Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Careless Talk

We, like all living things, love to communicate. Indeed, we must, in order to survive.

But humans are the only creatures that communicate through verbal language. (Forget the birds). Ours is a skill that we have fashioned over countless generations into a fine instrument that is not just merely useful between ourselves but is also vitally important in the way we came to shape the entire world.

       It is not yet known with certainty where and how language originated, but some investigators think that the ability to speak arose as a single event in a location in sub-Saharan Africa something like 70,000 to 100,000 years ago. 
From that beginning, language is believed to have travelled along the paths that humans took as they followed the impulse to migrate to and populate destinations all around the world. In that journey of exploration and adventure, language underwent successive mutations into ever more varied versions of the original, embedded within the myriad cultures that emerged along the way.  The linguistic steps in these variations are marked by specific sounds that echo in many of today’s 6000 or so languages. These marker sounds provide the tools that researchers are using to trace the evolutionary stages of language from its inception to our present-day polyglot multiplicity, which allows us to convey ideas, concepts, feelings and emotions.

       Ideas, concepts, feelings and emotions are the currency for transacting with each other. Words are the fabric. We need them to give substance to human intercourse at every level. This is the reason why it is important to treat language with respect. Careless use causes problems. “Careless Talk Cost Lives” was a popular slogan that government propagandists used during WWII to caution their fellow citizens against loose talk that could have jeopardized the security of the country and endanger battlefront lives as well as those on the home front. It is well to remember too, that the state of war that led to that propaganda poster (one among many others) came about because of talk, virulent talk, that had whipped up a nation of 70 million to promote and tolerate atrocities, not just during the war itself, but also in the peace that preceded it. That war too, was the embodiment of personal ambition that was fuelled by propaganda.

       Strictures against loose and dangerous talk are as relevant today as they were eighty years ago now that the world finds itself, again, at a worrying juncture, where words are being deployed as detonator to spark passions that we thought we had buried, or at least, consigned to the subconscious. In these times the sanctity of truth does not seem to matter. On the contrary, it is the time when it must matter most.

       Those who want to dominate the world and create their own perverse version of it, launch their campaign by a direct assault on the very idea of truth, the concepts that rational, thinking people, like you and me, know to be true. These people are assertive. They are also shameless, and they are confident. So confident that they openly declare untrue, things that we know are true, and lies that they know are lies, as facts; and declare facts that they, themselves know are facts, “fake”. Reputable news outlets and agencies are constantly and openly trashed and labelled, together with their journalists, as “enemies of the people”, just because they tell truths that some may not like.

       This kind of behaviour has consequences. But, nevertheless, it goes on almost everywhere. Some follow the lead of the country that is regarded, mostly by themselves, as the citadel of civil liberties, but where the leader says facts and reality are what you make of them. Some of his listeners who lack critical thinking may even be moved to do extreme things, such as mailing pipe bombs to individuals named as “enemies of the people”, or gunning down worshippers in a synagogue on a Saturday morning.

       What goes on in America does not stay in America. Frequently, American projects become benchmarks that some follow almost willy-nilly. Fair enough, we have to take the bad with the good. But often, much of the bad supersedes the good and some leaders take the chance to bamboozle their population, at least temporarily, into accepting that what they do is exactly what the Americans do and want them to do. But in reality, it is just a cover to oppress, in the hope that people are too stupid to recognize what is being done to them. Of course, not all the people are stupid all the time.

       And indeed, in such countries, as elsewhere, there are journalists who refuse to toe the line but insist on practising their profession according to standards and whose words, consequently, put them up against the power structure, thereby exposing themselves to the risk of torture, murder, dismemberment and dispersal of their bodily remains to secret locations, orchestrated by an individual who enjoys the full patronage of the most powerful man on earth. One hundred billion dollars notwithstanding.

Tell Fren Tru

Monday, 15 October 2018

Missing In Istanbul

When I last wrote, it was about the international silence that followed the Saudi response to a tweet that came out of the Office of the Canadian Ministry of Foreign Affairs which condemned the restrictions placed on human rights in the kingdom. That response was so extreme that it apparently cowed into silence even Canada’s staunchest allies, especially those who claim to espouse virtues of human rights.  My assessment then was that that lack of response was a result of cowardice most likely induced by dread of potential loss of commercial ground in the arms trafficking business. In the case of America, arms trade with the kingdom is worth a colossal one hundred and ten billion. That was straight out of the mouth of the president himself. Britain, Canada’s other main ally is also a big trafficker in arms to Saudi Arabia to the extent that, since 2008, 15 billion dollars have accrued to that other kingdom.

         So, the two principal arms dealers to the Saudi kingdom bank profits that usually come from trading dodgy commodities, profits large enough to keep human rights credentials in suspended animation. The Slave Trade is probably the most notorious example of that route to national wealth. But that is another story.  It was no surprise, therefore, that neither Britain, nor the United States, found the bottle to call out their Saudi clients when Canada’s interests were on the line just a few weeks ago. Human rights did not matter. But the consequences of such dereliction can be predicted. The more you derelict, the more likely it is that perpetrators will be emboldened, and it was only a matter of time before the Saudis would attempt another and an even more shocking atrocity, as alleged.

         So now we see the image of Jamal Al Khashoggi entering the gates of the Saudi Arabian Consulate in Istanbul, played and replayed, and him not coming out afterwards, whilst his fiancĂ©e waits faithfully outside, a most tragic image, if ever there was one. What happened to Khashoggi in that Consulate compound? Speculation is rife. Was he killed there by a team of hitmen sent from Riyadh and, even more gruesome, was his body butchered like that much cattle carcass? The denials from Riyadh have been angry, claiming that the alleged hit team were just tourists (where have we heard that one before?). And, predictably, the response from Saudi Arabia’s arms suppliers have been muted. President Trump uttered the weasel words that there is no evidence yet of Saudi complicity but that if any emerged, he would have to consider “punishment”. But he reminds us that there is a great deal at stake amounting to the one hundred and ten billion dollars that was referred to earlier. Thousands of American jobs hinge on this deal and jeopardizing it could impede that grand ambition to make America great again. There is a delicious irony in the making as MAGA becomes a creature of Saudi largesse.

         The Brits are also now delicately pussyfooting around the issue and, seeking safety in numbers, have banded with the French and Germans to call on the Saudis to agree to an investigation, “if they have nothing to hide”.

         Policies are of course made by governments, among whom may be individuals with their own vested interests. Canada’s former ambassador to Saudi Arabia – the one who was expelled in the summer while he was on leave outside the kingdom, Dennis Horak- has now retired from the diplomatic service and, freed from civil service restraints, regrets that things have come to such a pass between the Saudi kingdom and Canada. Now that he is retired, he is bemoaning, on national TV, the tweet from his ministry that started the imbroglio of a few short weeks ago. He sees himself as collateral damage , in that no corporation would now consider him for a position on their board because his name is now toxic in Saudi business circles. Poor man. Cant blame him. None of us was prepared for that turn of events.

         We just have to wait and see.

Tell Fren Tru