revolutions as you please. You can have 33 per minute, for all Dick Cheney cares. Fitness, music, film, art, and countless ways to make money-the mutinous mood is alive and well. This time around, however, the revolution was indeed televised and is now enjoying a long, successful run in syndication.

‘Can the huddled befuddled masses to snap from their self-induced trance to recapture the subversive spirit of ’76? I’ll give the last word to Abraham Lincoln: “This country, with its institutions, belongs to the people who inhabit it. Whenever they shall grow weary of the existing government, they can exercise their constitutional right of amending it, or their revolutionary right to dismember or overthrow it.”

Remember: Abe said it, not me.’

Zone in to Mickey Z right here.

You see, Nico hasn’t killed anyone yet, so I guess he’s still salvageable. Sure, he’s hurt people — stabbed them or cut them — but he’s never shot anyone at close range, has never bundled some guy into a car, taken him to his mother’s house, stripped him naked and blown him in the mouth while mummy stands there crying and begging and wondering how the f**k is she going to clean the blood and brains off the new carpet, the recently hung wallpaper and the unpaid-for furniture.

“Because I’ve got a little bit of heart, you know,” he tells me. “I turn away when them kinda things happen. But it happens and there’s nothing you can do about it.”

Turn away? Somewhere is a little grieving girl called Shanella.

I feel like I want to leave but the lies fascinate me.

Then he lights a cigarette, blows out the smoke and stares at the floor and I know what he’s thinking. One day his name will come up and he’ll have to do one.

“Otherwise it’ll be me with a hole in my face.”

That’s the way it is. You can’t remain a foot-soldier for ever, you either have to move up into the inner ring or they make you take a fall and spend a long time in prison to protect one of the higher-ups. And if you refuse you get blown away and somebody else goes to jail.

This is his life for the last four years:

At 14 he leaves school, no certificates, nothing, not even an encouraging word.

His father is a junkie, f**king low-life, robs betting shops and liquor stores and goes down when Nico’s 12.

He never sees the “lovely life – nine to five, kids, settle down” –- only the grime. “Yeah man that’s what we call this life, the grime, and this is all there is. I’m on the run, lived in fifteen places just like this in as many months.”

“This is it: Slumberdop.”

Slumberdrop. It’s like a bunker in a battle zone. There is a bed, a busted suitcase full of clothes, rubbish on the floor, a small black and white television, the remains of a pizza. No carpet on the floor and no furniture except a broken up old foam rubber sofa with no upholstery.

Slumberdrop. This is where they do everything, count the money, sell the drugs, stash the guns, carry out enforced conversions.

Slumberdrop. They’re an affiliation of gangs, known collectively as the Muslim Boys, beginning to fan out beyond London now. They hold up banks and post offices, deal in guns and tax drug dealers.

Slumberdrop. Things used to be different. You could hook up with a crew and get out any time you liked. Now that’s all over. It’s a cult thing, it’s for life, that’s what it’s all about. It’s their way to keep a hold of you. You can’t just come in and leave the next day like you could before.

“Now you either get wasted or step up to the hard core — if they want you.”

There is one other way. He knows about a couple of the guys who’ve done it like this:

“You do a certain amount of murders. You know, sensitive deals, things no-one else wants to do. Then you can get out on the last one and you got respect. Maybe they set you up with something nice, like a little club or something, or a cab stand. Then they leave you alone, you’re home free.”

But you have to do the first one, let them know you’re up for it, that you’ll do anything, kill anyone: women, kids, whatever. Whoever they need to blow away for whatever reason.


A literary hit-man

I used to write scripts for Tommy (Fatboy) Devine. Tommy Devine is ugly. You want to know how ugly he is? I’ll tell you.

When he’s born (series one, episode two) the midwife, a twenty-eight year old gay word puzzle enthusiast from Ohio, threatens to assassinate his mother. When he sees the kid he just falls apart; it’s like he takes it personally, you know? Like little Tommy has rained on his parade and it’s the mother’s fault.

“How could you do this?” he pleads. “I mean, how?” He tosses his face mask and surgical gloves to the floor with a theatrical flourish. “I mean, at some point during the last nine months… well, you must have had some idea. Surely you couldn’t have carried that around and not known, suspected even…? Couldn’t you have done the decent thing?”

The mother, a giant hover-fly, passes out. Her wings collapse, creating a huge draught, which blows the anaesthetist off his feet and scatters instruments, swabs, wipes, anything that isn’t tied down, all over the room.

“Ho hum,” sighs the midwife. “You chase a horse and you catch a dog. Story of my life.”

Tommy plays all the parts, it’s Fatboy world: every character in every show looks like some version of Tommy.

That first script earns Jonny Hilltown — a.k.a. my good self — a personal assistant called Dragona Hartley. Dragona believes in absolutes and, like Tommy, she likes to generalize.

Did you know that gangsters use the word “f**k” more than any other, with the possible exceptions of “money” and “no”? That gangsters in the main don’t have what you might call a good command of the English language (the same can be said of comedians)?

“You know why?” asks Fatboy. “I’ll tell you why,” breathing cigar smoke and garlic all over my new wool suit. “It’s because they’re all spiritual Italians and Greeks. Ok, some of them really are Italians and Greeks. But the ones that ain’t, actually are, in that spiritual sense. You get me? It’s that cultural thing about body language that the spiritual Italians and the spiritual Greeks share with the Italians from Italy and the Greeks from Greece: the hand gestures and stuff. It’s the same with accountants: spiritually they’re all Jewish.”

Then his eyes narrow, his head tilts to one side and he looks me square in the face:

“You want to know something about writers? I’ll tell you about writers. All writers drink in the afternoon. Did you know that? All writers are spiritual drunks – even the ones that don’t drink.”

Waiting too long for somebody in a crap bar is an absolute pain in the arse. I’ve been doing it all my life.

“I don’t believe in absolutes,” she says. She has the makings of a movie hitman’s mustache. I decide to call her Mustache Petronella, but not to her face.

“Don’t killers believe in absolutes?” I ask.

“You think death is an absolute?” She flicks her cigarette so the ash just misses the ashtray. I can’t help thinking this is a deliberate act.

“If the act of causing it is a deliberate move, with intent, with extreme prejudice, then I think it is, absolutely,” I tell her. Then I go to the washroom, where an accomplice has previously hidden an unregistered lap-top behind a cistern.

I come out typing.

But she is gone; in her place sits Nico, with the lithe body and the smooth-skin-high-cheek-boned-oriental look. He’s a static boy from the other side of Snake River who loves his knives and his brothers. He talks lingwo, spits out words and phrases like bursts from a MAC10.

I get straight to the point: “What about the kid?”

“Yeah, always knew him. We grew up knowing each other. Went to school together. All that thing.” His eyes never meet mine while he talks; only in the pauses.

“Then why did he die?”

“Because his name come up! It’s easy to get blowed. Word is he got mixed up in this Muslim Boy thing, did something that doubled back on his people. Maybe it was meant, maybe it wasn’t, maybe didn’t even know what he done. I don’t know. Anyway it doesn’t matter, it’s happened… he’s gone and that’s it and there’s nothing anybody can do about it. They killed him, shot him in his mouth and throat. Tomorrow it could be me or you.”

I don’t write scripts for Tommy Devine any more.

“In all-too-real worlds beyond our reach, everything tends toward permanency. Whatever the discussion may be, whatever issues may seem to be gripping Washington or the nation, whatever you’re watching on TV or reading in the papers, elsewhere the continual constructing, enlarging, expanding, entrenching of a new global system of imprisonment, which bears no relation to any system of imprisonment Americans have previously imagined, continues non-stop, unchecked and unbalanced by Congress or the courts, unaffected by the Republic, but very distinctly under the flag ‘for which it stands.'”

In August the Imperialist Bush neo-con administration and its associated “big 5” media corporations proudly proclaimed that Abu Ghraib prison had been emptied of detainees and was to be turned over to the “Iraqi government”.

Well, it’s one thing to close a prison but quite another to release its inmates. So, what happened to them?

Have you heard of Camp Bucca? What about Camp Cropper?

Perhaps you have heard of the latter: it started off as a “temporary facility”, a “bunch of tents” appended to the US base adjoining Baghdad International Airport (which, incidentally is now one of the many “enduring camps” that have, since 2004, become fair-sized American towns, complete with Pizza Huts, Burger Kings and mini-golf courses) and is now a 60 million dollar state of the art prison.

The emptying of Abu Ghraib may have made big news; the filling of Camp Cropper, however, didn’t get a mention.

So, what about the other one, Camp Bucca? You can’t read about that anywhere, says Tom Engelhardt and, what is more:

“While arguments spin endlessly here at home about the nature of withdrawal ‘timetables,’ and who’s cutting and running from what, and how many troops we will or won’t have in-country in 2007, 2008, or 2009, on the ground a process continues that makes a mockery of the debate in Washington and in the country. While the ‘reconstruction’ of Iraq has come to look ever more like the deconstruction of Iraq, the construction of an ever more permanent-looking American landscape in that country has proceeded apace and with reasonable efficiency.”

Currently the Bush administration, in the name of the American people and financed by their tax dollars — and, due to the complicity of our “leaders”, in the name of the people and courtesy of the tax Sterling of the UK — is holding 14000 prisoners in Iraq; possibly more that 500 in Afghanistan; and nearly 500 in Guantanamo. Most of these individuals are beyond the jurisdiction of any system of justice.

And if all of the camps that we know about are shut down none of those prisoners is going anywhere closer to justice soon, because a globally outsourced penal system has been created to absorb them.

If you don’t take the time to read Tom Engelhardt’s article you deserve what may be coming.

In response to that statement some may say that knowing the facts doesn’t eradicate the problem. I reply in this fashion:

To win a war you must first know your enemies.

Click here to take that essential first step on the road to victory.

“A very rude remark”

The Bush War Party apparently picked up a few tips from watching Mafia movies: it seems that Pakistan was strong-armed into co-operating with America’s war on Afghanistan, according to today’s Telegraph.

“President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan said that after the September 11 attacks the US threatened to bomb his country if it did not co-operate with America’s war against the Taliban in Afghanistan.”

“Be prepared to be bombed. Be prepared to go back to the Stone Age”, was the gist of the ultimatum, allegedly delivered to Pakistan’s President Perves Musharraf by deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage.

It proved to be an offer Musharraf couldn’t refuse; shortly afterwards US fighter jets were using Pakistani airspace in their offensive against the Afghan militia, who were allegedly protecting Bin Laden and al-Qaeda.

Perhaps tomorrow the Telegraph will tell us something we didn’t know.

Yeah, right.

“There is a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part, and you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop. And you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it, that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!”

They want your soul

The Middle-East wars were planned before 9/11 by the Project for the New American Century.

Many things have changed since 9/11. For example, your constitution has been dismantled (we in the UK have never had one) and democracy has been destroyed. There is no freedom of the media; all outlets are now controlled by 5 mega corporations (and that includes our entertainment).

We are now free to do as they tell us.

Why? Because we have refused and continue to refuse to see the simple truth — they want our souls.

So go back to bed, America, “Big Government” is in control. The two parties have merged into one system, have become a neo-con hybrid.

But what are they trying to conserve?


The other day I’m having a drink with a friend and she starts on about the Pope thing and I tell her: “Yeah, I read the speech but I didn’t write anything about it.”

Actually, I read it very closely with a view to doing just that but, as an atheist, concluded that there was really nothing to write about, except to say: listen guys, don’t worry about it, because, you know, THERE’S NOBODY THERE!

Of course, they’re not going to fall for that one, are they — scientists and modern philosophers have been telling them the same thing without avail since the Enlightenment.

Fact is, they want to believe it, don’t they? And that’s fine: I have no problem with other people’s beliefs, even though, in my opinion, religion — any religion — is the ultimate sting. I think: let them be stung.

So look, I have to tell my friend to forget about the Pope thing. To my Muslim friends (I have many and they know and respect my views, which is more than I can say for the few Christians I count as friends) I say, if the Pope’s speech upset you, forget it, take strength from your faith, ask yourself: can words, or cartoons for that matter, harm the Prophet? 

Outside of friendship, as a secularist, what I say is that everything, faiths and deities included, is, in a secular society (which accurately describes the society I live in, although sometimes it seems that I’m the only one in it) open to discussion and sometimes criticism. And if that strikes you as simplistic and dismissive then you’ve got my view on the subject nailed to the cross (sorry, couldn’t resist that one).

Because the whole “faith” thing, although it doesn’t hold scientific water, is in a very real and dangerous sense water-tight: If you’re a secularist and you’ve ever tried arguing the non-existence of a supernatural God with a Christian or a Muslim or a Jew you’ll know exactly what I mean. You can’t do it, can you? Because faith precludes reason: “well, look, you can say what you like but I know God exists because I believe he does”.

What the Pope said about Islam was that it is incompatible with reason, because some medieval Christian bigot said it was a faith of violence. The pot calls the kettle black and, while they’re arguing about it, the water goes cold.
The main agenda of the speech, however, wasn’t about about Islam versus Christianity. It was about the war — and by that I mean the very real conflict — between faith and reason, between religion and secular humanism.

I’m over it.

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