Before they go in, the women have wan smiles. The men look embarrassed and helpless.
When they come out, the women are no longer smiling. The men look embarrassed and helpless. They drive their cars to the side of the clinic.
I have no regrets and I am not asking myself "what if?" I do not care what if. I have too many other "what if"s that are causing me pain.
The women in the back room are giggling. It is Friday, the weekend approaches. I can't remember when the weekend stopped meaning anything to me. Weekends are like weekdays with less work. I don't know whether I like them. The women are nice. I think nice is a coat you wear when you cannot be good.
I am good but if I'm nice, you might feel I'm faking it. Maybe I am. Does it count if you just don't think about it, if you play it as though it was your nature? Does it become your nature if you play the role often enough?
It costs three hundred dollars to terminate a pregnancy. I don't know what you do if you are poor.
Shot by both sides
Apparently, what we have is a struggle against violent extremists.
With no sense of irony.
Practically all the men involved on our side are fundamentalist neoliberal capitalists, who believe the market is the solution to all ills. Where the market doesn't provide, bombs do the trick.
Give an unintelligent man a simplistic answer to a problem, and he'll be more than willing to sacrifice your life to it.
There are two leopard trees set in the pavement in front of our house. They are unusually broad for Queensland trees, with a lush canopy that houses countless birds -- mostly honeyeaters, I think, but when they flower, parrots and lorrikeets visit. They hide the lounge from view and shade the house, so it is not as fiery in the summer as I remember its being a few years back.
When I walk across the lawn, the thick broad leaves of the grass are uncomfortable under my feet. It has struck me often that the settlers did not bring fine-bladed grass with them. The soft lawns of English front yards are not to be seen here. Perhaps our grass would struggle to survive in this climate. Here, the grass can be brown, flat, dead as a doornail in one season and rebound to astonishing lushness in the next. However, you can't help noting that it takes a long time to establish itself when there is a bare patch. This is the Australian story: what is there grows but when you plant new, it rarely does. The land is not good. When we first came, we thought it was, thanks to its lushness, but that had taken centuries, millennia to establish itself. We have made a dry land drier, salinated it, made much of it unusable. Now the dreams of an Australia of fifty million -- a power in the world -- that some on the right harboured have foundered on a lack of water.
This is a large room but sometimes I feel it is as small as the monk's cell. It is my prison. I have tried to feel at home but something has hollowed me out, emptied me of feeling, and left me brown and sere like everything else in this sunburnt country.
I cannot change anything. I mean, I feel I cannot. Of course I could. Sometimes I glimpse a life I could lead, as though I was seeing it through the leaves of the leopard tree. But events conspire.
A numb person cannot do anything for the people who know them. I cannot discuss it or explain it because the words seem flat and unreal.
I wish sometimes that those who claim to love me would feel it was worth pouring on water instead of demanding that I should just be green. But perhaps it is the lot of men of my age that they are not nurtured, that no one feels they need it, want it or would benefit from it. Perhaps people only see what you can be for them, and not what they might be for you. Or perhaps I don't see it.
I am not pretending to have answers.
I begin to feel liberated when I drive the Smegma. I am taking a big risk, because I do not have a licence, although I'm perfectly safe when I drive. I have always hated cars -- symbols of the death of our world, in themselves sources of immense danger that we barely recognise -- but I am changing my mind as I begin to taste what being mobile will mean to me. It is a vagary of the system here that you must hold your learner's licence for six months before you can be tested, so I cannot be licensed until October, but when I am, I will no longer have to rely on others to cart me around. In England, this is practically of no account. Here, it is almost life itself.
I will walk the hills of Brisbane, the scent of eucalypts carrying me. I cannot be a flaneur here but I can be a walker.
I cannot be a flaneur because the crowd does not thrill me. They do not inspire me. Perhaps I should stay away from shopping centres. I come out of them profoundly depressed. Bosch would have only needed a camera had he lived in Carindale. I could forgive the clothes if they were adorning less ugly people, and I could forgive the ugliness if it housed people who were gracious or good-humoured. I confuse them with my English courtesy, as I allow them to barge past me through doors, or apologise for their stepping on my feet.
If you ever doubted that materialism is a stain on the human soul, you need only visit Garden City shopping centre on a Saturday afternoon, and watch the lumpenproletariat of Mt Gravatt drift aimlessly from shop to shop. I advise only those of the strongest constitution to venture into the food courts, where the herd lows and chews the McCud.
I fear most that I am becoming one of them. The number I become, the more I resemble the neutered lumps that pass as men trailing in their wives' wakes, their slack faces parodies of the lively maps of the heart that we can carry when we feel.
For a long time, I have looked outwards through the interwebnet in one way or another to try to fill the void. I meet interesting people, who form pictures of me that I shatter sooner or later, leaving them with fragments of a person that, generally, they discard. I don't mind that so much (although sometimes a person, albeit a virtual shadow of a real being somewhere out there, can creep beneath your radar and when they cut you, the blood is all too real). It can be exhausting enough being what other people want in meatspace, without needing to keep up a role in the virtual world. Sometimes, I feel I would be better off if I switched the PC off and never turned it back on again. It offers tantalising glimpses of other worlds -- the
world -- but that simply increases dissatisfaction with the world you have to live in.
I do sometimes picture myself under the spreading tree, laughing and content. But when I look more closely at the picture, my vision swims, and what at first I took to be me turns out to be someone else, a face I don't recognise, a man I'll never be.
Murder in Stockwell
If you were in a foreign country and an armed man shouted at you to stop, would you stop? Or run?
How many people act suspiciously on the average tube train? How do you decide whether they are suspicious enough to merit execution
There are other questions. Why did the police not apprehend Menezes in the street, with no one else around? Were only their lives at risk, would they still have felt justified in shooting him dead? What evidence led them to believe Menezes was a suicide bomber? He is supposed to have come from a house they were watching but why were they watching it? What intelligence can they have had, given that Menezes was not only not a suicide bomber, but not even a Muslim? Just a fairly dark-skinned man, who was wearing, they say, a thick jacket (although reports are now suggesting he was wearing a fleece -- is it so extraordinary that a man from a hot country should not feel that a London July morning is particularly warm?).
Why was he killed if he was pinned down
Most importantly, if the police have decided that you are a suicide bomber, regardless that they have no evidence that you are carrying a bomb, regardless that your only crime is to have a darker skin than they do, given that they are then authorised to shoot you dead without any other say-so than their own decision that you are a threat, where is your court of appeal?
Mrs Z is having a termination. The morning after pill did not work. We do not want another child. I would be lying if I said that I felt sanguine about it. It is a head and a heart thing: what I know and what I feel.
that there is no child, that there is a growth in Mrs Z's uterus that would, unchecked, become a child. But I also know that I first saw my beloved twins in a scan at six weeks. I know that I began to love them -- the idea of them at least -- at that point.
I am trying not to think about it. I am trying to cage in with rationality any thoughts that try to escape. I am opting for numbness. I would rather we did the thing and then if I must feel anything, I will feel it then.
I could not offer it a life. I would always know I had not wanted it. And yet... My youngest sister, J, was the outcome of a broken rubber (or a drunk who could not control himself, depending on who you talk to). We all know that because my parents are not discreet. There was no emergency contraception in my mother's day. She was happy enough to have a third child not to consider a termination, even had she accepted that as a possibility, which she did not. My parents have always loved J just the same as they do me and S, my other sister. None of us can imagine life without J, nor would we want to. I am thankful that she lives. I will never have a day on which I am not thankful for her life.
Mrs Z has no doubt. She made up her mind as soon as she knew she was pregnant. She asked what I thought and I told her; but I did not expect to decide or want to. (Not out of cowardice but because I firmly believe women should make their own choices about their own bodies; if Mrs Z had decided she wanted the baby, I would be writing a post about coming to terms with having another child, and I would support it without demur.) But Mrs Z is in this thing practical. She does not believe in sacrificing her life to an idea. She is already giving so much of it to her children.
It is a truism that the principles we allow to guide our politics, our morality and the way we think about things are easier to hold when we are not confronted with the need of their application; in other words, it's a lot easier to pontificate about how others should act than do it ourselves. Our choices are harder than we pretend others' are. I do not feel like Mrs Z is simply having a minor operation. Although I know it is true, I cannot make myself entirely believe it. I don't believe a father can look at his children, laughing in their high chair, clapping with delight at teatime, milking a cow, and not feel a twinge at consigning the smudge on the screen, albeit only a being in potentia, to oblivion.
Blair has a plan. He will use the force of reason to combat Islamism.
I have no doubt that Blair is well meaning enough, and in his weaker moments feels that if we could all just be nice, we would all get along and happiness and security would prevail. But we are not all nice, and it's not unreasonable to think so.
Okay, I do have doubts. I can't believe Blair is stupid. He shows every sign of at least low cunning, if not great intelligence. He must have read about the ideology of Islamists, what they believe and why they believe it.
Point one that he must know is that they are literalists (what is often called "fundamentalist" but a distinction ought to be drawn between "literalism", which would be the belief that a scripture is literally the true word of your god, and "fundamentalism", which would be the belief that religion must be returned to its basics, which are generally the aforesaid scripture). Islamists are fundamentalists, of course, but what matters in this context is their literalism.
Is it unreasonable to draw the conclusions that Islamists draw from a literal reading of the Qur'an? No, it is not. The Qur'an sets out a (basically) humanist description of what to the Bedouin eye would look like a utopia. I am not suggesting that it's my idea of one: I am a Western liberal and I have different ideas about women from Mohammed's. Even so, his ideas on women were reasonably liberal in his day. Most of the oppression that women face in the Muslim world is the outcome of practices that predate Islam. I don't excuse it by saying that, but merely note that the Qur'an is not wholly to blame.
Point two is that he must be aware that the Qur'an does not suggest that elections are a good way to choose leaders. Is that unreasonable? Not really. Elections are a very poor way to choose people to lead. The leaders so elected are not accountable in the way a leader is in the Muslim world. His authority is personal, not vested in his office (I am speaking generally of the ideal, not of the practice, because of course, Islamic countries do have presidents and the like). He has authority in the Roman sense. He is listened to because of the wisdom of what he says, not who he is.
Point three is that many Muslims look back on the Caliphate as a golden age. Urban Muslims felt that they were part of a greater polis, a broad community that they were a citizen of before they were a citizen of any more specific entity. The Muslim world was rich -- far richer than the West, whose material culture had nearly collapsed, literate, liberal and tolerant.
There is much more to be said about what Islamists believe, but these three points are enough for Blair's task force to confront.
Point three is the impelling force for the bombing of London. Blair denies that the attacks were anything to do with Iraq and our forces there, even though the Islamists have said over and over that those who are there will be attacked. The Islamists believe that the Muslim world would recover to its former glory were it left alone. They believe that when Islam was not part of the Western sphere, it prospered, and once it became an object of the lust for wealth of the West, it began to slide into ruin. The latter is partly true. Western meddling in the Middle East has caused far more problems than it has solved, and still does. Israel is a Western invention, a child of Western thought planted in the near East. I don't know whether Israel would have had an easier time of it were it more recognisably part of its region but the notion must be at least considered. Not that I think that would excuse the treatment Israel has suffered. The bottom line with Israel is that it exists, and will continue to exist, and those who live alongside must learn to love it (and it too must learn to be more loveable). Otherwise, Western involvement in the Middle East has been calamitous. We have destroyed and remoulded nations -- creating artificial and extremely unreasonable nations such as Iraq, pilfered its resources and interfered in its internal politics to such an extent that it's impossible to imagine what its form would be were we absent. The appeal of Islamism to the poor lies partly in its suggestion that they are poor because the West has raped their nations, taking their oil and leaving them penniless, and that if the West could only be compelled to return control of the resources to the Arabs, they would all be enriched.
Is it reasonable to believe that the Muslim world would rectify its problems were we to depart and leave it to it? Well, no. The caliphs were the heirs of an enlightened tradition, not dogmatic theocrats. Osama bin Laden's caliphate would most likely be a fearful hellhole, Saudi Arabia writ large. And just as in Saudi Arabia, far from everyone becoming enriched, some would gain a great deal and many would lose. But is it reasonable to believe that whatever the outcome, it is right for the Arabs to control their own oil and their own destiny, with whatever political solution they choose?
Mr Blair needs to ask himself why he does not think that is reasonable because he surely does not. He insists that they must have a democracy like ours. On point two, we are the fundamentalists. The Western belief in the primacy of the market and the value of quadrennial elections is so firmly set in some minds that we cannot accept that there can be any other way of ordering the world. But is it reasonable to believe that? Even if we feel that our way is the best (which many of us do not), can we insist that anyone reasonable would reach the same conclusion? It is the problem of dogmatism that it seizes the mind, leaving a person convinced that the only
reasonable outcome of thinking about the world should be our own beliefs. Blair is like an Islamist, uncomprehending that reasonable men should think differently from him when it is so clear that he is right.
An important element in their thinking is what happened in Algeria. In 1991, the FIS -- an Islamist party -- easily won the first round of elections. They were set to become the party in power. Among the items on their platform was the promise that they would make Algeria an Islamic republic under Sharia. When asked whether they would retain its democracy, they said, no, there would be no further elections in Algeria. There is no democracy in the Qur'an.
Should people have a right to choose their own constitution? Should they be permitted to vote for no voting? The Algerian army did not think so. It crushed the democratic process in Algeria. The West helped.
The Islamists drew what I think Blair would have to accept was a reasonable conclusion: they cannot get what they want through a democratic process. When they tried, and were on the brink of succeeding, we stopped them from having it.
Point one is most important. The Qur'an enjoins Muslims to struggle. We are familiar with the bleating commentators who insist that jihad is just that internal struggle against sin but it is also true that Muslims ought to struggle with the sinners around them, although arguably not necessarily by force. Is it unreasonable to pursue the word of your god?
I was struck when reading about the new Iranian president Ahmedinajad by a casual note that he refuses to eat dinner with anyone who does not pay zakat. (Which will make state dinners a bit difficult.) He is himself a modest and humble man, who has not used his position to enrich himself. Part of his notion of jihad is not to indulge those who do not follow the teachings of Mohammed. He does not need to kill you to show you he disapproves. He just doesn't have you round for dinner.
Zakat is about 2.5 per cent of your capital. You should pay it yearly. The rich nations of the world have just finished bickering over whether they should pay 0.7 per cent of GDP to help the world's poor (as they have previously promised to do).
I wish Mr Blair luck in trying to convince young Muslim men that they should stop believing the Qur'an is literally true (a belief shared by most if not all Muslims -- something perhaps Blair does not grasp because he lives in a world where being "Christian" can simply mean "believing in a halfhearted way that there is a supreme being") and should start believing that our "values" are superior to those in that book.
All of us
How quickly all these things disappear, in the universe the bodies themselves, but in time the remembrance of them
Muslims, Jews, Christians. A Pole, a Turk, a beur, Asians. Accountants, cleaners and students. The motley that makes up a world city, their lives leading them to become a gallery of the dead and missing
There is nothing to say. "Experts" will fill page upon page with speculation and bullshit founded upon bullshit. Politicians on both sides will find new ways to hate one another, to urge us to die for their big dreams. Dozens of families will weep for their lost sons, their daughters now gone, their fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters now and each year at the same time. Memories fade and pain ebbs away if there is time enough. All that is left is a row of ordinary faces, people you would see every day on the tube or a bus, smiling at us, martyred in causes none of us wants a part of.
Men among us
Men among us, who played alongside us in the street when we were boys. Men among us, who had jobs at the places we worked. Men among us, who were schooled in the schools we were schooled at.
Did I stand beside you at a game one time? Did I dance in a nightclub you once visited?
Men among us want to kill us. Sometimes I hate the things we worship too. Sometimes I can understand that tearing it down, and starting again, has an attraction that is so seductive you can put aside reason. I see the waste, the citadels of greed, the vain, emptyheaded grasping cheats, ready to sell anything and hold nothing dear.
But it is a sunny day. A mother is holding the hand of her child, seeing it safely across a busy street. There is a smell of coffee in the air, a hint of vanilla. There is the bustle of millions of feet on the pavement, millions of voices in the air. You have to find a way not to hate it, not to hate us; we are men like you, reaching for our own paradises, living in a world that is ugly and strange but it's all we have. Man, it's all we have.
"At the World Economic Forum last year, Gareth Evans, the former Australian foreign minister and head of the International Crisis Group thinktank, said: "The net result of the war on terror is more war and more terror. Look at Iraq: the least plausible reason for going to war - terrorism - has been its most harrowing consequence."
As Gary Younge
-- a commentator who has grown as he has thought more about Iraq, American policy and the world as it is -- from being an issues whiner to a truly astute observer (in marked contrast with Nick Cohen, who has broken the back of his credibility on this issue and could be writing his mindless bollocks
for the Mail: Islamism has not claimed "millions of lives" anywhere, and even if it had, Cohen's never been very clear on how adding our share to the death toll has actually helped; there is no "totalitarian" monolith -- no connection either, as Cohen seems to think there is -- between Islamism of the Qutbista variety and the Shia fundamentalism that is an influence (although not the only one) in Iran -- Cohen either understands not or cares not that the Qutbistas hate Shias more than they hate "crusaders": just a tip, Nick old bean, they call themselves "monotheists" as often as anything else because that distinguishes them from the Shia, who venerate saints and previous community leaders in a way the shrinesmashing Wahhabis who were the ideological forefathers of the Qutbistas despised) -- the bombs in London are inextricably linked to the killing in Iraq. The smokescreen began with Tony Blair. They are trying to change our values, he bleated. They are trying to impose extremism on us.
But they are not. They are trying to get us to pull out from Iraq. Our world does not intersect with theirs much beyond that. For many years, we had a "don't ask, don't tell" relationship with them. We knew we were harbouring terrorists -- Islamists who were destabilising Algeria, Morocco and Egypt -- but we didn't care. They weren't hurting us. And it flattered us that they were continuing the tradition we have of being a safe haven for other people's irritants -- to us flooded the emigres from the French Revolution, the Huguenots, European Jewry.
If they did want to change our values, they have succeeded. We have abandoned the right to due process, to trial by jury and soon we will be surrendering the right to privacy, as we are forced to carry ID cards. Charles Clarke -- a man of extremely underwhelming intellect -- wants to permit the secret services to monitor our emails and phone calls. Is a secret police, snooping on us, part of our values? Is torture? Why, then, are our values thought to be superior to theirs? If they were nicer to women, frankly, their values would trump ours in nearly every respect. That's what infuriates them about us: they see their world as moral, a place of respect for one another (not for women, of course, whom they fear and despise), with ground-level democracy, a system of charity that would leave no one behind, a profound sense of community. Of course, that's the principle they believe they are fighting for, rather than what they actually offer.
If we really did want to fight a war on terror, we would be doing it by trying to alleviate the reasons there is a war. We would not be lecturing the third world on its need to become "democratic", as though voting in its masters once every four years would fix its ills (although of course the broader apparatus of Western democracies would help them a great deal). We would not be demanding that they liberalise trade (Alexander Downer, in the Australian, once more parrotted the lie that the only way to end poverty is to make trade with the poor easier -- that is not how we became rich and it has not actually worked in any of the places it has been tried: as Bolivia (economy destroyed, people starving), Argentina (an economy on a par with, say, Greece's destroyed by lack of protection), Russia (a wealth of resources, all owned by a handful of men) and Africa itself (shattered by the liberalisation demanded by the World Bank) demonstrate; and it is not how those countries that are becoming richer are doing it: China has skilfully avoided free trade and the countries of east Asia also have guided their economies, Venezuela has retained ownership of its resources and is now enriching itself.
No, the extremism we actually are having imposed on us is the straitjacket of a belief in "freedom": freedom to be enslaved by capitalists, freedom to have your resources pillaged by big Western companies, whom you cannot compete with because a/ you have to sell because you need the money, b/ you cannot match the economies of scale of a big company so you're not competitive, c/ you don't have the money to match the subsidies that are poured into Western companies, d/ you face tariffs when you try to sell into the "free" world (whose free trade only actually goes one way) and e/ you are liable to be attacked if you do, not just militarily but economically.
But are you free? Are you empowered? I remember marching in the streets to say no to the Iraq war. Two million people. All ignored.
And, what was it, three billion, demanding that the G8 should alleviate poverty. The G8 simply did what it does: offered debt relief to those who will allow them to take their resources, those who will allow us to dump our goods on them. It remains true that our leaders do not want to see justice in the world, no matter what we call for.
I read something in the paper the other day about Tony Blair's only being paid a tenth of what a CEO with the same responsibilities would get. The report said that it was a worry that because ministers are not paid what executives in business are, politics would not attract the same calibre of person. When I had wiped the tears of laughter away, I tried to decide which was funnier: that our current politicians are considered to be of any particular substance or that businessmen are. The latter get as much wrong as they do right. They are hugely rewarded for running oil and gas exploiters (only have to dig it up), banks (lend money at very high rates, borrow it at very low rates -- don't have to be a genius to figure that one out) and phone companies (charge a large amount of money to let people use the equipment -- not rocket science).
I am as smart as Tony Blair. I could easily accept his responsibilities and I would readily do so. Yes, I'm not as adept at politicking, but I think I could manage the issues. I know more economics than he does too. I'll do it for half the money.
The myth that is being played out in this report is that prices are always fixed by the market. It's a central tenet of modern economics. Its corollary is that people will pursue a job because of the money attached to it. But are executives paid a great deal of money because they are valuable? Well, one has to take into account that they generally set their own wages, so whom they have value for is a consideration.
I was thinking about this when I saw that wages for doctors in Cuba (which has, as we know, very many doctors) are pitiful. Well, one might ask, why don't all those doctors become something else that pays more? Why did they pursue doctoring, when it is not lucrative?
The answer is simple, of course. We know what it is. It's not all about money. People become a doctor for all sorts of reasons. They do not necessarily choose between doctoring and business. They might not touch business with a very long bargepole.
Our economics does not recognise that (yes, I know, it is a part of "utility" that one trades off one's happiness in pride in one's job etc against one's acquisition of resources that would buy things that would make one otherwise happy but economics insists that both sides of the equation are equally tangible when they are not).
These are the "values" we are fighting for, ultimately. To make our world worth money, to equate everything to resources, to make it small. There's nothing new in that: it's been the thing we've fought for since the year dot. They have a god that they will fight for. We have Mammon. I daresay we'll win, given enough time. We are greedy little apes, and appealing to the greed will, finally, win the hearts and minds fo the world.
It was our turn. Knowing that it would happen does not make seeing it happen any easier. Knowing that my people are suffering and dying while I am thousands of miles away, unable to turn one finger to help, unable even to speak to my family, my friends. We knew it would come. We were not terrorised. We were numb, impotent, knowing that one day we would be dying for nothing, for the hatred others feel, the rage fuelled by forces that we have no control over.
I have condemned the senseless slaughter in Iraq and I condemn it equally fiercely now it is the town where my heart is, where my sisters live, where friends have their home.
The stations I used to get to work, the people I passed in the street. I never knew how much it would hurt when it was our home, the places we have loved, the streets we have walked down.
We have to continue to say no to it. No to the killing. No to revenge. No to "being resolute". No to war on terror, terror warring with us. No to all you cunts who don't have a shred of love in your hearts.
I print out her picture because I want to keep it with me. Is it seeing someone to see their picture? I don't know. I know I don't like to be seen. That's all I know.
If she saw me, she wouldn't like me. I don't like to be seen because I am sure I am not a thing that should be seen. I don't know why I'm sure. I just know it the way I know anything else I know. (Sometimes people say "how do you know that?" when they are surprised that I know something, or even that I remember something about them, and I blush and say, "I don't know", because truly I don't.) I know that the image you have of me is what I want to be seen.
If she knew me, she would stop thinking so much about me. Why do I want to be known when I know that? Why do I want to be known at all?
Did you ever feel you were asking the wrong questions? I make myself laugh. I don't think I've ever asked the right question. That is why I don't have answers. And yet other people's questions are easy. I should approach myself as a project.
I think I fear the judgement of Dr Zen. He's not likely to like what he sees.
I want to meet her so that meeting me can destroy meeting me. I want to be shattered, small and worthless.
How can a person stop wanting to be in pieces and start wanting to be whole?
Above all, I want her to love me. I want to touch her on the face and for her to like the touch, for it to be the touch that consoles her on her sunless afternoons, in her hours of need. And yet I do not want to be thought about, talked about, needed, heard or seen. I do not want to be anything. I am envious of leaves, drifting on the breeze, fading, their colour seeping out, becoming nothing but ribs and veins, then not even a thing remembered, gone.