All The King’s Horses … And All The King’s Men

December 23, 2015

Watchers of the Middle East and North Africa would have seen two interesting news items. The first was the agreement between the two rival parliaments in Libya on a power sharing arrangement and the second was the US and Russian sponsored UN Security Council Resolution which proposed a roadmap for peace in Syria. We all hope that in these two countries, there will be great progress towards peace in the next year. However, I can’t help wondering how we got here in the first place, in Syria, Libya and many other countries.

 

I know that there was, in most cases, a certain degree of authoritarianism, even oppression. However, I believe that the situation was exacerbated by the interference of outside factors, and that in most cases, these outside powers were not as interested in the ultimate success, or even peaceful resolution of the situations they instigated. The other day, it occurred to me that the Taliban only ruled Afghanistan for about 5 years. During that time, there was undoubted oppression of women, and even muslims who did not hold to their fundamentalist position. However, with the news of fighting between the Taliban and Afghan government forces in Helmand province, the evidence is that they are still causing death and destruction, 14 years after they were deposed in 2001. In Iraq, Saddam Hussein was removed in 2003. I’m sure he executed several people, but if you remove the wars with Iran and Kuwait, which would have resulted in the deaths of soldiers, then I’m forced to ask the question, haven’t there been more deaths since he left power? And these have been caused by Iraqis killing Iraqis. Ok, I know that he used chemical weapons against innocent civilians, so perhaps things don’t run in two dimensional lines. Still, I’m not sure the number of civilians killed in those attacks comes close to those who have died in the past 12 years.

 

I don’t wish to underplay the real fears that people in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and other countries lived in. However, it does say in the Bible “For to him that is joined to all the living there is hope: for a living dog is better than a dead lion …” (Ecclesiastes chapter 9 v4, KJV). I hope nobody ever has to ask me which I’d prefer, to live in constant and deep fear or get killed as an innocent bystander in a roadside bombing incident.

 

The novel that’s currently on my bedside table )if a Braille book with six volumes, each the size of an encyclopaedia can fit on a bedside table) is David Baldacci’s novel, “The Whole Truth”. Its thesis is very troubling, that those who are determined to do so at any cost can cause or manipulate facts, events and circumstances to create a ‘truth’ in the minds of everyone else. I can’t say how original this is; certainly I’ve read of how we can use words to direct the thoughts of others to our perspective. The most famous example is “one man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter”. But this book goes much further than mere propaganda; events are fabricated, opponents killed and ‘leaks’ are created, while the propagators watch with satisfaction as the world gets ever closer to all-out war.

 

I can’t tell you how it ends, I’m still somewhere in the middle. Thankfully, it’s a work of fiction, which is probably why I’m still alive to write this blog right now. However, it made me think of how US officials claimed in the Security Council that Iraq was really close to developing a nuclear weapon and had large stocks of other weapons of mass destruction. As I was researching the subject at that time, I was really confused. Because all my readings had indicated that the International Atomic Energy Agency had signed Iraq off as not possessing any ability to produce a nuclear weapon. The UN agency responsible for inspecting the other weapons of mass destruction was also satisfied that it had carried out comprehensive work and was moving from inspection to monitoring, to ensure that Iraq would no longer be able to produce any chemical or biological weapons. So, where did the US get its facts? And what happened, when, after Saddam was deposed, it was discovered that all these ‘facts’ were not true? Nobody thought of apologising to the already executed dictator for getting him off his seat of power through deception.

 

Actually, the bigger question is, who cared? The US soon began to worry about the cost of maintaining high troop numbers in Iraq and Afghanistan and started to make plans for withdrawal. Those very much concerned with ensuring that Humpty Dumpty had a great fall now realised that it was impossible to put it back together again.

 

I’m still looking for evidence that regime change instigated by foreign military action can lead to peace. Despite all the calls for Western powers to remove the Assad regime, it still survives in Syria because of Russian and Iranian backing. However, if it were to fall, there’s no reason to believe that there would be peace in Syria; it didn’t happen in Iraq, Libya or Afghanistan, so why should Syria be different. Eventually, the Syrians would be left to fight each other because the powers that brought the downfall of the hated regime will have had enough; it would have become too expensive and their own soldiers would be dying.

 

Nor would the threat of IS go away so easily. In fact, the evidence is that it would probably prosper as it is doing in Iraq and Libya, if there is no force powerful enough to oppose it, operating within the country and with the commitment borne of having to defend your own land and means of livelihood.

 

IS and Al Qa-Eda do not operate within the rules of state conduct. They’re not in the UN, they’re not bound to behave themselves by the threats of sanctions or anything else short of war, that the international community can throw at them. The only people who can stop them are those with a real reason to. See for example how hard Assad is clinging to power. He has support and he can, if given the means, defeat IS in Syria. We may not like him, but do we prefer IS? Or would we rather have many more dead lions than a few living dogs, while we struggle to put Syria back together in our own image? Do we hate Assad so much that we are prepared to risk the consequences of removing him? Or can we look at the longterm effects and find a way to ‘contain’ him while achieving the more important objective of defeating IS? It’s too late to ask the question “what were we doing there in the first place? So we’d better just make the best of the situation.

 

The whole truth about Syria cannot be encapsulated in the simple maxim “Assad is bad, so he must go”. And if it can, then my advice to all future dictators, look for a backer who can keep humpty dumpty from falling. The evidence is that all powerful dictators destroy the opposition and so when they leave, there’s a power vacuum that can’t be filled because there’s nobody strong enough to take charge. As we can see, the greatest probability is disintegration and when that happens, all the king’s horses and all the king’s men cannot put humpty dumpty together again. It’s been happening as far back as Alexander the great. If there’s no succession planning, there’s no successful end to a powerful regime.

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The Anatomy of an Unsolved Crime

December 16, 2015

I was standing at the top of the stairs, leaning against the stair rail when I heard it. It was breaking glass … it went on and on, perhaps for a minute or two … it sounded like breaking glass falling on marble. I now had two choices. I could go back to the bed where my phones lay, or come downstairs and confront the intruder. To pick my phone, I would have to be real quiet getting to it and calling 999. In my small house, I’d certainly be heard. But to confront the intruder? Surely that was suicide if I had no weapon and no sight. I was still pondering these when I woke up.

 

In truth, there were many differences between the dream and the events of a few days before. I was lying in bed, lazily drifting off to sleep. It was after midnight, so it would have been Saturday morning, 17 January 2015. I heard a ‘woooosh’ sound, as though something had dropped from some height onto my living room floor. My bedroom is above my living room. I was too sleepy to get up to investigate and to my mind, it couldn’t be anything major anyway. I’d completely forgotten the incident when I woke up in the morning, but when I went downstairs, there was something crunchy underfoot. It didn’t take long to establish it was glass, but where had it come from. And then I saw a stone at the foot of my settee. And why, when the central heating had kicked in, was the living room so cold?

 

This was obviously beyond me, so I made two calls. One was to a Nigerian couple who lived two doors away, Michael and Gbemi; the other was to Brian. Brian is my go-to person for anything from reading mail to fixing my printer. If he can’t find an immediate answer, he’ll always think of an alternative while working out the solution. But he’s more than that, he’s a rock, a solid friend. If you don’t believe me, just ask anyone in church. He was round, in as long as it would take to sprint from his house. My neighbours were here too. I can still hear Gbemi’s voice as she approached the house. I knew there was trouble because she was just going “oh no! Oh no!”

 

It was only after my initial observers had described the scene and explained which window had been damaged that I called the police; they said they’d show up about lunchtime.   I knew from all the crime stories I’d read and watched that I shouldn’t disturb the scene of the crime. This worried Brian who wondered how I’d survive till the police came; I simply retired upstairs to wait..

 

I had called the police before and thought I knew what would happen. They usually came in pairs, but to my shock, only one gentleman visited me this time. He said there was no need for a scene of crimes investigation because the stone that hit my window was thrown with such force that it had broken in two. According to him, as it was a stone, they couldn’t get any fingerprint or other evidence. anyway.

 

Now, you probably don’t know this and I shouldn’t be saying it loud; but when I don’t like what I’m hearing, I argue and fight back. This time, I was so desperate that I even played the blind man card. I told him that in my view, this had to have some foreknowledge, as most people here actually know where I live. On several occasions, I’d be walking and someone would stop me, perhaps asking if he could help me cross the road or something. Then he’d say “I know you, you’re the one who lives …”. And he’d be right! I’m recognizable as one of only two black visually impaired people in this town. I told him that in my view, this could be either a hate crime or a crime against a vulnerable person.

 

I fought hard because all the time, there was a picture in my mind. Just three days earlier, on Wednesday 14th, I’d had a really long day. I’d gone to London on a very early train and had returned just in time to head for church and worship group. When I finally got home, at just before 10 PM, I was so tired that I just sat on the settee till I woke up at about 1 O’clock. What if that had been the night he’d struck? The sound would have been much clearer then, I’d have been directly facing that window. The stone might even have struck me on its way down to rest on the carpet. And if the guy had realised he’d startled me awake, his reaction would have been either fight or flight. and if as I suspected, he knew I couldn’t see him, would he have fled? Or fought? And if he had other stones with him?

 

But my policeman wasn’t budging on this one. He made only one concession, that he would ask for increased patrols around my house and that when doing their rounds, some police people would call on me to reassure me. I did get a crime report number, but I’m afraid that was the last time I saw any police man or woman. I cannot confirm that patrols were increased because nobody came to reassure me on the point.

 

So now I know, if a stone is thrown through my window, no need to keep away from the scene of crime, as the police can do nothing to trace the criminal. I could go about my life, which I did by calling my friends to help me clean up. Two sisters, Ola and Yinka, came from the other side of town and joined Michael and Gbemi. When she’s not cleaning vandalised houses, Yinka is a network administrator. She agreed with my brother who moonlights as my long distance security adviser, that I need some surveillance equipment, cameras, CCTVs, etc. She was so disgusted that she took photos before the clean up began.

 

Later on, Ola’s husband, Ayo came around to board up the window as a temporary measure. He showed me the torn curtain, and suggested that the guy with the stone might alsohave wanted to get into the house. Apparently, he’d tried to use the curtain to hold the window, near the break, to see if he could get to the latch and open it. And I didn’t think there was anything to worry about when I heard the sound?

 

I have moved on since that day. So many personal triumphs and some difficulties. I thank God for so much in 2015. The rest of the world has moved on too. Other crimes have been committed, even our church was broken into. And there have been floods, wars, terrorism; yesterday, as my sister celebrated her birthday, three people were climbing onto a rocket and heading for the international space station. In the light of all this, the incident was just another unsolved crime; after all, nobody got physically hurt and nothing was taken. The house was cleaned free of charge, it was probably tidier than the night before. All it cost was fixing the glass that was broken.

 

Even though I’ve moved on too (I haven’t had that dream since) I remember the day because tomorrow, it would be exactly 11 months since I woke up to crunching glass on my carpet floor. As I’ve already written here, the police seem to have forgotten the incident; but that’s because it didn’t personally affect them, they don’t see it from my perspective. You see, I know just how vulnerable I am. Most people say how wonderful it is that I’m always on the move; London today, Manchester tomorrow, the States, Nigeria, everywhere. But nobody knows of the times when people have walked up to me and shouted right in front of me to see if I’d flinch. About 20 years ago, some children were throwing stones at me; when I didn’t respond, one got so angry that he (or she, let’s not be sexist here) picked up several stones and flung them at me. In one sense, you could say this was just the sinister end of bullying the vulnerable. But it could be worse than that; it could have developed into a real attempt to exploit the vulnerable for advantage. I know there are limited resources, but I was still left asking myself exactly what would make the police take my case seriously.

 

Again, I must point out that this is really about me, just one person among 6 billion. So maybe I should say I learned something really wonderful. I learned about people caring for one another, naturally and without fuss. While taking the photos, Yinka was evidently upset, but we were laughing through it. Ola saw this as an excellent opportunity to upbraid me for my untidiness and introduce some form of order into my living room. On the next Tuesday morning, I was in church for GUGU (grown ups and growing ups).   I sometimes play nursery rhymes when I’m in town. Several of the parents had walked past my house, further confirmation that many know where I live. All were concerned to see that I was fine. In the end, for just one person out of 6 billion, how much does it matter what the police do or do not, when there are people who love and care so much? Thank you all, thank God for you.