Hidden Under the Things They Grasped

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They carried a plague on their fingers

when they went to seek gold and sell guns

took a ruler and pen to a map

birthed nations by caesarean

sliced human terrain in hot places where

their germs settled into the hot skin

and they returned thinking

their hands were clean

only the sores on their palms were

hidden under the things they grasped

They took back their queen and flag but

the disease was marrow-deep

fed by fictions of our happiness

ads for things they cannot possess

because they are working in the factories that make them

films with white heroes and brown villains

until some took the bait offered

by canapé waitresses at arms fairs

grinning bankers offering loans to pay for it all

and one surgically created side

was pitted against another

so the wound never heals

And the sickness we gave them never left us

the pockmarks on our diseased body

are hollows in the wet sand

along the outline of our nation on the map

And we decry their assault on our fortress

calling their desperation

greed

€1,500 to board a lethally overcrowded boat

invasion

the desire for a safe home and enough food

threat

And while the borders grow metal spikes

develop a rash of guard dogs

ossify into concrete walls

a man and his wife

hold hands each night

and try to leap onto a train

travelling fast underwater

until they reach the promised land

or die

Update: if you are London today (September 10th) head down to ExCel (Custom House or Prince Regent on the DLR) to join the Stop the Arms Fairs’s Conference at the Gates, aimed at disrupting as much as possible the world largest arms fair:

https://www.facebook.com/events/702315233214060/

On the Boot of Ukraine

The standoff is startling
pale-faced, clean-shaven
as patient as snow
on the boot of Ukraine

Meanwhile, bones grow in babies
floors dirty themselves
muttered grumbles repeat
between broomstick and brain

Men are ranged in steep banks
as though cliffs ploughing on
to raise slow-cresting mountains
against foreign terrain

But at home, the plates sit
crusted with rice and cheese
the washing needs taking in
safely out of the rain

Whispered terrors of war
thread through emails and towns
ignite testosterone
fan a wildfire chain

But the people still pee
move their bowels most days
dead leaves, soap and hair
still encumber good drains

That momentous decision
of conflict or peace
raises all of our stakes
queries what is humane

Yet food and clean water
still need to be sought
foraged, stolen or bought
hunted, fished, caught and slain

Ambulances are readied
tanks and great submarines
great causes flush hot
in the president’s vein

While his mistress is ironing
silk slips that he gave,
asks the housewife next-door
what works best on wine stains

Rallied shouts float above roof-
tops: “Fight for your rights!”
though the war’s still a theory,
immanent the campaign

Housewives beat their rugs
water aubergine plants
beetles creep inside bottles
herds of goats block the lane

The diplomats clinch it:
troops retire to barracks
blank and brotherless for bread
and soup to soften pride’s pain

Cotton sheets heave and snap
tangled children’s hair is brushed
trumpets polished, glasses too
doors opened and closed
cats, dogs, rabbits fed
compost bins evacuated
trees and roses are still pruned
bowls of oranges arranged
the Names of God mentioned as stars
set into violet dawns
planets drift the way they always do
deaf to all of mankind’s bluffs

while here on earth the grass grows green
and green it will remain

The Bloodless Button

Syria is being bled white.

The metaphor is painful:

red paints all our inner 

skins in just the same shade –

liquid ruby. In

the dripping out of all this worth

they are wan and weak

minds wandering fleet

tall strangers in navy suits

make bleak press conference

speeches saying We Can Help –

but look at this aid: it comes by way

of dropping bombs from 

bloodless planes, no ruby drink

to risk losing, deaf to the howls, 

dumb to reply to the question;

How did you think this would help?

And the whiteness that somehow survives

standing, walking in its nice navy suit

is watered by some other red

replaced the day he swore to represent

his voters – not as his fellow humans, only as

the holders of the pens that ticked the box

beside his name. And then

he’ll call on human values, courage,

compassion, heroism, moral codes

while his own moral code is lying

in a pool on holiday sipping champagne.

This bloodless lust for throwing in

another explosive device and calling it

compassion, better than standing back

and doing nothing, is the creaking of

machines in need of oil; there’s no soul 

in there to suffer for their lie, only 

the shine of brass buttons on navy suits

a team of hairdressers and make-up dusters

to ensure the message comes across,

that the machine passes for human.

Give me a man in tatters

alive and hurting

let me hear the things he says

unshepherded by press release

and gleaming teeth; let me

perceive the rotten pieces, scuffed shoes,

zits and second-hand coat –

I want to know he knows the end result

from bitter experience

before he tries to make me see

the need to push

that bloodless button.

No Jewels

I want no jewels
trembling in their earthy veils
beneath my feet, awaiting
cold metal hands
slicing at the life
enfolding them
iron teeth chattering
caterpillar tongues lickerish
vacant reservoirs expecting
their fill.

They bring on the night
suck stars out of the velvet
clink them between armoured claws
persuade, with their glittering amnesia,
that everything is
for the best.

I do not want to forget
the icicles of light they snapped
from high up in the cavernous night
and stole; I do not want to
break with this home of hemispheres.
There is wholeness still;
I feel the memory of it embedded
in shy, dirty robes, too bright to be seen
by naked eyes or lifeless screens.
They take that ore and
it is all over.

I want no part of this.

The Insanity of Blame

The life sentences of Farzana and Iftikar Ahmed for the murder of their daughter Shafilea, reported today on the BBC, because her ‘westernised ways’ (i.e. resistance to a forced marriage in Pakistan) were bringing shame on their family, has revealed to me once again how very insane the Muslim world can be sometimes.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-19068490

I say ‘Muslim’ rather than ‘Islamic’, because – and I’m sorry if it sounds obvious – just because a person is Muslim doesn’t make them a torch-bearer for the religion of their forefathers. The very first thing that the Prophet Muhammad (s.) did as a lawmaker was to forbid the killing of baby girls, which was a common practice at the time. How much difference is there between burying your baby daughter alive in the sand, and suffocating her to death with a plastic bag – in front of your four other children?

The prevailing attitude in Arabian society at the advent of Islam was what is known in Islamic history as the Jahiliya, generally translated as the Time of Ignorance. But there are always great subtleties in a root-system language such as Arabic; the word Jahiliyah has nuances of recklessness, foolishess, impetuousity and barbarism. It refers to a state of intense internecine warfare that would see 20,000 people slaughtered over the course of decades because someone from one tribe had killed a goat belonging to someone from another tribe.

Introducing values like compassion and mercy, forgiving rather than exacting blood money, even kissing one’s own children were not taken to kindly by many 8th century Meccans. A Bedouin man once saw Muhammad kiss one of his children fondly and seemed appalled by it. When Muhammad asked him what was the matter, he relied “I have ten children and I have never kissed any one of them”. Muhammad replied, “He who does not show mercy is not shown mercy.”

So the buttons that are pressed by a so-called ‘honour killing’ like that of Shafilea Ahmed reach deep into a Muslim’s conscience. “The best of you is he who is kindest to his family” is another of Muhammad’s most well-loved sayings. These events, like all acts of barbarity or terror, remind us that habit maketh not the man – or in our case, hijab and beard maketh not the pious Muslim. As Hayley Meachin of the British Association of Social Workers told The Huffington Post UK: “Shafilea Ahmed was killed because her parents were bullies and murderers.

But we are by no means the only people to count among their numbers vile, mentally unsound, vicious people. This Jahiliyah mentality is not only a subordination of the individual to the integrity of their tribe, but also at a very elemental level a brutal game of tit-for-tat. You make me suffer (because you aren’t living up to my expectations and people are thinking badly of me), therefore I will make you suffer too.

As my parents pointed out while we were watching the news footage, Marvin Gaye was shot dead by his Baptist minister father for supposedly promoting immorality, and the creator of the Bembo font (typography geeks will get it) struck his son-in-law over the head with a metal bar and was executed for his crime. The victims of the Columbine school shoot-out, or any of the American Psycho-type killings we’ve seen in recent years, were not even targeted for their supposed immorality, but just for being in the way of a video game played out with real-live ammunition.

In a subtler way, we all do a bit of this Jahiliyah business. In his incredibly insightful book Non-Violent Communication, Marshall Rosenberg describes emotional emancipation – i.e. being freed from the idea that other people are the cause of your feelings. This works both ways: if someone does something you perceive to be hurtful, you blame them (thus shackling you to a victim mentality). If someone does something you perceive to be pleasing, you warm to them (thus becoming dependent on their talent for feeding your insecurities).

In the former case, what tends to happen – even among highly intelligent, otherwise sane people – is that they act out their suffering on the one they believe to have caused it. You made me suffer, so I’ll make you suffer back. You kill my goat, so I’ll kill yours. It might seem that you are now even, but in fact you create a cycle of resentment and vindictiveness that may never end. Whole families can be embittered by this blaming-hurting dynamic.

As a parent, you can see this happening with small children very clearly. He stole my toy, so I bashed him over the head. Does this playground game ever end there? The Jahiliyah is alive and well, buried in the subconscious attitudes of every single flippin’ human being on the planet. The desire to get our own back is so intense that it can even cause a parent to kill their own child – then lie to police and press for nine years and play the innocent victims.

Do I even need to say it? This isn’t Islam; it’s insanity. And nobody is immune until they investigate the roots of their suffering instead of casting the first stone. As a wise Sufi teacher once told a man who came to him complaining about his wife, “Your wife’s not the problem: you’re the problem.”

For everyone’s sake, we need to be the change, not the problem.